Monday, September 01, 2008

# 260: The Cross

Why is the cross mentioned so often in Scripture, and what are the implications and aspects of the cross for disciples of Jesus Christ?

One aspect concerning the cross, which is not found in the Bible, is that it was Rome’s way of punishing criminals found guilty of a capital crime/s or less serious offenses—like the two robbers crucified alongside Jesus—with a horrific death; a death that was shameful, slow and extremely painful—Hebrews 12:2. "Jesus . . . scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of glory." The reason it was shameful was because the soldiers divided the garments of the one they were crucifying, leaving the condemned person naked—check the gospel of John, 19:23-24. The reason it was slow was because the injuries were on the bodies’ extremities (hands and feet), with no fear of immediate death. There may not have been a more painful death as a form of execution. Another reason for this extremely slow and painful death was Rome’s way of keeping a tight reign/control over the rabble throughout the entire Roman Empire. Most would think twice before breaking Roman law because of the severity of dying on a cross. That may be what we need to keep potential criminals in control, instead of a slap on the hand/wrist, as it were.

Actually, the wooden cross may have been no more than a fairly straight tree trunk, bark and all, without the cross bar. Why would Rome go through the trouble of making extra work for themselves, and use up scarce lumber by placing a cross bar? Another reason for supposing a tree trunk was used is because there are five verses that use the word “tree” instead of the cross. There are three different Biblical authors who used the word “tree” instead of “cross”: Luke—the book of Acts used it three times; Paul, in the book of Galatians; and Peter, in 2nd Peter. Another possible reason why the tree trunk was called a cross was to signify that if anyone in the Roman Empire disobeyed/crossed Roman law, their desires for life would be shortened by placing them on a tree. Repeating, if anyone crossed Roman law, Rome would cross them. Either way, the end result (death) and the slow and excruciating pain was the same.

1) The cross is symbolized in several different ways. One of the main ways is to bring death to our sinful human nature. That death is to be continually activated—the cross—throughout our lives. Since our sinful, animal nature is tremendously strong, we have to continually put it to death. Taking up our cross daily, which is not an actual cross, signifies the death of desires and actions which oppose the ways of God’s Will. Without putting our selfish ways to death every day of our lives, our sinful nature will—with little or no effort—slowly gain control of our lives again, and most often without our knowledge, until we are too far gone into the ways of the world/Satan to regain our faith, love and obedience. Hebrews 6:4-6. "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace."

Romans 6:6. "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin . . ."

Romans 6:11-12. “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires."

In Galatians 2:20, Paul blatantly says: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." That verse should be the cry of every born-again Christian.

Galatians 5:24. "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."

Matthew 16:24. "Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’"

Luke 14:27. "And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me daily cannot be my disciple."

Therefore, the cross we must take up daily is not an actual cross we hang around our neck to signify we are somehow affiliated with Christianity, or a cross we hang on the wall, or a picture of a cross, or any other way a cross is displayed. The cross (death of our old self) is to express our diligence in continually paying attention to all our desires and actions so that they conform to the Will of God. To actually believe and live as if our old self has been crucified is not an easy thing to accomplish; but with God’s power, we will continually live for Christ, since we will believe that our sinful nature has been crucified. This concept of carrying our cross daily is one of the most difficult to explain in a way that is understood by all disciples of Christ.

2) 1 Corinthians 1:18. "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." That is still true today. This verse seems to indicate that carrying our cross is the power of God working in us. Wow!

3) Then there is the stigma the cross carries or should carry. When our lives conform to the dictations of the New Testament, we no longer will conform to the ways of the world. This type of holy life, in which we continually carry our cross, will be offensive to many, because our changed lives will testify that the way they live is ungodly and sinful.

Galatians 5:11. "Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished"

Galatians 6:12. "Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they are doing this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ."

4) Are we living as enemies of the cross of Christ? We can know that answer by what this next verse indicates: Philippians 3:18-19. "For as I [Paul] have often told you before and now say again with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven." Paul is adamantly saying that the way we live—and not what we say—will tell if we are enemies of the cross.

5) Since many humans love to boast, let us boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Galatians 6:14. "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Yes, let us boast in the difficulties of living in a way—the cross—that brings glory to God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

1st Corinthians 2:31. "Therefore, as it is written: Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

6) Do atheists think all Christians are foolish and naive to put our faith in a crucified Jew? Do Jews refuse to believe in a Jew who died on a Roman cross for their sins, so that they may be connected (become one) with the God who created the universe?

1st Corinthians 1:23. "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to Gentiles . . ."

In conclusion, the aforementioned twelve or so verses used have nothing to do with a physical wooden cross; they are all symbolic/a condition giving the true meaning of the cross. It is only apropos to condense the meaning of the cross with all its complexities and erroneous beliefs into a simple sentence: The cross of Jesus Christ and the cross we are to bare are not trinkets, or even fixtures on church buildings, but are the mainstay and centerpiece of the genuine Christian life.

The apostle Paul puts it this way in 1st Corinthians 2:2. "For I resolved to know nothing while with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

I will take the time to pray to our God through Jesus Christ for those who adhere to most of the Biblical principles displayed in this blog, and share that good news with someone who might be interested in learning what the complete gospel of Jesus Christ is about—the sour along with the sweet. That sharing will, without a doubt, be good works/fruit that are required of all Christians/disciples of our blessed Savior. Do that and I am certain God through His Holy Spirit will personally bless you in ways you may never have asked for or expected! Amen and amen.

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