The Symbol of the Cross
Perhaps there is no more recognizable religious symbol than the cross. The symbol itself is often prominently displayed in churches and Christian institutions. It is even a precious form of jewelry worn by many followers of Christ. And yet, have you ever stopped to consider what the cross really stands for?
In a 1981 PBS television series, The Christians, the narrator said, “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central focus the suffering and degradation of its God. The crucifixion is so familiar to us, and so moving, that it is hard to realize how unusual it is an as an image of God.”
Fleming Rutledge says of this observation that the narrator comes closer than many Christians to understanding not only the abhorrent and irreligious nature of crucifixion as a method of execution, but also the unlikelihood of it arising out of religious imagination.
The cross was a form of execution in the Roman world. No one in the time of Christ would have dreamed of the cross becoming a religious symbol, let alone a piece of jewelry to be worn. Rather, the cross was a symbol of death. But not just any death; it was the death of a slave or a criminal.
If nothing else, the cross tells us that Jesus identifies himself with the outcast and the lowly. Scripture says of the crucified Jesus that “he was numbered with the transgressors.” There can be no more vivid picture of this identification than the cross. The cross was the symbol of death for the lowliest of transgressors. It was a picture of the curse that comes to the transgressor. It was cruel and godless.
And yet by being pinned to the tree, Jesus absorbed the curse of our sin so that we can be made right with God. No doubt the cross is an appropriate symbol for the church and it serves as an appropriate reminder of what Jesus has done for us when worn around our necks. But in the symbol of the cross, let us not lose sight of the depth of God’s love for us in Jesus. Jesus was numbered with transgressors like you and me.
So when we contemplate this symbol of the cross, and when we hear the words of Jesus to “take up your cross and follow me” may we too follow the way of the Master. May we too identify ourselves with the lowly and the sinner, the outcast and the forgotten, the wayward and the transgressor. For this indeed is the way of the cross.
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