|Text: 1 Peter 2:24
Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross…
Over the last few weeks the children at Kid’s Time have been hearing the story of what happened to Jesus on the very first Good Friday and how he rose again from the dead at Easter. They learnt about the love of Jesus and what he did for them because he loves them so dearly. They made this little table decoration. It’s a cross. The cross is a simple design; even the smallest child is able to glue two pieces of wood or paper together to make a cross. This cross has been painted purple – the colour that reminds us that Jesus died on a cross because of our sin. Over the cross is a gold coloured piece of material and beneath the cross a bunch of flowers - these remind the children and their families that Jesus rose again from the dead. As these crosses stand on dining room tables or on bedside tables, they will be a fresh reminder of the true meaning of Easter and what it means to us.
The cross is the symbol that is recognised the world over as something unique to Christianity. When you see a cross on a building you can bet that the building has something to with the Christian Church – a place of worship, a school, or a hospital. Children at a very young age know in their own child-like way what the cross stands for. Its message is simple - Jesus died on a cross.
What’s so amazing about this unique Christian symbol is that it represents an instrument of torture and death. The Romans used the cross to punish criminals and those who rebelled against Roman authority. It was cruel and barbaric. Nails were driven through hands and feet of the victim. The cross then raised. The victims gasped as they tried to get air into their lungs. They could hang there for days, in excruciating pain, until they died.
If that is the case, why do we display the
cross so prominently in our churches, wear crosses around our necks, on our
lapels or on earrings.
Why is it that we allow our children to make crosses – one of the cruellest forms of torture and execution that humanity has created?
Why is it that when Matthew Hayden makes a century, he often makes the sign of the cross?
When you think about it, to hold an instrument of death with such reverence is a bit strange. Nicky Gumbel, begins his presentation on the death of Jesus by hanging a gallows around his neck, to remind his listeners that this is what the cross really is – a device used to kill people – to execute criminals.
Why is the cross the central symbol of our
Christian faith? If the cross is so awful why wear crosses, makes crosses,
display crosses in our churches?
The answer is simple.
Lot’s of people died on crosses, some of them murderers and the worst kind of characters imaginable who deserved to be executed. The cross reminds us of one particular person who was completely innocent and didn’t deserve such a cruel death - the cross reminds us of the death of Jesus of Nazareth.
Why is there such a focus on the death of Jesus?
I would hate to guess how many times people have said to me that they don’t need to go to church because they are living a full and happy life. They are responsible people, who live a good life, are kind to people and certainly haven’t committed any crimes. They live by the golden rule – they do to others what they would want others do to them.
If that were true, then they wouldn’t need Christianity. But one important thing has been overlooked – sin.
If those people were totally honest they would have to admit that there are times, many times, when they say and do things that they know they wrong - things that hurt other people. Sin has affected every person since the time of Adam and Eve. The apostle Paul says, "Everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence." (Rom 3:23). Jesus says, "I am telling you the truth: everyone who sins is a slave of sin" (John 8:34). Sin has taken a firm grip of our lives; in fact, sin is addictive. It makes us greedy, selfish, uncaring, impatient, deceitful, unkind, envious, sexually immoral, and lacking in self-control. Sin is rebellion against God and the kind of people God created us to be. Even if we claimed to be "good" people, and we might be compared to criminals, but that doesn’t change the fact that we don’t meet God's standard of perfection. He made us to be perfect but we are far from perfect. We came into this world as sinners and we can’t help letting sin take control of our lives.
When we go to the supermarket, each item we place in our shopping cart must be paid for. Each one is added up at the check out and the total price paid. No item is overlooked. In the same way, each sin we commit, no matter how unimportant or small it may seem, is a great offence to God. Those sins must be paid for. One day we will have to answer for every sin, no matter how trivial we might think it is. Some people say, but God is love, he won’t do that. That is true but our sin causes a terrible gap, a division, between God and us.
Recall a time when you have done something that has hurt someone else and because of that your friendship with that person has been damaged, a gap has come between you, and you felt uneasy when you met that person, in fact you may have avoided that person. All of that doesn’t change until you put aside your differences and friendship is restored.
This is where the cross comes in. It is the place where God has rescued us from ourselves. Jesus took upon himself all of our sin, all of the punishment we deserve, and died in our place. Peter put it this way, "Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross… by his wounds that you have been healed" (2:24).
A father and his 12-year-old daughter Sharon and 11-year-old son David hiked up a mountain. An hour after they started hiking, a blizzard struck trapping the father and his two young children.
The temperature dropped, with wind and snow blowing. Snow fell in thin, wet sheets. It was impossible to see or move. A few steps in the wrong direction could mean certain death. So the three of them made a hole in the snow. Then they spread a tarp over the trench. The father helped David and Sharon into their sleeping bags. Then he placed himself across the opening to protect his son and daughter from the howling wind.
Just before six o'clock the next morning, a search party found the trio. The two children were alive; their father was dead. He had sacrificed his life to save his children. Sharon put it this way; "Dad gave his life for us".
Jesus gave his life for us. God has loved us so much that he put Jesus at risk for us. He died for us - in our place – to save us and give us a renewed relationship with God.
The cross is the place of rescue. Like the father who died to save his two children from the howling wind, God was determined to save us. It didn’t matter what it cost, he was prepared to pay it – even if it meant the death of his only Son. And so on a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, he was crucified on a cross of wood and suspended him agonisingly between heaven and earth.
Two young men were close friends in their
growing up years, but as adults they went their separate ways and lost contact.
One went on to become a judge, while the other one ended up a criminal.
One day the judge recognised the criminal who stood before him. It was his old friend who now pleaded guilty to the crime of which he was accused. The judge faced a dilemma. He was a judge so he had to be just; he couldn't let the man off. On the other hand, he didn't want to punish the man, because he loved him.
So as a judge he fined his old friend for his offence.
Then he came down from his position as judge and he wrote a cheque for the amount of the fine. He gave it to his friend, saying that he was paying the penalty for him.
This illustrates what God has done for us. He
judges us because we are guilty, then, in his love he came down to earth in the
person of Jesus and paid the penalty for us. The cross is the sign that tells us
that everything that needs to be done to save us and give us eternal life has
been done. There is nothing we can add to it. He has given us complete pardon
for all our sin. The cross reminds us that God's grace is truly magnificent. We
haven’t done anything to deserve such a gift. The cross is a gift from God to
God has made it possible for us to have a relationship with him.
God has made us right with him.
God has cleansed us from the guilt of our sin.
God has made it possible for you and me to enter his heavenly kingdom.
Through the cross, God has done it all – freely – without cost to us – no catches – we have been acquitted.
The cross is a symbol of our identity as
people who have been saved by the blood of Jesus. We see ourselves as those who
have been set free and rescued from sin. We wear a cross proudly because it
symbolises our new relationship with God. We are God's sons and daughters; we
are children of the cross; followers of Christ.
This newness brought about by forgiveness has a profound effect on our lives.
As people who have experienced the love of God, we now want to love God and to love our fellowman as God has loved us.
Our work is not just any work; it is work God has given us to do.
Our money and abilities are not just ours; they are used unselfishly and generously.
Caring for the sick, comforting the grieving, helping the poor, and assuring the guilt ridden is not just someone else’s job, it is a calling that God has given to us as children of the cross.
The cross calls us to be true followers and disciples all the time. We are marked with the cross all the time and so it influences our lives at work, at home and at church.
There is no doubt that the cross is a symbol of pain and suffering. Jesus died a terrible death on a cross. God didn’t intervene and spare his Son the agony and torture of the cross. But through the cross he has given us hope and faith. When we are suffering and the pain becomes too much, the cross reminds us that we have a Saviour who knows all about suffering and even more importantly was raised to life again on Easter morning. In spite of the cross he was the victor. The same hope is ours! The cross is the symbol of everlasting life.
The cross - a very plain and simple sign indeed - but one that means so much for us. God's Son, Jesus Christ died on a cross for us.
Thank God for the cross!!
© Pastor Vince
18th April, 2003