1997-07-17 - The Cross: Introduction
The Cross Series, Part 1
I have been reading the new autobiography by Billy Graham, Just As I Am over the last week or two. What a life to try to cover in so few pages. The Crusades that God lead Dr. Graham and his team to do, were instrumental in my salvation. I saw many on the air waves as I grew up, and began to ask the pointed questions in my mind: Is there more to this life? Is there a purpose? Who am I? Who is God? Dr. Graham did not answer all those questions, and more for me, but he pointed me to Jesus, and to the cross where Jesus paid for my sins. Jesus has the answer to my hungering questions, I was promised. Some will not be answered until I see Jesus face to face, but others have been answered. I have not been disappointed.
Dr. Graham made of point of including the cross of Christ in his evangelism. He makes specific comments about it in a few places in his book. That has set my mind to racing around that cross. The facets of its impact on time, peoples, nations and individuals is unmistakable and unavoidable. Ano Domino, after Christ. Time itself is divided by the entrance and exit of Jesus into this world. Certainly there are other calendars functioning in the world today: the Jewish calendar, the Chinese calendar. The business world uses a fiscal calendar, often starting in February or July. But the years march out from the date of Jesus' birth, or approximately at least. There have been adjustments to the calendar as time has progressed to make it a bit more accurate. The cross is a stumbling block to many, and a place of great comfort to others...yet another division.
The cross splinters Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, et al. The person of Christ and His deity are at are at the very heart of the storm. The deity of Christ is one of the five basic notes The Fundamentals, a book written few decades ago, outlined. The media, intellectuals and those who dispute (1) the deity of Christ, (2) His virgin birth, (3) His resurrection, (4) His second coming and (5) His sinless life and atoning death on the cross have latched on to this term. They label those who would adhere to these principles, Fundamentalists. That group has taken it to be their own, just as the Baptists, and the Methodists had done on years past. Meant as an object of scorn by the world, they make it a rallying cry. The cross again dividing even within the group of people who would call themselves Christians.
The cross has facets of physical and mental suffering. There was the scourging before hand with a cat-o-nine-tails, a brutal whip that was laid on 39 times. In Jesus' case, as well as a few other political prisoners, a crown of thorns was driven into the tender scalp. Then that walk to the site of execution, carrying the cross you would die on. A few doctors have written short descriptions of what a crucifixion victim would have gone through. There are disputes about whether the nails, or spikes, were driven through Jesus' wrists and ankles, or his hands and feet. I find the exact location of these implements to be inconsequential. The Roman guard drove them through the body of Jesus into a wooden cross of some configuration. The pain of those wounds alone would be mind bending.
There are spiritual aspects of the cross of Jesus. The enemy had known that Jesus would come. He knew that God would attempt to redeem the world. The plans for the redemption of mankind were laid down before the foundation of the world itself (Rev 13:8). Jesus knew that He was born to die and take the place of sinful man to make a way for them to be restored to fellowship with God the Father. He left the splendor of Heaven, and horribly lowered Himself so that He would walk with us and tell us of His love and the love of the Father. He made the way for the Holy Spirit to be placed in His children, Christians, as a down payment of things to come. But the way to the goal went through the Garden of Gethsemane, a mockery of a trail, a visit to Herod, a political trip through Pilot, a denial by the people who had praised Him only days before, a horrific beating, and a cruel execution. Even one of the men condemned to die with Jesus mocked Him, even in his own hour of death. All this driven by the railing hatred of the one who would have lifted his own throne above that of God.
The final aspect of the cross is victory. Whether it is seen in Jesus' final shout, the garden tomb, the road to Emmaus, the first appearance in the upper room, the second appearance to Thomas, the ascension, or the conversion of Saul. The stunning changes in peoples lives like Thomas, Peter and Saul and other things are staggering testimony to the victory of Jesus. The cross is not the end, it is just the beginning of an amazing journey. Those who know Jesus can confirm this to you. If you do not know Jesus, here is a chance to look directly into the face of the questions you too may be asking.
It is my urgent desire to write about each of these aspects over the next several weeks. Please read the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion ahead, and pray. Something that appeared to be a tremendous defeat turned out to be the greatest victory of all time and eternity. A close look should humble each of us, and give us a deeper insight into how much Jesus did for us, and how very much He loves us all.
Lord Jesus, please prepare the way and prepare each heart as we look together into the amazing love You showed toward us as You suffered at the hands of mortal men, so that You might set us free Amen.
Grace & Peace,
All verses are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted.