Two pieces of wood, one planted vertically and the other attached horizontally two-thirds up the first. Once a symbol of Roman cruelty and torture, now an emblem of divine love, the simple image of the cross holds much meaning and significance. Especially today, as we remember and hold sacred the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood poured out for us.
There are so many words we use to describe what the cross represents in our eyes—grace, love, mercy, shelter, acceptance, salvation, forgiveness, etc. We look at those two pieces of wood and see the hope of eternal life, the visual representation of Christianity, and the beauty of salvation’s story. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, we must be careful that we don’t limit the meaning and significance of the cross to just these positive emotions.
The cross has become an icon of romanticized imagery. We view it through rosy lenses and only see its beauty, because we tend to focus on what we gain from it and not what Jesus suffered on it. We close our eyes and shield our minds from the blood, sweat, darkness, and repulsiveness of what actually took place upon its outstretched arms.
But what did the cross represent for Jesus? What did it signify? What did it mean?
To Jesus, the cross wasn’t a rosey symbol of Christianity or a reminder of mercy and grace, but it was a rendezvous where the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God would collide with the immorality, depravity, and perversion of sinful man. Upon those two boards of wood, the holy wrath of the eternal God would once and for all bring judgment on the sins of all mankind—past, present, and future. It wasn’t an image of loveliness but of pain, anguish, wrath, justice, separation from God, the weight of the sins of the world, and so much more.
Jesus did not look upon the cross with rose-tinted lenses and see beauty. No, He looked and saw judgment. Judgment for sins He did not commit. This is what the cross represented for Christ.
So will we gaze upon this timeless image with a new perspective? Will we look beyond the love and beauty and see the judgment and wrath that was poured out? Will we open our eyes, minds, and hearts to the blood and agony borne upon those two pieces of wood, and remember that we will never have to experience what took place there because Christ bore it all? Will the cross take on new symbolism and meaning to us?
I hope so, for the cross was no light or small matter. It was the pinnacle moment in history, the culmination of many prophecies, the place where eternal love and holy justice met and made a way for mankind to be reconciled with God, and the completed work upon which millions have fixed their hope. It was an appointment with evil, where the holy, blameless, and sinless Son of God would become sin for us. And Jesus knew it.
Though He sought to point others to the Father through His earthly ministry, Jesus’ ultimate mission took place on Calvary, upon those outstretched arms of wood. From the moment He was born, Jesus knew that what would take place on the cross was the purpose for which He had come to earth--His one true assignment.
But so great and weighty was this task, that it drove Him to His knees in the garden of Gethsemane and kindled within Jesus such anguish of heart and soul that He, though He knew all things, pleaded with the Father that if there be any other way, to remove this bitter cup from Him.
Yet despite all this, Jesus fulfilled His mission, completed His assignment, and kept His appointment. He willingly walked to the foot of Calvary and uncomplainingly accepted the iron nails that fixed Him to the image we hold so dear. And there the perfect Son of God did the unthinkable and took upon Himself the sins of all mankind, bearing the weight of the Father’s holy wrath and taking our place.
This is what the cross really represents and symbolizes. May we never again forget or lose sight of what those two pieces of wood truly mean.
“On the hill of Calvary
The light of all the world
With the world on His shoulders
The weight of all our shame
On Him who knew no sin
A holy surrender
The sky went dark
The angels wept
The Father looked away
The final breath, He bowed His head
The Lamb of God was slain
By His wounds I am set free
By His blood I’ve been redeemed
The great divide He crossed for me
Oh, praise the God of Calvary!”
~“Calvary” by Chris Tomlin
Today, as we remember the three hours of darkness that reigned over Calvary as the Maker of the Universe hung from two roughly hewn boards, let us ponder the epic significance of that moment. The moment that has since been embodied in the symbol of the cross.
So in light of all that we’ve learned, has your perception and view of this timeless symbol changed? Can you describe in one or two words, what the cross now means to you?
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