Seth Pierce explains why the Cross on which Jesus died bears more meaning than you might expect.
The cross of Jesus has become the universal symbol for the Christian faith. There are even songs about it. The hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross,” talks about clinging to the cross, loving it and being attracted to it.
The New Testament of the Bible also speaks a lot about the cross. All four Gospels describe the death of Jesus on this hideous Roman torture instrument, and how He carried it to the place of His execution. John says, “Carrying his own cross, [Jesus] went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)” (John 19:17). We also know, of course, that a man named Simon of Cyrene carried it part of the way (see Matthew 27:32).
Around this time of year, commonly referred to as Easter, Christians centre their attention on the “Passion Week,” which focuses on the experiences of Jesus over the week that led up to His death. Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, helps us to understand Jesus’ suffering in graphic and confronting imagery.
But while the cross is certainly an important symbol for Christians, is it the only important element among the events that occurred that week?
One of the earliest Christian documents is a letter written by the apostle Paul called 1 Corinthians. In a key text describing the lives and thoughts of early believers, he writes, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (15:14). While there is no denying the importance of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, without the resurrection, nothing else that Jesus did actually matters.
Before His death, Jesus repeatedly alluded not only to His death, but also to His return to life: “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ . . . But the temple he had spoken of was his body” (John 2:19–21).
Yet in spite of the numerous predictions of both His death and resurrection, Jesus still had to remind His disciples that He had told them He would rise again (see Matthew 16:21; Mark 9:31; Luke 9:22). When Jesus found them the evening after His resurrection, they were mourning His death, believing that it meant the end. Somehow they had missed or forgotten all of His allusions to the fact that He would rise from the dead.
For them, His death on the cross was the moment they lost what had been their faith. As some of His disciples walked to Emmaus the afternoon of the resurrection, Jesus came alongside them, initially disguising Himself, and began asking them about the events of that weekend. They told Him about the crucifixion and how it had crushed their hope that Jesus was the Messiah.
Jesus said, “ ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25–27).
After Jesus finished His explanation, He revealed His identity to the two disciples. They then hurried back to the other disciples and told them that they had met with Jesus and actually talked to Him (Luke 24:34, 35). A Christian’s faith is rooted in a living Saviour—not a dead one.
I have a lot of history books in my library. These books contain extremely detailed accounts of pirates, presidents, pilgrims and pioneers. I can access facts about the foods they ate, the clothes they wore and how dysfunctional their families were. I can also read their writings, from personal notes to their published public works. Many times they influence the way I think or help me understand why the world is the way it is.
Yet for all the content inside those books, not one of those people can save me. They are all dead and have no awareness of my life. They can’t defend me when I mess up and they won’t be able to give me a new life when this present one ends.
But in this same letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man” (1 Corinthians 15:21).
Not only did Jesus die on our behalf to make amends for humanity’s sin, but Scripture also records that Jesus ascended to heaven in order be our Advocate: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Also, Jesus is “able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
Even the controversial (and highly successful) novelist Dan Brown said, “Suggesting a married Jesus is one thing, but questioning the Resurrection undermines the very heart of Christian belief.” So even those with a reputation for portraying aberrant views of Christ acknowledge that the essence of Christianity is compromised without the pivotal story of the resurrection.
Jesus is not some historical figure who died thousands of years ago and now lies mouldering in a tomb. He isn’t just some guy in dusty history books who said some cool stuff and inspired a bunch of people. Jesus is alive and well, and He interacts with His followers every day.
Too often, even for Christians, Jesus isn’t a daily reality so much as ancient history. Instead of getting Jesus to lead them in their daily lives by impressing their hearts and minds with thoughts about Him, they sit mindlessly in church, unengaged.
Wearing articles of clothing or a cross necklace to identify one’s religious tradition isn’t enough when it comes to being a Christian. It’s about having a personal relationship with Christ who lived and died for us—and now lives to shape and transform our lives.