The cross of Christ is at the heart of Christianity. The Bible is filled with references to it. Books have been written and sermons preached on it. And it is the most recognizable symbol of Christianity. But what is the significance of the cross? Why do we make such a big deal over it? This article will explore just what the cross is, and why it has the significance that it does.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
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What the Cross Is Not
I suspect most of us have seen movies where a cross is used to ward off evil. The thought is that holding a small replica of a cross will provide protection from satanic forces. Or from vampires and such. Others will wear a cross around their necks as though it were a lucky rabbit’s foot, offering some value to the one wearing it.
I have nothing against the wearing of a small cross. It can be a useful reminder of what Christ did for me. As well as telling the world around me just whose I am. But there is nothing magical about a cross, any cross. A cross will not ward off evil more than any other object I might hold up. It is just a lifeless object with no inherent power.
Even the cross that Jesus hung on has no magical power. It was a simple instrument of execution used by the Romans to punish and deter rebellion. The significance of the cross lies not in its physical being, but in what it represents.
A Symbol of the Atonement
I see the significance of the cross as being two-fold. The first is as a symbol. The cross symbolizes the atoning death of Jesus, who died for my sins and for the sins of the world. When I see the cross, it reminds me of the sacrifice that was made for me.
There was a time in my life when I was one of those who wore a cross. For me, it was not a piece of jewelry. Rather, it was a visible reminder of what Jesus had done for me. The same is true when I come to the cross in the sanctuary of the church I am a part of, or in other locations. While it is just a piece of wood, metal, or plastic, it does help me to humble myself before the one who died for me.
The Cross as an Event
The second, and more important, the significance of the cross is in what actually happened when Jesus was hung on it and died for us. On the surface, it seems like a tragic event. An innocent man was cruelly put to death by the Romans at the instigation of the Jewish religious leadership. But the surface picture is far from the reality of what happened there on the cross.
Pulling Back the Curtain
The gospel accounts tell us, from a physical perspective, what happened that day nearly 2000 years ago. But Paul helps to pull back the curtain, enabling us to see what was hidden from human eyes.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.Colossians 2:13-15 NIV
To those watching the crucifixion, it appeared that evil had won. Jesus was defeated and made into a public spectacle. His charges were nailed to the cross above his head. His life was taken from him. And the kingdom he came to establish appeared to have been thwarted.
Appearances Are Deceiving
But appearances were deceiving and just the opposite was true. In the Colossians passage above, and others, we are enabled to see what was happening in the spiritual realm when Jesus went to the cross.
- Viewed through human eyes, Jesus death was a defeat. But, in reality, at the cross he defeated the powers and authorities of evil, disarming them.
- Jesus appeared to be experiencing public humiliation. But it was the powers and authorities who were made into a public spectacle.
- The human charges against Jesus were nailed to the cross above his head. The charges against me were nailed to the cross by Jesus.
- Jesus’ life appeared to have been taken from him. In actuality, he laid it down for us (John 10:17-18).
- Jesus death on the cross was a surprise to those who followed him. His victory on the cross was a surprise to the powers responsible for putting him there (1 Cor. 2:8).
The Significance of the Cross
The cross has significance as a reminder of what Jesus did for us. It is a powerful symbol to remind us of the price paid for our redemption. Whether we wear it, display it, or just think about it, the cross can, and should, draw us nearer to the one who hung on it.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of what happened at the cross. On the cross, Jesus dealt with my sin, canceling my indebtedness, and freeing me to live. On the cross, Jesus defeated his enemies and was enthroned as king. In the entire history of this universe, I do not believe that any event has more significance than the cross and what took place that day.
Summing It Up
I have had many good and exciting things happen in my life, as did the apostle Paul (Phil. 3:4-6). But when he looked at his life, and all he had accomplished, his attitude is summed up in this passage. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). What else can we boast about, other than what Jesus has done for us? Especially at the cross.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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This article was first published in Christianity.com on March 12, 2021