Written in collaboration with Michael Sullivan
“The Cross splits the world. Either you look at it and think – that’s pathetic or you look at it and you think – that’s powerful. If you think it’s pathetic, Paul says you are perishing. But if you think it’s the ‘Power of God’, you are being saved. But it’s one or the other” ~ Billy Graham
“Our faith must begin and end at the Cross. The trouble is that many Christians have bypassed the Cross and are trying to be moral by their willpower and self-effort rather than trusting in the indwelling power of Christ to transform them (Galatians 3:3) But if we attempt to build our spiritual life by any other foundation than Christ crucified, we are doing so by our natural strength.”[i]
“Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” Galatians 3:3 (NIV)
“’We preach Christ crucified.’ This is the focal point of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a picture of blood flowing from Christ’s veins as He hung on the cross. The message of shed blood is repugnant to many, and they turn from such a gory sight, feeling that their delicate sensibilities have been outraged. Many people will accept Christ’s character, but they reject His crucifixion.”[ii]
“For the message of the cross is foolishness [absurd and illogical] to those who are perishing and spiritually dead [because they reject it], but to us who are being saved [by God’s grace] it is [the manifestation of] the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
The Truth of the Cross is that God Himself offered salvation by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross as atonement for our sins. This atonement, a free gift, provides each of us the single path to eternal salvation.
While the receiving of this gift is dependent on the receiver, it is only the finished work of the Cross by Jesus Christ that we are saved from eternal damnation and ushers us into the Kingdom of God as adopted sons and daughters – rightful co-heirs – to that Kingdom.
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 (NIV) (emphasis mine)
The Cross is God’s intended method by which to bring salvation. To assume that we mere humans can do anything in our own power to gain entrance into the Kingdom is blasphemy. But for the finished work of the Cross, there is no salvation, there is no hope. The Truth of the Cross is an uncompromising reminder that the atonement of Christ is our gift of grace and mercy from the Throne of God Himself. “If you take away the Cross as an atoning act, you take away Christianity.”[iii]
“…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 12:2 (NIV)
“We must never lose sight of Christ’s triumph on the Cross. ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross… (Hebrews 12:2).’ We were saved by faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and we now over come by faith in Christ’s victory on the Cross. The Cross is the secret to our overcoming. Christ conquered satan and sin on the Cross.”[iv]
So, this begs the question… if the Cross of Jesus is the beginning and the end of our faith, then why are so many Churches removing the Cross from view?
“Be warned: It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you about a great “revival” or moving of the Spirit taking place; it doesn’t matter how many multitudes are involved, or how loud their praises are; it doesn’t matter how “successful” a particular ministry may appear to be. If the Cross of Jesus Christ is not the door through which people come, you can rest assured — it is not a work of God!”
The Cross — including its demands and hopes — are the very heart of the gospel. And any worship — and fellowship, anything calling itself church — is blatant idolatry if the Cross is not at its center. Such worship is of another spirit entirely — and God will have nothing to do with it. Without the Cross, all that is left is chaff –a perverted gospel, something from the pits of hell.”[v]
So many Churches pour their time and resources into providing yet one more program, working diligently to present a “Hollywood-style production” on Sunday mornings with light shows, eye-catching slides, flashy videos, dance presentations and vocal solos all served up with specialty coffee’s and fancy pastries – all in an effort “to do Church” or what they think the masses are looking for. What they are looking for is Truth. The truth of the Cross, the truth of salvation, just the truth.
All of this brings me to this question… what if you showed up to the Church on Sunday morning and the power was out. There can be no slides, no orchestra, no microphones, no overheads, no computerized videos, no coffee, no nothing… nothing but a preacher and his flock. Would there still be Church that morning? Could there still be Church that morning? I pray the answer would be yes.
Without the slides and videos and music to “set the atmosphere” … well what then? I fear there would be such disappointment in some folks. After all, the production they have come to expect will not be performed today. Would they stay? I would hope that the reason they come to the Church is about the message and not for the “feel good” presentation. I would hope they had heard about the redemption of their soul. I would hope they knew about the redeeming work of Jesus. I would hope they know the ONLY way to salvation. If what they know is only the words to the songs and not the names of the books of the Bible… well in my opinion something is upside down. I don’t care how many seats are filled, or how many dollars are collected. It is all for naught if the souls are perishing. “I say to such ministers, ‘Bring back the cross– or the peoples blood will be upon your hands!’”[vi]
Is it necessary to have a Cross in a Church? I was told recently that Jesus never told us to put up a Cross. I was also reminded that we are to pick up our Cross and follow Him and that we are told to remember Him in the Breaking of the Bread. When we look at the Cross, we are reminded of several things. First, the Cross if the clearest evidence of the world’s guilt – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23 (NIV). Second, in the Cross we see the proof of God’s hatred of sin – “The one who sins is the one who will die” Ezekiel 18:20 (NIV). Third, in the Cross we see a glorious exhibition of God’s love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believe in Him shall have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV). Fourth, in the Cross we see the way to victory. The Cross is the instrument by which God delivers us from the penalty of our sins. “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” Roman 6:6 (NIV)
For some believers, the absence of the Cross may not be of particular concern. But I wonder though what goes through the mind of the seeker who enters the Churches doors for the first time and see no Cross. Do they wonder what the “hoopla” is all about? Do they wonder why – if redemption and forgiveness of their sins is the only way to Heaven and eternal life – and that can only come through the Cross… then why isn’t there one around? Perhaps they really don’t mean it? Perhaps it’s more of a suggestion? Confusion.
I am sure you can see from the tone of the writing that the absence of the Cross in a Christ centered Church is disturbing and in my opinion, cause for concern. You see, I believe that if not for the finished work of the Jesus Christ on the Cross… well what’s the point of any of it? I have no reason for worship. I have no reason for showing up on Sunday morning. I don’t know what you see when you look to the Cross of Christ; but what I see is love – LOVE – a love so deep and so profound that Jesus willingly laid down on the Cross for me… and for you. All of the nasty, ugly, vile, revolting things I did – He took them from me onto Himself and took them to the Cross. That is love.
When I look to the Cross I see the truth of the promises. I see the truth of who and what I am and what I have received from the finished work of the Cross of the Crucified Jesus.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” John 3:16-17 (KJV)
The truth of the Cross is LIFE. Life – both eternal and abundant life is found at that cross. Without the death of Jesus on the Cross, we would still be perishing under the law – separated from God. Before the death of Jesus, we were not able to come boldly before the Throne. Under the law, we were not worthy of eternal life. It is only through Jesus’ death – the sacrificial lamb – that the veil was torn.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 (NIV)
The truth of the Cross is PEACE. When I look at the Cross I see peace – the peace that I carry in my heart; the “peace that surpasses all understanding”. The peace of knowing I’m not doing this life alone. The peace of His presence, holding me, surrounding me, carrying me, walking with me, teaching me, admonishing me, loving me. That peace is the holy and blessed quietness of knowing I am living in His will and He is pleased.
“And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrew 10:10 (NIV)
The truth of the Cross is PROMISE. The promise that I am forgiven and free. The promise that my sins are forgiven. The promise that I am justified and sanctified in the name of Jesus. The promise I do not have to spend eternity in hell for my sins. The promise that I am granted eternal life in Heaven with my Heavenly Father.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)
The truth of the Cross is REST. “There is an invitation of the Cross: it is a call to every soul that is sick of sin! Jesus was calling out to all who were weary with binding chains, powerful habits, besetting sins — all who were tired of the lying, the cheating, the adultery, the depression. He was saying, ‘I know you’re weary from dragging your chains around, tired of the sleepless nights. Yes, sin is a hard taskmaster. Come to me now with all our heavy burdens, there is no other way but through my cross!’ Jesus died on the cross not only to forgive sin, but to break its wearying power over us!”[vii]
“…because of the [confident] hope [of experiencing that] which is reserved and waiting for you in heaven…” Colossians 1:5
The truth of the Cross is HOPE. When the veil was torn, Jesus opened the gateway to heaven and constant fellowship between God and believers in Christ. In Ephesians 2:13-19, Paul writes, “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.” (NAS 1977)
“The Cross of Jesus Christ is the central Truth of Christianity. This is exactly why Satan has tried to minimize its importance, substitute for it, or, in many places, shut it out all together. The Cross is the instrument of Satan’s defeat, the means of our freedom from the power of sin, and is the doorway to newness of life. Take away the Cross, and everything else falls.”[viii]
You cannot take the Cross out of the Church. To do so, negates the reason Jesus Christ died. You cannot downplay its role in the life of the Church or the believer. I’ve heard some recently that call the Cross a “tree” or that Jesus carried a “timber” on His back! In my opinion, that is blasphemy. It is on the CROSS of Calvary that we are saved through the whipping and lashes He took on His body. It is on the CROSS of Calvary that our sins are buried under the blood that poured out of His crucified body. It is on the CROSS of Calvary that we are granted eternal life with Him in Heaven.
There is a place of victory, peace, joy, and newness of life. Accept Christ’s call to run to Him and find rest. Go to the Cross of Jesus Christ.
The world needs this message today. This is the message of hope, peace and brotherhood. This is what the world calls “foolishness’ but what God has been please to call “wisdom”. What do you call it?
“We won’t back down, we won’t retreat” ~ Billy Graham – 2007
[I] Newman, Peter, “The Meaning of the Cross”, 11
[iii] Sproul R C, “The Truth of the Cross”
[iv] Newman, Peter “The Meaning of the Cross”, 91
[v] Wilkerson, David; “They Have Done Away With the Cross”; Sermon at Times Square Church, December 23, 1996