Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Purpose of Christ: The Cross

During this time of the year, many people are into the home stretch of preparing for Easter weekend. For many it is a joyous time that is spent with family and/or friends.  For a lot of Christians, it is time to remember the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Yeshua) the Christ.  In this writing I hope to bring some things to your attention that you may have never realized as well as help reinforce what you may already know.  In all that we do in remembrance of Him, we should always do it with the right frame of mind.

The Cross

Cross on a hill
Courtesy of Wikimedia.org
There is no way that we can talk about the Messiah without referencing the cross.  It can be seen and used in many different ways and I will name a few:

  • ...on top of churches, 
  • ...hanging on walls
  • ...on license plates
  • ...as jewelry
  • ...as tattoos on people's bodies

The list could go on and on but I will stop there.  For many people, the image of the cross instantly stands for something.  Wearing or displaying a cross means that they are Christian and this is where I wish to address a few things.

In Yeshua's time and even in parts of the world today, the cross is anything but a happy show of support for Christianity.  It was merely wood hammered together in the shape of a cross and it's sole purpose was to cause a slow and painful death.
"Crucifixion is a form of slow and painful execution in which the victim is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead. It is principally known from antiquity, but remains in occasional use in some countries." (Crucifixion, Wikipedia)

"Crucifixion was an ancient method of execution practiced in the Roman Empire and neighboring Mediterranean cultures, such as the Persian Empire, where a person was nailed to a large wooden cross or stake and left to hang until dead. Contrary to popular belief, those crucified did not die through loss of blood but through asphyxiation as they could no longer hold themselves up to breathe." (Crucifixion, New World Encyclopedia)

As you can see, the thought of crucifixion was no joy ride in the park.  In addition it was not something that was desired by anyone.  It was truly a tool used for slowly watching someone die a painful death. This helps us to put some context around what it means when Yeshua tells us to take up our cross and follow him.

In Mark 10, we find that a young rich man asks Christ what must he do to have eternal life.

Mark 10:17-22  "(17) Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (18) So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. (19) You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”  (20) And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”  (21) Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me. (22) But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." (NKJV)

I wanted to share the entire exchange, so that one can understand the context of the conversation.  We see that in verse 21, Christ tells the young rich man that while he met all the other requirements under the Law of Moses, there was something larger that needed to be done.  He needed to sell everything, pick up his cross and follow Him, however, we see in the next verse that he could not bring himself to do it.  The part that pained him was selling everything, but something I believe most believers typically miss is the "taking up of the cross" part.  I believe the rich man missed this part as well because he was too distraught with having to lose all his wealth as a pre-condition to following Yeshua.

As previously discussed, going to die on a cross meant to be put to death. Not only that, but it was a slow and painful death. In addition, it was a  humiliating way to die because you were hung for all the people to see and mock you.  What Yeshua told the young man was a foreshadowing of what would happen to Him and as believers, we are called to die to ourselves in order to have Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, it says,
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (NKJV)
In order to become a new creation, all the old things must be "passed away".  Again, there is a reference to dying in order to following Christ.  I ran across an article that does a great job of summing up what has been discussed thus far and below is an excerpt:

"When Jesus carried His cross up Golgotha to be crucified, no one was thinking of the cross as symbolic of a burden to carry. To a person in the first-century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful and humiliating means human beings could develop. 
Two thousand years later, Christians view the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love. But in Jesus’ day, the cross represented nothing but torturous death. Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution device while facing ridicule along the way to death. 
Therefore, “Take up your cross and follow Me” means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus." ("What did Jesus mean when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me”?", GotQuestions.org )

There is nothing wrong with recognizing the cross and remembering it as something on which Christ died.  However, we must not forget that there were a slew of people who died on crosses just as the Messiah (ie, the two thieves who were hung with Him).

We are called to die to ourselves just as Yeshua died on the cross.  This is the memory which should be invoked when we think of the cross.  Most people do not think of dying at all and in fact run from the idea even if it is meant spiritually.  Wanting Yeshua, without being willing to recognize our death that is involved, is completely missing the point and that is what the cross represents.  The cross is a symbol of one dying in the flesh, or to our will, in order to achieve an eternal life that is greater than this one.   Because of this, if we aren't careful, the cross will simply become an idol and nothing more.

Be easy folks and be blessed.

Antoine E. Hall

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