Beholding the glory of the cross

In a recent post I looked at the glory of Jesus revealed in Mark’s account of the transfiguration.

But there’s a surprise. Jesus is revealed in glory. And surely we expect the voice to say, ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Gaze upon him.’ After all, everything in the story so far has been about his appearance. The obvious invitation is to gaze upon him.

But in fact the voice from heaven says in verse 7, ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.’ Why? Why does God the Father choose this moment to tell us to listen to Jesus?

The answer is simple. It’s because the disciples have just refused to listen to Jesus. They’re rejected the words of Jesus. Look at 8:31-32: ‘[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.’

It’s not that they are rejecting the words of Jesus in general. It’s a very specific word: his declaration that he must die. Maybe you’re like the disciples. You love so much of what Jesus says. You find it so inspirational. But you just don’t get the cross.

But the cross is absolutely central to who Jesus is and what he has come to do. Jesus is the King who has come to die for his people.

Jesus doesn’t just say, ‘I will die.’ He says, ‘I must die.’ This is the plan. This is what he must do. This is what Jesus is determined to do. And this is what the Father is pleased to see him doing. The Father sees the determination of his Son to go to the cross and the Father says: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased … This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’

‘This is my plan as well,’ says the Father. ‘This is our plan. Though it will cost me everything I love, though it will cost him everything he is, this is our plan. And it is pleasing to me. Because through the death of my Son, we will save a people.’ The One in whom the Father is well pleased is the One who offers himself to death.

Proclaiming the cross

Look at verse 9: ‘As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.’

You know how it is. You see something amazing and in your head you’re thinking, ‘I can’t wait to tell people about this.’ These days, of course, you don’t have to wait. You immediately update your Facebook status or post a picture on Twitter. I go through my day gathering up things to tell my wife when I get home.

So you can imagine Peter, James and John walking down the mountain. And they’re thinking, ‘I can’t wait to tell the others – they’re going to be so jealous.’ Then Jesus rains on their parade. He tells them not to tell anyone. Indeed, Jesus orders them not to tell anyone. And this is an order from the transfigured King.

Why? Because they haven’t yet grasped that he must die. All that’s in their head is glory, power, majesty. They’re just thinking about basking in this glory. Look at verse 5: ‘Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”’ Peter wants to stay with glory. He doesn’t want Jesus to go back down the mountain and rejoin the road to the cross.

But we cannot separate the resurrection and the cross. We cannot separate glory and suffering. To proclaim Jesus is to proclaim his cross.

This brings us to Easter Sunday. Look at Mark 16:5-6:

As [the women] entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.

Here is the ultimate declaration of the Father’s pleasure. God doesn’t just speak from heaven. God reaches down from heaven. And reaches into the grave and pulls Jesus back from death. God the Father raises Jesus from the dead. He vindicates his claims. He glorifies his Son.

But this it is not ‘just’ a resurrection. After all, we’ve already had a resurrection in Mark’s Gospel. In Mark 5 Jesus resurrects a girl from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is more than repeat of that.

Look at verse 6: ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!’ Who has risen? The crucified One.

  • The One who died under judgment is now justified by God.
  • The One who died forsaken by God is now embraced by God.
  • The One who died in darkness now rises with the dawn bringing light to the world.

So it’s not just Jesus who is raised. It is the crucified One who is raised. It is the One who died bearing my sin and your sin. It is the One who died in my place and your place. And that means he rises bearing our justification. He rises for us to give us eternal life. His resurrection is the basis and promise of our resurrection – if we belong to him.

Here’s the point. We cannot separate the resurrection and the cross. We cannot separate power and sacrifice. We cannot separate justification and judgment. We cannot separate glory and suffering.

You’ve not understood Christianity until you’ve understood the cross. So if you haven’t got your head around the significance of the cross then I urge you to find out. Ask people, read the Bible, pray until you get it. It may be that when you understand it, you don’t like and walk away from Christianity. But don’t reject Jesus until you’ve really understand what he’s about – and that means understanding the cross.

So the command from heaven is this: Listen to him. Listen to his word about the cross. See Jesus not just as the King who rules the world and not just as the God who lights up heaven. See him, too, as the Son who dies in love.

Ultimately, what takes our breath away is not just the dazzle of the transfiguration or the resurrection. What takes our breath away is the love of the cross.

The world is full of ascension language. Things can be ‘on the up’, but they can also take a ‘downward turn’. We want to ‘rise’ in our career. We want to ‘rise above’ our problems. We love stories of successful people because we want to emulate the ‘heights’ to which they have ‘risen’. The appeal of TV programmes like X-Factor is the opportunity for ordinary people to be ‘lifted’ out of obscurity and ‘rise above’ the crowd. The Cinderella story is deeply embedded in our culture. We all want to ‘ascend’. Monarchs ‘ascend’ to the throne. Indeed their thrones are normally on a dais so they sit ‘above’ the rest of us.

But what is most glorious about the glory of Jesus is that he lays his glory ‘down’. His ultimate glory is seen in his shame. His power is seen in weakness. His wisdom in folly.

The Apostle John, one of the men who witnessed the transfiguration, often speaks of Jesus being ‘lifted up’ (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34). Jesus said: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ And then John adds: ‘He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.’ (John 12:32-33)

At the climax of his life, Jesus is lifted up – like a king. But he is lifted up on a cross. His throne is the cross and his dais is the hill of Calvary. And to the watching world it is a dark moment of shame and humiliation. But this is his glory. It is the glory of love.

In the vision of heaven in the book of Revelation we have another transfiguration-like appearance. Christ appears with hair as white as snow, eyes like blazing fire, feet like glowing bronze, a voice like the sound of many waters and a face ‘like the sun shining in all its brilliance’ (Revelation 1:14-16). And that, you might think, is why the choirs of heaven worship him. But this is what they sing: ‘You are worthy … because you were slain and with your blood you purchased [people] for God.’ (Revelation 5:9)

When I join the heavenly choir what is it that will make me want to sing? Will it be when I see his hair like snow? Or his eyes blazing with fire? Or his feet glowing like burning bronze? Of his voice like the sounds of rushing waters? Or his face shining like the sun in all its brilliance. No. It will be when I see the wounds in his hands and feet and side – the wounds which are there for me.

The splendour of Christ’s power makes us go, Wow! Or maybe it frightens us. Verse 6 says it frightened Peter 6. But it is the depth of his love that captures our hearts. Of course the two go together. It is when we see the Glorious One choose shame, the Mighty One choose weakness, the Author of Life choose death – that is when we see the magnificence of his love. And it is magnificent. What is glorious about the glory of Jesus is that he lays his glory down.

And Jesus did this for you. He did this to save you: to cover your sins, to bear your pain, to take your judgment. He laid aside his glory to lift you up to glory – to lift you up from the pit of shame and seat you with him in glory.

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