“Honor and majesty surround him; strength and beauty fill his sanctuary” (Psa 96:6 NLT)
It’s easy to picture this during a morning quiet time: a beautiful sanctuary… God on his throne… majesty all around. What’s harder is to picture this at a sanctuary called Golgotha, where Jesus gives up his life on the cross.
Are these two separate events? Or can we find honor and majesty… strength and beauty in Jesus’ death?
Our sermon text for this Sunday is John 19:38-42. At first glance, there is little to suggest majesty or beauty in the immediate aftermath of the cross. In this text, we see funeral arrangements… burial customs, and a rush job at that, so people don’t run into the required down time preceding one of the biggest holidays of the Jewish world (Passover).
But on closer inspection, we can find all the attributes of the Psalmist’s sanctuary, even at the cross.
It was honor that put Jesus on the cross in the first place. His greatest desire was to honor his Father and carry out his mission. His personal will would have been to pass on the cross, but his desire to honor His Father was greater, as we see in his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane the night before:
““My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matt 26:39 NLT)
In other words, Jesus was so honorable, it cost him his life.
If honor is the intention to see something through, then strength is the actual task of accomplishing it. Imagine the strength of restraint required from Jesus… to not call a legion of angels to his rescue… to not curse those who insulted and mocked him… to bear the brunt of the worst form of death his society could come up with.
Some may think that surrender and death are signs of weakness. But, having no other way to accomplish his mission (he tried in the garden), Jesus literally gave everything he had to make that mission succeed. Even to death on a cross.
So often, we think of beauty in physical terms, often to our detriment. There was nothing physically beautiful about the cross or its aftermath. In fact, the entire process was designed to strike fear into the hearts of observers, to serve as a deterrent to others.
But there is beauty in the cross. While it’s not physical beauty, there is something to behold here: that the Son of God would step out of the comfort of heaven, endure unimaginable pain and suffering, and surrender his spirit so that common people like you and I might be freed from the power of sin. That is true beauty… the sacrifice that saves others.
In fact, because that sacrifice was on a scale so great we can’t even imagine, it was majestic. At least God thought so. After describing Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the Apostle Paul puts it this way:
“Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9–11 NLT)
Is it possible that honor and majesty surround Jesus, even on the cross? Can you see the strength and beauty of his sacrifice? Or does the Psalmist’s description only apply to another place and time?
I might think that the two can’t possibly go together, except for these words, found in the same Psalm, just verses earlier:
“Sing to the LORD; praise his name. Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.” (Psa 96:2–3 NLT)
The cross saves… and in it we find honor and majesty… strength and beauty. Let us, then, publish this glorious deed among the nations! Let’s tell everyone about the amazing things he does!