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Volume 7, Issue 5: Stauron

The Courage of the Cross

Jim Nance

Meanwhile great Ajax kept on trying to drive a spear into Hector, but Hector was so skilful that he held his broad shoulders well under cover of his ox-hide shield, ever on the lookout for the whizzing of the arrows and the heavy thuds of the spears. He well knew that the fortunes of the day had changed, but still stood his ground and tried to protect his comrades. Iliad

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here." John 18:36

Men have long known that courage is the willingness to face danger, even death, for the benefit of others. We have all seen or heard of courageous men. We read of Hector, who stood alone in the battle while the other Trojans fled in panic. We hear of prisoners of war who refuse to yield to the interrogations of their tormentors in order to protect their comrades. We have seen in the news the man who drowned in the Potomac while rescuing others from that fatal plane crash, and the firemen risking their lives to rescue children from the collapsing rubble of the federal building in Oklahoma.

Equally familiar are the courageous acts in fiction: Frodo's entrance into Mordor to deliver Middle Earth from the power of Sauron; Bigwig's infiltration of Efrafa to rescue the warren of Watership Down from extinction; Tirian and Jewel's last stand at the stable to save Narnia from the armies of the Calormenes and the scheming of the Ape.
But when we look at the cross, the courage of Him who hangs there is more difficult to discern. We see Him in the garden covered with sweat, praying to be spared from that hour. We hear Him tell His followers in the upper room to buy swords, only to later command them to put them away. He neither answered His accusers at His trial, nor defended Himself from abuse by the soldiers in the Praetorium or the Jews around the cross. He died a cursed, ignoble deathnaked and weak, forsaken by His followers and His God.
Yet His very silence and meekness display for us a courage which rivals all others in history or fiction. For Christ in His omniscience no doubt knew full well the searing pain of the whips and the excruciating agony of the crucifixion. Perhaps worse than these, He knew that, though He Himself had no sin, yet "it was the Lord's will to crush Him, and cause Him to suffer" (Is. 53:10, NIV). He foresaw His own cursing at the hand of His Father, with whom from eternity past He had shared great glory and the joy of intimate fellowship. At any time Christ could have put a stop to it all. "Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matt. 26:53).
But sometimes, as at that time, to endure for the sake of the greater victory requires more courage than to fight for the sake of the lesser. Bigwig had the strength to overcome the guards and escape Efrafa at any time, but only to fail in his mission to save his friends. Frodo could have joined the battle in Minas Tirith rather than smuggle the ring into Mordor, but only to the eventual doom of Middle Earth. These fictional characters give but the faintest picture of the courageous endurance of Christ, Who with infinite ease could have prevented the cross, saving Himself from that torturous death and the abandonment of His Father. But to do so would have meant the damnation of the world.
We see the courage of the cross yet more clearly when we recognize that Jesus could have claimed the earthly kingdom of the Jews, to which He had full right, both by birth (Matt. 1:1; 2:2) and by choice of the people (John 6:15). An earthly king, however, could only bring about an earthly victory, which apparently was what the Jews expected of their Messiah (Luke 24:21; Acts 1:6). However, the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, but from heaven at His Father's side. So Christ in courage, and "for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God" (Heb. 12:2), having won the greater victory.
We are to show this same courage: "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in His steps: 'Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth,' who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Pet. 2:21-23). When wronged for the sake of Christ, we must not in cowardice demand our rights, but in courage entrust our rights to God. We are to look to Him for our reward, as did the saints of old. "By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproaches of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked to the reward."
To be brave at the end, we must in faith be brave on the way. "He who is faithful in little will be faithful in much." To die for Christ takes great courage. To live for Christ takes more.

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