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IN THE CARPENTER’S WORKSHOP: The Cross

The cross, the place at which heaven and earth come together, is in danger of being lost by the very church to which it was entrusted.  It’s a long way from the pain and suffering of that day on Calvary when Jesus died for our sins to the church of today.  In pristine sanctuaries, wearing fine clothes, thinking good thoughts, we are in danger of forgetting the danger and suffering that the cross sometimes calls us to carry.

Jesus transformed the Roman image of the cross forever.  Once it was an instrument of pain and death.  Thousands hung on crosses along thoroughfares so that criminals and enemies of the estate would think twice before they acted.

But Jesus made the cross, in his suffering and death, a sacrifice of love which is a symbol  of life lifted high toward heaven.  It offers hope to all who see it and challenges all Christians to sacrifice for the greater good.

Who nailed Jesus on the cross?  We might say that, of course, it was the evil Roman soldiers, and we would be wrong.  Then it had to be the corrupt Pharisees who said, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  We would be wrong again.

You and I did it.  Because of our sins.  We nailed him to the cross then, and still repeat the process as we crusade with self-righteousness and gratification, all the while calling ourselves good and faithful disciples of our Lord.

If you were to look at Rembrandt’s painting of “The Three Crosses,” we would first see the center cross on which Jesus died.  Then the various facial expressions and actions of the people involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God.  Finally, our eyes drift to the edge of the painting and catch sight of another figure, almost hidden in the shadows.  Art critics say this is a representation of Rembrandt himself, for he recognized that by his sins he helped nail Jesus to the cross. 

Protestants have moved away from the suffering of Jesus on the cross.  The Catholics lift their hearts to the cross, called the crucifix, where Jesus still hangs in agony.  We have polished our empty cross to a fine sheen, and in some cases we have sanitized our crosses from the sacrifice and power that it demands of us daily.

As Tozer proclaimed, “The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them.  The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses.  The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it.”

We go to great trouble not to offend anyone, and end up watching them burn in the flames of hell because they were not called to repentance and the self-sacrifice it demands.  There is a clear choice between sin and salvation, and our clarion call is make sure people see it.

Sometimes believers mistakenly think that when difficult things happen, God has forgotten them.  Christ our Lord went through death and hell so that we would not have to.  But he calls us to think higher, to seek him more in dark moments.

A coal miner, a stalwart believer, was injured and became an invalid.  Over the years he watched through a window near his bed as life passed him by.  He watched fellow workers marry, raise families and have grandchildren.  He watched the company he had served thrive without helping him.  He watched as his body withered, his house crumbled and hope for better things in this life died.

A much younger man came to say, “I hear that you believe in God and claim that he loves you.  How can you believe such things after all that has happened to you?”

The old man smiled and said, “Yes, there are days of doubt.  Sometimes Satan comes calling on me in this fallen-down old house of mine.  He sits right there by my bed, where you are sitting now.  He points out my window to the men I once worked with whose bodies are still strong, and Satan asks, ‘Does Jesus love you?’  Then, Satan makes me look at my tattered room as he points to the fine homes of my friends and asks again, ‘Does Jesus love you?’  Finally, Satan points to the grandchild of a friend of mine—a man who has everything I do not—and Satan waits for the tear in my eye before he whispers in my ear, ‘Does Jesus really love you?’”

Startled by the candor of the old man’s responses, the younger man asked, “And what do you say when Satan speaks to you that way?”

Said the old miner, “I take Satan by the hand, and I lead him to a the cross of  Calvary.  There I point to the nail-pierced hands, the thorn-torn brow and the spear-pierced side.  Then I say to Satan, ‘Doesn’t Jesus love me!’” 

Perhaps when we see the cross as love personified, we will rediscover what God wants to show us.  Not love which glosses over, but which highlights the reality of the gospel.  Let us “cling to the old rugged cross and exchange it someday for a crown.”