“There’s no WAY he was out!” You shout from the stands as the umpire makes the dreaded symbol with his arms. You heave a sigh of relief when the famous red symbol arrives to help your family navigate through the recent flood disaster. They wave on colorful flags you’ve seen on vacation in some other part of the world. You ooh and aah over one in the store window and can already imagine the outfit you’d wear it with. Or you may have knelt before one, begging and bargaining with God, hoping He’ll answer one more prayer.
“But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14
Throughout the world the symbol of the cross is used in countless ways. Often it’s a symbol of hope, but it’s also been contorted and unfortunately used as a symbol of hatred. Long before the Christian era, it was not always clear whether crosses were simply marks of identification or were important for belief and worship. Two pre-Christian cross forms have had some vogue in Christian usage. The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol of life—the ankh— was adopted and extensively used on Coptic Christian monuments. The swastika, composed of four Greek capitals of the letter gamma, actually means “well being” in Indian Sanskrit and was also widely used by the Navajo to represent whirling logs on beautiful weavings. Unfortunately, Adolph Hitler turned this symbol into something so horrific that we now view it as evil.
But universally, the majority of people regard the cross as the symbol of Christianity, thanks to the Roman emperor Constantine who converted to Christianity around 324 AD. Churches have crosses atop their steeples, on their walls, windows and doors. Catholics and Protestants wear crosses on necklaces, bracelets, shirts, or even have them tattooed onto their skin. Some make the sign by touching head and chest as a form of blessing after prayer or as a symbol of blessing another.
What does the cross mean to you?
As a child of God who loved me enough to have His son scourged and crucified, the cross is the most important symbolic reminder in my life. And yes, I have a few cross necklaces and even create them as a form of art for collectors. As a resident of the Southwest, it’s very common for homeowners to collect and display a variety of wood, clay or metal crosses in one’s home. (see pic of the collection I make below)
As I was varnishing a cross carved by my friend and wood master, Roberto Lavadie, I couldn’t help but wonder about collectors or wearers of crosses. Do some simply purchase this symbol as a fashion statement or form of decoration? Do we walk by crosses on buildings without giving a thought about what it really represents?
The cross, of course, was used for crucifixions in the following manner: the criminal was first usually stripped naked, and bound to an upright stake, where he was so cruelly scourged with an implement, formed of strips of leather having pieces of iron, or some other hard material, at their ends, that not merely was the flesh often stripped from the bones, but even the entrails partly protruded, and the anatomy of the body was disclosed. In this pitiable state he was reclothed, and, if able to do so, was made to drag the stake to the place of execution, where he was either fastened to it, or impaled upon it, and left to die. (The Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., 1910, Vol. 7, p. 506)
While I realize this is difficult to read and contemplate, we must never forget it is how the Romans crucified our Christ. What’s further interesting is that according to many Roman historical records, if a criminal was scourged horribly enough, crucifixion was not even necessary, as the scourging was so brutal that it usually killed the person.
If you go back and reread the bloody description in the previous paragraph, there’s probably a word that stands out to you, as it’s directly opposite of every descriptor of Jesus.
We know that Jesus Christ was blameless and yet the flesh was ripped from his body for us, the sinner. I can’t even begin to imagine how Mary felt during this horrific event. As a mother who has often, like many mommas, thought their children were close to perfect, I cannot begin to visualize Mary standing at the foot of the cross, watching her Son die such a painful death. She KNEW her Son was innocent and she KNEW He was the Savior of the world. And yet she had to watch the crown of thorns pierce his head and the blood dry to his clothing, only for it to be ribbed off with skin as soldiers gambled for it upon his death. Oh, the love God has for us!
I pray this blog post inspires you to wear or display the cross as a symbol of God’s immeasurable love in your life. Regardless of the history of the cross, I know the only meaning that’s significant to me:
While I was still a sinner, Christ died for me….. on a cross. Celebrate and have joy that YOU. ARE. LOVED.