If you were asked to explain the meaning of the cross, what would be your explanation?  So many people talk about the cross but so few understand its meaning. For example, there are those who wear, venerate and worship the material (wooden, metal, etc.) cross believing it to have mystical powers to ward off evil, much like the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. image of 5 crosses

This obsession with the veneration of the physical object of the cross is no where found in scripture but was introduced from pagan practices into Christianity in an attempt to integrate the two. As a result, over the centuries, many Christians have come to associate the cross of Jesus with a physical wood. They cannot think of the cross without visualizing the wooden stake on which he was crucified.

But is this all there is to the cross? In this study, we will explore the biblical concept of the cross and what should come to mind when we speak of it.

For Paul and other New Testament writers, the cross meant more than the wood on which Christ was crucified. For them, the cross was more than a symbolic object to be worn around the neck or an object to venerate. In their writings, the cross became the definition of salvation and the very path to God. It is that central aspect of Christianity around which all major New Testament teachings revolved. In fact, it is the foundation of New Testament Christian Theology. One cannot think of any aspect of the Christian experience without associating it with the cross of Jesus. The following brief discussion highlights the meaning of the cross.

The Cross was an Experience

Being nailed to and dying on a wooden cross was not unique to the Lord Jesus; this was one of the ways the Romans punished non-Romans who had violated Roman law. There were many who had been nailed to crosses before Christ and many more after him. So then, what was unique about the cross of Jesus? Clearly, to the writers of the New Testament, especially Paul, the concept of the cross became much more than a physical cross. The cross was an experience that Christ endured. The writer of the book of Hebrews makes it plain that the cross was an experience that Jesus had to endure despite the shame (Heb. 12:2). Christ’s human body allowed him the capacity to experience the pain and suffering of the cross. The experience of the cross was, however, much more than physical pain. The cross experience of Jesus was about taking on the full punishment of God’s justice for man’s sin. The Scripture says that he was smitten by God and afflicted for our sin (Isa. 53:3-4).

image of cross and crownThe Cross was a Transaction

That the cross was a transaction is clear from what Jesus said before his death in John 19: 30, when he cried out that it is finished. The settlement for man’s salvation was completed. His sinless and perfect sacrifice was sufficient to meet the requirements of God’s justice on sin, thus satisfying a divine wrath. This is echoed by Paul in Romans 5:9-12 and I Thessalonians 1:10, when de declared that we are justified by Christ’s blood and will be saved from the wrath to come. As a result of this transaction, we no longer have to worry about the curse of eternal death caused by Adam’s sin. Christ’s death provided the settlement for sin and granted us the glorious opportunity for reconciliation with God.

The Cross is the Message of Good News

By its very nature a message of good news is intended to lift one’s spirit, makes one happy or joyful. How would you feel if one day a letter arrives in your mail informing you that everything you owe, from the loan on your car to your mortgage, is all paid off?  In other words, you are completely debt free!  The message of the cross is that you become absolutely debt free (free from the eternal penalty of sin) the moment you receive Christ as your personal Saviour. Christ gave his life in death to become a ransom for us, redeeming us back from sin and the condemnation and curse of eternal damnation to God (Matthew 20:28; I Timothy 2:6). The message of the cross is the core message of salvation and heart of the gospel. Every teaching in the New Testament derives its meaning from the message of the cross.

image of woman praying to GodThe Cross is an Encounter with God

In the Old Testament, to come close to God, the high priest once each year had to enter the temple and walk through the veil to the most holy place where the presence of God was. Entering God’s presence whether on this occasion or on any occasion required the comer to present some sort of sacrifice for his sin. In other word, coming into the presence of the holy God was not a casual everyday thing. That was changed with the cross. The cross became the point of access to and an encounter with God. At the cross we enter through the veil of Christ’s suffering and sacrifice to the very presence of God. Under the New Covenant, no one can enter the presence of God without first coming to the cross. It is here that we are justified (declared in right standing with God) and sanctified. We are reminded by the words of the song that says, At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light and the burden of my heart rolled away.