As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up (John 3:14).
Death on a cross was not peculiar to Christ and the two malefactors of Calvary; the cross was a common instrument of death for slaves, felons and criminals of that day. Thousands had died on crosses before Christ went to Calvary.
History records that Darius, king of Babylon, put 200 people to death on crosses. Alexander crucified 2,000 when he conquered Tyre. The Bible gives a record of the hanging (most likely a crucifixion) of Pharaoh's baker (Genesis 40:22).
Throughout history, there were different forms of crosses. Some were made in the shape of the letter X, some in the shape of the letter T, while others were merely upright poles to which the victims were nailed.
In every case, however, crucifixion was a shameful mode of punishment. The cross was indeed the cursed tree. Paul quotes Moses from the Book of the Law, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree" (Galatians 3:13).
Even to touch a cross was considered an act of pollution, and to carry it was deepest disgrace. Reputable men shrank back from it, indicating contact to be the greatest criminality.
Cicero said, "Let the very name of the cross be far away, not only from the body of the Roman citizen, but even from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears."
This emblem of unutterable shame is the royal standard God chose for His church.
Few things are more universally known than the cross of Christ. Whether conscious of it or not, one must recognize the Cross. It is the center of history. Without it, history is incomplete. Since the death of Christ, all history is dated from the Cross.
Time is reckoned from Calvary. Affixing the date on a letter or legal document silently witnesses the existence of Christ's cross.
For 2,000 years, men and women of all cultures have recognized the symbol of the cross. It has been emblazoned upon battle shields; it has been worn around the necks of saintly servants; it has been woven into the fabric of clothing and embedded in windows of cathedrals; it has been lifted high on church steeples the world over.
Today, the cross symbolizes Christianity.
Death upon a cross was a horrifying ordeal.
Normally, a crucified victim was first lashed by a whip intertwined with bone and lead. This tore and ripped the flesh. He was then compelled to carry his own cross to the place of execution, sometimes long distances.
The intense agony experienced by these victims was almost beyond comprehension. Hanging there, suspended by one's arms and already suffering from jagged wounds, every movement was painful.
The agony often produced dizziness, cramps, fever—all aggravated by the hot sun and insufferable thirst. Wounds became inflamed by exposure. Gangrene usually set in and quickly overcame its victim.
Severed tendons, tissues, muscles and punctured veins throbbed mercilessly with constant pain. Arteries, especially those of the head and stomach, became surcharged and swollen with blood.
Convulsions racked the body and tore at the wounds, thus adding pain to pain.
Under this humiliating mode of punishment, Christ died! Christ, the innocent One, the spotless One! Christ, the undefiled and sinless Son of God!
The shadow of the Cross can be seen all through the Bible, beginning with the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.
In Genesis 3, we see the first hint of the Cross giving hope to fallen Adam. The message comes in the curse upon the serpent, when God first promises a redeemer:
I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (v. 15).
The ritual offerings and sacrifices described in the Books of Exodus and Leviticus foreshadow the eternal, glorious Cross as a figure of God's more excellent sacrifice, the Messiah (see Hebrews 9:9).
All the types and shadows of the Law speak of the Cross. In the Book of Numbers, Moses made a serpent of brass and placed it on a pole, according to the command of God. Those who had been bitten by serpents lived when they beheld the serpent of brass.
Christ referred to this incident when He reminded the disciples of His approaching death in Jerusalem (John 3:14).
The prophets foretold the horrors of the Cross. David, the sweet psalmist, played the chorus of the Cross on his harp.
The evangelists of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—state the fact of the Cross and reveal its benefits.
The Word of God is harmoniously woven around this "Cross" theme. It is the center of the gospel, for the Scripture says, "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past" (Romans 3:25).
When Moses and Elijah met with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, their topic of conversation was the Cross. All the glory of heaven for humanity depended on the Cross.
The Cross was the glory of God. In order for God's purpose and redemption to be accomplished, Jesus had to go to the cross. He himself said, "Even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (John 3:14).
Paul echoed this theme when he wrote, "Christ must needs have suffered" (Acts 17:3).
The Cross stands as God's evaluation of sin. Sin is so dark and dreadful that it wrested His only begotten Son from His bosom and nailed Him to the rugged tree.
At the Cross, sin is revealed as black and hideous. At the Cross, sin is stripped down to its awful core, because the light of the Son of righteousness reveals the corruption of the human heart. It is here we realize that human goodness and works avail nothing.
For those who may feel the Cross was an extravagant and needless ordeal, look at the terribleness of sin as revealed in the words of the sinless Master:
Better to live maimed and blind than to suffer the consequences of sin, Jesus said. In light of this destructiveness of sin, God could take no easier or shorter route than the Cross.
The Cross reveals the true price of human redemption. Had there been a less costly way, God would have availed Himself of it. There was no other way. Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission (see Hebrews 9:22).
Oh, the wonderful, glorious price of the Buyer! That price no pen can compute!
The wondrous price of the Buyer forbids our souls to be mute. The apostle Peter wrote,
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness (1 Peter 2:24).
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Not only is the Cross God's estimate of sin, it is the medium by which sin is put away. The Cross reveals and intensifies our understanding of sin, but it also portrays God's remedy for sin.
Before the Cross, the Law revealed sin, the Law condemned sin and the Law condemned humanity. But the Law provided no remedy for sin.
Scriptures tell us, "What the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" (Romans 8:3).
Thus, the Cross is our only basis for salvation. The power of Christ's redemption on the Cross delivers us from the penalty of sin. Christ freely gave Himself that He might deliver us.
God's Son Jesus Christ showed the strength of His love for humanity by His death on the cross. "Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8).
John reminds us, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
There can never be real love without sacrifice. The object of God's love only magnifies the indescribable nature of that eternal love.
Was His the love of one for a king? Was it for some great and noble person? Was His the love of someone for a righteousness person? No! His was the love of One who was willing to give His life for the unlovable. His was love for
the hopeless and
His was love for you and for me! The Word tells us, "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). Paul reiterates this by saying, "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
The Cross—more than a monument, crucifix or symbol—is the heartthrob of a loving God for a wicked creation!
It is the bridge that spans the gulf between us and God, making the good news of Jesus Christ accessible to all people everywhere.
The Bible says, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).
Because of the Cross, sin no longer has dominion over the Christian believer. The old man is crucified with him, and we are no longer servants of sin. The Cross delivers from the curse of sin.
The Cross delivers from a selfish life. The Cross sets us free. Sinful appetites, unbridled passion, carnal lusts, all manner of evils—these are conquered through the Cross.
As the apostle Paul wrote,
I am [we are] crucified with Christ: nevertheless I [we] live; yet not I [we], but Christ liveth in me [us]: and the life which I [we] now live in the flesh I [we] live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me [us], and gave himself for me [us] (Galatians 2:20).
No wonder we rejoice! The Cross delivers us from the world and its snares. It is the Cross that brings a separation between the Christian and the world. This is why Paul said he gloried "in the cross" (Galatians 6:14).
The appeal of the Cross is worldwide.
It reaches into the heart of Africa and makes the cannibal a peace-loving man.
It woos the Brahman from his shrine.
It charms the Hindu on the coral strands of India.
It charts the course to heaven for the rich and poor alike, giving purpose to life. I am constrained to cry with poet John Bowring,
In the Cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o'er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.
When the woes of life o'ertake me,
Hopes deceive and fears annoy,
Never shall the Cross forsake me:
Lo! it glows with peace and joy.
Although our intellects cannot fully comprehend the mystery of the Cross, our hearts and consciences testify of it and confess its power.
Troubled souls through the centuries have experienced the peace that comes through the glory of the Cross. Hearts are washed whiter than the driven snow when the chains of their sins are snapped and the fetters are broken.
Tormented consciences are relieved as people are delivered from evil habits. These blessings reveal best and the true meaning of the Cross.
A few years ago a group gathered for an afternoon music recital. The place was packed with young people who had come to enjoy some hours of pleasure. Toward the closing of the program, a young girl sang her first song. Her voice was so wonderful... her delivery so great she received ovation that demanded an encore.
Caught off guard and at a loss as to what to sing, she intuitively chose a song dear to her heart. She sang Isaac Watts' beloved hymn:
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt upon my pride.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
The audience was breathless. A thrill gripped them. Little children wept. Strong men sat looking straight before them with an iron grip on their emotions, lest they be betrayed. The Cross had captivated them!
Let the Cross have the same effect on you. What a loving theme this is! What a transforming power! Christ's shadow upon the Cross still spans the centuries and brings hope and peace to countless hearts.
I remind you today that "there is room at the cross for you." It is a Cross with meaning—where young and old have bowed and left their sins, where multitudes have experienced the joy of forgiveness, where millions have felt the cleansing flood.
Oh, glorious thought! There is still room for you! His grace is sufficient and His love calls you home.
Sinner, wherever you are... remember... there is a place at the Cross for you. Will you bow there?
Will you listen carefully to the dripping blood, the message of the Cross—blood that speaks redemption, blood that speaks forgiveness, blood that whispers mercy, blood that will set you free and deliver you from every evil habit and binding chain of sin.
Let us pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, grant that our eyes open and our hearts grasp both the awesomeness and the glory of the Cross. Humble us with a vision of your eternal love. Awaken us with knowledge of our awful sin. Lead us in the way—the only way—to salvation and eternal life through Christ Jesus, Your Son, and His redemption on that old rugged Cross. For this we offer eternal thanks. Amen.