<<cruel means of execution>>The wooden structure used by the Romans during NT times, consisted of a horizontal cross bar to which the naked victims outstretched arms were tied and nailed, with their feet fixed in the same way to a vertical post (Jn 20:25). They were attached when the cross was on the ground then it was raised and dropped into a shallow hole, so they were suspended in an upright position with their feet clear of the ground. The result was a slow painful death of
ensured a quicker demise. The death of Jesus was confirmed when a spear was the thrust into His lungs and blood and water came out (Jn 19:31-37). Christ could have called angels to free Him, yet through divine love, He submitted to this most shameful and painful death to provide salvation for us (Mt 26:53; Phil 2:8). If Jesus had not ‘taken up His cross’ and died for all humanity, there would never be the possibility of the multitudes of believers being in heaven with God for all eternity. He gave His all for us, how much are we prepared to give in return?
The events that occurred around the crucifixion of Jesus are central to Christianity. Christians see this as being the ultimate demonstration of God’s love, signaling Satan’s defeat, and the solution to humanity’s eternal predicament (Deut 21:23; Jn 3:16; Col 1:20, 2:13-15; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 Jn 3:8). Jesus spoke of this as His destiny and accomplishment (Jn 12:32,33).
The power of the crossWhile it’s message is foolishness to those who are perishing, to us who are being saved it is the power of God for through His sacrifice and blood poured out we can be forgiven, with our sins cleansed and lives transformed in preparation for heaven (1 Cor 1:18; Heb 9:22; 1 Jn 1:7,9). Christ won a complete victory for us and invites us
experience not just the theory but the reality of all He died to purchase for us through His substitution for us on the cross and thus to become heaven-bound children of God rather than hell-doomed sinners (Jn 19:30; Act 4:12).
Without the cross, there is no Christianity
we can benefit from the results. By the Holy Spirit who lives in us we can make the declaration “Christ [is] in us – the hope of glory” (Lk 22:19; Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 11:24,25; Col 1:27).
While not denying the power of the cross and His once only sacrifice for sin our focus should be on the risen Lord (1 Cor 1:17,18). Christians should not live in defeat under Satan’s power but experience increasing victory in Christ as they are ‘conformed to His image’!
Taking up our cross
Christ said, “If anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23). This is not an option but a specific word to each of us. It requires radical self-denial by submitting to God’s programme, not our own – a call to lay down our plans and priorities to take up our commitment to Him, doing what He wants and letting His Kingdom rule, not what we want. It involves saying ‘no’ to any ungodly desires, and consistently following in the footsteps of our Saviour.
Christ’s earthly mission was fully accomplished by His death, a once-only, complete work, while ours is an ongoing experience affecting every part of our daily lives – thoughts, attitudes, habits, actions, reactions and words – from the smallest irritations to the major challenges to our faith (Heb 10:12,14). This requires the replacing of our ‘old nature’ and practices with His new character (Rom 8:13; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:5-14). In love for us, He gave His life so we don’t have to be separated from Him and experience the torment of hell forever. Jesus gave His life for us, that we might give our life back to Him in gratitude. How can we not surrender our self-centeredness so we might know the reality and joy of connection with the source of all life in this world and in the next?
Adopting ‘the way of the cross’ is part of true discipleship
eternal rewards, for He will honour what we do for Him (1 Sam 2:30; Mt 10:39, 19:29; Rom 8:18). Christ, our example, looked beyond the pain of the present hardship [the cross] to the joy that would ultimately result from His being obedient to death (Heb 12:2).
Taking up our cross is outworked by denying our self-centred nature and living a Godly life though the help of the Holy Spirit and personal discipline. “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” (Rom 6:6). We accept the means whereby the world’s influence and power over us can be broken for “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24, 6:14).
This does not necessarily mean accepting the burden of physical, mental, emotional or social handicaps, a thankless job, a difficult relationship or other issues in ‘our world’. As far as is possible we should deal with any such matters so they don’t hinder our life in Christ. A cross, however, is something we have no control over but will lead you to a full surrender of your will for the will of God, even as our Saviour did (Lk 22:42; 1 Cor 11:1; 1 Pet 2:21). Rather than trying to identify what your specific cross might be, accept all situations that grate against your ego as potential crosses and trust God to enable you to deal with them. We should pray for discernment to distinguish between what God wants us to carry (and so transform our lives), and what Satan is trying to impose upon us to hinder our spiritual walk, and which must be rejected (Phil 1:9,10; Jas 1:5, 4:7,8). For Christ to be ‘formed in us’, necessitates the removal of all that is not compatible with His nature and godly principles, understanding the new ‘resurrection life’ comes after death so the old has to go for the new to come (Gal 4:19).
Taking up our cross brings about death to our self life
important. He knows what will best shape us for eternity (1 Pet 1:6,7). Do we praise God in the midst of a cross experience? “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him” even through what Satan and those aligned with him intend for evil (Gen 50:20; Rom 8:28). Our priority is to love Him, not cater to our self-centred comfort. When Paul prayed for deliverance from a physical affliction and God said ‘No’ he did not become bitter or resort to self-pity, understanding it was provided for a reason and through accepting it, his life was enriched (2 Cor 12:7-10).
Another biblical description of this process is being ‘living sacrifices’ – giving ourselves, all our passions, desires and reactions in His service (Rom 6:4,6,11, 8:13, 12:1; 2 Cor 5:17; Col 3:5; 1 Pet 2:5). Every day we have multiple opportunities to ‘put to death’ old habits and seize the chance to make godly choices taking up our cross as Jesus did. He came, not to be ministered to, but to serve by taking up His cross which cost Him His all – yet see what it accomplished for us (Mt 20:28). The cross was the only pathway for Christ to fulfill God’s requirements and it is for us too. Will I take up my cross and so be a real follower of His? As we surrender our legitimate rights and personal dreams, for the benefit of others that too will bring about something of immeasurable worth for eternity (Mt 6:20, 10:39; 1 Cor 2:9; 2 Tim 4:8; 1 Jn 3:16).
Jesus never hid the cost of discipleship but He challenged people to think deeply about it before committing themselves (Lk 9:62, 14:28). Being willing to give up our all for Christ does not necessarily mean everything will be taken but this condition is a requirement to be called His disciple (Mt 10:34-39; Lk 12:47,52; Jn 16:33). Subsequent to taking up our cross and following Him is the promise that “whosoever loses their life for me will find it” (Mt 16:25,26). Paul adds “If we died with Him, we will also live with Him” for the cross is the way to the crown (2 Tim 2:11-13; Heb 12:2). This is both a figurative losing one’s life through self-denial and literal martyrdom.
Frequently our ‘spirit is willing but the flesh is not’ for they are opposed to each other (Mk 14:38; Rom 7:14-24). The way of the cross doesn’t consider personal rights, justify self, blame others, defend itself or resort to a martyr mentality even as Jesus didn’t stand up for Himself. Rather it is outworking the principles of the Kingdom by responding in love regardless of the actions of others (Isa 53:7; Mt 26:63). Of course, our cross isn’t fair. It wasn’t for Jesus either – He took our punishment and died in our place even though He did nothing wrong. For Him love was uttermost. The cross calls for dying to self-interest and crucifying the desires of our flesh so that the life and love of Christ along with the power of the Spirit can be seen in us.
The cross as a symbol
Because the cross of Christ is central to Christianity it is frequently used symbolically in architecture, decoration, vestments, artworks and many other situations. A crucifix is a cross bearing the image of Christ’s body and typically found in Catholic churches, whilst most Protestant churches prefer to depict an empty cross, emphasizing the significance of the resurrection. Some Christians wear a small cross or crucifix as an accessory. Others believe doing so belittles Christ’s sacrifice. This is a personal choice. The sign of the cross is a ritual blessing made by some branches of Christianity, eg. Roman Catholics. The priest uses their hand or various fingers to make a figure of the cross over their upper body while speaking “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Crossing oneself is more often a superstitious expression of the desire for protection from evil. Observing the stations of the cross is a devotional practice some people use to assist them in reflecting on Christ’s sacrifice for them, particularly at Easter.
The seven statements of Jesus on the cross
1/. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).
2/. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).
3/. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43). Spoken to the criminal who believed in Jesus.
4/. “Dear Woman, here is your son!” and “Here is your mother!” (Jn 19:26,27). Entrusting His mother's well-being to John's responsibility.
5/. “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28).
6/. “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30).
7/. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Lk 23:46). Jesus willingly gave His life.
Jesus spoke about Himself, “The Son of Man came . . . to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). Have I received the forgiveness of sin He offers?
See also: altar, crucifixion, disciple/discipleship, divine exchange, flesh, Jesus Christ, resurrection, sacrifice, salvation, self, self-discipline, substitution.