Summary: How did the cross become a symbol of love and hope from a tool for excruciating death?
Power of the Cross
We are in the Lent season. Since we are not in the mainline, or traditional congregation, this fact might be overlooked and forgotten by many of us. Parishioners in the mainline churches take Lent very seriously. I was reminded about this when I opened the news paper last Thursday. There was an interesting news, and not surprisingly, it was from Kerala. All interesting things originate from Kerala, God’s own country. Instead of the usual meat etc, The Orthodox Syrian church has asked its parishioners to give up modern day entertainment during lent. Things like, computer games, internet, TV etc. Interesting, isn’t it? In the early churches Lent was a big deal. In the traditional denominations lent is still a big deal. Lent is a period of grief that ends joyfully in Easter. Lent is supposed to put our focus back on the cross. So, immaterial of whether we celebrate Lent or not, let us focus on the cross, and the Topic for this month which is Power of the Cross.
Before we really meditate on the Power of the Cross, let us look at the cross itself. The cross or the crucifix was invented as a form of cruel punishment and execution by the Persians in 600 BC or so. Alexander the Great made very good use of this tool, and from there the Romans adapted it to punish slaves and traitors. However we know from the Bible that hanging on a tree was a curse from very early years. Deuteronomy 21:23 tells us that “…he who is hanged is accursed of God”. So the cross was not meant to be an inspirational, or ornamental or decorative item. It did not look anything like the nicely made polished wood that hangs in our church today. It did not look or feel anything like the ornamental pieces that many of us use it today. It was meant to be, and was actually used as a tool for very cruel , excruciatingly painful punishment for capital crimes. This is the reason why the first century church did not use the Cross as a symbol. The thought of the actual purpose of the cross was too painful for them to bear. The cross became the symbol of the church only during the second or third century.
So how did the Cross become a symbol of hope and love and salvation that Christianity stands for? That is the magic of Jesus Christ. Galatians 3:13 (NKJV) tells us “ Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"). Yes, Jesus Christ took our place on the accursed cross, so that you and I might enjoy abundant life and have the promise of eternal life. The Alpha and the Omega, the creator of the universe, the word that came down to live among the human beings, he himself hung on the cross so that the curse on the human kind might be lifted. As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 12: 3 “No one can call Jesus accursed”, yet he chose to hang on the accursed cross for our benefit.
When I became a Christian, one question that always baffled me was this; why did Jesus have to go through the excruciating pain and a most horrible death to save humankind? Being God, could he have not devised a less painful way of saving mankind? The answer lies in many parts. Firstly his death was substitutionary. He offered himself as a sacrifice for all the horrible sins of all of human kind.That is a lot. All the sins of all of mankind. I want you to imagine the enormity of that. And when one is carrying such an enormous amount of horrible sin, the sacrifice has to be horrible. Hebrews 2:14-18 tells us Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them,fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Jesus was releasing us from the power of sin and death through the power of the cross. Secondly, as we know from the old testament, a sacrifice cannot be without shedding of blood, so Jesus’s perfect blood had to be shed for the sacrifice to be complete. Thirdly, God need to demonstrate how horrible sin really is. His horrible death will remind mankind forever that sin is not painless, not shameless, sin does not remain in a corner. It is a horrible thing and somebody pays the price. In this case it is Jesus Christ. Fourthly and finally, we got to remember that Jesus Christ was really the final sacrifice. God had tried sending out the same message throughout generations before. He tried sending out the message of salvation through prophets, through kings, through servants, through Macho men, through beauty queens, through warriors, and even through a donkey. But nothing worked and Jesus was really the very last sacrifice. God wanted to make sure that he finally and once for all demonstrated the intensity of his love for humankind, through the intensity of Jesus’s death on the cross. And it had to be Jesus. Hebrews 5:7-10 (NKJV) tells us why; who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek," Jesus was the one who prayed with vehement cries for us all. He knew that if the Father wanted, he could have saved him from death. He was the only begotten son, He had been perfected in this earthly role, in this flesh, through sufferings and temptations, he was the King and he was the final high priest and He was the sacrifice itself. No one else could have played so many multiple roles at the same time. It had to be Jesus and Jesus alone, and it had to be in the way chosen by the Father, on the cross.