The cross is the central feature of the gospel message. Without it, the Christian faith would be powerless to save from sin. Many people wear crosses as part of jewellery or tattoos, but the image of a cross is a graphic reminder of Jesus sacrificial death for us – it certainly should not be trivialised in any way. The cross represents everything that Jesus did for us and there is great value in a deeper understanding of the power of the cross. In fact, the story of history is defined by what happened on the cross!
Crucifixion became a form of execution in the 4th century B.C. under Alexander the Great when it was used by the Romans for only the worst offenders. This was meant to be a public display of disgrace where victims were impaled in full view of passers-by. Death was incredibly slow and painful, sometimes this lasted many days and attracted big crowds. It was the most humiliating and horrific way to die but Jesus’ crucifixion was made far worse by the beatings and scourging inflicted on him in the build-up to the cross itself. Read this article to get an understanding of Jesus’ suffering from a medical point of view. Crucifixion was abolished in 337 A.D. by Constantine the Great in honour of Christ’s death, but there are still reports of crucifixion being practised today, particularly for those professing Christ in parts of the world violently hostile to the Christian faith.
Non-Christians may understandably be puzzled as to why Christians sing songs about the cross, wear crosses and why crosses are prominently on display in (and on) churches. It may be assumed that Christain’s are idolising something that is simply a cruel torture device. But to a Christian, there is something incredibly special and precious about the meaning of the cross – something that provides focus and clarity. What happened on that cross impacts every one of us.
There are several references to the cross outside of the gospel accounts. For example, the apostle Paul did not want to glory in anything but the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14 NIV)
We are all corrupted with sin with no possibility of “working” our way free of its hold over us. Because of God’s perfect justice and love, sin has to be atoned for – thankfully, because of his overwhelming love for us, God sent his own Son to pay for our sins. If it was not for the cross and the shed blood of Christ we have no way of being free from our sin and no possibility of appearing righteous before God – we would be condemned to an eternity outside of God’s presence.
Jesus had to die to make atonement for us and restore our broken relationship with God and make it possible for us to be reconnected to our maker. Jesus came into this world to be slain for our sin:
And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus. (Hebrews 10:10-19 NIV, emphasis added)
The Old Testament prophecies revealed in advance that this had to happen. Even the Jewish spring feasts anticipated the cross and pointed the Jewish people forward to the arrival of their Saviour – unfortunately many failed to recognise him. Jesus Christ provided the ultimate fulfilment of these spring feasts with His death, burial and resurrection. In fact, Jesus’ death on the cross fulfilled the Passover in precise detail. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 NIV)
Crucifixion was the only method of execution that would fulfil the Old Testament prophecies – no other method of death would lead to a literal fulfilment! Isaiah 53:5 predicts the Messiah would be “pierced” for our iniquity. Psalm 22 describes the future event of the Messiah’s death from a “first-person” point of view. Here, King David details that the hands and feet would be pierced by evil men while people stared and celebrated. Zechariah 12:10 prophesied the Messiah will be pierced and also that it was God himself that was killed. Jesus knew he had to be lifted up (John 3:14-15) referring to the typology of Moses lifting up the snake in the desert (Numbers 21). These Old Testament prophecies were written many hundreds of years before crucifixion was even used as a method of execution and graphically foretold the type of death that Jesus would suffer. These precisely fulfilled prophecies provide overwhelming credibility to the biblical text.
Jesus was fully aware that he had to die and he revealed this to his disciples ahead of time:
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:32-34 NIV)
But when we understand what happened upon the cross we can only be truly humbled. Ahead of the horrific suffering he was about to endure, Jesus prayed in anguish to the Father for the cup to pass from Him in the Garden of Gethsemane:
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 NIV)
God cannot tolerate rebellion of any kind, nothing can exist in His presence with any kind of impurity. This “cup” that Jesus is referring to is the cup of God’s wrath. For Jesus to take the penalty for all our sins, past, present, and future, God had to unleash His full wrath against Jesus. It is impossible for us to fully comprehend why this was necessary and what was involved in the spiritual realm – suffice to say, it was the only way possible to give us the prospect of life. That’s how much God love us!
Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10 NIV)
The Hebrew term for “to crush” means to literally smash into pieces. It was God’s will to crush Jesus with the knowledge that this would restore His relationship with us! You see, death and sin was brought into the world through ONE man (Adam) and this condition affects ALL humanity – therefore the payment/atonement of ONE man (Jesus) can therefore rescue ALL of mankind from this effect of sin. Our relationship with God was broken through the result of the actions of ONE man (Adam) – therefore, our relationship with God can also be restored completely through the actions of ONE man (Jesus):
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19 NIV)
Jesus received the punishment of every one of our sins in one instant upon the cross. That is why through Jesus’ death on the cross we are saved from God’s judgment! This short video describes The Full Meaning of the Cross.
And despite enduring all of this, Jesus did it with joy!
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 NIV)
Just imagine the amount of love required for this?! Through the work of the cross of Calvary, we have peace with God and we can appear righteous in the Father’s eyes:
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation– (Colossians 1:19-22 NIV)
Because of death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection, Jesus defeated death once and for all. The sacrifice of Jesus demonstrated the price of sin being paid, the resurrection demonstrated that this price had been accepted by God the Father.
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18 NIV)
This is the power of the cross – through the cross we have new life, a life that will never be subject to death. Satan thought he had won the victory when Jesus died. In fact, the opposite was true – Satan was defeated:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15 NIV, emphasis added)
We should be in eternally thankful for Jesus’ victory over death – at an outcome that God had planned from the beginning. We can celebrate the fact that our sins were nailed to that cross and give Jesus the praise and honour He deserves.
Now through Jesus we have access to the Father and can be fellow citizens with the saints:
and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, (Ephesians 2:16-19 NIV)
The cross was the greatest achievement in history and has cosmic and eternal ramifications. The cross is the key that unlocks our hearts and reopens our connection with our Creator. There is power in what Jesus did on the cross – power that sets us all free.
For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you. (2 Corinthians 13:4 NIV)
Being a Christian is not an easy path. Following Christ goes against the flow in society and many will not understand the new life Christian’s have in Jesus. Our culture does not recognise the existence of sin which is a huge problem. The purpose of the law of God was to highlight our failure to maintain Gods standards and our need of a Saviour. Without an understanding of sin and God’s justice, it is impossible to understand our need for repentance. This is not an attractive message – however, by knowing and understanding what Jesus did upon the cross, we have a decisive victory over anything this world throws at us. Christian’s are commanded to take up the cross and follow him:
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 NIV)
Jesus should be the centrepiece in our lives and we exist to glorify him. Jesus willingly did what need to be done for you. What will be your response – to accept or reject the offer of salvation?
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 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! (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV)
We have displayed the lyrics of two songs that focus on the cross below – we hope they will be a blessing to you and encourage a deeper focus on the cross…