What’s the Deal with the Cross?
There are a lot of things in this world that are hard to understand. For me, math is one of those things. Science, while very intriguing, is a close second. Jesus' teachings probably rank high on that list for a lot of us. It certainly did for many who had the chance to hear Jesus.
In John 6:32-59, those whom Jesus fed miraculously the day before didn't get it when he said, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you" (NLT). If it was difficult for those having a conversation with him, how much more is it for us who simply read about it. Sometimes we don't understand what is happening, what we hear or read.
There are a lot of things about the Christian faith we don't understand, such as the Cross and the practice of crucifixion. We wear crosses around our necks and on our ears; we put them on our bumpers, tattoo them on our bodies, place them along highways, and adorn the tops of our church buildings with them. Part of our problem with understanding the cross is that it's often made to look pretty, used as part of an architectural design and as a symbol of a belief system.
In the first century, this would have been scandalous. The cross was a symbol of shame, accursedness, and weakness. Identification with it came not by choice. It was a death sentence. The person crucified on it was stripped naked, and it often took them several days to die. An analogous symbol for our time is the electric chair. Could you imagine that hanging on the walls of our homes and church buildings and around our necks?
Galatians 3:13 tells us the message of the Cross: Because we're not able to keep all the rules, we are always in trouble. It doesn't matter if we keep most of them. It only matters that you messed up on one; when we do that, we blow the whole thing. We are guilty and deserving of a death sentence. But Jesus took our guilt, our curse, our punishment for us.
Who does that for someone else? It doesn't make sense, does it? The Cross is foolishness to the wise. It doesn't fit conventional wisdom and is never something man would use as a solution to anything, let alone to humanity’s inhumanity, brokenness, and sin.
Our wisdom says that no one deserves to die. Punishment is not necessary, and certainly someone taking another's punishment is ridiculous. This isn't what the savior of the world should do. He is powerful, not weak.
Jesus' audience didn't get it. Neither do many of us. The Cross is not attractive, does not promise prosperity, and is not an emotional boost or positive experience. The message of the Cross won't fill church seats. By today's standards, Jesus was a ministry failure. His following had dwindled to nothing by the time he was hung on the cross.
The cross is a symbol of Jesus' invitation to give our lives away—to come and die. If you've ever had a conversation with someone about being a Christian, my guess is that this particular idea didn't come up. We promote the benefits of Christianity without mentioning what following Jesus requires. It's far more than praying a prayer. The call to follow Christ to the cross means trading our wants and desires for his and making choices that may lead to suffering, shame, and weakness. If more people were actually told this truth, perhaps fewer people would claim to be Christian and the commitment of those who say they follow Jesus would be deeper because it would matter.
In God's wisdom, the Cross makes sense. We can't talk ourselves into understanding it. There is nothing in us that can make it make sense. But to those who are open to its message, God will make it clear (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
A principle of learning is that we are responsible for what we know, especially when there is a call to action. The Cross presents us with a choice: will we follow Jesus? Will we die to our self-absorbed, self-protecting, self-promoting lives to live the way of Jesus? How will you choose?