Don’t Sterilize the Cross

Cross

“Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1b-2 (CSB)

On this Good Friday, let us remember the Cross was a brutal form of ancient torture so barbaric the Romans outlawed its use. It was like the electric chair or waterboarding… something only done to those who are the worst-of-the-worst of criminals. Like the electric chair, it’s goal was always death in a way that was shameful and painful; like waterboarding, it was only done to those who are not citizens but people who are considered great threats against the government.

Meanwhile, we have sterilized and gilded it as a piece of jewelry to wear around our necks. Perhaps your cross necklace truly draws you to remember the shame and torture Jesus endured for your salvation. But my gut says most of us have simply covered the cross with gold and made it into an ornament.

We don’t like considering the pain and torture Christ endured. It seems so barbaric and inhumane. But today, as we consider Christ’s sacrificial and atoning death on the cross, remember what he endured for you.

Take a few minutes to glimpse into the reality of crucifixion by meditating on The Horror of Crucifixion, which features a powerful audio clip which conveys the shame and terror that the cross would bring.

This Easter season, let the cross remain gritty. It was there that your sin and guilt and shame were removed – and replaced with purity and holiness and grace.

What does Palm Sunday have to do with Good Friday?

Palm Branch

On Palm Sunday we often talk about the Triumphal Entry, when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey and the people gathered to cheer and celebrate him as a prophet, laying palm branches down before him in joyful celebration. This fulfilled multiple prophecies and it showed us a foretaste of Christ’s kingship where all peoples would worship him in glory. It seemed that the Messiah’s plan was being fulfilled, but only a few days later the religious leaders stirred the people against Jesus and they put him to death for blasphemy and treason.

Jesus’ triumphal entry may have begun while riding on top of a donkey, but was fulfilled while carrying his cross to Golgotha on Good Friday. Jesus was a different type of Messiah than the people expected or wanted. They wanted a savior from the Romans who would restore the glory and pure-worship of Israel.

He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him.
Colossians 2:14-15 (CSB)

Matthew 16:13-28 shows a helpful narrative to set Palm Sunday in context with Good Friday. Once Peter offers the first confession of Christ (“You are the messiah, the son of the living God”), Jesus then begins to tell the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die and be resurrected.

Peter’s rebuke (“Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to you!”) completely makes sense when you put yourself in the disciples’ sandals.

  • You’ve walked the dusty streets, watching Jesus place his hands on lepers. But instead of the leprosy transferring to his flesh, his purity cleanses them and brings healing. (Matthew 8:1-4)
  • You’ve trembled when confronted by the demon-possessed, and yet the demons were the ones who shuddered in fear when Jesus came walking along. (Matthew 8:28-34)
  • You’ve fought against storms on the sea, fearful that your ship was falling apart until Jesus woke up and told the waves to calm down… and they did. (Matthew 8:23-27)
  • During another storm Jesus simply walked on the water, even while it was threatening to sink you. (Matthew 14:22-33)
  • You’ve seen Jesus swarmed by thousands of hungry people and make enough for a small meal feast for the entire crowd… with leftovers. (Matthew 14:13-21)

So when Jesus begins to foretell his death and resurrection, the disciples are rightly shocked. This isn’t what they expected from their master who has shown such great power and authority. Why would he suffer like that?

And not only does Jesus rebuke Peter, he responds by saying, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” He essentially says Peter, not only must this happen to me, it must happen to you too… and to anyone else who wants to follow me. Cross carrying is at the heart of Christianity.

Jesus’ plan all along was to enter Jerusalem triumphantly. Colossians 2:14-15 reminds us Jesus was triumphant over the debt of sin by nailing it to the cross. His hour of greatness was not when he rode into the city on top of that donkey, but when he gave his life on the cross and when he rose victoriously over sin and death.

Note: This is an excerpt based off a sermon I preached on 4/9/17 at Emmanuel Baptist Church. When the sermon audio is online I will include it here when it’s available.