Friday, March 7, 2008

The Meaning of the Cross

With Good Friday approaching, I would like to give you a little more insight into the meaning of the Cross for Christians.

It is interesting to note is that both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were secret followers of Jesus – up to when Jesus was crucified. When Jesus was arrested, things seemed to be at their lowest and all hope appeared to be gone (so Jesus’ disciples thought). Jesus’ disciples ran off into the bushes like scared rabbits, and even Peter denied ever knowing him. Why, then, would Nicodemus and Joseph risk everything and come out of the closet as disciples of Jesus? (in John 19:38-42) I believe they went public because they now saw that everything Jesus had predicted had come true. They realized that Jesus, by his death on the Cross, had truly fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, as he said he would. I’m sure Jesus had explained to them that by his death on the Cross, he would fulfill Isaiah 53 (vv 4-7, 10, 12 NIV):

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

If Jesus fulfilled those prophecies, Nicodemus and Joseph knew he would also surely do what he said he would do: rise from the dead (and he did). So Nicodemus and Joseph were no longer afraid to have themselves identified as followers of Jesus, even if it ended their careers as Jewish leaders. That’s because they now knew for sure that Jesus is truly the way, the truth, and the life. Their faith in Jesus was further strengthened when they saw God the Father affirm what Jesus did by raising him from the dead on Easter.

While we might not completely grasp all of this (like Nicodemus at first), we can still put our faith in Jesus. Just as the Israelites looked to the snake on the pole and were spared certain physical death (Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-15), let us look to the Cross and be spared certain spiritual death (John 3:16-18). So let’s turn from any darkness in our lives and look to the Light of Jesus Christ. Then we, too, can have eternal life.

That’s why Christians believe in salvation by God’s grace because of their faith in what Jesus accomplished by his death on the Cross. While non-Christians sometimes find this belief strange and even offensive, it has sufficient Scriptural backing so that it is shared by all Christians. That’s why the Cross is the symbol of Christianity.

1 Corinthians 1:22-25 says about the offensiveness of the Cross of Jesus:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (NRSV)

As we approach Good Friday, let’s seriously contemplate the meaning of the Cross, especially in light of John 3 and Isaiah 53. Jesus died for you – will you live for him?

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