It is the symbol of our faith. There are others to be sure, but there is no one symbol that captures it all, reminds us of it all, or that says it all like the cross.
In the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, there is a very beautiful cross. It is not made of wood or gold or stained glass, but it is a cross of marble. As we have been looking backward and forward and thinking about things that are important to First Baptist as a congregation, once again moving towards May when we begin our 175th year as a church family, we think about the cross and, specifically, the cross at First Baptist.
In 1999, the sanctuary was remodeled. At that time, the cross in the sanctuary was on the front of the pulpit. The pulpit was remodeled and replaced with new furniture. Someone noticed that we no longer had a cross in the sanctuary. How do you worship Christ without a cross somewhere? Someone generously donated money for the cross, and marble was purchased from the same region as the dove already in place was made out of. The cross was placed around the dove and it just reminds us about Jesus.
Why the cross at all? What is it about the cross? You can preach a year on the cross and not say the same thing. There is just too much to say about it. If you try to take it and put it in its simplest terms we know that in some way it represents the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Because it was such a cruel instrument of execution, we know that the cross also represents rejection. Jesus comes preaching God’s message, trying to find us and to bring us back to God, and we reject him to the point of the death on the cross. Most of us can explain it in terms of things that we have heard in the past. We might even be able to use some of the big vocabulary words that we have heard like atonement and propitiation. What does it really mean? If somebody really took us outside and said, “Tell me in 50 words or less what this cross means. Why is it the means of our salvation?” what could you say?
Let me say it as simply as I understand it. For me, it is very helpful to say it in a few words. For Jesus, the cross was doing whatever was necessary to do God’s will. That’s it. The cross for Jesus was doing whatever was necessary to fulfill what God had sent him to do. What he had sent him to do was to call us back to God, to heal our relationship with God, to restore where the breach had been, to take it away and make us at peace with God. In order to fulfill that purpose for Jesus, it meant the cross. For him, it meant to suffer rejection and to die. God used the cross as the means of an offering to us and for us to be able to accept that forgiveness to fulfill why Christ came.
One of the things that is hard for us are the verses from Matthew 10:37-39: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
On rare occasions, I have heard people across the years deny responsibility for their family, deny certain affections to their family based on what they deemed a “higher calling” to follow Christ. This is one of those exaggerations of Jesus when he teaches. He is trying to say that we must love him above all else. He talks about rejection of family as a real way of saying that we have to love what God has called us to do more than we love anything else. For us, the cross is the same thing, not necessarily death, but the cross in my life or your life is whatever is necessary to do God’s will. Sometimes we describe things flippantly as my cross to bear. “My problem child is my cross to bear.” Someone may have a spouse who is difficult to live with. “Oh, my difficult spouse is my cross to bear.” Those may be difficult circumstances but I am not sure they are crosses to bear.
The crosses to bear are things we don’t look for, the things that we did not initially volunteer for. They are the purposes of God in this world that we see before us, and God help us, we can do nothing else. They are things that we have to do, the things that are laid upon our soul as a burden that we must do in order to fulfill what we understand as God’s purpose. There are people who cannot quit caring for the poor because it is a cross to bear. There are people who cannot stop feeding the hungry because God has laid upon them a cross for the hungry. There are times where they wish they could walk away from it, but they cannot because it is their cross to bear. There are people who have sensed God’s call to a particular ministry who have created ministry organizations that are now supported by broader groups of people. They continue to work at it because it has been something that has been laid upon them in the purpose of God to take the word of Christ to people. In the helping is a desire to let people know that God loves them in Jesus and wants that relationship restored, and they can’t quit. It is a cross to bear.
There are people who know better and don’t want to give to panhandlers but they cannot stop because it is a cross to bear. There are people who do any number of things that they feel God has laid upon them. To others, it looks like a sacrifice because they give up so many different things or it takes so much time where they could have been doing something for themselves. It was a cross to bear.
We always think about the front end of the equation. We think about what it means we will have to give up. “If I am going to have to bear that cross, that is going to be bad. I am going to have to really sacrifice.” We forget the last part of the verse: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Joel Snider is pastor of First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga. Snider holds a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and two advanced degrees, including a doctorate in Christian preaching. He and his wife, Cherry, have two grown daughters. His hobbies include reading, hiking and cycling.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.