My assistant, Kimberly, passed a message to me from TBN at the end of last week asking if I might be willing to share what the cross of Christ has meant to me personally. They weren’t requesting a teaching. They were requesting a testimony. I couldn’t remember ever being asked for precisely that in those exact words.
Beth, what has the cross of Jesus meant specifically to you?
Since I would have been writing a post for Holy Week anyway, I decided to try to articulate my response as best and as briefly as I could. What I know for certain is that my finite mind lacks the elasticity to stretch without snapping to the bounds of what the cross has meant to me. A vertical log with a reach “as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.” A horizontal crossbar with a stretch “as far as east is from west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Who can estimate this side of the cloudy sky all He has saved us from and saved us for? All He has fought for us and won for us? And not the cross itself, of course. Our faith has no reliance in relics. Those two pieces of wood possessed no personhood, no atoning power. It was Jesus alone, hammered beyond recognition and nailed to them.
But within the limitations of my understanding and the language of story, what has the cross of Jesus meant specifically to me?
I have no memory of innocence. As young as I can remember, I bore an indefinable but unshakable sense of shame, guilt and anxiety. I do not know exactly what happened in those earliest days to bring such a cloud over a child so young. It was not until I was victimized a little later in my childhood that I was bombarded with silent horror by a sickening sense of familiarity.
I have no memory of Jesus-lessness. The custodian of First Baptist Church of Arkadelphia, Arkansas rarely unlocked that east entrance to the public that the Green family, party of eight, did not pile out of a blue and white van and walk through them. We went to Sunday school and worship service on Sunday morning. We headed to choir late Sunday afternoon then stayed for Sunday night church, where our pastor delivered a different message from the one he’d given earlier. On Wednesday late afternoon, we headed to church after school and attended world mission classes (in our church a child’s first words would have been ma-ma, da-da and the-Great-Commission) and afterward we skidded down a linoleum floor to Wednesday night supper in our fellowship hall. I can still picture just exactly how that food was arranged on that plate: sliced ham (anemic pink) with a side-slice of deep red cinnamon apple. Same circle every time. Perfect hole where it had been pre-cored. Next to it were approximately 27 green peas – a little wrinkled but still well able to roll off the plate and onto the floor where all glad congregants could wear them home on the soles of their shoes – and a barely-browned dinner roll that split right down the middle like Baptists have a mind to do.
The moment Wednesday night supper was swallowed, prayer meeting up and followed and right there in that same fellowship hall. The plates clacking loudly in the kitchen became rhythmless percussions and the flatware, musical spoons, to an overture of the same deep, familiar amens voiced somewhere from the back. Strange how a disembodied voice could bring considerable comfort. In a world of disturbing undependability, we could depend on certain things around there like Brother Humphrey’s seven syllable a-a-a-a-a-a-mens. I went to Vacation Bible School every summer where my mother always served and, by the sixth grade, I helped in this class or that. We suddenly picked up – lock, stock and barrel – and moved to Houston, Texas when I was 15 and I continued the same pattern at a nearby church and would not miss a summer of VBS until I was 37. And lo, how it pained me to break that record. If I were given to lying in a testimony, I’d lie right now and tell you I hadn’t missed one yet. A person with my background wants in the worst way to have just one perfect record to humbly boast.
I accepted Jesus as my very own Savior around eight years old – Lord, how I wish I knew the exact date – and made it public before my church at nine. We stood up front in those days when we made decisions like that and congregants stood in line to shake our hands. I cried like a baby, face as red as a beet, caught completely off guard by the humiliating eruption of snot and tears. Those Arkansas gray-hairs, though. They understood. I know that now by the way they nodded their heads and smiled warmly at me. “Yep. We get it,” maybe the women were trying to say with the lipstick bleeding in the cracks of their mouths. “You’ll feel that way a lot of times and, by the way, this will be the best decision you’ll ever make.” Yes. I’ll give a thunderous seven syllable amen to that.
Our family had yet to suffer our peak years of instability. Those would come when I was in junior high and high school.
This was my life. This parallel existence, tiptoeing, knees shaking wildly, on the tight rope hung between love and lunacy, where I was too terrified of heights to guess which way I would fall.
But fall, I did. At first just into occasional ditches. Then into an abyss so deep it seemed to have no floor. I tried to will myself into a reversal of gravity. I tried to repent my way into a reversal of gravity. Though I was utterly repentant and miserable and spotlessly forgiven by a merciful God, I continued to freefall, limbs flailing, and sanity teetering. I knew no other way. My theology had yet to collide with my reality. The belief in my heart had not yet jumped to life in my bones. I had been sorry before. Truly sorry. But I eventually returned to the same defeated pattern. I had a heart for God. I’d been mesmerized by Jesus since childhood. But I had a mind bent with torment. My battle would not have been obvious to most observers. I had been a successful student and an overachiever in endless organizations through both adolescence and young adulthood. But a reckoning had come. My past had come to reckon with my present and it would have a titanic effect on my future. How, as I free fell further and further into that black canyon, only time could tell.
I no longer knew who I was. If this Alice could have peered into a looking glass, the person she would have seen bore no resemblance whatsoever to the person she thought she was. She was dying. My infirmity, vulnerability, weakness and sin had joined forces and done me in. Life as I had known it was over. I, as I had known myself, was dead.
And that’s when it happened. With the hardest jolt of my life, I fell with a deadweight thud into the arms of Jesus.
The person I had been before would twitch here and there for just a little while like there was just a little life left in her but, like a hen losing its head to a farmer’s ax, the old me finally gave up the protest, accepted she was dead and dropped to the dirt where she belonged.
Many years have come and gone since then and life has never lost its sharp, mean edge but I have lived adventures – some that are none of your business – with the One who caught me. He fought and won His bloody way to the incomparable love of my life and is, to date, the solitary good that dwells in me. He is a greater reality – this unseen Savior – than any human form I can see with natural eyes or touch with the skin of my fingertips.
I thought and, in many ways was taught, that the power of the cross was only for the lost. And I praised God for it and was awed by it and deeply thankful for it. I am still unspeakably grateful for it. Life with Jesus begins no other way. The lost must be saved. The sin-wrecked must repent. Eyes blinded to the Gospel must, by the work of the Holy Spirit, come to see. This is death to life for us all. Those who come, come this way alone.
But, the power of the cross has only begun to have its full sway when a man or woman is born a second time and, not by natural means but, by the Spirit. I got up again this morning by the power of the cross. I opened my Bible this morning and received the living, breathing word of God by the power of the cross. I prayed this very morning for impossible things to happen and had the guts to thank God in advance for miracles by the power of the cross. I came to my feet and proclaimed his greatness and his holiness and his power and his favor and his future over my family by the power of the cross. I kissed my husband of 37 years for the umpteenth time this morning by the power of the cross. My children love me and do not think me a fraud and, I promise you, only by the power of the cross. A few days ago I hugged a total stranger, a young mom named Lisa, tightly like she’d been my kin for years on end, right there in a grocery check-out line by the power of the cross. She told me with tears in her eyes how many times we’d studied the Bible together. My memory of sin completely intact, the divine wonder of it was not wasted on me.
This coming Sunday at my church, by the power of the cross I will walk to the front and receive the elements from a man and a woman holding them out tenderly, accessibly.
Miss Beth, Christ’s body broken for you. Miss Beth, Christ’s blood shed for you. And I will want to cry. And probably will.
I will sing what He has done for me. I will proclaim that I once was dead and now I live. And I will do so by the power of the cross.
Any and every victorious moment I ever experience is by the power of the cross. That the enemy did not and still has not destroyed me is by the power of the cross. The power of the cross saved me as a child and it saves me as an adult. It will save me in my death and, through its crimson gate, His glorious resurrection will raise me in God’s presence.
There I will see the face I long to see. There I will see the arms that caught me. There I will see the scars that saved me. There I will see the Lord’s Christ and know as I’ve been known.
Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!