Thirty years ago a Lutheran bishop in Germany, Theo Sorg, preached on Good Friday, taking as his starting point the claim that everyone needs a “fixed point”—a point of orientation for life, for getting through a day, for getting through a storm. Golgotha, Sorg said, is just such a fixed point. The cross does not remain on a hill far away. It pursues us into the valleys, the ravines, the crevices in which we get trapped as we wander in search of a fixed point for our lives.
The cross casts its shadows over every element of our lives. It gives us the only firmly fixed point to which to turn for the foundations of living life each day. When we question who we are and substitute some false image for our true identity as God’s children, the cross shows us the way back to recognizing who God says we are. He defines us through the cross as those whom He has made righteous through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, the cross informs us how all our substitutes for that way of understanding who we are—all our misperceptions of what makes our lives worth living—have been done to death.
Like moles, sinners have gotten used to living in darkness. We feel our way through life, groping for something firm to hang onto. Even Christians can get lost in the darkness of the storms of life and the descending night. Such storms and darkness of thinking separate us from where we have been. They take away our vision of where life should go next. Even good church people can be blown about by every wind of one ideology after another (Ephesians 4:14-16). As darkness descends around them, even believers in Christ can be tossed back and forth by one attractive way of misinterpreting what Jesus means to us or another. We are altogether too easily blindfolded by cunning, crafty, deceitful, scheming false gurus or problem-solvers or political leaders. There are many in our world who promise security and order for our lives through “solutions” to problems that only lead us ever deeper into the darkness. Then we become again as infants, kidnapped by one white devil or another, robbed of our true identity as child of God, even if we still go to church regularly and sit in the council of the godly. Paul knew what he was talking about when he warned the Ephesians in chapter 4 of his epistle of the dangers of being a pious person lost in the darkness of false ideology or pious error. As one who lived by the creed of the Pharisees that defined him as upright because of what God’s grace had produced in cooperation with his own efforts at being on God’s team, he had been there and done that. Only because Jesus stopped him in his tracks on the way to Damascus and struck him blind, did Saul come to see the light that shines from the darkness which is Golgotha.
Every Christian experiences the fits and starts and fallings and failures that take place as the Holy Spirit reclaims those who have wandered into thinking of ourselves and God’s world in wrong ways. The Holy Spirit turns our eyes to Christ’s cross, away from our focus on ourselves which has usually made too much of our own identity or too little. He calls us to examine in the light of the cross, whether those ways of viewing ourselves are ways of overestimating who we are on the basis of what we accomplish. Or they may be ways of underestimating who we are because we do not really believe God when he tells us we have become His righteous children through Christ’s burial of our sinful selves and His raising us up as children delighting in walking in His footsteps.
The Holy Spirit turns our eyes to Christ’s cross, away from our focus on ourselves which has usually made too much of our own identity or too little.
Golgotha provides the fixed point of orientation for our lives. Thus, it shows us whether the darkness has brought us to rely on our own performing the good and the right or whether the shadows and fog of our own sinfulness have become so thick we believe there is no hope for the likes of my sinful self anymore.
For Golgotha tells us we are dead. Luther praised Christ’s tomb for accepting the garbage of his sinfulness and serving as landfill where all his faults had been bulldozed over by the dying Savior, Jesus. The cross’s shadow creates a new valley of the shadow of death in which we find our Good Shepherd who leads us from our death with Him on Calvary through His tomb into the resurrected, restored life as the human creatures whom God has shaped in His own image.
There is nothing wonderful about the cross. Its stark simplicity, stained with blood and gore, sends shivers up and down our spine. It makes us quake in our boots. It reduces us to nothing as we contemplate the display of God’s wrath that fell upon Jesus as he brought the load of our individual collection of sins to it. The cross gives us more than pause to ponder on this unique death. No death before Golgotha’s death had ever involved the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory (1 Corinthians 2:8). No death since has even seen the likes of the dying of the One who claimed to be the Son of Man, described in Daniel 7 as a human creature who possessed dominion, glory, rule, served and worshipped by peoples, nations, and languages. For this person having the characteristics of God Himself—because He is God Himself—suffered and gave up a last breath, went stone cold and stiff, a bloody mess. But out of His death emerged life because our sin was not able to keep Him from breaking out of death. Our death was not able to swallow Him for more than a short time. But because it did swallow Him for three short days, He was won an eternity of life for His people. His cross points us out of the darkness into life that never ends.
There is nothing wonderful about the cross. Its stark simplicity, stained with blood and gore, sends shivers up and down our spine.
The cross, therefore, fills us with a sense of the wondrous nature of a God who, despite His anger at the failure of Adam and Eve to meet Him at the appointed time and place, went looking for them in His desperation over His beloved human creatures until He found them. The cross, in all its horror and repulsive appearance, nonetheless conveys to us a profound sense of thanksgiving at the love shown there. For there, the One who, when He recognized we were trapped without any ability to abandon our refusal to see ourselves as His children, came to suffer and die for us. We had alienated ourselves from Him. He chased us down to reconcile us to Himself by assuming our sinfulness and suffering the payment of the Law to us sinners, the wage of death.
When we ask, “Who am I, really?” in reflecting on some tawdry little bit of rebellion against God, the fixed point of Golgotha reminds us that the cross of Christ has buried the sinner in us with whom we, like Paul in Romans 7, still struggle. Golgotha’s cross and Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb have become the depositories for our sins great and small. When we ask, “What is my life worth?” in reflecting on our foibles and failures, the fixed point of Golgotha reminds us our lives have found so much value in God’s sight that He became human to have the blood to shed that restores life through His resurrection victory. The fixed point of Golgotha’s cross, the embodiment of the human experience of darkness to the darkest degree, shines as a lighthouse to guide us into the protecting hands, hands with holes in them, of our Lord Jesus Christ.