The Glory of the Cross
The first time my daughter opened her eyes was inside an ambulance racing through downtown Chicago. As I held her tight, her blue eyes looked straight into mine, and I knew she was going to be fine. We already had a special bond because I had just delivered her in the front seat of our Honda Civic. It was one of the most glorious moments of my life.
And yet, suffering personified—that is, my wife—was lying next to us on a stretcher. She embodied the pain through which such glory had come. I had witnessed firsthand glory through suffering. Every time I recall the moment, I realize that glory through suffering isn't unique to my daughter's birth. According to the gospel, it's the story of the world.
Suffering is inevitable and unavoidable. Surrounded by cancer, mental illness, infertility, depression, loss, and ultimately death, we ask how God's glory could shine through such tragic circumstances. For most of us, glory and suffering seem incompatible, just like something cannot be simultaneously hot and cold, wet and dry. But Christ's journey from the cradle to the grave reveals a pattern that is stitched throughout the fabric of Scripture. For Christ, Christians, and all creation, the way of glory is the way of the Cross.
The Story of Glory
When we look at Scripture, we might conclude that suffering and glory compose a two-step movement: Glory comes after suffering. Certainly at many points, Scripture presents suffering and glory as a linear progression (Acts 2:33–36; Phil. 2:6–9; 1 Pet. 1:10–11; Heb. 2:9–10). But it also reveals a more organic and overlapping relation between the two: glory through suffering (John 12:23–33; Rev. 5:5–6).
We see this theme at the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden. God created humanity to fill and subdue the earth for his glory. But things went wrong. Adam and Eve rejected God as king and subjected themselves, and the world, to sin and death. God, however, didn't abandon his plan to establish his kingdom on earth, though the presence of sin required a new route. Genesis 3:15 provides the key: While the serpent will be crushed by the seed of the woman—the "seed" being Jesus—the seed of the woman will be bruised in the process. The promise of victory includes the price of suffering. From here on, a pattern emerges: Victory comes through suffering, exaltation through humiliation, and, ultimately, the kingdom through the Cross.
Throughout the Old Testament, God accomplishes his sovereign purposes through weak people and broken circumstances. He builds a nation from an infertile elderly couple (Abraham and Sarah), names the nation after a backstabbing trickster (Jacob), and grows the nation through a slave-child abandoned by his brothers (Joseph). God uses little David as the humble and even foolish means of defeating a giant, and then makes David a king whose reign is marked by adversity and suffering. And Isaiah 52 and 53 tell of a servant whose sacrificial atonement is framed by glory and exaltation.
All of this points to Jesus, who came to establish God's glorious kingdom through suffering, sacrifice, and service. As Jesus approached his death, he said, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32). At first, it seems that Jesus is talking about his coming entrance into heaven. But the following verse explains that Jesus is referring to his crucifixion: "He said this to show what kind of death he was going to die." John's gospel builds toward the climactic hour when Jesus' being "lifted up" on the cross is the moment he is enthroned in glory (John 12:23–32; 3:14; 8:28). The Cross becomes the throne from which Christ rules the world.