The cross has always been in vogue: from “medallion men” to trendy teenagers, from tattoos to fabulous works of art, from car bumper stickers, or on chains dangling from rear view mirrors. It’s everywhere! In legend it wards off vampires. And throughout the world, people use it to protect against illness and to bring good luck. It makes a great statement, not necessarily as a sign of faith, but as a fearsome symbol and fashion accessory.
Someone once in a jewelers was interested in buying a cross and the sales assistant said, “Do you want a plain one, or one with a little man on it?” It’s strange though isn’t it? What was an instrument of torture and death devised by the Romans to be as unbearably painful, and as public as possible, has become stylish. Can you imagine a necklace with a miniature electric chair on the end of it, or a branding iron even, or a guillotine ever becoming fashionable? I doubt it.
So why has the cross?
“I just like it”, is the usual answer you get from someone who wears one around their neck despite being non-religious. I wear the cross to demonstrate my faith, as its message of salvation, on which the world can pin all its hopes, is increasingly lost in our secular society. It’s ok for a non-Christian rock star, or footballer to display one. But it’s a different story if you’re a Christian British Airways check in clerk or a Christian nurse for example. It’s suggested they may cause offence and, in some cases, as we’ve seen, workers are unfairly dismissed.
There’s no doubt about it those two pieces of wood nailed together can indeed provoke. In Jesus’ day the cross sent a terrifying message that the Roman Empire was not to be taken lightly. Its rule was sure, and crucifixion, as capital punishment, was a gory spectacle. Jesus, His back already bloodied and torn by a crude whip and then His body nailed by the wrists and feet onto a wooden beam. The cross was violent torture and the final death-blow to the criminal’s body and spirit. Most heros where a cape, Jesus wore a cross! And His death was foretold centuries earlier by the prophets; Isaiah spoke of the “suffering servant” – let’s read his words now:-
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Is.53:2-7,9).
The devil says they are mine. Jesus says over my dead body!! The cross is the most important symbol of Christianity because it symbolizes the greatness of God’s sacrifice. It wasn’t just a “little man” crucified on it, but God’s very own Son taking the punishment we deserve. It reminds us sinners that the amazing grace that we stand in didn’t come cheap. Jesus paid a huge price for our forgiveness and salvation.
Valentine’s Day is soon. As you all know, valentines are a nice way to say, “I love you.” Most of the cards have hearts on them, because the heart is used to represent love. But Jesus is the only one who has ever loved us enough to die for us. So the most beautiful valentine that we can receive is the cross. There is no greater love!! At the foot of the cross we are free to accept or reject God’s love and forgiveness. It’s a personal decision. We can either live in the power of the cross, or stay on the road that leads nowhere except to annihilation. To some of us here today, it doesn’t make any sense. The significance of the cross is foolishness. As the Bible says: “It’s nonsense to those who are currently lost”, those who are perishing (1 Cor.1:18).
All of us are perishing in the sense that from the moment we’re born our lives, it’s not very glamorous, are wasting away. We’re not that important in the grand scheme of things, like the AM fog we’re here for a little while and then we shuffle off this mortal coil. Death is the one inescapable fact of life. There are no guarantees. We know how fragile life is, so handle with prayer, as like a shadow it’s gone so soon without a trace (1 Chron.29:15). The dilemma is that we’re happy to imagine that nothing can, or will, ever happen to us. We all want to go to heaven, but the fact is the cross is humanity’s great dividing line of life – that has nothing to do with race or colour, but has everything to do with creed: “For by your mouth you confess that Jesus is Lord and are saved.” (Rom.10:10).
Two men were discussing Christianity. One said, “I don’t have anything to do with things I don’t understand.”
“Have you had your breakfast this AM?” asked the other.
“Yes”, said the first, “but what’s that go to do with Jesus Christ?”
“Did you have any butter on your toast?” persisted his friend.
“Yes”, replied the man, increasingly confused.
“Well, can you tell me how a black and white cow eating green grass can make white milk that makes yellow butter?”
“No, I can’t”, admitted the sceptic.
“Well”, his friend advised, “I wouldn’t have anything to do with breakfast then.”
It’s easy to be cynical and mock Jesus (but be warned God will not be mocked). It’s much harder to worship Him. That’s the choice we all have to make. However, we’ll never find a pot of gold under a rainbow, but we’ll find eternal life at the cross believing in the one who “was despised and made a fool of…for by his wounds we are healed.” (Is.53:3). To able to proclaim the crucified Christ and recognise our need for salvation is true wisdom indeed, as there is no other way of being reconciled to a righteous God. It’s not the cross that’s foolish as Jesus’ suffering is the key to healing; His utter weakness is the key to power and this cross of shame is the Christian’s supreme boast.
I put it off for too long, but if you dare, you can pick up the Gospel and read the accounts of Christ’s life, death and resurrection and see for yourself that what I’ve said is true. You can also see how Jesus makes astounding claims in the Bible. He is the Messiah; He came from above and He is one with the Father in heaven.
So whenever you see a cross on a church building, around someone’s neck, or tattooed on someone’s limb, remember that it was Jesus who hung on that cross and that His crucifixion was for our redemption. And may the Spirit of Jesus who died on the cross and rose from the dead be with us all.
Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.
O Changeless God, under the conviction of the Spirit we learn that the more we do, the worse we are; the more we know, the less we know; the more we love, the more there is to love. Thank you that your foolish plan to save the world is wiser than the wisest of human plans and that we must always preach Christ crucified to save those who do believe. Amen.