If you were to begin your own spiritual community, your own religious system, what would you choose as its symbol? How would you spread the word about your new faith via imagery?
After all, all religious traditions and most ideologies have their symbols:
The star of David universally denotes Judaism;
The crescent and star, though predating Mohammed, has become the symbol of Islam;
The pentagram is associated with the occult, wicca, and neopaganism;
The swastika stands for the evil ideology of Nazism;
And then there is the dollar sign, the emblem of the idolatry of American consumerism.
What would you choose? If you had even a hint of marketing savvy you would never have chosen a cross. The cross has become the universal symbol of Christianity. In fact, it has become so fashionable that many who do not claim or even understand what our faith means wear it proudly as a fashion accessory.
Wait. Would we today put an electric chair around our necks? A gallows? Not likely.
In the first century the cross hardly had the popularity in jewelry stores and other arenas as today. Romans considered it such a vile form of execution they reserved it for slaves and the most heinous offenders. But today, in older buildings and homes, the cross can be seen in architecture and through various other representations. Go into almost any older home and look carefully at the doors. You will see the upper two thirds of the door in the form of a cross, the bottom third an open Bible. Take time to notice how many adorn themselves with the cross, from necklaces on rock stars to tattoos on NBA players. Yes, the cross has permeated our lives.
But has its meaning been lost in its ubiquitousness?
Romans 5:8 tells us that God, who needs nothing and has nothing to prove, actually proved His love for us. How? While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We who can bring nothing to God have been shown His love, in spite of our sin, through the cross. The cross for some is scandalous; for others it is a cause for stumbling. For believers, it is the power of God (I Cor. 1:18-21).
I do not know the last time you were surprised by good news or bad. Studies show most Americans look forward to getting mail (and email, etc) greatly. Why? One reason is the possibility of surprise.– a card we did not expect, a check, an opportunity, etc.
When is the last time the message of the cross surprised you? When were you last filled with wonder at the love of God?
There is much talk about change today, and change we must in many ways. But in all our efforts to take the gospel clearly to a changing culture, let us never forget that at the center of our faith there is a bloody cross!
The cross shows us the extravagance of God’s love. No one will ever love you the way He loves you. Jesus died as our substitute, taking the weight of sin on Himself. That is the most extravagant love you could ever know.
The cross shows us the weight of His love. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. In a day of entitlement, when we think we are owed so much, let us humbly bow before the cross of Christ. When we lose focus on the cross and the need of the world for the message it embodies, we so easily become sidetracked on secondary issues. But those calling in our time for a Great Commission Resurgence do so with one simple motive: that the gospel be proclaimed in an America that is by every statistical category increasingly unreached, and that the center of the gospel we preach is the cross.
I have seen the power of that cross. It changed my life, and I have never recovered. That is why I live with such an obsession to see people reached–because of the cross. I have seen abused teenaged girls with such broken pasts be set free by the power of the cross. I have met young men whose lives were bent on destruction now focused on ministry because of that cross. In recent weeks I have on several occasions gone with my students into communities to talk to people about the love of God and to share the gospel. Why? Because of the cross.
I have also seen many lose focus on that cross and become obsessed with other matters. Other matters, well, they matter. But not when we lose our focus on the cross.
Years ago George MacLeod penned these words which even today can remind us to focus again on the surprising cross of Christ:
“I simply argue that the cross should be raised at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the Church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town’s garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek…at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died, and that is what He died for, and that is what He died about…that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen ought to be about.”
That is indeed what we ought to be about. And if we are, we will in fact see a Great Commission Resurgence.
Stop. Look. Be filled with wonder at the cross. Let it bring us together for the glory of God and the sake of the gospel.