By Weldon E. Warnock
Words fail me to sufficiently describe and adequately portray the full picture of Jesus on Calvary’s cross. The great need of’ the masses is to catch a glimpse of the old rugged cross. Tillit S. Teddlie wrote the beautiful words that t,-.)uch the hearts of all who sing:
Oh the depth and the riches of God’s saving grace
Flowing down from the cross for me!
There the debt for my sins by the Savior was paid
In His suffering on Calvary!
To the world, to those who perish, the cross is foolishness, but to those who are saved, it is the power ol”God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18,24). With Paul we can sound forth, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).
But wait! Jesus says there is a cross for you and a cross for me. “if all man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
Yes, as depicted above, there are three pictures or portraits of the cross. There are (1) the historical cross, (2) the theological cross and (3) the metaphorical cross. Let us focus our attention upon each of them, respectively.
The Historical Cross
All four gospels mention the physical cross on which Jesus was executed (Matt. 27:32ff; Mk. 15:21ff; Lk. 23:26; Jn, 19:17ff) as well as other New Testament letters. Crucifixion was the most barbaric mode of execution known of man.
Roman citizens were excluded from crucifixion. It was reserved for the slaves, particularly those guilty of treason, sedition, assassination, robbery and piracy. It was practiced until Constantine the Great outlawed it as an insult to Christianity. Crucifixion was also familiar to the Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Babylonians and others. It is said that Alexander the Great crucified 2000 Tyrians after the fall of Tyre.
There were different forms of crosses. One was shaped like our letter T. Another was like our letter X. The one on which Jesus was put to death was, evidently, the dagger-type, where the upright beam projected above the crosspiece. The fact that inscriptions were placed above his head indicate this.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives the following gruesome description of crucifixion:
The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, esp, in hot climates. Severe local inflammation, coupled with an insignificant bleeding of the jagged wounds, produced traumatic fever, which was aggravated by the exposure to the heat of the sun, the strained position of the body and insufferable thirst. The wounds swelled about the rough nails and the torn and lacerated tendons and nerves cause excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding. The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths . . . . The sufferings were so frightful that “even among the raging passions of war pity was sometimes excited” (Vol. 2, p. 761).
It is no wonder that Jesus prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39).
The Theological Cross
The word “cross” is also used in a religious or theological sense. Paul wrote, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18; compare Gal. 5:11; 6:12,14; 1 Cor. 1:17). The cross to Paul was the gospel. By the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, God’s saving power is manifested. The cross symbolized all of this. Hence, by the cross the following was/is accomplished:
(1) Redemption. Paul wrote, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13). The Greek word translated “redeemed” (exagorazo) in this text suggests the “price paid” for redemption. By the cross Jesus paid the price or debt for our sins. “Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”
Another word for redemption is lutroo. This word means “actual deliverance.” Paul uses the word both in Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14. Through the cross, or by Jesus’ shed blood, we are delivered from the spiritual bondage of sorrow and night into the freedom of gladness and light.
(2) Reconciliation. Man, alienated from God by sin, is brought back to God’s friend, yea, reconciled to God, by the cross. “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death” (Col. 1:21-22). Both Jew and Gentile are reconciled in one body by the cross (Eph. 2:16).
(3) Peace. Sin makes man an enemy of God. Friendship of this world is enmity with God (Jas. 4:4). There is estrangement, terror, fear and distance. But all of these disappear when we come to God by the way of the cross. We read, “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20). To have peace with God is to have a right relationship with him. This we have through Christ. who follows is to “deny himself, and take up his cross.”
(4) Purchase of the church. It was through the cross that the church was purchased. Paul told the Ephesian elders to “feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The same apostle wrote Titus, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity” (Tit. 2:14).
From heaven he came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her,
And for her life he died.
(5) Abolishment of the law of Moses. At Calvary the Mosaical law was abolished. No man could be by that law (Acts 13:39; Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16). It was given to magnify sin and act as a tutor to the Jews until Jesus came (Gal. 3:24). In order to inaugurate a better system, Jesus abrogated the law of Moses and instituted the New Covenant. The handwriting of ordinances that was against the Jews and contrary to them was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14).
(6) Access to heaven. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Heb. 10:19-20). Indeed, we must go home by the way of the cross, because, as the song says, “There’s no other way but this.”
The Metaphorical Cross
Finally, the word “cross” is used in a metaphorical or figurative sense. Listen to Jesus: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his us take up our cross cross daily, and follow me” (Lk. 9:23; cf. Matt. 16:24; Lk. 14:27). Jesus chose this figure, perhaps, because he was to be crucified.
Jesus bore his cross. No one else could bear it for him. Each disciple of Jesus must bear his own cross, and that day by day.
Must Jesus bear the cross alone.
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for every one,
And there’s a cross for me.
Analyzing the passage in Luke, let us notice four things:
(1) The cross is voluntary. Jesus said, “if any man will come.” The Lord does not force us or coerce us, but we follow Jesus by our own volition. When the burdens become heavy and the way groweth weary, let us not fret and complain. We made the decision to follow. Rather, let us ask for strength to persevere.
(2) The cross made self-denial. As the text states he who follows is to “deny himself, and take up his cross.” This entails a disowning and complete denial of oneself . This is not just giving up some of the bad habits or outward practices, but it is a turning off altogether of self, i.e., sinful self. When Christ’s will becomes the disciple’s will, then he is ready for cross-bearing.
(3) The cross must be borne. A disciple must take up his cross and this is to be done daily. The responsibility of being a disciple of Jesus is a constant thing, regardless of the hardships that may be encountered. Cross-bearing is a readiness and willingness to bear and endure all things for Jesus’ sake.
(4) The cross is a test of discipleship. Jesus exhorts any would be disciple to follow him. This denotes faithfulness and fidelity. But prerequisites to following Jesus are cross-bearing and self-denial. In Luke 14:27 Jesus said that a man cannot be his disciple unless he bears his cross and comes after him.
Norval Geldenuys makes the following comments on Luke 9:23: “He who desires to become his disciple and servant will every day have to be willing to put his own interests and wishes into the background and to accept voluntarily and whole-heartedly – the sacrifice and suffering that will have to be endured in his service. The ‘cross’ is not the ordinary, human troubles and sorrows such as disappointments, disease, death, poverty and the like, but the things which have to be suffered, endured and lost in the service of Christ” (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, p. 276).
In view of what Jesus did for us at Calvary, and all that we have received through the cross of Christ, let us take up our cross daily in his service.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 20, pp. 628-629
October 15, 1987