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By STEVEN GANZ
The cross has become the symbol of the Christian faith. You see crosses on churches, hanging from necks, and embossed onto book covers. Everywhere where Christians are you see crosses. Why is that?
When I was a new Christian, I did not understand the phrase “Jesus died for my sins.” I could not see the inner logic. I knew that Jesus’ death on a cross had to do with our sins, and that by his dying we are now free to be forgiven by God, but why did Jesus have to die to secure our forgiveness? Additionally, why did Jesus have to die on a cross? If it was just Jesus’ death that mattered, why couldn’t Jesus have died in his sleep, or died of old age? Why the cross?
In the time of Jesus, heroes and important people did not die by the cross. It was a form of punishment that not only killed the offender, but more than that, made a public statement. By its very cruelty it demonstrated the power of the state over all who would oppose. No mercy would be shown to those who were like this hapless offender. Obey or cruelly die.
This was common knowledge in those early centuries. So to preach a gospel that had as its main character one who died such a death was a great embarrassment to the Christians. If you were going to make up a story, this would not be the one! Culturally it lacked credibility. The reason it is preached this way is because it is the truth. This is what actually happened.
So, why the cross? At the heart of our separation from God is our lack of trust in God. We doubted his love for us. One reason for the cross was that God wanted to demonstrate his love for us, so we could believe in who he really is. God knew that our lack of faith in him and our sinful actions would be everyone’s problem even before he made mankind. Even though these hurtful activities were our choice, God freely took responsibility for them. This is another reason for the cross. Mankind could do nothing to stop themselves from sinning. The only way to stop sinning was to die. This is why Jesus died for us and in our stead. Jesus came and took the responsibility for humankind’s evil and selfish deeds and died the death we deserved. When Jesus died, in a real sense, we all died.
Now why is this important? Since God took all the responsibility for our sins, he was then free to forgive us. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, God was reconciled to us and freely forgave us. By taking the responsibility for our sins, and communicating to us just how evil our sin is, Jesus suffered our death on the cross while at the same time demonstrating God’s love for us. Jesus did this before we even cared. He did this, as the Apostle Paul wrote, while we were still doing things that hurt others and ourselves. By believing in Jesus based on this new understanding of God, God takes our life and gives us his. I encourage you to open your hearts to receive God’s life, forgiveness, and love. This is why the cross is the symbol of the Christian faith — it is at the heart of our new relationship with God.
The Rev. Steven Ganz is pastor of Clover Pass Community Church.
Perspectives is a regular column sponsored and written by members of the Ketchikan Ministerial Association.