Day 35: The Offense of the Cross

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 13:11-13
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.

The cross has become such a familiar symbol that I wonder if we forget what it means. So many people wear a cross around their neck; you see it on athletes all the time. Has the cross become merely a fashion accessory? How often as believers, do we see a cross, or sing about the cross, and don’t give it a second thought? We need to be reminded how offensive the cross was.

To the Romans, death by crucifixion was the most horrific and degrading form of capital punishment. It was also an incredibly painful way to die. They reserved this form of punishment for the lowest and the vilest of criminals. It was such an offensive way to die that they forbid that any Roman citizen be crucified. So for Christians, to worship a crucified man was just unthinkable to the Romans.

But to the Jews, crucifixion was even more detestable, if that is possible. A man who was punished by death on a cross was said to be cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Those verses speak of a man hanging on a tree, which is why the New Testament writers often use the word “tree” instead of “cross” when talking about Christ’s death (Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:27-29; Galatians 3:13; I Peter 2:24). Additionally, the crucifixion had to take place outside the city walls, it was so offensive, so for Jewish believers to worship a man who was hung on a tree was abominable to the Jews as well.

“The cross was an abomination to the Romans and a curse to the Jews. To this day it remains offensive to everyone who thinks he or she is a good person” (Philip Graham Ryken). The cross says you are a sinner, and you cannot save yourself; it says you need a Savior, the Savior, the one who “endured the cross, scorning its shame” on your behalf. Confess your sin and helplessness to him. Bow down before him in repentance and faith.

My soul looks back to see
the burdens thou didst bear,
when hanging on the cursed tree,
and knows her guilt was there. (Isaac Watts)