Why the cross?

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Before he succumbed to cancer, comedian and atheist Bill Hicks once observed:

Hey, doncha think the real reason Jesus Christ hasn’t returned is those crosses you wear? “They’re still wearing crosses: I’m not going, Dad. They totally missed the point. When they start wearing fishes, I might show up again.”

And while I understand his line of thinking, I actually think he’s the one who missed the larger point.

Granted, the cross has become a fashion statement in many ways. But to Christians, it represents much more. It’s a reminder of their Savior.

In biblical times, death on the cross was considered the worst possible death. Crucifixion is a method of deliberately slow and painful execution in which the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead. While a crucifixion was an execution, it was also a humiliation, by making the condemned as vulnerable as possible. Although artists have depicted the figure on a cross with a loin cloth or a covering of the genitals, writings by Seneca the Younger suggest that victims were crucified completely naked. When the victim had to urinate or defecate, they had to do so in the open, in view of passers-by, resulting in discomfort and the attraction of insects. (Source: Wikipedia)

Wearing a cross as an adornment back then would be the equivalent of wearing an electric chair necklace or hangman’s noose earrings. It’s pretty appalling when you think about it.

So why the cross? Why use the very symbol of Jesus’s agonizing, humiliating and painful death to signify that you’re a follower of Him?

Because on that horrible, dark Friday so long ago, Jesus gave up his Spirit, the temple curtain was torn away and the world was changed forever.

The beauty of the cross is that God turned a symbol of horror and disgrace into one of hope and beauty in one act of love and ultimate sacrifice.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

–Isaiah 61:1-3

He makes beauty from ashes.

And over 2,000 years later, the cross and the tomb are still empty.

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He is risen.

Editor’s Note: This post is loosely based on a sermon taught by Jeff Hogan. It is used without his permission, and I’m really sorry if I messed it up, Jeff!

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