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"Why the Cross?"
by Tom Goodman
October 25, 2006
Why is the cross the central symbol of Christianity? It was the “electric chair” that first-century Romans used to execute their worst criminals. So, how did it end up as the identifying mark of Christianity?
The Star of David or the crescent moon or the Yin-Yang circle—these are symbols that identify other world religions. But the cross stands as the sign of Christianity. So, to figure out Jesus, we have to reflect on the cross.
The decision of a fierce 19th century warrior can help us understand what was happening when Jesus died on the cross. Shamil was a powerful figure who led the Caucasian resistance against imperial Russia in the area that is now Chechnya.
Even as he led daring guerilla strikes against the Russians, he had to fight the spirit of defeatism among his own countrymen. He once made a proclamation that whoever advocated any capitulation with the Russians would be beaten with a hundred heavy lashes.
Shortly after the severe edict, an offender was caught and brought before Shamil. To the warlord’s shock and grief, it was his own mother who had called for a treaty with the enemy.
He retreated into solitude for three days to decide what to do. Due to the blatant disregard of his order and its potential impact on morale, he instructed that the penalty should be carried out. After the fifth stroke ripped into his mother’s back, however, he shouted, “Stop!” Then something remarkable took place: He stripped to the waist, knelt down by his mother, and took the remaining ninety-five strokes upon himself.
The story of Shamil's actions wound its way up the mountain passes, carried in whispers and half-truths from village to village. Impressed by their leader’s uncompromising justice and costly compassion, none of his tribesmen ever again mentioned negotiations with the enemy. It’s a story that resonates in the region to this day.
God did the same thing for us. We’ve broken his commandments, but he bore the punishment we deserved for our sins. The Bible says he did this “so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). The cross became that place where God showed both his justice toward our sin and his love toward us sinners.
This Sunday at Hillcrest (directions), we’re going to celebrate the forgiveness God has given us through the cross. Join us at 9:30am or 10:45am. It’s part of our study series through the “basics” of Christian belief. If you want to catch up with the series, listen online (iTunes or website).
I’ve written a companion book for the series called The Anchor Course (the story of Shamil, in fact, is an excerpt from that book). You can receive a free book when you attend Hillcrest during our current sermon series, or you can order copies online by clicking here. It’s designed to help seekers discover the faith and to help believers develop their faith. To learn more about the book that accompanies this series, read the introduction by clicking here or check out the website at www.AnchorCourse.org.
Be part of our worship service this week and discover the meaning of the cross!
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