There's something about lifting our eyes when we we approach the Father. King David shifted his focus upward in the belief that his help would come from the Lord in heaven. He wrote, "I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1-2, ESV). In much the same way Isaiah saw God "high and exalted..." (Isaiah 6:1, ESV) before he was commissioned for his prophetic assignment. In the New Testament, when Lazarus was raised from the dead John wrote "Then Jesus looked up and said, Father , I thank you that you heard me..." (John 11:41, ESV), eyes lifted for a moment of prayerful gratitude. In the high priestly prayer before his passion Jesus prayed for his followers and for those who would follow him in the future. Once again John noted that Jesus "...looked toward heaven, and prayed..." (John 17:1, ESV). In my mind these were actions of submission and reverence, the recognition of God on his throne and we his needy subjects beneath him. From another angle this look heavenward also has the capacity to draw our eyes away from the harsh circumstances here on terra firma as we seek God's intervention in life.
Scripture is also clear about Christ being lifted on the cross. Jesus said, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32, ESV). It was a note of victory to his disciples as they sought to grasp his coming passion. The cross was the fulfillment of his earthly mission, the completion of the redemptive work he was sent to finish (John 4:34, ESV). As noted earlier, this rugged cross on a hill far away is closer than we think. We can certainly pray that Jesus would keep us near the cross, as the old hymn suggests. His crucifixion and resurrection are central to the Gospel that we believe and proclaim. This sense of nearness keeps that powerful truth fresh and vital in the discipline of our faith and gives us the vantage point to resist the drift so common to our practice of it.
Remaining beneath the cross is perhaps symbolic of our reliance on his atoning death as our only means of personal redemption. Biblical history is a record of mankind's efforts to earn the right to stand before our Creator. Scripture reminds us of the many efforts our species have entertained to work for God's saving favor. Strict observance of biblical law and ritual is a dominant theme of Old and New Testaments regarding man's determination to be right with God. Even today our checklist for living the Christian life is often viewed as necessary for us to receive God's blessing. In some ways this works oriented approach places each of us on crosses of our own making in the hope God will overlook our innate sinfulness.
That's why looking up to the cross is necessary. It is a recognition that our redemption is the work of Christ alone. It reminds me of another old, traditional Easter hymn, Beneath the Cross of Jesus. Reflect on these words for a few minutes---
Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand, The shadow of a mighty Rock Within a weary land; A home within the wilderness, A rest upon the way, From the burning of the noontide heat, And the burden of the day.
Oh, safe and happy shelter! Oh, refuge tried and sweet! Oh, trysting place where heaven’s love And heaven’s justice meet. As to the holy patriarch That wondrous dream was given, So is my Savior by the cross A ladder up to heaven.
There lies beneath its shadow, But on the farther side, The darkness of an awful grave That gapes both deep and wide; And there between us stands the cross, Two arms outstretched to save, Like a watchman set to guard the way From that eternal grave.
Upon that cross of Jesus Mine eye at times can see The very dying form of One, Who suffered there for me; And from my smitten heart, with tears, Two wonders I confess, The wonders of His glorious love, And my own worthlessness.
I take, O cross, thy shadow For my abiding place; I ask no other sunshine than The sunshine of His face; Content to let the world go by, To know no gain nor loss, My sinful self my only shame, My glory all the cross.
-Copied from the 1991, Baptist Hymnal
Beneath this wondrous cross helps me know my place in God's great redemptive plan. More than that, it reminds me that Jesus said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6, ESV).
Beneath the cross of Jesus, I fain would take my stand. Happy Easter.