March 31, 2022

Why Is The Cross Important?

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. Ephesians 1:7

In 1825 a typhoon came screaming across the South China Sea and literally smashed the city of Macao, where Portuguese settlers had once constructed a cathedral overlooking the harbor.   When the force of the typhoon had subsided, not much was left of the cathedral.  It was all gone except the front wall of the church which was left standing, and the bronze cross affixed to the crest of the facade.  When the English governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Bowring, came to survey the damage, he was visibly impressed that only the cross remained standing.

That evening as John Bowring sat in his room, he penned these words, “In the Cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time.  All the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.”  Centuries have come and gone since Roman soldiers forced Jesus Christ to bear His cross through the narrow streets of old Jerusalem, and when He fell under its load, forced another to bear it to Golgotha, a Hebrew word for “the place of the skull.”   Yet, the cross endures as a kind of symbol of Christianity, a strange symbol for a religion that now is embraced by more than l.5 billion people from every one of the 223 countries and territories on the face of the earth.1

A Mayo Clinic pathologist, Dr. William Edwards, researched the nature and character of crucifixion as recorded by the writers of the Gospel.  The article which came primarily from his pen was carried by the Journal of the American Medical Association.  He says, “Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering.  It was one of the most disgraceful and cruel methods of execution and usually was reserved for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and the vilest of criminals.  Roman law usually protected Roman citizens from crucifixion, except perhaps in the case of desertion by soldiers.”2

It was the Assyrians who first began to use crucifixion in the seventh century before Christ, but Edwards is right, it was the Romans who perfected the cruel art.  The victim was impaled to a wooden tree about eight feet in height, with an iron nail being driven through the wrist, and his feet crossed and pinned to the tree or a small stirrup which afforded some support for the body, only intensifying the process of death, which usually came by asphyxiation.

On Good Friday the world pauses to note the fact that Jesus died, and some are reminded by the crucifix in Catholic Churches that it was on the cross that Jesus died, but few note the tremendous importance of that death to the whole structure of Christian faith.  The New Testament asserts that His death was not mere chance or the result of an ill wind of fate.  The Old Testament books all testify in statement and picture to the fact that this one, born of a virgin, would lay down his life dying on the old tree.

The Paschal lamb of the Passover Supper was a type of death of Christ.  The Psalmist described in great detail how the crucifixion would take place.  Psalms 22 and 69 describe details that defy human explanation.  Isaiah, 700 years before Christ, pictures the event as though he had stood in the mob at the foot of the cross and described the suffering (See Isaiah 53).  The New Testament says, “Christ died for our sins…,” and explains, “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”(I Corinthians 15:3; Ephesians 1:7).

 

Resource reading: Luke 23:1-56

1Warren Webster, “Where’er The Sun,” NAE Occasional Paper, #3, May, 1986, p.1;

2William Edwards, et. al, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ, JAMA, March 21, 1986, p. 1145).