What do you think about when you think of the cross?
Do you think of church? Christians? Jewelry?
Does it mean anything to you?
Perhaps it feels like a pretentious symbol to you, offensive in its religiosity.
Maybe it is a sacred image, symbolizing peace, and hope.
Maybe you think of Jesus.
Ok so you know Christ died on one, you know the origins of the symbol. But do you ever really, truly, think about it?
What is a cross?
It’s a death sentence.
A cross is an instrument of death. It symbolizes the condemned. It is violent, painful, bloody, repulsive.
The cross is a torture device.
I could talk to you about its history, about how the Romans were really good at finding painful ways to kill people. I could tell you about how when Jerusalem was overthrown in 70AD that a forest of crosses grew up around the city with the dead. An instrument of genocide.
I could talk to you about the countless Christians hung on crosses in arena’s, tarred and set on fire, gruesome torches to light the entertainment for the bloody appetites of a decaying culture.
Given it’s origins, you’d think any person of faith or even any lover of peace would find it offensive!
But those who might find it offensive don’t usually cite such reasons as these.
Because, on one fateful day, something happened that would slowly but surely change the meaning of this symbol completely.
Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha) There they crucified him, and with him two others- one on each side and Jesus in the middle. John 19:17-18
This death wasn’t by chance. Christ always knew His road would lead Him to that hill. He went willingly to the place of death. He laid down willingly and stretched out His arms to die.
And here is where it gets offensive.
Because, before he went there Himself, He was calling us to do the same thing as well!
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. Matthew 16:24-25
Ok, just to be clear, Christ isn’t preaching mass suicide here! And, though martyrdom is something that deserves the respect we give it, He’s not asking us to seek that either. He certainly isn’t telling us to go around with a “martyr” complex of self denial.
So what is He telling us to do exactly?
He’s saying, “Follow me into death, and I will give you MY Life.”
He’s asking us to willingly give up our lives, our control, our rights, and hand the keys to the kingdom over to Him. In fact, He’s saying that if we keep our lives, if we don’t give Him control, if we don’t hand ourselves over, we’re going to lose everything!
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. Romans 6:4
And that is offensive.
It’s offensive to come up to someone and say, “Give me control, you’re wrecking things and I need to take over.” It’s offensive to say, “You need me, you are lost in sin, and you need to repent.” It’s offensive to say, “Make Me Lord of your life, get out of the throne.”
It’s incredibly offensive to say, “crucify yourself.”
That is like saying to someone, “Go shoot yourself in the head, metaphorically speaking, because you don’t have the brains to run this operation. You need a brain transplant.”
The response is understandable.
“Who are You, Jesus, to ask this of me?”
He’s the one who died so that you might live.
He’s not coming to us in audacious Lordliness, although He has every right. He comes to us, asking this of us, out of love-born humility.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! Philippines 2:6-8
And here comes the beauty of the cross, because it is an instrument of torture and death, and Christ used it to give us, not death, but life!
What beautiful idiocy, that something so horrible, so offensive, can be used to bring life and Salvation to mankind!
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18