Presented at the Lenten Lunch on 3/4/2015
When I was in sixth grade we studied Ancient Egypt. Our teachers were great, and we loved the stories of mummies, chariots, and pyramids. You know what the Egyptian Ankh is, right? It’s a hieroglyphic symbol that is found, sometimes being carried by the people in the pictures from Ancient Egypt. It’s a cross with a loop on the top. One of my classmates said to the teacher, “Why did they have crosses centuries before Jesus was even born?” I’ll never forget the teacher’s reply: “Wow – I don’t know!” It was a teacher-stumper!
It’s not that hard a question, if you think about it. Asking why the Egyptian language had a cross with a loop at the top is like asking why the English alphabet has a cross at the beginning of words like Timothy and tomato. It just does.
A better question than, “Why did the Egyptians have a cross-shaped letter in their language?” might be, “Why do people of 2015 wear crosses?” Whether it’s a pastor in the season of Lent wearing one or a pop star like Rihanna, people adorn themselves with crosses. What’s with our society’s fascination with the cross? I can’t answer the question for any pop stars. But I can tell you why I love the cross.
I love the cross because I understand its necessity.
Did you catch that line? I understand that the cross is essential – necessary.
Jesus said the Cross was necessary. Matthew 16:21 says…
Matthew 16:21 (NIV) From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Jesus saw the cross as something that could not be avoided. I must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders… and be killed…. The cross is something Jesus had to endure.
One reason I know the cross is unavoidable is because I see my inexhaustible capacity to sin. If you’re honest, you see your own, as well. And you agree with Romans 7 where Paul comments…
Romans 7:21-24 (NLT) I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
Does that sound familiar? I get that. I see a powerful fire – not just within myself, but within every person I’ve ever met – that burns toward sin. The cross is essential because of our inexhaustible capacity to sin.
I see the need for the cross when I see my undeniable inability to fix myself. I can try. I can make New Years’ Resolutions. I can get a self-help book. But I can’t fix my brokenness.
The Bible says we’re powerless to fix ourselves. You hear it in words like All have sinned, and There is no one righteous, no not one and All our righteousness is as filthy rags. The cross is essential, because I can’t fix myself. As it speaks of this, Romans 5:6 says…
Romans 5:6 (NIV) You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
We are powerless. That’s the perfect word. We have no power. That is why the cross is essential.
The cross is essential because we are all marked by guilt. The cross is essential because we have no power to save ourselves. And I know the cross is essential because I see my own demand for justice.
All of us demand justice. Whether it’s regarding something we see on the news – when someone hurts a child, for example — or even if it’s the bad guy in a movie getting what’s coming to him, we all want justice. That feeling – that indignant demand for justice – shows me the need for the cross. Even I know that sin must be atoned for. Justice must be satisfied. And at the cross, God’s justice is satisfied. It’s satisfied by Jesus’ death on our behalf. I love the cross because I see its necessity.
But there’s more than that.
I love the cross because I understand its value.
When Laurel and I were dating, she wanted a cross to hang on a necklace. I remember the great pains I went to in order to get just the right one. And, as a university student, I didn’t have a lot of money to spend. So I went to a place in Pittsburgh – David Weis, it was called – and bought her the best one I could afford. I probably paid about $20 for it. She still has it. Its value is not in what it’s made of. Or its size. Or the craftsmanship. Its value is in its history. It was given her by one who loved her.
The cross of Christ is like that. Its value is not in the wood or the nails; Its value is in the One who used it.
Generally speaking, the cross is not something we would look to, right? If Jesus had never died on the cross, we would not be wearing them or adoring buildings with them or getting tattoos of them. Crosses have no lasting value apart from Jesus. But the fact that Jesus used a cross – willingly laying down his life on one – makes me love it.
Notice, I said Jesus used the cross. He wasn’t a victim. Jesus was very intentional as he chose the cross. He set his face like flint and headed to Jerusalem – to the cross.
Jesus gives the cross its value. I look to the cross because I know its value.
And I love the cross because I see its outcome.
Trusting in Christ’s work on the cross gives a life of freedom from guilt and shame. I don’t know about you, but I know I’ve done bad things. OK – I do know about you. You’ve done bad things too. And generally we manage our guilt poorly. We sweep it under the carpet, and then it becomes a bulge beneath the surface. Or we try to rationalize the bad things we’ve done, and then everyone else sees it, but we don’t. Or we compare ourselves to others, in a desperate way to distract ourselves from our guilt. We manage our guilt poorly.
The cross, on the other hand, is where Jesus took ownership of our guilt. And because of the cross, when we place our trust in him, we can be free from guilt. Peter says it well…
1 Peter 2:24 (NIV) “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
Jesus carried our guilt and shame on the cross.
Bono, the front man for the rock group U2 sings to Jesus, You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains Carried the cross And all my shame. When we trust Jesus, the outcome of the cross is the removal of our guilt. I look to the cross because I see its outcome.
And at the cross, I see a promise of eternal life.
What is the most important holiday in the Christian’s life? Christmas? Good Friday? Easter Sunday? They are all important, right? But the one I like the most is Easter Sunday – when we celebrate the resurrection. Why? Why is that such an important time? I can think of a couple of reasons.
First, the empty tomb proves to me that the work of redemption is complete. God’s justice has been satisfied.
Second, the empty tomb serves as a kind of first-fruits of what is to come. That all who have trusted in Jesus will rise from the grave as well. I like Easter Sunday better than Good Friday.
But hear this – without the cross, there would be no Easter Sunday. And there would be no hope of eternal life. Our sins would remain unresolved. Justice would still be waiting to be satisfied. And we would be the ones carrying the guilt and shame into eternity, separate from God. But because of the cross – trusting Jesus gives us eternal life.