Summary: Four word pictures about the death of Jesus for people investigating the Christian faith.
My wife committed her life to Jesus Christ while she was a junior in high school. Shortly after she became a follower of Jesus Christ, she had a conversation with a friend who was a Jehovah’s Witness about whether or not a Christian should wear a cross. Her friend reasoned that since the cross was the way Jesus was executed, it was totally inappropriate for someone who claimed to be a follower of Jesus to wear one. If your brother was killed in a drive-by shooting, you wouldn’t wear a silver assault rifle. If one of your ancestors had been lynched you wouldn’t wear a gold noose.
In some ways, my wife’s friend had a point we often fail to miss today. You see, after 2,000 years of church history we have a difficult time understanding how scandalous the cross truly was to the people in Jesus Christ’s generation. So far as we know, death by crucifixion on a cross originated with the ancient Persians, but it was the ambitious Greek military general Alexander the Great who made it a popular form of execution. By the time the Roman Empire came to power, crucifixion on a cross was a form of capital punishment reserved for only the worst criminals. To the Jewish mind, being nailed to a cross was such a shameful way to die that they considered any who were crucified to be cursed in God’s sight. The Roman author Cicero wrote, "Let the very name of the cross be far away not only from the body of a Roman citizen, but even from his thoughts, his eyes, his ears" (cited in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1:1038). Had the early Christian church hired a Madison avenue marketing group to help them come up with a logo for the Christian faith, a cross wouldn’t even be on their list it was such a revolting, shameful and offensive symbol.
Yet the cross has endured the test of time as that which seems to capture the essence of the Christian message. In spite of the fact that the cross was a scandal to the Jewish mind and an offense to the Roman mind, the apostle Paul sums up the message of the New Testament as "the word of the cross" (1 Cor 1:18).
Popular Christian author Max Lucado says "[The cross] rests on the time line of history like a compelling diamond...History has idolized and despised it, goldplated and burned it, worn it and trashed it. History has done everything but ignore it...Never has timber been regarded so sacred" (The Cross 1).
We’re in a series called WHAT DO CHRISTIANS THINK? We’ve been looking at the basic beliefs of the Christian faith, and exploring these beliefs in a way that both irreligious people and Christians can understand. So far we’ve looked at what Christians believe about God, the Bible, the world, and Jesus. Today we’re going to look at what Christians believe about the cross. Today we’re going to explore four pictures that the Bible paints about what happened on the cross.