8-2-15 THE CROSS


August 2, 2015

                   The cross is the universal Christian symbol, acknowledged by all denominations as the single visual identifier of their faith.  So much so in fact, that we almost take it for granted.  We see it everywhere nowadays, not just in churches; and its significance is somehow diminished by its casual use as a purely decorative icon.  Perhaps satan thought if he couldn't get rid of it, instead he would cheapen it and corrupt it, so that it would no longer be meaningful and lead people to the Son of God who gave His life on it for our redemption.  It's simplicity of design made it all too easy for him to accomplish this.  Can you imagine if Christ had been born in our current day and age instead, and was executed in an electric chair?  I can't imagine an electric chair - or a guillotine or hangman's noose or Colt 45 - on top of a steeple, much less hanging around someone's neck (except maybe the most extreme of the goth types). 

          In movies we see it portrayed as having a power of its own.  After all, all you have to do to stop a vampire is hold up a cross, right?  And many people seem to think that if they wear a cross around their neck, it will protect them from harm.  Never mind that they don't really believe in Jesus.  To them it is a talisman, and its use borders more on witchcraft than on Christianity. But does a material cross have power of its own?   No, the power comes from our faith in Jesus Christ who died upon the cross, and shed His precious blood for our redemption.  Just wearing a cross, without faith, won't get you into heaven, and it won't keep evil at bay.  Satan would love for you to believe otherwise, and never really come to a saving faith.  Again, he is using the cross for his own evil ends.  It is faith in what occurred on the cross 2000 years ago that will save you, and not the cross itself.

          Then we have people who wear a cross for a different, but still wrong, reason.  They wear it for the image it gives off.  They are trying to tell others that they are good, that they are honest, trustworthy, decent people.  Meanwhile, they might have no at all remorse as they lie and cheat and steal.  That is a hypocritical, blasphemous use of the cross. 

          Some might wear it because it was given to them as a gift, or passed down from a previous generation.  More than likely the person that gave it to them, or from whom it was passed down, would want it worn as a true display of faith in our Lord.  I am keeping a tiny silver cross that my mother gave me to give to my granddaughter when she is old enough to appreciate it.   And I want to be sure that she understands what it symbolizes before she wears it someday.

          But the pendulum is starting to swing the other way again.  In today's politically correct culture, the cross as a symbol of Christianity is slowly returning to its pre-4th century status, when Christians were afraid to publicly display it for fear of persecution.  The apostle Paul told the Galatians (5:11), "If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended." More and more, symbols of faith are being removed from public places lest someone be offended.  Again, satan is trying to turn the cross into something it is not - this time into something offensive, resorting to the same old tactic he used in the beginning.  We are fortunate in America, that things have not yet reached the point of facing death for your religious beliefs, but in other countries your faith could easily cost you your life. 

          But it is what the cross means to you, personally, and not to our country, or the world as a whole, that matters.  The Bible tells us that "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."  (1 Corinthians 1:23)  The cross, a symbol of an agonizing execution, the means of execution that God chose for His only Son - not because He deserved it, but because He knew that Jesus would willingly suffer and die on it to save those who would put their faith in Him, because that is how much He loves us.  What do you see when we look at a cross?  Do you see God's love?  Do you see Christ's suffering?  Do you accept Him as your substitute, as payment for your sins?  Do you feel remorse for those sins, that He willingly took your punishment for?  

          These two simple pieces of wood, have become a profound symbol for true believers.  Mother Claudia of the Tyburn Convent saw even more in the symbolism of the cross.  She pointed out in the two pieces that make up a cross, there is a vertical coming down from heaven, entering into the earth, implanted in the earth.  There's the horizontal, the human, crossing the vertical, crossing the divine.  If you take away one of those parts, the vertical - there's no cross.  If you take away the horizontal - there's no cross.  So it's the fusion, the union of those two aspects - the divine and the human - that gives the cross its power and significance and its meaning; that God is always with us and He's particularly with us in our sufferings, in our cross.  And He cannot and will not separate Himself from us in our sufferings - he's always there to help us and console us, and to give us the strength to go on.  So it is a great symbol of hope in that way.  You can look up at the cross and see the vertical, and keep going up to God, to heaven.

          Yes, the cross.  Without the cross there would be no heaven for any of us.  Without the cross, we would have no hope.  No hope of salvation, no hope of eternal life, no hope for joy or peace or meaning.  Life would be empty, and then we would die and face eternal separation from God.  But thanks be to God, that He sent His Son to die on that cross, to pay for our sins, to redeem our souls, and to pave the way for us to receive the Holy Spirit to guide us through this life, and to be our guarantee of inheriting life eternal in heaven when we leave this earth (2 Corinthians 5:5).

          Our closing hymn for today is "The Old Rugged Cross" (by George Bennard).  It is a favorite of millions of Christians.  It words so simply, and yet beautifully, reflect what the cross should be to us.   Let me read it, and then we will sing it together:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,

The emblem of suffering and shame;

And I love that old cross where the dearest and best

For a world of lost sinners was slain.

So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,

Till my trophies at last I lay down;

I will cling to the old rugged cross,

And exchange it some day for a crown.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true,

Its shame and reproach gladly bear;

Then he'll call me some day to my home far away,

Where his glory forever I'll share