After all, a necklace with small silver or gold cross is a very common form of religious jewellery. Mind you, it was probably more common in the past, and often worn as a lucky charm. As to the cross itself, it has long been the central symbol of the Christian Faith. But is this distinctive shape just an instantly recognisable symbol, or should we be looking beyond a visual symbol to a deeper meaning?
First, let’s be clear that a symbol points to, or represents something else. We are all familiar with popular brand symbols used on cars that immediately communicate the make of a car, once you’re familiar with that distinctive symbol. Many businesses use a distinctive logo to identify them from competitors. And we are all used to words being the symbols of human language so vital for sharing ideas and meanings with each other.
Now, when it comes to the cross associated with Jesus, we are reminded of his death by crucifixion. In the cross many people see a symbol which reminds them of God’s love. I wonder how they see that, but first to the shape itself.
The cross is so-called because the vertical main stake carried a cross beam to which the wrists of the person were impaled by long iron spikes. Death by crucifixion was no ordinary death; this was the cruellest way the heartless ancients could devise to punish the lowest of all their common criminals.
Somehow a little cross-shaped piece of silver or gold seems to be a highly sanitised symbol of the most gruesome and despicable death by capital punishment practiced in the old Roman Empire. For however could the Christ or Messiah from God have ever finished up on such a humiliating instrument of death? For one so high, by whom the worlds were made, even to enter our humanity by childbirth was the ultimate self-humbling.
But then for the creator to become one of his own creations without ceasing to be the Creator, and for him to be willing to go to death in this way, stirs the apostle Paul to recoil in utmost horror – ‘even death on the cross’ (Philippians 2:8) he calls it. A symbol? No, far surpassing symbols, Jesus’ death on the cross was the supreme, saving rescue operation. This was none less than the personal intervention of almighty God; this is where we begin to see the everlasting wonder that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16) – that he would love sinful rebels, those who have broken God’s commandments, with such a love as to die for them.
Jesus’ death on the cross fulfilled a definite plan, for by his he death he ransomed a vast multitude of people for God. He taught this when he said, ‘For even the Son of Man [a special title for himself] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). His ransom death effectively satisfied God’s holy justice. This shows the awful seriousness of sin as the direct disobedience of God. Now this is the wonder of the cross – Jesus willingly, in love, endured that supreme penalty on behalf of those who did deserve it – for, keep in mind, he was without sin, and so he was able to take on the terrible debts and penalties of others. He did that as both God and man, the one true substitute and representative giving himself to rescue those who could never pay themselves without forfeiting their lives for all eternity in hell.
That is why the cross speaks of a vast deliverance, a great salvation. Not, of course, the wooden cross itself, but of the truths about Jesus’ death; the great good news of the biblical, revealed explanation of what was accomplished by the Saviour who died upon it.
Now, we are able to see that the cross is far more than a religious symbol for Jesus’ crucifixion.
With the truths about his death we may be clear that he alone is the way of salvation, for not only did he die once for sins, but he was raised to an endless life, vindicated as not guilty of his shocking sufferings. Indeed, ‘Christ died for the ungodly’ (Romans 5:6), and who, ‘being raised from the dead, will never die again’ (Rom. 6:9). As to his great saving work on the cross, it was ‘the Lord Jesus Christ, [who] gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age’ (Galatians 1:5). With salvation completely secured by Jesus’ death and by his merits, it is freely offered to all who will receive it as the gift of God.
Now all – including you, if you have not done so already, ought to respond to this wonderful good news with grateful thanks, with personal confession of sin to God, and wholehearted trust in the Lord Jesus, the mighty Saviour, for time and for eternity, of all who come to him, and who then live for him who gave his all for them.