The Cross and the Ordinary Man*

This Sunday begins a week at whose center stands the cross, the end of which comes Easter. Being coerced to think about the cross tempts one to insincerity and the danger is unreality instead of reality. The event which this week commemorates was terribly real. The young Prince of Glory, loving life and doubtless praying for more time in church to do his fuller work walked out instead with a cross upon his back toward Calvary and its horrors. Gethsemane and the Crucifixion were terribly real.

Just because Calvary was so dreadfully real to Jesus, however, it is likely to be unreal to us. It is so great – so terrific – that bloody cross on Golgotha with a man there broken in bleak agony and crying – My God, my God. Let us look at our lives in comparison, their ordinary preoccupations, their familiar burdens and sins.

What kinship is there between us and Calvary? There are souls which have learned that there is a kinship between themselves and Calvary in ordinary as well as extraordinary time and could not rest until they have equaled the most heroic and sacrificial deeds. But the most of us are not like that – not on ordinary days.

Let us seek some element in the experience of the cross so universal that it must become real to us in our daily life. When Jesus went to the cross, he was doing something that no one could have required of him. No law could be passed to coerce a man to sacrifice himself like that – if passed – unenforced. In going to the cross he was taking on himself something that no one could command. He was moving in the realm of unenforceable obligations. That is the practical message of the cross. If and when you experience the glory of life, it will come to you personally as you assume or realize your kinship with Calvary and move in the great realm of unenforceable obligations. 

Our ordinary life is made up of two things, enforceable and unenforceable obligations. On the one side – conduct that the law or custom of the court can command. On the other – the way of living that no law and no codes of custom can command. Even within the family some things can be lawfully demanded – but all great motherhood, great fatherhood, and beautiful family life move in the realm of the unenforceable obligations. It is true with the nation – the greatness of a nation lies in the number of its citizens who can be trusted to obey self-imposed laws. 

In our country, the importance of this might be obscured by the fact of our outrage – our lawlessness. Obviously, we would be better off if the laws we already have were observed – but that by itself alone would not make a great nation. The greatness of a nation lies in the higher realm where men and women in every relationship of life do far more than what is demanded of them. This is true in matter of common honesty. Take the case of the farmer writing to ask his Senator to vote for the Pure Food Law. The Senator surprisingly knew his practice, but the farmer wanted him to vote for the law requiring him to stop from the practice. That reveals our problem of human life – the inner difficulty of acquiring the kind of character that will yield obedience to the unenforceable obligations.

Reduced to its simplest and most universal terms, Jesus on that Good Friday was voluntarily taking on himself what no one possibly could have commanded. Consider our need for this kind of character. If with canny eyes one watches people, they fall into three general classes – lawless people; law-abiding people whose code of conduct comes from without – codes custom of society; third those people who get their criteria from within – of standards of character.

As dangerous as the lawless, the most dangerous is the second class, more of them, certainly no great society can be produced by the lawless, no more so can society – great society be sustained by those who are barely good and get by on a conduct required. So the greatness of a nation lies in the number of its citizens who yield obedience to the unenforceable laws. True artists of the nation belong to this class, must obey the inner impulse. True scientists belong to the class – must obey the inner urge. True public servants belong to this class. No law of the nation can demand what me like Washington and Lincoln endured and did.

But what I am trying to say this morning in the gift of the rays of light from the cross that EVERY TRUE CHRISTIAN belongs to this class. The essence of Christian living lies in breaking free from, and rising above, all legalism and doing far more than any law can exact or any person can require.

This is the rub and marrow of the Jesus spirit and teaching. “Whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two.” That is His philosophy in a nutshell, the excess and overflowing goodwill. “If you love them who love you, what rewards have you? Do not the publicans say the same, Love your enemies?” That is something over and above what is expected of you. When you shall have done all the things that are commanded you say, “We are unprofitable servants – we have done that which was our duty to do.” So! That is the starting point in life – when we have done our duty.

Forgive not seven times but seventy times seven – said Jesus to Peter. Thus the privilege of generosity begins where the law ends. When Jesus faced and accepted the cross which no one could have commanded of him, it was the climatic expression of everything he had taught and done in his more ordinary days.

Our natural reaction to this idea of Christian living is to say, “Such is an extravagance of goodness that it can not fit in the rough and tumble of our business life.” Yet, when it is put into daily business life, we never forget it. Mark Twain was involved in a financial failure and saw his publishing house forced into bankruptcy with a large outstanding debt. No legal claim against him. But Mark Twain, voluntarily shouldered the debt at the age of 60 saying, “Honor is a harder master than the law.” At the age of 64, debt paid and he was ready to start life anew unencumbered.

Think of the influence this kind of character wields when it appears. We commonly estimate the worth of characters like David Livingstone going to Africa or Sir Wilfred Grenfell going to Labrador, in terms of service, they render.  But that is hardly half the story. The greater thing such men and women do lies in their powerful influence upon our whole philosophy of life. They shake our self complacency to pieces; they shall and subdue us by the simple fact that they undertake to do what no one could possibly demand of them. The sight of someone thus moving grandly off into the realm of unenforceable obligations is the most impressive thing in the moral world.

When you see David Livingstone in Africa, Sir Wilfred Grenfell, the Christian Physician, and Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer as volunteers moving about in the real of unenforced service you behold the essential spirit of the cross in its simplest and most universal meaning. And seeing the cross in that light, you can not get away from it even on ordinary days.

Every boy and girl here, on every day in home and school can do something beyond what anybody could have demanded. Every man or woman here every day can do for someone more than one could have expected.

This amazing spiritual power, the most elevating and the most impressive in the world, is in our hands even in our ordinary hours. At the beginning the cross seemed vague and general. But now I am startled as though I hear my one name over the air – and a voice saying, “The cross means me, ordinary me on ordinary days. Every day I can do something beyond what any one has a right to demand.”

For this quality of life leads us straight to the need of personal Christianity – the kind that gets a man not from without but from within.

If we are going to move over into the realm of unenforceable obligations, something must happen on the inside – must find a potent philosophy of life within – a deep and inward propulsion of spirit must fall in love with something from within.

No man can hire or bribe or compel a man to live a life like the Apostle Paul. But Christ got Paul to do it. There is no telling how far a man will go when he loses his heart to something or someone worth following to the limit.

This inward experience can exist in many forms, but the highest and most potent form comes when a person feels that something has been done for him so great that he can never pay back the debt. His life is no longer his own. It does not belong to him anymore. He is bought with a price. The major element arrives when we feel some beauty, goodness, love, truth poured out on us by the sacrifice of others beyond our mirror or deserving, mothers, prophets, and friends put us under obligation we can never pay.

So at last, we stand before the cross of Christ and here we see one of the most towering facts in life – the realm of grace – the sacrificial gifts bought and paid for by those who did what we had no right to ask.

“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Issac Watts

Were all the realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all

At that point, you move over into the realm of unenforceable obligation.

Matthew 5:41 “Whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two”

Also, The Lord’s Prayer in John 17

This blog’s worship comes from Christy Nockels, The Wondrous Cross


Published by Liza Weidle

As a savvy connector with a passion for making the world better, I am known as a good listener and resource immersed in learning trends, tackling challenges, and helping organizations translate vision into actionable, results-driven strategies. In other words, I get the job done!

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