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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

The Cross: Where Death and Sin Are Conquered

By Ken Horn
April 24, 2011

Foolish, isn’t it — to make an instrument of torture and execution a symbol of a religion, foundational to that religion’s theology?

Well, yes. The apostle Paul agreed — that it is indeed foolish to some: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV).

What is this “message of the cross”?

The primary message is death could not defeat our Lord. The tomb where the crucified Lord was laid is empty! And thus the meaning of the Cross is that there is ultimate victory for all who put their trust in Jesus, the God-Man who was crucified there.

During the first three centuries of Christianity, the message of the Cross was focal, but it was the fourth century before the cross became a widespread physical symbol. Since then, the cross has pointed to Christ, emblematic of both His death and resurrection.

Irish high crosses of the first millennium, which served as community gathering points, portrayed this truth. They often had an image of the crucified Lord on one side and a risen Christ in majesty on the other. These images have been divided in the church. A cross with an image of Jesus on it is known as a crucifix and emphasizes Christ’s suffering.

Most Protestants have opted for an empty cross. The empty cross does not directly symbolize the Resurrection, since Christ was removed from the cross before burial. But the Bible clearly draws great meaning from the emblem, including victory over death.

The cross means death and life to the apostle Paul and all believers. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

E.M. Bounds said, “All God’s plans have the mark of the Cross on them, and all His plans have death to self in them.”

Yet, the Cross is about life! It marks the fulcrum between law and grace, legalism and freedom. Paul vividly portrays its impact in Colossians 2:14: “Having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Though men physically nailed the hands and feet of our Lord to the cross, they could only do so because He allowed it (Matthew 26:53; Ephesians 5:25).

Spiritual warfare
Colossians 2 continues with the victorious symbolism of the cross: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (v. 15). What appeared, in the natural, to be an unqualified victory for the forces of darkness was instead the exact opposite.

Though spiritual warfare still needs to be fought, the victory the Cross brought to the spiritual realm means we need not fear defeat. Ephesians 6:10-13, about the whole armor of God, is one key passage that tells us how to appropriate the victory Christ has won on the cross.

If these powers have been disarmed, why do we experience spiritual warfare? Moffatt captures the essence of this in his translation of 1 Corinthians 2:6, which calls them “dethroned powers that rule.” They have been disarmed and deposed, with no hope of victory, but they continue scratching and clawing to wreak as much damage as they possibly can before their defeat is complete.

Thus, it behooves Christians to know their privileges and authority over these powers because of Christ. The cross stands as the symbol of Satan’s defeat.

The Cross and Communion
Taking the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, is all about the cross of Christ. Violet Schoonmaker wrote:

“Each time we gather around the Communion table we gather around the cross of our Lord. He who was lifted up from the earth draws us there, captures us, and holds us fast.

“To the Cross we bring our sins and find pardon; our sicknesses and find healing; our weariness and find rest. Burdens roll away, fears vanish, and night becomes day at the place called Calvary.

“The Cross is the secret of our missionary passion and the heart of our missionary message. It is God’s great searchlight, ever turning in the heavens, illuminating man’s guilt and God’s holiness, man’s weakness and God’s power, man’s unworthiness and God’s grace” (“The Cross and the Communion Table,” Pentecostal Evangel, Nov. 29, 1964).

Surveying the Cross
In 1707, Isaac Watts wrote the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” This hymn towers as one of the few to withstand the test of more than three centuries of time and yet remain well-known and frequently sung. It was reported that Charles Wesley, a prolific hymn writer with some 6,000 to his credit, said he would give up all those other hymns to have written this one.

When Watts wrote, “Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God!” he drew from the words of Paul in Galatians 6:14: “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.”

So, it’s OK for Christians to boast — as long as they boast about the Cross and the work of salvation provided by the Lord who suffered there.

Watts also wrote “At the Cross” (with a refrain written by Ralph E. Hudson), a song still commonly sung during Communion services.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that Sacred Head
For such a worm as I?

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
’Tis all that I can do.

At the Cross, at the Cross,
Where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away;
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.

It is the genuine, unvarnished message of the Cross that leads sinners to altars where they receive their spiritual sight.

Living at the Cross
When Christianity is reduced to its simplest terms, we find ourselves at the Cross; when it is expounded to its most profound degree, we also find ourselves at the Cross. God’s love is revealed at the Cross — a love unconditional, unconquerable and unsurpassable; a love unlimited; a love all the more astounding when we realize that it was not spikes but love that kept Jesus nailed there.

These same hands that healed, comforted and touched the lost and hurting in unequaled compassion found their greatest expression of love when outstretched on the cross. Though physically outstretched, spiritually they were reaching down — for you, for me.

Christ became the only sin offering that could save my soul. He died on the cross for me. He took my death, but gave me His life. We can live victoriously and abundantly because there is life at the Cross.

Jesus is no longer there. His work is permanent; His death is not. And the fact that the cross is empty draws me to the tomb. But it too is empty. Neither death nor the grave, neither the cross nor the tomb, could hold my Lord. And though He bids me to remember His death on the cross, He invites me to live where the cross is vacant and the tomb is empty.

KEN HORN is editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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