“Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull . . . And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take. It was the third hour when they crucified Him.” —Mark 15:22, 24–25 NASB
We see it everywhere we go. Most don’t even notice it anymore because it has become so familiar. We see it on bumper stickers, t-shirts, jewelry, and even tattoos on people’s skin. Unfortunately, much of its true meaning has been lost in history, and its cultural significance has been radically reduced to these insignificant uses. Still, the cross remains the central image for the Christian faith—and for good reason.
This week in the Hero’s Journey, we come to the climax of Jesus’ mission to earth. And the chief symbol and sign of this climax is the cross. It is strange and mysterious that the Hero’s Journey on earth would end in such an excruciating way. Even Paul would conclude in 1 Corinthians 1, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing . . .”
The Jews could not comprehend the notion of their Messiah-King being condemned, to suffer the agony of shame and punishment at the hands of their enemies, and ultimately to die a death on a wooden cross—which for them meant to be cursed by God. Certainly, to a Jew, for these reasons and more, this Jesus could not have been their Messiah.
To the Greeks and Gentiles, the cross also did not make sense, but for different reasons. They valued power, wisdom, and knowledge. Certainly this Jesus could not have been from God or any type of kingly figure since He died such a seemingly weak and horrifying death.
And for many other people groups and individuals throughout the last two thousand years, the cross simply defies human logic. It goes against everything that human nature wants to do to survive and win in this life. Jesus said it Himself, “If you choose to save your life, you will lose it. But if you lose your life for my sake, then you will find it” (see Matthew 10:39). This type of surrender and submission does not blend with our fallen human logic—and people often fear or reject that which they do not understand.
However, Paul goes on, “But to us who are being saved [the cross] is the power of God.”
Christians, in all times and places, through the hearing and believing in the message of the gospel, have embraced the cross as the central symbol of their faith. The gospel is the message of the cross, of a condemned and crucified Savior. Everyone who calls upon the Lord knows this because we have come to understand, as the hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander did, that Christ died not for Himself but for us:
There is a hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.
We may not know, we cannot tell
What pains He had to bear;
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.
Let me offer five quick realities that will help to inform us on the significance and importance of the cross in our Christian salvation and experience as observed by J.R.W. Stott in The Cross of Christ:
1. The cross was voluntary and determined. Jesus offered Himself freely and willingly by giving Himself for our sins. However, He did this also out of obedience to the will of His Father as was prophesied in the Old Testament.
2. The cross was for our sins. We all know the law of cause and effect. Death is the effect and sin is the cause. However, instead of us receiving the effect, Jesus died for our sins in our place.
3. The cross was to rescue us. His journey was a recuse mission. He came to save those who couldn’t save themselves. He came to rescue and redeem those who were helpless and hopeless.
4. The cross provides grace and peace. In paradoxical fashion, a tool of death and destruction has become the means of our grace and peace. He took what we rightly deserved and instead granted us peace with God and grace upon grace.
5. The cross ensures the eternal glory of God. There is no boast in human salvation, for we were lost and desperate souls. And in that fallen condition God glorified Himself by loving the unlovable and granting pardon to the undeserving.