Scott and I both wear a crucifix around our necks to proclaim our faith, as do many of our Catholic brothers and sisters. Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters wear a cross. Churches throughout the world are marked by a cross. When we pray, we “cross” ourselves. The cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. What’s up with that?
Crucifixion was, at one time, one of the most common methods of capital punishment used. Lots and lots and lots of unfortunate men and women were crucified. We believe that Jesus was totally innocent of the crimes for which he was executed. Of course, there are many men and women who have been executed for crimes which they did not commit. Some view Jesus’ crucifixion as an honorable sacrifice made by gifted teacher. Others would point to the cross as a failure of Jesus to demonstrate His power. Like the thief who mocked Jesus saying, “If you are the Messiah then get us down from here,” critics view the cross as an insignificant death. They see Jesus as one of many who rebelled against the Roman Empire and suffered the consequences.
So what makes Jesus crucifixion so different? Why does a world religion focus so much on the cross? Is it that important? Volumes and volumes of books have been written on that subject. Wars have been fought over the cross. The hymnist wrote: “In the cross of Christ I glory,” and we, as Christians, are called to proclaim the cross, right???
Ummm….not so much.
Proclaiming the cross means nothing……(Yes, I can hear you gasp and I can see your blood pressure rising. Let me finish the sentence.)…..without proclaiming the resurrection.
Many contemporary Christians assume the cross has always been the focal point of Christian faith. They view the cross as the touchdown and the resurrection as the extra point. Certainly, the cross is vital to our faith, for it was the means through which Jesus atoned for our sins. But listen to Paul’s words: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith . . . if Christ has not been raised then you are still in you sins” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). If Christ had not been raised, then he would have been no better than Dismas (the “good” thief) or anyone else who has ever been executed.
On Easter we turn our attention to the resurrection. While every Sunday worship service is a testimony that Jesus rose from the dead, Easter provides a wonderful opportunity to consider the significance of the resurrection to our faith. An interesting aspect of early Christian history is that the resurrection, not the cross, was the central theme of Christian preaching.
The early believers saw themselves as “witnesses to the resurrection” (Acts 1:15-16). Peter and John created an uproar because they were preaching about Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 4:1-2). The Bible says with great power the apostles testified to the resurrection (Acts 4:33). Several years after the crucifixion while preaching in Athens, Paul preached the “good news about Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18).
The resurrection proclaims the deity of Christ. His death on the cross may have accomplished our redemption as He paid for the sins of the world, but it did not prove to the world that Christ was God in the flesh. Saint Paul declared that the resurrection proved that Jesus was the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). In this text of First Corinthians 15, we read that Christ conquers all enemies and destroys all dominion, and hands the kingdom over to God the Father (vv. 24-27). Everything is under the authority of Christ because of the resurrection.
But the tomb is empty, and Jesus is alive. He is the Holy Son of God who is worthy to receive glory, honor, and praise! Jesus died for your sins and rose again to prove His sacrifice was not in vain. He is alive to declare to you and to the world that you are a unique creation of God with significant role to play in His kingdom. You are one of those precious souls who are too many to name, but considered to be the fruit or blessing of the resurrection. The resurrection is an invitation to receive what Christ has prepared for you. His offer of eternal life is a gift that must be received. What have you done with your invitation? Jesus is alive and calling for you to receive Him today. Will you be made alive to spend eternity with the risen Savior?
Will you proclaim the cross? Sure. But let us even more loudly proclaim the resurrection. Let all that we do, all that we say, proclaim that JESUS IS ALIVE!!!