BY J. L. HALL
Thousands of sermons have focused upon the event and meaning of the Cross and still its full wonder is not exhausted, nor has its story become tedious or tiring to those who have experienced its power.
Positioned against the background of man’s rebellion against God and his fall into sin, the Cross is not merely the symbol of a martyr, nor does its magnetism lie in the paths of injustice done to an innocent man. Rather its appeal reaches to the deep root of man’s problem, to his sinfulness, and provides the only means of salvation acceptable to God.
We must never forget that the grounds of our salvation lie in the meaning of the Cross. As vital as other doctrines are to the plan and purpose of God for our redemption, apart from the Cross, they would be ineffective to save us. We are not saved from our sins by the Incarnation, the sinless perfection of Jesus
Christ, His matchless teaching, or His resurrection; but we are saved by His death on the Cross. It is His shed blood that cleanses us from sin (I John 1:7).
At the same time, the Cross would have no meaning if Jesus were not God, if He had sinned, or if He did not rise from the dead. But the central and supreme act was His sacrifice on the Cross. The Sovereign Ruler of the universe laid aside His regal robes and took upon Himself the rags of humanity to be a
Servant of men. He left His position of omnipotence to assume the role of weakness. Vacating His throne of glory, He was crucified on a cross of shame.
Perhaps the most wonder of all is that He took our repulsive sins within His pure and spotless heart, bearing their pain and exhausting their powers. He tasted the bitter cup alone; it should have been our cup, for it was filled with our sins.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (II Corinthians 5:21). It is only by the Cross that sinful man is reconciled to a righteous God
(Colossians 1:21-22; Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:16). Unless we meet God at the Cross to receive His mercy, we will meet Him at the White Throne to receive His wrath.
Everything a sinner needs he can find at the Cross. It is the place where he receives pardon for his sins, purity in his heart, peace in his soul, power in his spirit, and the promise of eternal life. It is the place where he can touch God and God can touch him. It was from this perception of the Cross that Paul exclaimed, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).
But not everyone views the Cross as his glory. Paul stated that “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).
To the Jews, the Cross was a stumbling block, it was an obstacle that interfered with their concept of progress. The idea of the Cross shattered their hopes of a conquering Messiah who, they believed, should break the chains of the Roman rule and restore the nation to a place of prominence.
Everything the Jews longed for in a victorious Messiah was contradicted by the death of Jesus. Instead of conquest, there was the crucifixion. In place of a regal throne there was the rugged cross. Rather than Christ defeating the Roman army, its soldiers made sport of Him, drove nails in His hands and feet, and pierced His side with a spear. To the Jews the Cross was a shame.
The Cross is still considered by many as an obstacle that impedes progress. It speaks of sacrifice, self-denial, and suffering-not of success, self-esteem, and the good life. The Cross measures life by how much a person gives, not what he gets.
Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell what he owned, distribute the money to the poor, and pick up the Cross and follow Him. To the thinking of the young man, Christ’s counsel would not lead upward but downward. To his lifestyle the Cross seemed too heavy a burden to carry.
Where is our glory? Do we obtain more delight in our own accomplishments than we do in helping a sinner find salvation? Is it possible that our eyes could be turned more upon our buildings, choirs, forms of worship, singing, and preaching than upon the sacrifice of the old rugged Cross? Do we find in the
Cross the beauty of life and the glory of God?
The Apostle Paul declared, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). We should notice that the Cross cancelled the “I”-“yet not I.” The life of Christ operates in and through only those who are willing to die with Him.
It is easy for us to become the prisoners of our own egos. Without serious thought, we can so wrap ourselves with the chains of self encircling concerns that we become slaves to our own passions, pleasures, and progress. The preaching of the Cross will often stop us from “reaching the top” and hinder us from achieving the success our egos demand. The Cross calls for humility when we are full of pride. It pleads for sacrifice but our egos glory in our possessions. It cries for surrender when selfish pride strives to win.
Those who have discovered the secret of the Cross know that the “stumbling block” in this world is also the door of abundant life, which is experienced now in the Holy Ghost, but will be fully realized beyond the grave.
The Greeks viewed the Cross as foolishness; that is, they called it folly to suppose that the death of Christ could hold the key to an understanding of life. While the Jews required a sign, some display of God’s power, before they would accept the Cross, the Greeks looked at the Cross for some rational explanation of life (I Corinthians 1:22). Both were disappointed. The rational mind of the Greeks could not acquire any sense from the symbol of defeat, from a theology that taught the self-crucifixion of God. Their humanistic view of wisdom had no room of an atonement for sins, and therefore they could see the
Cross only as meaningless, ridiculous, and irrational.
The Greeks’ view of the Cross is expressed today by those who ascribe to humanistic philosophies, who believe that the answers to man’s problems can be found not in God but within a person’s own heart and mind. They reject the concept of God, proclaiming that He is the product of superstition among the
But we must not suppose that these followers of humanism are much different from the thousands who profess a belief in God but who live as if He did not exist. Many of these know the moral standards of the Bible, but they either ignore them or consider them outdated for modern society. These easily discard modesty of attire, purity in thought, and honesty in living and replace them by the pleasure-seeking lifestyles that “burn the candle at both ends.” This hedonistic crowd recoils from the thought of holiness and ridicules those who submit themselves to the way of the Cross. They will have nothing to do with
self-restraint and standards of behavior.
To the Christian, however, the Cross is both the power of God and the wisdom of God (I Corinthians 1:24). Through the Cross he received the Spirit of power that set him free from the bondage and destruction of sin. Perhaps he was not aware that he was imprisoned by his sinful, depraved nature until he became illumined by the Cross. But every sinner is conscious that something within him pushes toward wrong, that his moral fiber is warped, that there is a wretchedness that throbs in his being. When one sinner came to this realization, he called out, “0 wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). He found his answers in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
The illuminating presence of the Cross first comes to us at the point of salvation, but its glory enlightens our path throughout life. The Cross was present when we repented of our sins, its shadow could be seen in the baptismal water, and its glory rested upon us in the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
We did not leave the Cross at the place of the new birth, but its presence is always near to guide us from glory to glory. By its glory we walk a separate path from worldliness: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).
The presence of the Cross reminds us of our Christian commitment: “Ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price” (I Corinthians 6:19-20). The beams reach into the home and establish the godly relationship among the members of the family: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25).
Moreover, the Cross creates within us the proper attitude and behavior toward each other: “But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15).
The eighth chapter of Romans speaks of the positive power of the Cross to save us from sin and from failure. First of all, Paul wrote that the Cross sets us free from condemnation (Romans 8:1-3). Then the Cross becomes our security from failure. As long as the Cross is our glory, we need not fear that we shall
be separated from Jesus Christ (Romans 8:33-39).
“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).
The seal of God’s promise that He will give His people whatever they need is the Cross. There is no greater assurance that God is on our side, and that we will share in the triumph of the ages. Then the glory of the Cross will be exchanged for the Crown of glory.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE PENTECOSTAL HERALD, DECEMBER 2002, PAGES 8-10. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH