Christianity without the cross is unconscionable, but is not undoable. Many who profess the faith have become quite capable of practicing a cross-less Christianity.
The cross is a stark reminder that we follow a crucified Savior who of course literally died to purchase our salvation. And yet, Christianity often seems oblivious to the repeated calls by Christ Himself for us to take up the cross and follow Him.
No, we are not blind to the imagery of the cross. The cross dons our steeples and decorates our sanctuaries. On a wall at my home and as well as in my church are no fewer than a dozen ornamental “crosses,” elaborate in style and fanciful in design.
And yet the ornate crosses bear little resemblance to the old rugged cross that Jesus bore to Calvary. Wooden. Heavy. Rough and garnered only by splinters and blood from the One who carried it.
Mockery of the cross: Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame.” Paul wrote about “the offense of the cross” (Gal. 5:11) and how “the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). And yet this year we had churches debating whether they should be open for worship simply because Christmas fell on a Sunday. But that is not the scandal (the Greek word for “offense” is “skandolon”).
The scandal is that if anything causes shame, offense or sacrifice, Christians will often forsake it. Marital vows? Purity? Promises? Faithfulness? Too many compromised pastors and parishioners alike have forgotten that Christ calls us to the cross.
Mandate of the cross: Six out of the 16 times that the word “cross” in used in the gospels, it is not used for Christ, but rather for Christians. “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be My disciple,” Jesus said in Luke 14:27 and elsewhere.
A crucified life is not an option for the follower of Christ. The cross is not an accessory. The famed “Old Rugged Cross” hymn proclaimed the cross was despised by the world but increasingly, it is despised by believers who refuse any sacrifice which calls for more than an hour a week (if that much) or more than spare change which jangles in our pockets.
Martyrdom of the cross: Ten of the remaining usages of the word “cross” were for literal execution. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” So wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian who voluntarily returned to Germany to stand with the resistance to Hitler, and was executed only days before the end of World War II. If Christ called us to the cross and the cross calls us to die, can we do otherwise than live a sacrificial life?
What about the cross? We may cherish it and cling to it in our singing, but only until we bear its shame and reproach in our living can we expect to exchange it someday for a crown.