The Cross of Christ is the central symbol of the Christian religion, we see it on church buildings everywhere and some believers wear it on a chain around their necks. It is the focal point of Christian theology because it represents the death and resurrection of the Saviour. Ironically this most central symbol is also the least well understood. To start with, it is given an air of mystery which we correlate to the “mystery of the faith” (1 Tim. 3:8) but which we mistakenly interpret as some form of abstract philosophical concept or worse outright mysticism or magic.
So, how do we correct this? Firstly, the cross needs to be correctly understood in the context of 1 Cor 2:7 “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory” which correctly reveals the interpretation of the biblical concept of “mystery” as referring to things that are hidden in plain sight. In other words while we see the cross with our natural eyes, we lack the wisdom to understand its true power and significance. Secondly, we need to realise that there are in fact three crosses and not one. This is instrumental to our understanding of what happened that day. Let’s start with delving into this second truth and then we will return to the first.
“There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.” (Luke 23:32-33). Again, here we see something hidden in plain sight. We know that the Cross of Christ is central to our faith, as the Apostle Paul says: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). It is so central that our very calendar derives itself from the day and the hour that Christ was crucified and it has become the fulcrum of history. What we fail to see is that on that fateful day it was not only Christ who was crucified, but all mankind was there with him – embodied in the two criminals at His either side. Now you may be offended to hear that I am referring to you in the metaphor of a criminal. But it’s much worse than that – it’s not that it’s a metaphor, it’s a fact – you (and I) have committed crimes of high treason against God. We have broken His every command and we have lived our lives as if we don’t give a damn about that (I don’t want to belabour this point, but it must be said that there is no one who is innocent – not one – we have all sinned). Calvary confronts us with the fact that not only will we die physically one day but it also puts it into sharp focus that our eternal destiny will also have been chosen at this point – and the choice is quite binary, as embodied by one or other of the criminals at Christ’s side. We pick up the story in v 39 of Luke 23 to explain: “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”” So here we have the unadulterated exposure of the human condition in its rawest form so there can be no doubt – when staring death in the face we will have made a choice to either mock and deride the very object of our salvation (that is, a response of pride) or we will be honest about our true state, confess our sins and put our trust in the Saviour – instead of ourselves (that is, a response of humility). There are no prizes for guessing which one received God’s pardon and grace.
This brings me back to my first point about the centrality and signification of the Cross. Calvary was and is a meeting point between heaven and earth – it is the point in history where the Son of God – who came down from heaven – met with the sons of men, some of whom were trying to figure out how to get to heaven and others who frankly didn’t give it much thought until that moment (or worse, did know, but did not care). And while two of those crosses (i.e. the cross of man) lead to death, one of the crosses, the Cross of Christ, was revealed to those who were looking with more than just the natural eye as a portal, a gateway – a door between the kingdom of Earth and the kingdom of Heaven. This is where the mechanics of spiritual truths come into play. Much like the laws of physics, which cannot be broken, so it is with spiritual laws. When Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” he wasn’t being exclusivist or one-upping the other so-called gods and messiahs out there. He was stating a plain fact, based on the eternal laws of the universe. There is only one portal between heaven and earth and only Jesus can open it, because He alone received the keys on the day of His crucifixion. While many men have been crucified for their sins, no-one has ever been crucified for the sins of all men – except Christ alone. Therefore he alone can claim: “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” Revelation 1:18. This is why Jesus could proclaim to the repentant criminal who called out to him in his last moments: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
The question now is not whether we are indeed (all) criminals, but quite simply: What kind of criminal do you chose to be?