The word ‘cross’ can be used to describe:
- a structure consisting of an upright with a transverse beam used especially by the ancient Romans for execution
- an affliction that tries one's virtue, steadfastness, or patience (“Take up your cross and follow me.”)
- the intersection of two ways or lines (More on this later)
- an act of crossing dissimilar individuals, one that combines characteristics of two different types or individuals (Man, I like this one. The perfect God-Man dying so mortal man could gain immortality? Are you kidding me?)
- a movement from one part of a theater stage to another (This one is great too. Didn’t the whole production change at the cross?)
- a punch thrown over the opponent's lead in boxing (Yeah. Satan took the first swing in the Garden of Eden. Jesus brought the cross strong in the Garden of Gethsemane.)
- a security transaction in which a broker acts for both buyer and seller (Really? Do I have to spell this one out for you?)
Historically, the cross is one of the great instruments of death, or rather, brutality. It was like an early version of the electric chair, but one that would intermittently pulse electricity into a person’s body… not to kill them, but to tease them with the possibility, until their internal organs would break down, resulting in death. In reality, it the cross was a torture chamber. People didn’t bleed to death on a cross. They suffered from various attacks on their body until they couldn’t live anymore. Asphyxiation was the cause of death. You suffocated as your chest cavity was violated and your lungs were destroyed under the strain of hours and even days of fighting for each breath. It is entirely possible that the heart of the victim would actually burst under the pressure of the ordeal. Jesus suffered under these brutal complications. How ironic that the One who had breathed into humanity the breath of life struggled for each of His final breaths.
Crucifixion was as much about sending a message to society as it was about punishing a criminal. It was humiliating. The subject was stripped naked, unceremoniously nailed to lumber, and often set at eye level, making it easy for passers-by to hurl curses at them, spit on and accost them in other ways. It stripped every ounce of dignity from the person, and told the community that whatever activity led to the punishment would not be allowed. The majestic King of the universe, Creator of everything beautiful, hung in despicable shame before His creation. Humility flowed through Jesus. Humiliation, however, was thrust upon Him by the people He created. He endured the humiliation, becoming the “cause” for the religious and governmental leadership of His day. The message was, 'do not go after this man'… this man who crossed eternity to come after you.
In a day when we try to do things in the most humane fashion possible… including the execution of the worst of us, it seems unimaginable that a tool of torture could become a piece of jewelry. I have never seen anyone with a gold syringe, or electric chair hanging from their neck. Could you imagine the uproar if we started selling bookmarks or t-shirts with waterboarding references and images? So why would we choose to revere an ancient instrument of brutality?
The difference is the man on the cross. He was perfect, pure, and pristine. He had never uttered a vulgar word. No lie had ever passed through His lips. His eyes had never looked upon a woman with lust, or a man with jealousy. His ears had never tilted to receive a dirty joke or gossip. His tongue never chased after a drink that would rob Him of the ability to make a righteous decision. His feet never took Him to a place so He could give His body over to fornication or rebellion. He never raised a hand in hatred. He never stretched out his hand or his heart to steal that which did not belong to Him. He never manipulated another’s emotions for His own gain. He never abused the system… any system. He was never prideful, and never used a haughty look to advance His cause. He had never done a single wrong thing. And yet, He was tortured and crucified as one of the worst of criminals. This sanctifies the cross.
He took up the cross by choice, not coercion. He climbed onto the cross with no misgivings. It was His destiny because He determined it would be. Human reconciliation was His mission. The Earth was His mission field. The cross was His mode. There is a legend floating around that Jesus, while He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, struggled in His humanity regarding the cross. This is not grounded in Scripture. It seems to be an attempt to ‘humanize’ Jesus, but in reality, it de-humanizes Him. His life was spent in obedience and determination to be what He was meant to be. He was the second Adam… the Adam who was going to fulfill what it meant to be human. He never flinched on His way to the cross. He set His eyes toward Jerusalem, His mind toward humanity, His heart toward the Father. He did not stumble in his humanity in the Garden. He wasn’t torn apart over the decision to save man. He wasn’t scared of the cross. He didn’t ask the Father to remove the cross from His mission. He wasn’t looking for a way out of the cross. He had plenty of ‘outs’, but never took one. He determined that nothing would keep Him from saving me… saving you. He placed a high value on His altar of sacrifice, the cross. To Him, the cross was unavoidable because it was non-negotiable. This makes the cross invaluable.
One definition for the word ‘cross’ is, “the intersection of two ways or lines”. There is a strange beauty in the crossing of unparallel lines. For a split second there is a massive conflict. Then the lines continue on their path, never to meet again. The cross is where death meets life. But it is also where life meets Life… and death meets Death. It is where despair meets hope. Hatred meets acceptance. Lust meets love. Hell meets Heaven. Loss meets gain. Uncertainty meets faith. Dissatisfaction meets contentment. It is where slavery meets liberty. Oppression meets deliverance. Sorrow meets joy. Wrath meets mercy. Judgment meets grace. Destruction meets restoration. Loss meets gain. Selfishness meets sacrifice. Time meets eternity. Humanity meets divinity. It is the great intersection. I meet Jesus at the cross. My way meets His way.
What else can I say about the glory of this divine altar? Jesus took my place on the cross. He paid my debt on the cross. He loved me on the cross. He provided a new way for me on the cross. He fulfilled my obligation on the cross. He took my shame on the cross. He felt my pain on the cross. He understood my brokenness on the cross. He took up my case on the cross. He internalized my secrets on the cross. He bore my guilt on the cross. He cried my tears on the cross. And he did the same for you. He did so willingly. He offered Himself up. There were many fingerprints at the scene, but there was only one person responsible for His death… He offered Himself up. He shut it all down on His own terms. Jesus was not the victim. Sin was. Death was. Jesus perpetrated the event. He Fathered it. He carried it out. He was the offering as well as the One who offered.
Yes… there is an empty tomb we celebrate. This same Man who was put to death by Himself, also raised Himself from the dead within a weekend. How glorious!
But, we must never neglect the blood that was spilled on the way to victory. Some people today are not okay with the focus on the blood of Jesus... I've got news for you, none of us are okay without it. If there is no war, there is no peace. Some battles require more blood than others, but no victory of worth is won without the best of our blood being spilled. The cross symbolizes the price, the cost of victory. It is where an innocent man died to redeem guilty humanity. If there is no cross, there is no liberty. Without the intersection of the two ways, there would be no freedom from the sentence of death on us, or the power of sin in us. If we lose sight of the cross, the excruciating pain, the gasping of breath, the humiliation, the blood and other bodily fluids that ran out freely, we will lose hope in eternity. Without the shedding of Christ’s blood there is no forgiveness. Without the cross, the story ends with us in Hell, separated from God forever.
In the end, this amazing story is not in itself enough to save anyone. We have to believe both in the event and the purpose. We must trust in the Man who gave His life for us. We must exchange our life for His, as He offered His life for ours. To see it only as an act in history is to miss the reward. We must submit to His work. We must stand and look at the sacrifice and accept that it was for us. Our lives should be changed at the foot of the cross. As we grow to embrace the cross, we don’t have to apologize to Christ for this altar experience. We should only repent for not living in its shadow. We must now pick up our own cross, that instrument of self-sacrifice, humiliation, and follow Him wherever He leads. Our small effort doesn’t save us. His does. But our effort enables us to enter into fellowship with Him on another level.
So much more could and should be said about the cross. On this Good Friday, may you find your life in Christ’s sacrifice.
Find more of David’s work at Heart Of Ministry.