Summary: For Christians, the cross is not a symbol of pain and death, but of love and life.
The Symbol of the Cross
Luke 23:32-41; 44-46
September 2, 2001
It’s amazing how people, countries and companies are defined by symbols. For instance, the United States as is most countries is symbolized by our flag; red, white and blue; stars and stripes. The Nike Company is linked to the “swoosh” symbol. As soon as you see it, you know that it’s Nike. They’re inseparable. A few years back, the rock musician Prince legally changed his name from Prince to a symbol he drew up. He wanted that symbol to become his identity.
It’s also amazing to me, that of all the symbols Christians could choose from to identify themselves with, we have chosen the cross. Think of the other symbols that Christians could have chosen over the ages. We could have chosen the Bible, a dove, a crown, a manger, or an empty tomb. But Christians have chosen the cross.
This choice is even more amazing when we consider the horror and torture with which crucifixion was regarded in the ancient world. Crucifixion was invented by barbarians, but taken over by the Greeks and perfected by the Romans. It has been regarded as the cruelest method of execution ever practiced because it delayed death until the maximum torture had been inflicted on its victim. It was possible for the victim to hang on the cross for days before dying very slowly of asphyxiation. The Roman Empire considered crucifixion such a heinous form of execution that they did not allow any Roman citizens to be executed in this manner except in extreme cases of treason. Cicero once said this about crucifixion: “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is – What? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.” (Stott, p.24-25 The Cross of Christ) Crucifixion was so painful and such a horrible way to be tortured and killed that a new word had to be created to describe it. The word “excruciating” was invented to describe the pain and agony of the cross. The word “excruciating” literally means “out of the cross”. (Strobel p.197-198 The Case For Christ)
Yet, with the horror of the cross and crucifixion, knowing that Jesus died such a death, Christians chose the cross as a symbol to identify themselves with. John Stott writes that, “It seems certain that, at least from the second century onwards, Christians not only drew, painted and engraved the cross as a pictorial symbol of their faith, but also made the sign of the cross on themselves and others.”
It’s been this way since the beginning of the church, Christians have identified themselves with the cross. For Christians, the cross doesn’t represent pain, torture, and death. The cross symbolizes God’s love for us and the new life we can have through Him. Leave it to God to turn something as ugly as the cross into a beautiful symbol of love and life.
Our Scripture text this morning is Luke 23:32-41, 44-46 and picks up at the point where Jesus has been led to place of execution along with two other criminals.
”Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals- one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and save us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’…It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.”
As we look at the cross this morning, we will see three things that the cross symbolizes. Three things that show the love of God and the new life we can have in Him.