by Tom Wacaster
I have been taking some courses at Amridge University, and one of my courses for the summer was The Life and Ministry of Christ. In these classes we are expected to engage in discussions on some per-determined subject. On this particular occasion the subject was the cross and crucifixion. I provided five observations for consideration. See what you think.
The PRACTICE of the Cross/Crucifixion. The description of all that was involved in the process of crucifixion should bring every person to tears and make him take a closer look at himself and the horrible price that the sin of each of us cost the Son of God. It is a paradox that an instrument of shame should be the instrument of glory for those who seek refuge in God. In this discussion I want to use the word cross to refer, not to the wood, but to the significance of the death of Jesus. Paul wrote, “But far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). The backdrop for these wonderful words from Paul is centered in the arrogance of the Judaizers who desired to glory in having successful in persuading the Galatian brethren to accept circumcision. The popularity of Judaism in Galatia evidently set the stage for insincere teachers to make an outward show or carnal appeal. Paul thus exposed the real objective of the Judaizers in trying to compel Gentiles to be circumcised. They were not genuinely concerned about the spiritual welfare of the people but were greatly concerned in showing their loyalty to Jewish rites and customs by winning proselytes to Judaism through the church. When a Christian yielded to them to these Judaizing teachers, it was another trophy in which they could boast and glory.
The PASSION of the Cross. What is it about the cross of Christ that draws men to Jesus? Surely it is not the fact that it was some instrument of death, for other means of execution remain to this day as symbols of only infamy and disgrace. Who has ever written a song about the electric chair, or what poet has ever glorified the gas chamber or the hangman's noose? But let men erect a cross in their yard, or display it upon a billboard, and immediately the attention of those who see that cross is drawn to one figure in history Who made that cruel instrument famous. Let someone display an electric chair in the front of their yard and the onlooker might wonder why such a display. But his attention would not be drawn to any particular figure in history. But let a man put a cross in his yard and immediately those who pass by think of Christ and Christianity. From the fields of Arlington Memorial Cemetery in Washington, D.C., to the beaches of Normandy, and around the world, graveyards have been graced with small crosses at the head of each tomb declaring the hope that men have in a resurrection - a resurrection found only in Christ, and made possible because of His death upon the cross. Oh yes, On a hill far away, Stood an old rugged cross, The emblem of suffering and shame. For 2,000 years the cross of Christ has cast its beacon of hope across the tumultuous seas of human misery and sin, and the message of the gospel is so closely associated with that cross that to speak of the one is to bring to mind the other.
The PREACHING of the Cross. There are numerous passages that emphasize Paul's attitude toward the cross. He intended for his preaching to emphasize the cross (1 Cor. 1:17), he recognized the word of the cross as being God's saving power (1 Cor. 1:18), and he preached Christ crucified, the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks, foolishness, but to the saved, the power of God, and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:23-24). In his preaching he was determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). He preached that God reconciled Jew and Gentile in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (Eph. 2:16). He may very well have had tears running down his cheek as the wrote the following: For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things (Phil. 3:18-19).
Why ought one to glory in the cross of Jesus Christ? The very purpose of the Cross compels us to glory in that Cross. I ask again, Why? It is the greatest evidence of God’s love for man (Rom. 12:1; John 3:16; Rom. 5:6-8). It manifests the Lord’s own great love for man. He willingly gave Himself that men might be saved (Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25, 1 Pet. 1:18-19, 2:24-25). His death on the cross fulfilled the law (Matt. 5:17, John 19:30, Col. 2:14, Rom 7:4). It provided the way for the New and better Covenant (Matt. 26:28, Heb. 8:8-13, Heb. 10:9). His death on the cross made possible forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:22, Rom. 4:25, 1 Pet. 1:18-19). In the cross the blood of Jesus was shed by which our Lord purchased the church (Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25). The cross brought a new people into the world. Paul called them a new creation (Gal. 6:16). That new people is the bide of Christ (Eph. 5:22-30, Rev. 21:2, 21:9, 22:17).
The PERSON of the Cross. Jesus said, And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself (John 12:32). Jesus did not say, If Abraham be lifted up! He did not say, If Moses be lifted up! He did not say if some prominent politician, wise sage of ancient Greece, or some orator from institutes of higher learning be lifted up! But He DID say, if I be lifted up. The apostle John informs us that Jesus was speaking of what manner of death he should die 12:33. Many a man had died by crucifixion; others would follow in His train. It was not the crucifixion, but the One Who was crucified thereon that is important. Time and space would fail us if we were to attempt an exhaustive examination of the life of Jesus Christ. As Phillip Schaff so eloquently put it:
Who would not shrink from the attempt to describe the moral character of Jesus, or, having attempted it, be not dissatisfied with the result? Who can empty the ocean into a bucket? Who can paint the glory of the rising sun with a charcoal. No artist's ideal comes up to the reality in this case, though his ideals may surpass every other reality. The better and holier a man is, the more he feels his need of pardon, and how far he falls short of his own imperfect standard of excellence. But Jesus, with the same nature as ours and tempted as we are, never yielded to temptation; never had cause for regretting any thought, word, or action; he never needed pardon, or conversion, or reform; he never fell out of harmony with his heavenly Father. His whole life was one unbroken act of self-consecration to the glory of God and the eternal welfare of his fellowmen. A catalogue of virtues and graces, however complete, would give us but a mechanical view. It is the spotless purity and sinlessness of Jesus as acknowledged by friend and foe; it is the even harmony and symmetry of all graces, of love to God and love to man, of dignity and humility of strength and tenderness, of greatness and simplicity, of self-control and submission, of active and passive virtue; it is, in one word, the absolute perfection which raises his character high above the reach of all other men and makes it an exception to a universal rule, a moral miracle in history. It is idle to institute comparisons with saints and sages, ancient or modern. Even the infidel Rousseau was forced to exclaim: 'If Socrates lived and died like a sage, Jesus lived and died like a God.' Here is more than the starry heaven above us, and the moral law within us, which filled the soul of Kant with ever-growing reverence and awe. Here is the holy of holies of humanity, here is the very gate of heaven (Schaff, History of the Church).
We glory in the cross because of the One Who died there. God come in the flesh (Phil. 2:5), became a Servant, submitted Himself to the Father in all things, and stands at the head of the human race as the only Man if we dare call Him that who lived a sinless life, and surrendered that life that men might be saved. Napoleon Bonaparte paid this tribute to the Person of Jesus:
I know men, and I tell you Jesus Christ was not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and other religions the distance of infinity. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon sheer force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him. In every other existence but that of Christ, how many imperfections! From the first day to the last He is the same; majestic and simple; infinitely firm and infinitely gentle. He proposes to our faith a series of mysteries and commands with authority that we should believe them, giving no other reason than those tremendous words, 'I am God.' (Napoleon Bonaparte).
The POWER of the Cross. The Cross has a drawing power to it (John 12:32). What is it about the Cross that draws men to Jesus? For one thing a glorious Savior died thereupon (Acts 2:22 ff). A glorious love prompted it (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10). Innumerable glorious blessings flow therefrom (Eph. 2:16). A glorious church was made possible by it (Eph. 5:25-27). The glorious coming, with its attendant heavenly reward, was made possible by it (Tit. 2:13; Eph 5:25-27; 1 Cor. 15:22-26; Phi. 3:21); and the glorious Gospel became a reality through it (1 Tim. 1:11; 2 Cor. 3:16-18). The message of the cross, the Gospel, is God's power to save men Rom. 1:16. That Gospel is heaven's pledge, the sinner's plea, the Christian's hope, and the devil's defeat. I cannot fathom the intricacies, nor can I fully understand how men are changed by the words of that message. But history has proven the words of Jesus true. When Jesus Christ was born into this world Rome was on the throne and paganism at her right hand. From one end of the empire to the other, from the center to the circumference, idolatry and paganism ruled supreme. It is somewhat surprising to learn, therefore, that just fifty years after the death of our Lord on the cross there was a church in every principal city of the Roman Empire. Christianity had swept across the Roman empire with such force that Rome with all her centers of infidelity crumbled in the wake of the preaching of the Gospel. The impact of Christianity was nothing short of phenomenal. Will Durant concluded, There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fiery tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has ever known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won. Even by human standards of measurement the change that was wrought throughout the known world was swift. Like a prairie fire, the Gospel of Jesus Christ dethroned idols, swept away pagan strongholds, overcame ungodliness and brought to the empire an evangelistic fervor and newness of life unlike anything offered to man prior to that time.
By human standards Christianity should have been defeated before it ever got off the starting block. Instead it succeeded. It succeeded because of the zeal of the people. Coming out of pagan darkness into God's wonderful light (Col. 1:12-13), those men and women of the first century were willing to give their life for the cause of Christ. Their voices could not be stilled nor could the fire that burned within be quenched. As one author noted,
No law could be passed stringent enough to shut their mouths. No torture could be devised sufficiently horrible to hush their testimony. They laughed at death and despised the cross and the stake in their happy, earnest effort to win others to Jesus Christ. When ten were slain, a hundred took their place. When the hundred died, a thousand sprang from the blood-reddened sands to die in turn, in the hope that their testimony might be sealed with an evidence of their sincerity. But behind it all was the unshakable faith in the reality that Jesus was raised from the grave, and that they, themselves, were promised immortality if they would but remain faithful to their Lord (C.C. Crawford).
The message for us is simple. If Christianity could so conquer and captivate a nation steeped in idolatry and immorality, what makes us think that the glorious Gospel is not just as powerful in our generation as it was when Rome opposed our Lord, and lost? Indeed, it is. May our lives demonstrate that same unconquerable faith of those early Christians who gave their lives in service to Him Who died for us that we might live!
Dear friend, that cross, and all that it stands for demands some kind of response. Men can ignore it, ridicule it, mock it, and seek to eliminate its presence, but in so doing they stumble over the One Who Himself said, And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself (John 12:32). It has been more than forty years since Lois Cheney wrote the following lines:
I once saw a cross so big
It was as high as the church
In front of which it stood.
It was made of railroad steel
And it was very dramatic,
And I was moved
And I was impressed
As I walked by and away from it.
I once saw a cross so lovely,
It was a work of art,
Carved and polished
It was made to look
Both strong and delicate,
And I was moved
And I was impressed
As I walked by and away from it.
There once was a cross
Not so high; not so lovely
It was not a work of art.
Rough, full of splinters
Its simple mystery
And I cannot walk by it
And I cannot walk away from it