Friday, January 20, 2012

What should we see when we look at the cross?

 In his well known hymn When I Survey The Wondrous Cross, Isaac Watts wrote:

"When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride."

Those are very powerful words that speak of how we should not find pride in our own accomplishments because in the end they are meaningless. But should we as Christians hold up the cross as one of our main symbols or icons?

An icon–in the religious sense–is a graphical representation of a person or a scene that is used in a prayerful or devotional way. This a practice that is mainly found in the Eastern Orthodox Church. For the moment let us put aside any debate on whether or not using icons is a form of idolatry. Instead let us consider these types of objects in a symbolic way that is not meant to be our focus of worship but rather as a way of focusing our attention on the true God. We actually do this all the time without giving it a second thought. Most churches have a cross in them. And when we look at those depictions of a cross we are not worshiping them. We are not even worshiping the true cross that they are supposed to represent. Rather they are in our churches and homes in order to remind us of the price that Christ paid on the cross for our sins.

But is the cross something that we should be looking to for our inspiration?

In the introduction of the letter to the Romans, Paul gives a very concise summary of the Gospel message. This introduction gives us an idea of both the content and the style of what is to follow. Romans is one of those books where you cannot just merely jump into the middle of it and really understand what is being said. Instead it is a very logical argument that continues to build throughout. The same can be said for Paul's introduction. He starts off by giving his own credentials–Paul had not visited the church in Rome so he wanted to make sure they understood his authority. Then Paul tells how the coming of Christ had been foretold in the Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament); was a descendant from David; was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection; and finally what that means for us in our lives.

What is interesting in that summary is that Paul does not explicitly refer to Christ's death on the cross. Rather Paul states:

"And (Christ Jesus) was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord."

Now I am not going to make the argument that because Paul failed to mention the cross here that it means that it is unimportant. That is what we call an "argument from silence" which can be a dangerous thing. In fact I would argue quite the opposite. To Paul the cross is an essential piece of our doctrine. The reference to the resurrection from the dead means his death on the cross. Rather what is important here is that we cannot stop at the cross. We must continue our gaze beyond the cross and even beyond the empty tomb (in fact the cross is just as empty as the tomb) and look to the one that was resurrected.

We cannot stop and wallow in the sorrow that is found in the cross. Yes it is important for us to remember all that Christ was willing to give up for us. But is is equally important to remember that Christ gave all that up and was willing to die on the cross so that he would be raised up again. Christ's sacrifice on the cross means absolutely nothing without the resurrection. 

We do not serve a dead lord. We serve a Lord that even has power over death.

Whenever we look at the cross we need to remember that it is empty and the sorrow that it contained only lasted a short moment. But the glory that comes with the resurrection–that lasts for an eternity.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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