Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: What did the cross mean to Jesus?

Jesus the Savior November 25, 26, & 29 2007

Jesus Who?

The cross as the symbol of Christianity

It is very surprising that Christians use the cross as their main symbol.

I have mentioned before that the cross was not a symbol of a victorious king – it was only the symbol of a failed messiah. Of all the so-called messiahs that came before Jesus, and the ones that came after, their messianic movement had an abrupt stop at the cross. The cross was an indisputable sign that this guy was not the messiah. Those that had followed them went home with their tails between their legs, embarrassed that they had read the signs wrong. Kill the shepherd and the sheep scatter. But not the Christians – their movement grew after the crucifixion of their messiah. It grew in leaps and bounds! Historians have trouble explaining the speed of the growth of followers of this tortured to death messiah.

Most horrific of deaths – only foreigners could be crucified, it was too terrible for Romans.

Roman soldier would use the symbol of the cross to instill fear in the hearts of the people they were trying to control. To wear a cross around your neck would be like wearing a miniature machete during the Rwandan genocide.

Constantine abolished Crucifixion. It was too barbaric for his civilized empire

It was only after there was no one alive who had seen an actual crucifixion that Christians took it as a physical symbol of their faith. Now, 2000 years later, it is the most recognized symbol of the faith. Even people with little or no faith wear crosses as jewelry.

From the very beginning, if it wasn’t yet a physical symbol, it was an important verbal symbol of the faith.

Paul says… May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” - Galatians 6:14

Did this new faith grow out of a fascination with the gruesome and macabre? Was it like an early version of slasher movies?

No, whenever the crucifixion is mentioned, it is never described – the word was enough, people had seen it, they didn’t need Mel Gibson to describe it in all its gruesome detail.

Then why this emphasis on the sad end of their supposed Messiah?

Because of the bigger picture of what the cross meant. The Christians believed that much more happened at Jesus’ cross than the horrific death of a great man.

Early Christian’s understanding of Jesus’ death

The problem

Almost immediately after Jesus death, followers of Jesus began to see that their previous expectations of Jesus were two small. They had the typical expectations of a Messiah, concentrated in the removal of foreign powers and restoration of Israel. They soon saw that the problem that Jesus came to solve was much larger than Israel. It was a whole creation that was separated from the God who created it. It was the whole of humanity, living separately from the God who desired intimate community with them. – a people separated from their God – all people

Paul talks about how the whole of creation is waiting eagerly; like a prisoner waiting to be released, or like a pregnant woman waiting for the child to come. She is waiting eagerly for this full reconciliation with God.

The separation began with people turning their backs on God.

To quote the patron saint of the “Jesus Who?” Course, Bono:

My father is a rich man

He wears a rich man’s cloak

Gave me the keys to his kingdom coming

Gave me a cup of gold

He said I have many mansions

And there are many rooms to see

But I left by the back door

And I threw away the key

And I threw away the key

Yeah, I threw away the key

Yeah, I threw away the key - The First Time - U2 - Zooropa

We are so deeply connected with the whole of creation, that when we leave by the back door and throw away the key, we drag the rest of the cosmos with us.

The problem is that we all left, no matter how much we think we are okay, we are part of the whole of humanity that left. And we, each in our own little way, live the life of leaving.

I think that Matchbox Twenty grasp this problem in their song, “Back 2 Good.”

And everyone here, hates everyone here for

Doing just like

They do

Its best if we all keep this quite instead

And I couldn’t tell, why everyone here was

Doing me like

They do

But I’m sorry now, and I don’t know how

To get it back to good – Matchbox Twenty, Back 2 Good

Everyone here, hates everyone here for

Doing just like They do – we might get frustrated with the evil in the world around us, but if we look close, the evil is in us as well – we often hate most that which we see in ourselves

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