The shape, color and word “STOP” of a stop sign tell you that you must stop, but the stop sign itself has no power to make you stop, its what the symbol represents that gives it the power…The cross is a symbol... a symbol with multiple meanings. The cross on our wall is wood, made by Andy Anderson out of the posts of an old sign outside…
The Christian cross has always been controversial. In the wreckage of the World Trade Center of 911 a worker found two intersecting beams…. The Ground Zero Cross, as it became known, was erected on a mound of rubble and sprinkled with holy water by a Catholic priest. The cross attracted devout pilgrims and curious tourists without controversy. Only when it was brought into the National Sept. 11 Museum the lawsuits began. It was argued the cross was a slap at the non-Christian victims of 9/11 and had no place in a publicly funded institution. The museum prevailed in court on the grounds its exhibit had already made the transition from religious symbol to historical artifact.
1 Cor. 1:18 says, “For 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.”
Jesus was arrested the night before and crucified at 9 a.m. That’s swift justice! Jesus was put on trial in four courts: first the religious leaders, then Pilate, governor of the land as a Roman official, then Herod, who was appointed by the Roman’s as King, then back to Pilate who ordered the execution of Jesus but washed his hands of the matter not wanting to take responsibility… Former pastor of this church, Jim Osborn, worked as a juvenile probation officer, He used to say that in his opinion the biggest problem with the system was the extreme length of the trial system so that by the time the teen was punished for the offense they forgot what they’d done in the first place. Jesus’ trials are the opposite extreme, so swift how could they have confidence they got it right, but of course, that is the point….the cross is not about earthly justice, but heavenly reconciliation…
The cross is a powerful symbol. A stop sign has one message: STOP. The Cross is filled with multiple messages: when you look at the cross, what do you see? Feel? Called to do? Do you love the cross? Do you hate the cross? Does it make you feel guilty? Forgiven? Hope? Death? Life? I’m glad that in our tradition we have a cross that is EMPTY! I see a cross that points from DEATH to LIFE! RESURRECTION! Going back to Mark the symbolism of the cross includes a burden to be carried… It’s a divine appointment when Simon from Cyrene was forced to carry the cross for Jesus… READ Mark 15:21… what a tremendous divine appointment. Or was it?. The Cross is the instrument of death for Jesus. That would be like delivering the gun to shoot him…. The truth is that it wasn’t only the Jews or the Romans that nailed Jesus to the Cross, but it was humanity; Jesus died on the cross taking our place, we who deserved death. Jesus who never sinned, the perfect lamb, was sacrificed taking our place in death. There are probably different ways to see Simon, but I see him as representing each of us, carrying the cross for Christ to be sacrificed. Jesus did not deserve to die. Pilate recognized that when he sentenced him. The Roman soldier knew it after Jesus died; he insightfully summed up the truth of who Jesus was in Mark 15:39: “Surely this was the Son of God.”
For those who are being saved, the power of God is found in the cross! More meaning from the cross in Mark: a symbol of mocking and scorn…Jesus is mocked by the Romans, those who pass by… until that great day when the Lord returns and “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10-11), there will be mocking, hatred, misrepresentation of the faith. The unbelieving world will always hate the cross and what it stands for. I sometimes imagine of our cross in our yard, what if some night somebody decides to paint graffiti on it…you can’t disfigure a cross! It’s already a disfiguring symbol because it represents punishment: the cross, a symbol of death that is transformed by Christ into a holy symbol….I can’t get my mind around it!
The cross symbolizes Jesus identifying with us: Two robbers are crucified with him: one on his right and one on his left. At an earlier time, James and John, two of Jesus disciples, secretly tried to get Jesus to agree to let them sit on his right and left, they wanted the power of being his 2nd and 3rd in command… “You don’t know what you are asking” Jesus said (Mark 10:38). Two thieves are on his right and left, the places of “honor” that James and John earlier conspired to get for themselves. We know in the book of Luke that one of the thieves confesses his sins and is granted salvation and eternal life. The cross represents reconciliation as Jesus receives common sinners like you and me giving them a place of honor. The thieves are guilty. Jesus isn’t guilty.
The cross represents a broken down barrier to God. Earlier in the week Jesus entered the temple courts and disrupted the buyers, sellers and bankers so that the gentiles could once again enter the temple courts in worship, praise and sacrifice to God. During that sermon, we spoke of all the barriers: the outer courts for the gentiles and Jews, then the next court for Jews only, then only Jewish men, then only priests and finally in the most sacred central court the Holy of Holies reserved only for the Hight Priest once a year on the day of atonement. When the Bible says “Jesus breathed his last” in Mark 15:37, what is the very next statement? “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). Top to bottom clearly showing a divine miracle. [show how I’d tear the curtain on our window] I’ve read that this curtain, separating the Holy of Holies from the court of the priests was as much as a foot thick, torn from top to bottom, a miracle greater than the parting of the red sea! The death of Jesus on the cross represents direct access to God: the high priest is no longer needed to be the go between from us to God. I look at the cross and I know I can go directly to God. You don’t need a pastor, you don’t need a priest. In the cross God established a way for you to go directly to him because the curtain was torn in two!
There is certainly much more in Mark I have missed as to what the cross means: For those who believe, the cross is a reminder that Jesus died for your sins, the empty Cross is a reminder of Resurrection and New Life, the cross symbolizes Jesus’ acceptance of us, and a broken barrier so that we have direct access to God.
The cross is a central symbol of the Christian faith. Without the cross the Christmas story is not much more than a good story. All four of the gospels center on the cross of Christ as the heart of why Jesus was sent to earth. So much of the rest of the writings of the New Testament, in one sense, is a commentary on working out what it means to live as a Christian who believes that Jesus died taking our place so that we could find forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
From other scriptures we learn more of the power of the cross:
The Cross represents LOVE: For those who know it let’s recite John 3:16 together…. “He gave…” is surely referring to the cross… Rom. 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Also from John 3:16 the cross represents the greatest promise of all: eternal life.
The Cross symbolizes Obedience: Matt. 10:38: “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Commitment. Follow God.
The Cross establishes Jesus as the center of faith: Heb. 12:2: Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The Cross represents forgiveness: Col. 2:13-14: When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us…he took it all away nailing it to the cross.”
We don’t have time to pause on every meaning of the cross or we’d be here for hours, but let me pause on forgiveness. To consider that God forgives us of our sins is an amazing gift. Years ago when Esther was in Middle School, we sent her on a winter retreat with a conference youth retreat. One evening we got a phone call from the director, Dan Harrel, a friend. Esther was in an ambulance on the way to a hospital in Ellensburg. One of the leaders took it upon himself to take some of the kids on a back snowy road towing them behind his rig on a giant innertube. As the vehicle is rounding a long sweeping bend, in the opposite direction comes a speeding car towing a trailer that is fishtailing, back and forth. Esthers was looking the opposite direction and saw none of it. As the trailer came by Esther it fishtailed into the back of her head… the car kept going, never to be seen, probably not ever knowing what had happened…. A winter storm had set in and the passes were closed, so no way for Sally and me to go…. I think I wore a path in the carpet in our house… Esther recovered, but she still gets headaches… Could have been worse, but shouldn’t have happened at all… The insurance company, of the driver, was offensive taking months to settle with stupid statements along the way that were infuriating… “nothing broken, only her flesh”…Dan Harell was so good and so apologetic, indirectly as the leader responsible, but he would have never agreed to such a stunt… But soon I had a phone call with the youth leader that on his own decided to tow MY child on a road behind his rig… what was he thinking? No explanation made sense. He was a grown man with his own kids. How stupid and irresponsible. How do you forgive? Some (all?) of you know what it is to struggle with forgiveness, somebody has offended you in ways you don’t deserve. Many live compromised lives because they are the offender and can’t forgive themselves. God created us to have a relationship with Him. Sin is a divide separating us from God. Jesus Christ died on the cross to forgive our sins so that we could have a way back to God! The Cross represents the reality of forgiveness through Christ. May that bring you to tears…
When I look at the cross I see a giant plus sign ~ nothing but positive, God adding to our lives so we can find forgiveness, reconciliation with God and others, a new life, a new hope. I love the Cross: Gal. 6:14 says “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Brag about the cross because we don’t deserve it.
The cross is one of the greatest symbols ever given because it speaks entirely of what Jesus Christ has done for us… whenever you look to the cross may you be reminded of his great love as he died for you, was raised to new life, breaking down all barriers so that we might live as people of faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.