September 14 – Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross John 19:6-35
The Power of the Cross: John 19:6-35, especially vs. 11: “Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.’” Pontius Pilate hesitates during the judicial proceedings against Jesus, for when Christ our God points out that Pilate’s power is finite, the Roman governor wavers (Jn 19:11-12). Pilate senses the truth momentarily, but then he brushes it aside in order to proceed with the trial before him. We, however, are blessed, for our Lord chooses to reveal the full power of the Cross to the faithful.
Since we know that the personal power of God resides in the Cross, we approach this cruel instrument of execution in personal terms: we greet it by falling down before it and adoring it as the footstool of Christ our God. Through the Cross, we experience God’s capacity to guide and heal us, to raise the dead, and to save mankind.
The Church provides us with accounts of the Passion to help us understand the importance of the Cross. As we examine today’s portion of this record, let us pay special heed to the words of the Lord Himself.
We begin with the Lord Jesus’ statement quoted above (vs. 11). This verse comprises His sole response to the accusation of blasphemy – the charge that “He made Himself the Son of God” (vs. 7). The Jewish leaders do not actually deliver Him to Pilate on this basis. Rather, they insinuate that He is an evildoer and criminal (vs. 18:30). Only when the mob clamors for His crucifixion do they accuse Christ of claiming divine sanction.
The Lord Jesus poses a puzzle for the chief priests. He does not fit popular expectations of the Messiah, and yet He assents to their question, “Are You then the Son of God?” (Lk 22:70). He thereby conveys that He knows He is divine, which is blasphemy in their eyes (vs. 71).
In a similar way, our Lord’s answer to Pontius Pilate signals that He accepts the title “Son of God” and affirms the claim of Messiah. Jesus’ reply, suggesting that He considers Himself the Messiah, conveys to Pilate the serious potential for rebellion and a popular uprising.
The Gospels attest that the Jewish leaders eventually prevail over Pilate’s hesitation (Jn 19:12, 15), for they are determined to be rid of Jesus (vs. 11:53). The next word the Lord utters is delivered from the Cross (vs. 19:26), His “footstool.”
Christ addresses His mother, the Theotokos (“Woman, behold your son”) and tells Saint John, “Behold, your mother” (vss. 26-27). Here He is asserting that He was “born of woman, born under the law, to redeem” all who are under the Law (Gal 4:4-5). His intent is to silence those who would spiritualize the Gospel. He declares that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor 5:19). See how greatly God values humanity, even sharing pain and death with us!
Our Lord makes clear that everything taking place is according to His plan. When He is dying, the Lord says, “I thirst” (vs. 28; but see Ps 68:26). According to Saint John Chrysostom, “This death was of a new kind . . . in the power of the person dying, for death came not on His body before He willed it . . . Therefore also He said, ‘I have power to lay down My life; and I have power to take it again’ (Jn 10:18)” (“Homily 85 on Saint John’s Gospel,” NPNF First Series, vol. 14, p. 318). God has the power of life and of death according to His will.
Finally, knowing that His redemptive work is now complete, the Lord Jesus adds, “It is finished!” (vs. 30). “Today, as the Cross is elevated, evil spirits are driven away; today the whole creation is delivered from corruption . . . all gifts have shone forth upon us” (festal hymn).
O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies; and by the power of Thy Cross preserving Thine estate. – Hymn of the Exaltation of the Cross