Matthew 27:39-42 “The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!” The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he?”
The first century view of the cross is a far cry from how we think of it today. Cicero, famous Roman philosopher and orator who lived in the century before Christ, called crucifixion a “most cruel and terrifying death”. Josephus, famous historian in the century following Christ called it the “most pitiable of deaths”. You would never have seen anyone wearing a cross or find them adorning the walls of their homes. The very thought of it would be both horrifying and shudder-inducing. It was a punishment reserved for the dregs of society. It was designed to be both a social and political statement. There was nothing positive to be seen about it…ever. To be beaten and then hung naked for everyone to see, your charge displayed above your head, was the ultimate in shame and humiliation. Even though Jesus told his disciples he would die, crucifixion would have been the furthest thing from their minds. The idea of a “crucified Messiah” was a total contradiction. When Jesus died on the cross, there was no cry of victory from the disciples. Instead they looked on in disbelief as the movement they had been working to start for the last three years suddenly seemed to be over.
Pray: “Dear Heavenly Father, never let me forget that Jesus took my punishment on his cross. The humiliation, pain and shame was mine. In Jesus’ matchless name, let me never see a cross again without remembering that behind the victory was horrific suffering caused by my sin – Amen.”
1 Corinthians 15:3 “I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said.”
That “Christ died for our sins” was first on Paul’s “most important” list is essential to understanding why our faith and hope is in Jesus. Most Christians today see the cross as the pivotal point in our relationship with God. The open door for our reconciliation was accomplished when Jesus spoke the words “It is finished”. We know this because as Jesus sent his spirit heavenward, the veil separating men from the Holy of Holies (and the presence of God) was torn from top to bottom, symbolically eliminating the barrier that had existed between God and man since the fall in the Garden. Yet had the story ended there, we would have no assurance, no evidence that all Jesus said was true. His claim to be the Son of God hung on his prophesied resurrection three days later. Until Jesus was raised, his followers hid themselves like wanted men. There was no triumph. There was no hope…only despair. The work that Jesus had come to do culminated in the cross. But we needed a resurrected Messiah. We needed validation of all he had taught. We needed something to forever change the way we see the cross.
Pray: “Father, your Son took my punishment upon that cross. You tore the veil to show that Jesus had removed the thing that had separated us. In your Son’s powerful name, thank you for not leaving things there but showing your power and glory so that we who follow might have hope – Amen.”
Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
We know that the “joy awaiting him” was surely not his suffering on the cross. After all, he had spent time in Gethsemane pleading with the Father to remove the ‘cup’ from him. The cross represented the worst that the world could possibly throw at someone. And while shame and humiliation always accompanied those who were killed this way, Jesus ‘disregarded’ this shame. He would ultimately take its power away and make it of no account. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he would forever redefine what the cross stood for. Shame, sorrow and nightmarish suffering would be replaced by hope, joy and beauty. No longer did the cross represent death’s victory, but instead a victory of an entirely different sort. Instead of seeing it as the defeat of our Savior, it suddenly became the defeat of our sin. The blood shed on Calvary was no longer a gruesome reminder of torture but a reminder of how much we are loved and the cost of our ransom. Rather than demonstrating the power of Rome (and the Jewish leaders) over a ‘troublesome preacher’, it would now represent proof that nothing they could do could stop God’s word from going forth.
Pray: “Lord God, thank you for the cross. Thank you that I can now see it as my victory and not the terrible loss you suffered on my behalf. In your Son’s holy name, I will sing of the “wonderful cross” because you have shown your power through it and your love towards me by it – Amen.”
Philippians 2:5-8 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
What mind is it that we are to have “among ourselves”? The kind of mind that would be obedient even to “death on a cross”. Remember, the cross no longer represents the shame or guilt of sin. This redefining of the cross should allow us to redefine those things in our life we tried to hide because of the shame we felt because of them. Not that we should not feel shame for our sin…but rather that we don’t have to allow it to define the rest of our life. We don’t have to carry our sin anymore because it has already been carried for us. We no longer must bear the weight of a debt that has already been paid. When Jesus emptied the cross of its shame, he allowed us to empty ourselves of our shame as well. For first century Christians, the ever-present symbol of Roman brutality and persecution suddenly lost its fearful grip. That which they once feared to even look upon became something they could boast in…something they embraced for what it now meant. They now had proof that death was not the end. They now had proof that Jesus was who he said he was. And when death holds no fear for you…it changes everything.
Pray: “Heavenly Father, when I see the cross now I take joy in what it means. I no longer must expect the punishment due for all I have done. It is now the symbol of my liberty. Of how much you love me. In the name of my blessed Lord and Savior, thank you for setting me free – Amen.”
Galatians 2:20a “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
Now we have the privilege of identifying with the cross of Christ. No suffering, torture or abuse for us. Just an opportunity to daily nail our old life to the cross and die to who we were. I glory not in what the cross did to my Savior but what my Savior did to the cross. Christ, who has shamed the cross, now “lives in me”. As such, we may wear a cross around our neck, a symbol of our victory in him and a reminder of death’s defeat on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. The cross may now hang on the walls of our home, a thing of beauty reminding us of love’s greatest sacrifice. We are reminded we are to “take up our crosses” to follow Jesus – not as a labor of fear or dread…but demonstrating our understanding of all he has done for us. We suffer no loss because the old is replaced with something far more wonderful. We suffer no pain for he has already bore it all. Instead we glory in the “old rugged cross” and we rejoice that the “blood of Jesus washes me”. We have confidence (as did the first century believers) that death is not the end and our “resurrected king is resurrecting me”.
Pray: Lord God, my life is now found in Your Son. The cross is for me a symbol of hope. I will embrace it and find strength from it as did the first century believers after they saw it fail to hold our Savior. In Jesus’ mighty name, help me, I pray, to not live as one under a sentence of death but one who has received an undeserved pardon and a new lease on life – Amen.”