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What is the Meaning of the Cross?

The Brutality of the Cross
Although the symbol of the cross appears in much pagan history prior to Jesus, the crucifixion cross has historical meaning due to the fact that crucifixion was a real, historical method of execution. As an instrument of death, the cross was detested by the Jews, so it became a stumbling block for them when considering Jesus. How could the Messiah be executed on a cross? After all, the Greek and Roman Empire executed thousands of criminals and captives in just this manner (Alexander the Great executed two thousand Tyrian captives in this way, after the fall of the city). This form of punishment was usually reserved for such crimes as treason, desertion, robbery, piracy, assassination, and other such crimes. It continued in the Roman empire until the day of Constantine, when it was abolished as an insult to Christianity.

How could God allow this type of horrific death to occur to His only Son? Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? What did he do that deserved this kind of death? Well, let’s take a look at the Bible to follow the trail that will lead us to the truth!

The Cross Reconciles (Pays) Our Debt
The Bible recognizes the truth that all sin must be punished. After all, God is just. And justice requires that wrongs are punished. You know that is true even for us living here on earth. We have to obey the laws or be punished! And God has a set of holy commandments (laws) that must also be obeyed. So, it shouldn’t surprise you that God requires this justice of us. The Bible also tells us that we could never pay the price for our sin on our own. Our sin is punishable by death. So, the cross is the place where Jesus paid the price for us, and in doing so, he united us to God:

Ephesians 2:14-16
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

The Cross is Where God Does ALL the Work
If we could pay our own penalty, we would eventually become proud and boastful, and confident in our own ability to live our lives apart from God. Maybe that’s why God does all the work here. In the end, HIS effort to save us is all we can ever boast about, and God likes it that way. Maybe that’s because He knows that we end up worshipping whatever we boast about. God wants to be the only object of our worship, so His work on the cross is the central focus of our faith:

Galatians 6:12-16
Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. 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. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

The Cross Demonstrates the Power of God to Save Us
In the end, the cross is the ultimate demonstration of God’s power. After all, we could never have accomplished our salvation on our own. But the cross can be confusing to many people around us who still want to live apart from God. For some of our friends, the idea of a God who would die on a cross fro us is simply crazy. It makes no sense from a worldly perspective! But that shouldn’t surprise us. Scripture tells us that a God who loves us like that will blow our minds. That kind of love seems unreasonable, and foolish to those who really want to save themselves:

1 Corinthians 1:17-19
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 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.

Some Won’t Even Recognize the Cross
Maybe that’s why non-believers think we’re crazy sometimes. Maybe that’s why people who want to try to work their way to heaven aren’t usually seen wearing crosses around their neck (heck, Mormons won’t even place the cross on their place of worship!). The cross is a symbol of God’s power; of the work he did to save us. It is the focus of our pride and the symbol of our salvation.

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