I’ve been plowing through the Gospel of John for my morning devotions lately. I don’t mean plowing in the sense that I was carefully working through the text; I’m afraid I’ve been going through it on autopilot because it’s so familiar. Coming up to chapter 19, however, I felt like I hit a wall. I just couldn’t bear to read about Jesus’ death on the cross again. Pausing to read up on the history of crucifixion on Wikipedia certainly didn’t help. In my Bible I could actually see the heading for the resurrection on the facing page, but I just felt like, how am I going to get from here to there? How am I going to get through Jesus’ death and on to the resurrection?
Almost all of Jesus’ friends and followers abandoned him when he was arrested. They didn’t want to witness the crucifixion, either. But one group was conspicuously present as recorded by all four Gospel writers: the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee. Matthew, for example, writes that there were “many women there,” including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” Mark adds that “when [Jesus] was in Galilee they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.”
Those women are an example for us to follow. Like them, we all need to stay near the cross. We fool ourselves when we think of salvation merely as a transaction: Jesus died for my sins, I get eternal life. Jesus didn’t come to earth to hand out golden tickets to heaven, he came to give himself. I don’t know why the women in particular are mentioned as staying with Jesus at Calvary, but I think it’s because they could not bear the thought of abandoning him in his most difficult hour. They loved him and were not afraid of what others thought about that. Maybe some of the disciples were more interested in what Jesus could do for them, than they were in him. If we desire heaven, but are not interested in being with Jesus, we have put the cart before the horse.
As I was pondering this, an old Gospel hymn called “Near the Cross” written by Fanny Crosby popped into my head:
Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain;
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross
Be my glory ever,
Till my ransomed soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.
Christians, we’re in trouble if we ever think we need to get beyond the cross. Our prayer should be that Jesus keep us near the cross. Staying near the cross will remind us of the price he paid for us. It will ensure we don’t forget our standing before God is always on the basis of Jesus’ blood. It will remind us that we aren’t judged by our performance, and that we can’t earn salvation by what we do.
Near the cross! O lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day
With its shadow o’er me.
The cross is something we need to ponder daily. The cross is not the low point of Jesus’ ministry, it is the center of it. We will celebrate the cross forever and ever in heaven with all the saints, singing “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12). As we dwell on the cross, what Jesus did there and why he did it, we will continually be drawn closer to him. Rather than trying to get through it, or beyond it, may we be able to sing, “In the cross be my glory ever!”