Going to the cross is easy to avoid. It is like turning off the television news when the focus is on genocide or child killers or some other deplorable crime. It is like looking the other way instead of viewing those pictures of starving children or orphans with gaunt and haunted faces. It is like staying home instead of going to help at the soup kitchen or enjoying a meal in a restaurant instead of taking a homeless person home for dinner.
I know the bent of my selfish heart. I need to spend more time at the cross and allow the suffering of Jesus do something to it. Martin Luther writes that it will. He says…
You must, at the time of death if not sooner, fall into terror, tremble, quake, and experience all Christ suffered on the cross. It is truly terrible to attend to this on your deathbed; therefore you should pray God to soften your heart and permit you fruitfully to meditate on Christ’s suffering. For it is impossible for us profoundly to meditate on the sufferings of Christ of ourselves unless God sink them into our hearts. But first you are to seek and long for the grace of God, that you may accomplish it through God’s grace and not through your own power. Some people never treat the sufferings of Christ aright, for they never call on God for that purpose but devise out of their own ability their own way and treat those sufferings entirely in a human and an unfruitful manner.
He adds that such meditation changes a person’s character, because staying at the cross and experiencing Christ’s suffering slays the old nature and banishes lust, pleasure, and security. It is to experience the death of Christ as He was forsaken by all and suffered for all.
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3–5)
The passage says that by His suffering, we are healed, so why would anyone want to participate in this thing that He did for us? After explaining that he gladly lost everything else, Paul explains why he wanted this…
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8–11)
He is not talking about salvation; he already has eternal life. He is talking about living in the power of that redeemed life, about a Christian maturity that leaves all selfishness and self-effort behind and “presses on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
This desire and effort is a work of grace, a blessing from God that can make His child a blessing to others because there is no longer any concern about what happens self. It is absolute surrender to Christ, and it involves dying to the old life and all parts of it. While God does the slaying, we can cooperated and be involved in the process by bowing before Him at the foot of the cross.