Symbols are ubiquitous and necessary channels of communication in all societies. We see and recognize perhaps dozens of logos, trademarks, pictures, and slogans every day, and instinctively understand what they are trying to say.
Religions have their symbols as well. There is the Jewish Star of David, the Satanic Pentagram, Egyptian Ankh, Islamic Star and Crescent, Taoist Yin Yang, and dozens of others. The most recognizable symbol of Christianity is the cross. It may also be one of the most misunderstood religious symbols as well, although it resonates with meaning.
There is even confusion among Christians as to what the cross signifies. There is the crucifix, which reminds us of Christ's suffering and death, and the empty cross, which points to his resurrection. There are expensive, ornate crosses for display in parades and on necklaces, and tiny, rough-hewn olive wood crosses for doorposts and pockets. Some churches eschew crosses and decorations altogether, while others display crosses on walls, windows, altars, vestments, hymnals, video screens, etc. There are dozens of songs about the cross. Christians and non-Christians alike can agree that the cross symbol brings to mind Jesus Christ, but is there any more to it?
Christians turn to the Bible for answers, and there are plenty to be found. The cross represents more than the death and resurrection of an historical figureit is the turning point of history, which most of civilization impassively acknowledges with calendars and check dates.
The physical cross itself is of little significance; it's the historical death of the person on it that gives the symbol its weight. The Person was the God-man, Jesus Christ. The purpose was the redemption of mankind and all of creation.
Crucifixion is probably the most brutal means of capital punishment ever devised. It is a slow, painful death, usually reserved for the worst criminals. It was no accident that Christ chose to die for our sins on a cross. He bore the curse of death for us. The Bible says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree' " (Galatians 3:13, quoting Deuteronomy 21:23).
The crucifixion was the fulfillment of many direct prophecies from the Old Testament, most notably Psalm 22, which gives a graphic description of the suffering, and Isaiah 53, which clearly explains the reasons for the death of Christ. Both were written hundreds of years before the event, in order to prepare the world for the coming Savior and Messiah.
Millions of animal sacrifices over the course of thousands of years at the tabernacle and temple foreshadowed the sacrifice of the Son of God as well. Since those sacrifices temporarily covered transgressions, "Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Hebrews 9:26).
At the cross, man was reconciled to God: "For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!" (Romans 5:10).
At the cross, God's hatred for sin and love for man were displayed: "Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other" (Psalm 85:10).
At the cross, Jew and Gentile were brought together: "His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility" (Ephesians 2:15, 16).
The symbol of the cross is often reviled by men as a sick instrument of torture, and so it is. However, that instrument of torture was used by God to bring harmony to God, man, and creation itself.
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