What is so important about the cross? Is it just a symbol of Christianity? Is it just a decorative ornament to hang around our neck? I think most people in this day and time cannot even relate to the significance of the cross. To most it is some vague reference to a time gone by in Roman history. Most know the story on some level of how Jesus Christ was crucified on a Roman cross. I think that probably most Christians don’t even know the deep down meaning themselves. But it is so much more significant than that…
The cross was an instrument of torture used in some form or another by different civilizations to punish and kill their enemies but without a doubt the Roman empire perfected it. Herodotus, the Greek historian tells us that the Persians used crucifixion as a form of extreme punishment. Other sources reveal the practice among the Assyrians, the Scythians,
and the Thracians as well as among more distant European groups such as the Celts, the Germans, and the Britons. On one occasion, Alexander the Great had 2000 survivors of the siege of Tyre crucified along the shores of the Mediterranean. Those that were hung on a cross were most often hung there naked and completely shamed. They were tied with ropes with their arms stretched out and often nailed through the hands and feet. They were exposed to the elements. Crows and ravens would light on them and eat their eyeballs out while they were alive and there was nothing they could do about it. Sometimes they hung there for days before they died. But the worst of it was what they actually died from for without a place to rest their feet beneath them they were unable to breathe unless they could figure a way to lift their bodies up enough and draw a breath. Sometimes foot rests were put on the cross to prolong the torture but were easily knocked off when the Romans were ready for them to die. Unable to draw a breath they suffocated. Their lungs filled with fluid from bursting alveoli. The cross also put the condemned on display up and down the roads most traveled to strike fear into any would be law breakers. The Roman Quintilian (ca. 35-95 AD) said, “Whenever we crucify the guilty, the most crowded roads are chosen, where the most people can see and be moved by this fear.”
The corrupt Jewish leaders could have stoned, burned or any number of ways put Christ to death allowed by their law and Pilate would have allowed it. He gave them permission to execute Jesus any way they saw fit (John 18:28-38). The Jews that cried out for his crucifixion knew full well crucifixion was reserved for a lowly, vile, reprehensible person like a rebellious slave, troops who were mutinous, the vilest of criminals and insurrectionists against the state. Roman citizens were exempt from such a death no matter what their crime. Crucifixion was viewed as a means of portraying shame. Therefore only the most despicable were crucified. Under the Mosaic Law, those who were hanged on a tree were cursed. The Jews very own law made it illegal to leave a body hanging overnight, the Jews knew this (Leviticus 18:24-27; Numbers 35:3-34), they wanted the worst for Jesus.
And yet knowing this Jesus Christ chose this as the way he would die. Yes, he chose it, he allowed it, he was the Son of God and it was heaven’s plan (Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8) he could have chosen a more merciful death or even called a legion of angels to rescue him and destroy those who hung him there (Matthew 26:53). He laid down his life willingly, no man took his life (John 10:18).
So why did Jesus have to die at all? Sin came into the world by one man, Adam, we were put back in right standing with God through one man, Jesus. By one man sin entered the world; by one man we are redeemed . How is this possible? Adam was the first man. In his loins were all mankind therefore sin was passed down to every child of Adam, and that includes you, me, all humankind. When Jesus came on the scene sinless, born of a virgin, not of sinful flesh, though he was born of a woman He was born without the curse of sin upon Him. Our sins and the judgment we deserved was placed upon Jesus on the cross. He was the only one who could do this. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Sin had to be judged. When Jesus died on the cross He paid it all in full. Every sin of every man, woman and child, paid in full! He was more than a man. He was the Son of God. None of us deserved mercy or love but God is love (1 John 4:8) and He could not help but love the most wicked among us. The entire weight of all the sins that ever were committed and ever would be committed were laid upon His shoulders. His blood was sufficient to take care of all the sins of the world. There was no need to sacrifice animals anymore. Even the law was fulfilled. No need to crucify Jesus afresh. Once was enough. And it didn’t end there. They crucified Him and put Him in a tomb and He even conquered death! He rose on the third day. It is not just a story! He did it for you! He did it for me! So what should our response be to that? If you live a sinful life all the way up to the day you die and do not repent (turn from) your wicked ways you have made a choice without saying a word. You have rejected the salvation offered to you. 1 John 5:17 says, “All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.” Also read James 4:17, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” There is a difference between the stumbling in sin and feeling convicted of it and asking forgiveness vs. knowing you are committing a sin and doing it willfully. A person who is living a sinful lifestyle more than likely has not been saved at all. They may have prayed a so-called ‘sinner’s prayer’ or cried off a little guilt at the altar but if they truly did not repent of their sins and commit their life to Christ they will be lost just as sure as if they had never went to the altar. There has to be a deep seated regret for the sin a person has lived. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 explains: “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. 10. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 11. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” This is what is often called ‘conviction’. It is a realization that a person is a sinner and in need of a savior and is followed by God drawing that person to Himself. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44). People love to classify sin and say ‘Oh, I’m not as bad as so and so’ but Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” All people are born into sin and need to be saved it isn’t about how good or bad we are. And it is not about making yourself live up to a set of rules. That is legalism. That is religion. The truth is we are supposed to live in a relationship with God and if we truly live in a relationship with God we will just naturally want to live for Him, not because He commands it, but because we want to. Romans 5 ends with these 2 verses: “20. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21. That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.“
The cross was a line drawn in the sands of eternity. It changed everything. It is recorded on the day Jesus died that the sky became dark, the Earth shook and the veil in the Jewish temple that kept anyone but a designated priest to enter this part of the temple known as the Holy of Holies, was torn in too, from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). It was a statement by the God who tore it in two that no longer would humans need a priest to represent them, no more would there have to be an animal slain and blood applied to their sins. It was torn from top to bottom so there would be no doubt it was God who did it! He was laid in a borrowed tomb, sealed shut and guarded by Roman soldiers on penalty of death if anyone was allowed to enter. The stone was rolled away supernaturally and he vanished from the death wrappings and was seen alive by over 500 people in twelve different sessions. This also was necessary that he arise from the dead otherwise he would have just been another great teacher that was revered by all while he was alive but still dead.
By his resurrection he proved he was not just another inspired human teacher. It proved he was who he said he was, the Son of God for no man could do this (Romans 1:4). It is also important because according to 1 Corinthians 15:17, 55-57 it proves he has the authority to forgive sins and assure eternal life for us all who believe because he has taken away the curse and sting of death. It was also an open and undisputed defeat over Satan whom we never need fear again because of Him (Colossians 2:15).
READ THE ENTIRE BIBLICAL ACCOUNT MATTHEW 26-28
6 As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:
7 Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.
8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:
11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:
12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
THE CROSS OF CHRIST
By A.W. Tozer
The cross of Christ is the most revolutionary thing ever to appear among men.
The cross of the Roman times knew no compromise; it never made concessions. It won all its arguments by killing its opponent and silencing him for good. It spared not Christ, by slew Him the same as the rest. He was alive when they hung Him on that cross and completely dead when they took him down six hours later. That was the cross the first time it appeared in Christian history.
After Christ was risen from the dead the apostles went out to preach His message, and what they preached was the cross. And wherever they went into the wide world they carried the cross, and the same revolutionary power went with them. The radical message of the cross transformed Saul of Tarsus and changed him from a persecutor of Christians to a tender believer and an apostle of the faith. Its power changed bad men into good ones. It shook off the long bondage of paganism and altered completely the whole moral and mental outlook of the Western world.
All this it did and continued to do as long as it was permitted to remain what it had been originally, a cross. Its power departed when it was changed from a thing of death to a thing of beauty. When men made of it a symbol, hung it around their necks as an ornament or made its outline before their faces as a magic sign to ward off evil, then it became at best a weak emblem, at worst a positive fetish. As such it is revered today by millions who know absolutely nothing about its power.
The cross effects its ends by destroying one established pattern, the victim’s, and creating another pattern, its own. Thus it always has its way. It wins by defeating its opponent and imposing its will upon him. It always dominates. It never compromises, never dickers nor confers, never surrenders a point for the sake of peace. It cares not for peace; it cares only to end its opposition as fast as possible.
With perfect knowledge of all this Christ said:
Luke 9:23 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
So the cross not only brings Christ’s life to an end, it ends also the first life, the old life, of every one of His true followers. It destroys the old pattern, the Adam pattern, in the believer’s life, and brings it to an end. Then the God who raised Christ from the dead raises the believer and a new life begins.
This, and nothing less, is true Christianity, though we cannot but recognize the sharp divergence of this conception from that held by the rank and file of evangelicals today. But we dare not qualify our position. The cross stands high above the opinions of men and to that cross all opinions must come at last for judgment. A shallow and worldly leadership would modify the cross to please the entertainment-mad saintlings who will have their fun even within the very sanctuary; but to do so is to court spiritual disaster and risk the anger of the Lamb turned Lion.
We must do something about the cross, and one of two things only we can do–flee it or die upon it. And if we should be so foolhardy as to flee we shall by that act put away the faith of our fathers and make of Christianity something other than it is. Then we shall have left only the empty language of salvation; the power will depart with our departure from the true cross.
If we are wise we will do what Jesus did: endure the cross and despise its shame for the joy that is set before us. To do this is to submit the whole pattern of our lives to be destroyed and built again in the power of an endless life. And we shall find that it is more than poetry, more than sweet hymnody and elevated feeling. The cross will cut into where it hurts worst, sparing neither us nor our carefully cultivated reputations. It will defeat us and bring our selfish lives to an end. Only then can we rise in fullness of life to establish a pattern of living wholly new and free and full of good works.
The changed attitude toward the cross that we see in modern orthodoxy proves not that God has changed, nor that Christ has eased up on His demand that we carry the cross; it means rather that current Christianity has moved away from the standards of the New Testament. So far have we moved indeed that it may take nothing short of a new reformation to restore the cross to its right place in
the theology and life of the Church.
By Benjamin Raven Pressley
I was there that day on that stormy hill. That day was like no other and there will never be another day like it.
It was as if the lightnings of a thousand skies collided that day. And like great curtains eternity past and eternity future met that day at that great crossroads on that hill with the face of death upon it. And drawing it all like a lightning rod was the one, the only one that could reach one hand into the past and one into the future and draw them together into one great clash for all time.
I’ll never forget it. Before him was every force of evil who ever had been or ever would be. Riding their pale horses came starvation, sickness and disease wielding their chains to bind the body and mind. On horses the color of blood came war, their riders breathing fire and surrounded by the screams of men, women and children. Following close behind them all were horses black as the burning ash and their riders were death and hell. A demonic horde surrounded them in the air about them like a choking cloud all about them and all about their feet.
He stared at them all with teeth gripped in determination and no fear was in his eyes. As he pulled the cords of eternity past and eternity future they met for just a moment and like two mighty fists the earth shook in fury and the thunder did sound its voice. But still they would not meet as they yet pulled apart like two opposite forces that would not attract. Yet still he pulled in determination.
Behind him was an army of light, mighty to behold. Every warrior had the power to destroy ten thousands. Each of them begged the great one to but say the word and they would destroy his tormentors and all who opposed him and set him free. But he would not. It was in this army that I could be found, anxiously waiting on my steed of light. I cried aloud to be his champion ready to lay down my very life to destroy the demonic horde before us but I dared not disobey he who held the lightnings in his hands.
The wind did gather from the four corners of creation. The sea fomented great waves and clapped upon the shore. The very crust of the earth did creak and moan and shake. It was as if all of creation was in travail like some great mother about to give birth to the hope of all created things.
His sweat became as drops of blood. Every muscle and sinew strained. Blood vessels burst forth. Mankind cried to his right and others from his left. Some cursed him and the mother who gave him birth. Others saw beyond the crossroads and saw a city with great foundations and cried out, “Remember me when you enter into your kingdom”.
It was then every evil, sickness and wrong descended upon him like the darkest of clouds. And yet as it descended upon his shoulders it was as if it contained the weight of all who had ever walked the halls of life and death. And indeed it was so. How could he stand this weight when already he strained with eternity past and eternity future.
Then it happened! It was like nothing I had ever seen! Eternity became One! All that was past and all that ever would be came crashing together like some cosmic flood. The earth shook and split and became a line drawn in the sands of eternity. Where once was a curtain that divided God and man, it was no more, torn in two completely, never to divide again as his voice cried a cry that echoed down the corridors of forever as he cried, “It is finished!”
We watched in expectation of what would happen next. All the forces of evil, they stood on one side of that line. It was a line they feared the most. They quaked in fear. They could not cross it. We in the forces of light smiled in great expectation for we knew the name of that line as well as they. Though its name had not always been clear. This day there would be no doubt its name. Its name is CHOICE. On one side of that line it was clear there was all that was evil. Every consequence was clear to see that day. On the other was the power to become a son of God and a ticket to the heavenly.
It was in this great chasm between good and evil that the mighty one descended, his work almost done. We stood there eye to eye with that devil horde. For three days we waited and stood. Throughout our camp day by day we felt anticipation and hope spread like a warm breeze on a sunny day. But in the other camp it was growing cold! A dark cloud of despair and defeat was gathering. Lightning struck frequently striking fear into the heart of everyone in that camp.
Then it happened! From the heart of the earth the great one ascended. From that great chasm that divided our camps he arose. Dressed in crimson and followed by the rejoicing of captives who had been set free! He ascended and hovered above our camps. What a sight to behold! Close behind the saints they came, weakened, depraved, naked and stripped of their power, Death, Hell and the Grave. Then the very epitome of evil, that fallen one also came. He could not look upon the saints or he who had risen the firstborn of many. He knew he was defeated. He knew what his future held. He knew his time was shorter than ever before. The great one shook the keys he had stripped from the hands of Death, Hell and the Grave. The evil one trembled and hung his head in shame. He tried to cover his nakedness, but it was obvious he had been exposed. Then the mighty one did one more act. He walked up to that evil one and spoke. The evil one trembled before what he saw and heard as a two-edged sword came forth from his mighty throat. The evil one fell at his feet and the great one placed his foot on his neck in front of all his evil horde. He looked to the saints and his words fell upon the ears of all the living, as he said, “So shall you do to your enemy!” He bruised the evil one’s head and the evil one bruised his heel. The devil horde dared not challenge he who was light and all that was right. They dismounted and scattered in defeat. The evil one naked and shamed was grabbed by the neck and forced to look down into the great chasm and shuddered in fear as he beheld that captivity had been set free and hell had enlarged itself. It called his name and he knew it was a place prepared for him and all who followed him. As he crawled away in shame he knew that truth had ascended like a sun shining on a darkened world. And all of creation knew it and could no longer deny the choice before them, to live or to die, to be blessed or to be cursed.
The mighty one then knelt but for a moment and shed a tear for those few who would yet choose death and eternal damnation. Then he gave this charge to all the living: “I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy. Go and tell all those who live and yet shall be born. Choose life. And for all who choose I will give power to become a son of God.”
He then appeared to His disciples and many others before He ascended on high. All creation rejoiced as he ascended. And as he arose a great light did cover the earth. Then they heard his voice once more, as he said, “Be ready! For I will come again!”
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