By Dave Butts
Crosses…wood crosses, gold crosses, silver crosses, metal crosses, big crosses, little crosses, electric crosses, crosses that glow in the dark. Have you noticed this obsession with crosses? It’s particularly odd when you consider that the cross was simply a brutal form of execution. Wearing a cross around one’s neck is comparable to wearing a little carved imitation of an electric chair. Yet many do, and our churches are adorned with crosses.
Though the world wears the cross, it remains a distinctively Christian symbol. There’s something special about the cross to a Christian. For us, the cross is forever associated with Jesus. As I write this article, I’m surrounded by the signs of the Christmas season. Christmas is, of course, a season associated more with a manger than a cross. Yet when I think of that beautiful scene of a babe in a manger, I often see a shadow of a cross falling across that picture. The prophet Simeon, who saw Jesus when He was eight days old, also saw that shadow of a cross, for he told Mary that a sword would pierce her soul because of her baby. The purpose of the baby in a manger was not to simply create a new holiday for the world surrounding His birth. Instead, the purpose of Jesus was realized 33 years later on a bloody cross outside of Jerusalem.
The cross becomes for Jesus a symbol of both shame and victory. Consider the indignity and humiliation of His trial. He was hauled before civil authorities and religious leaders as a common criminal. He was spat upon, beaten, and taunted. The cross itself was a source of humiliation. Jewish law stated that a body hung upon a tree was accursed. So, in shame and humiliation, the Son of God died upon a cross. Yet in so doing, the cross became a picture of victory.
Go ahead and wear your crosses. Churches, display your crosses. The cross has become a sign of victory…a picture of a war that has been won. It was on the cross that Christ conquered sin and Satan. How did this turnaround occur?
Throughout all of human history, Satan held man enslaved by sin and death. The very law of God declared that if a man sinned, he deserved death. Satan used mankind’s fear of death to enslave him even more. Mankind’s plight looked pretty desperate. It was for this reason that Christ entered the conflict. Man could not save himself. Death and sin held absolute sway over all people. Then came the cross!
Upon that cross, Christ won the battle for mankind. The innocent Lamb of God, wrongly slain, paid the penalty. He willingly took upon Himself all our sin, and along with our sin, the penalty for those sins. He died the death each one of us deserved, and ended once for all, sin and death’s hold over mankind. All who follow Jesus have been freed from sin, saved from death, and now have life. The cross stands forever as the means of victory!
Understanding this will help us see why the cross is so vital to the Church. The cross literally becomes an object of our faith. Paul writes, "For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor.1:18). The cross is the power of God. Of all the things God could have chosen to demonstrate His power, He chose a cross. The cross is how God manifests His power. That’s why Paul would continue to write, "…your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (1 Cor.2:5). Paul just told us in chapter one that the cross is the power of God. Then he told us to let our faith rest on the power of God…the cross. Where is our faith based today?
The Apostle said these things in the context of his assertion that he preached in weakness, in fear, and much trembling and that his message was not in persuasive words of wisdom. This was so the Corinthians’ faith would not be based upon him or any other man, but on the power of God through the cross. My friends, the Church today is desperate to hear and live out these words. Too many today act as though our faith is based on men, not the cross. If we like our pastor, then we like church. If our pastor is on our blacklist, then we don’t like church. Where is our faith when this is the case? It is rooted in men, rather than the cross.
The Church must come to understand that not only is our faith based on the cross, but our message is the cross. God help the church that forgets the message of the cross. This is the message that must be held out to a lost and dying world. There is no other solution for our world. There is no alternative plan. It is through the cross that the power of God has been demonstrated to this world. Regardless of the offense it creates, the Church must hold out the message of the cross to our world.
Let’s go one more step in our understanding of the cross by moving from the Church to the individual Christian. We, as individuals, must understand that the cross is our means of salvation. Speaking of the message of the cross in First Corinthians, Paul writes, "God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." Those who believe the message of the cross shall have eternal life because on the cross our sins died. In the person of Christ they died…and sin and death no longer rule us. We live because of the cross. The cross is our only means of salvation. Lots of people today try to find other ways. It seems foolish, a cross saving us…yet it does. The Bible presents no other way.
The Christian must come to love the cross and accept it as his or her own. The cross of Jesus must become our cross. Jesus said, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24). Every Christian has a cross. We all bear this same cross, and it’s the cross of Christ the Crucified. Paul writes, "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). The Church is a gathering of crucified people. If we don’t understand how we have been crucified with Christ, we are missing the key to victorious Christian living.
Listen as Paul explains this in the sixth chapter of Romans: "Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:3-11).
My friends, if we have died with Christ, why do we act as though we have not? Why do we cling so hard to this life? We concern ourselves with the world and the things of the world – we who are not to be of this world. Our citizenship is elsewhere. Not even physical death can end our lives. If we have already died, what then is death to us? When we are alive in Christ, we are alive forever. And what a glorious life it is! We run the race before us, not in our power, but in the power of the cross. Christ’s cross becomes our cross.
"I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ living in me" (Gal. 2:20). Lord Jesus, live out Your life fully and completely in me!