if the cross could speak
Symbols speak volume and none more so than the defining symbol of Christianity - the Cross. Regardless of church traditions or denominational ties, Christians everywhere glory in the Cross as a symbol of life. It is ironic that countless millions in history should regard this instrument of Roman torture and death as a symbol of life, healing and hope.
It isn’t just any old cross that Christians cherish; it’s that one particular cross on Golgotha’s hill on that one particular day in history that commands the devotion of believers everywhere and in every age. For on that cross, God placed the sin of the whole world upon His Son and gave Him up to die our death. He who was sinless was made sin for us, in order that we who are sinful might find forgiveness and share in the life of God. This, in a nutshell, is what the Cross of Christ is about.
A nutshell, however, does not quite tell the full story. The Gospel, though simple, is nevertheless profound and multi-layered. If the Cross could speak, its voice would be polyphonic. Like a shaft of light through a prism that fans out into a rainbow of colours, the message of the Cross is a complex of complementary truths.
Among these are the following: the Cross exposes the sinful darkness of the human heart and at the same time lays bare the loving heart of the Father as we witness the offering of His Son as the sacrificial Lamb. In the out-stretched arms of the Crucified Son on the Cross, we find the welcoming embrace of God. Finally, the Cross pictures for us what it means to be a follower of Christ today.
First, if the Cross could speak, it would tell the sorry tale of human wickedness. The Cross is a mirror held up to the human heart and what we see there is the ugly visage of humanity’s rejection of God’s offer of life and light in Jesus Christ. Scripture is clear: “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19, esv).
More than just a benign avoidance of God’s light, ours is a positive malignancy of soul that seeks to safeguard the comfort of darkness by snuffing out the uncomfortable light of truth. As theologian Hendrikus Berkhof tells us; “Whatever else the Cross may tell us, it certainly proves that we cannot stand God and that He must be eliminated if He comes too close to us.” No wonder the religious and political leaders in Jesus’ time were so keen to see Him killed. Jesus, the Truth-Incarnate, was getting too disturbingly close for their liking.
The same may be said of us. Like those who conspired to have our Lord crucified, we too prefer the familiarity of sinful darkness to the unsettling truth of God’s convicting light. Calvary points to the extent we would go to get rid of God’s gift of life. The Cross disabuses us of any naïve notion of inherent human goodness. It confronts us with the reality of the duplicity of the human heart. And the more we see ourselves as complicit in the decision to crucify Christ, the more we will be grateful to God for the gift of His Son.
Second, if the Cross could speak, it would proclaim in the most eloquent way possible the immense love of God for us. The Cross is a window into the loving, broken and self-giving heart of God – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son” (John 3: 16). Calvary was birthed in the depth of the Father’s love. The wrecking of the Son’s body on the cross is matched by the wrenching of the Father’s heart. Such is His love for us!
The cross, the apostle Paul tells us, is indicative of God’s resolute commitment to us: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not, also with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32) The Cross reminds us that the God who delivered heaven’s best for us is not about to short-change us when we turn our lives over to Him. God’s pledge of love is written in blood on the Cross. What more assurance do we need?
Third, if the Cross could speak, it would say that the Crucified One welcomes all with His outstretched arms. Christ died for all sinners – including those who malign, betray, deny or crucify Him; including those masters of depravity in history who have left a terrible legacy of death and destruction for generations, or those seemingly ‘upright’ people who have so damaged us in both body and soul that we find it impossible to either forgive them or forget what they had done.
Yet such is the mystery of divine grace, that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8) – all of us, whether we have sinned or have been sinned against; all of us, despite our defiance, decadence, disobedience, or indifference. So whether we are moral monsters or run-of-the-mill-but-no-less guilty sinners, God loves all, welcomes all, and accepts all who turn to Him in true repentance. We may discriminate and reject those deemed unworthy of God’s love. But God does not. Thankfully.
Such is the inclusive love of Christ that He embraces all, no matter how far one may have strayed, or how low one may have sunk. We can start over. That’s good news indeed. And that fresh beginning is possible only because on the Cross, God’s holy demands have been satisfied. Like a red cross scratched across the ledger to denote payment of a debt, so the bloody cross of Christ declares that our sin has been atoned for and our indebtedness to God wiped clear. They have been cancelled – crossed out on Calvary!
And finally, if the Cross could speak, it would tell us what kind of life Christ has called us to live. Our Lord invites all who would come after Him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him. This means ceding control of one’s life over to God. Just as Christ said to the Father in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22: 42), so we are called to forsake the way of self-determination and to yield ourselves to the outworking of God’s redemptive purposes in the world.
Discipleship is nothing but cruciform in nature, and we are graciously invited to play a part in the saving work of our Saviour. Yet this participation in God’s redemptive work in the world is not something that we do unaided. Left to ourselves, we don’t have the power to say ‘No’ to ourselves and ‘Yes’ to God.
Thankfully, we are not left to fend for ourselves. Along with the centrality of the Cross, the New Testament testifies to the reality of Christ’s resurrection. The message of the Cross is incomplete without the glory of the empty tomb. The Crucified One now lives in and through us, His people, empowering us by His Spirit to take up the cross and to serve the purposes of God in our world.
Author: Dr Mark Chan is a Lecturer and Research Coordinator for Faith and Society with the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia at Trinity Theological College, Singapore.
First published in The Courier, April 2014.