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The Meaning of the Cross

Date: 
Sunday, 14 April 2019

But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:23-24)

As we head into the final week of the Lent Season, it is appropriate to reflect on the meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ. The biblical writers assume the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and focus their attention on its significance. Paul, for example, portraits Jesus as: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage,” and he “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8).

Death by crucifixion demonstrates the ultimate humiliation. Yet, it affirms that the death of Christ, the Messiah, was the will and act of God with eternal significance. Foundationally, the crucifixion of Jesus was the means by which God provided salvation, the forgiveness of sins (1 Cor. 15:3). Christ crucified becomes the summary of the Christian message. The cross of Jesus is the great act of the love of God for the sinfulness of humanity. The condemning legal demands set against humanity have been “cancelled,” nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). The word of the cross is God’s word of reconciliation.

The cross is also the symbol of Christian discipleship. To first-century Palestinians, who often witnessed the condemned carrying the crossbar to the site of their final torture, Jesus’ word, “If anyone would come after me, he must …take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 10:38), must have come with a jolting impact. Jesus insisted that the humiliation and suffering that culminated in his crucifixion were to characterise the experience of his followers. “It is enough,” he says, “for the student to be like his teacher” (Matt. 10:24).

Crucifixion becomes a part of the identification between Christ and the believer, who is “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). The negative side of the characteristics of the new life of the Christian consists in having “crucified” sinful natures and desires (Gal. 5:24).  

When understood in its historical, social context, Paul’s statement that the proclamation of the Christ crucified is a “stumbling block” to the Jews and “foolishness” to the Gentiles makes logical sense. Yet for Christians it remains an act and demonstration of “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).