I had a very interesting experience last year. We have a cross hanging on one wall of our apartment. It is a rather nondescript wooden one that came from a Christian bookstore, as I recall. It is not large, less than a foot tall. It is not even very attractive. Not unattractive either. Just your standard issue retail cross.
On a particularly difficult morning in a particularly difficult stretch of time that comes from time to time in our line of work, I was in Dr. Foley’s and my apartment alone one day. Tears and sobs had finally come to me in great number, and I felt close to passing out due to the dizziness they induced. I had been sitting on our couch, but I got up and went to the cross. I grabbed the left side of the tiny crossbeam with my left hand and the right side of the tiny crossbeam with my right hand. And I let go of all my weight. It was obvious to me–axiomatic, really–that the cross would merely come off the small nail on which it was hanging, and I would crash down to the floor, with the cross likely bouncing off the top of my head. But instead, the cross held. In our lives, it is the only thing that has held.
In life, there is the cross and there is everything else. The cross is the wisdom and power of God. It is not merely one expression–or even the best expression–of that wisdom and power; it simply IS the wisdom and power of God, in totality. The cross is not God’s response to human sin. It is not God’s response to anything. It is God’s nature. It is wisdom and power, in the rawest form and also in the most refined.
On the cross it is the self-saving life which ends. The laying-down life of the righteous God triumphs over it. Christ’s victory is not a victory over the cross. It is the victory of the cross. On the cross, self-saving life is put to death, and the way is opened for humans to live from now on by Christ’s laying-down life. Thus, we should not anticipate eternal life as a kind of post-war period where we may safely and comfortably resume our quest for self-fulfillment, now that sin, death, shame, and Satan have been defeated.
On the cross, our self-saving life was defeated just as fully as sin, death, shame, and Satan were defeated. Our self-saving life had always conspired with these principalities and powers against the Lord. On the cross, that conspiracy was permanently defeated.
Christ does not toss aside the cross when he exits the open tomb, like handcuffs discarded by a freed prisoner. Instead, the cross is revealed to be the outward expression of God’s innermost nature. That nature is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It does not change during Christ’s death on the cross or at his resurrection or when he will return in glory.
Likewise, we ourselves will not toss aside the cross when we die or when Christ returns. Instead, what will be revealed then is that we have been made like him. The external cross we bore will no longer be needed, not because it has been overcome but because we have been overcome by it and now our hearts perfectly bear its imprint. God’s promise to give us new hearts will be fulfilled. Our new hearts will be cross-shaped.
Shame will end. Suffering will end. Opposition to Christ will end. But the cross will not end; it will be fulfilled, like all of God’s promises. The cross will end as an outward tool, but only because it will have accomplished its full work of circumcising our hearts.
When Christ is resurrected, he bears forever the marks of his crucifixion on his hands and his side. He no longer carries the cross because now he embodies it, i.e., it is imprinted on his resurrected human body. The same will be true for us in our resurrected bodies. As Paul writes in Philippians 3:21, “The Lord Jesus Christ . . . will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” An uncrucified body is a lowly body; the Lord’s body is glorious because it forever bears the imprints of his crucifixion, the external manifestation of his nature.