An edited version of a sermon by Cranmer’s Curate at the bridgethegap@5 service in the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, on Sunday April 5th 2009:
You can’t get away from it in any country that has been influenced by Christianity – the sign of the cross; on public buildings, on national flags and emblems, on livery and uniforms, as an item of jewellery still very common and of course it is the most frequently found symbol in churches. Look around you.
Why is the cross the main Christian symbol? It’s been observed before that it’s not a very touch-feely symbol when you think about it – the cross was an instrument of torture and execution, one of the most brutal forms mankind has ever come up with. That may not be central in the awareness of a pop star who wears a cross on stage. But it is the reality.
The cross is a visible reminder of a brutal, barbaric, lingering death of a Jewish man executed by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago. Why do Christians and indeed Christian-influenced civilisations make such a great thing of the cross?
The first thing to say by way of explanation is that Christianity is not a set of philosophical propositions or a religious rule book or a religious experience or a spiritual discipline, like yoga. Christianity is centred on a Person, the Person of Jesus Christ and so because the cross was the central event in what Christ came into the world to do, it’s central. The cross is central because Christ is central. The cross is central because Christianity is Christ.
The second thing to say is that the cross is central because it is central to the salvation from sin Christ came to achieve. Sin is what Christ came into the world to save us from and so the cross is central because it was on the cross that God in Christ dealt with your sin and mine.
Now that is not to say that other things Christ did aren’t important, such as his teaching and miracles, his resurrection, his commissioning of his apostles to preach his Gospel message to the world, and his ascension. But it is to say that the death of Christ is central in the salvation from sin he brings us and that is reflected in the fact that in the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, more space is given, more words are devoted to describing the week leading up to the death of Christ and particularly the events on the Thursday and Friday of Holy Week than to any other week in the life of Christ.
Other events before and after are important but the cross is the central saving event because it was on the cross that the Lord Jesus died in our place, taking the just punishment our sins deserve. As the prophet Isaiah said, writing about the future impact of the Lord’s Suffering Servant for God’s people: ‘He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed’ (Isaiah 53v5 – NIV).
It was on the cross that the Lord Jesus Christ bore the punishment that brings us peace, peace with God, the peace of sins forgiven.
The cross is the main Christian symbol because Christianity is Christ and because it was the central event in the salvation from sin our Lord Jesus Christ achieved for all who believe and trust in him.