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Do you glory in the cross of Christ?

The Apostle Paul wrote that the preaching of the cross is to them that are perishing foolishness.
He spoke of "enemies of the cross of Christ," "the offence of the cross"
and the "shame of the cross," but he himself gloried in the cross of Christ.
What is the right Christian attitude toward the cross of Christ?


TWO THOUSAND years ago, the cross didn't inspire religious awe or thoughts of the Messiah's atoning sacrifice. Instead, the cross inspired sheer terror. A crucifixion was a gruesome, torturous, and shameful way of dying — the lowest form of execution, reserved for traitors and hardened criminals.

The Romans adopted this gruesome form of death from the Phoenicians, who actually impaled their victims on a straight, upright post. From this cruel practice came the Greek word stauros, which means an upright stake. However, the Romans used a cross (Latin, crux) with crossbeams.

Either way it was a slow and agonizing means of death — reserved for traitors, slaves and in general the scum of the Roman world.

But the process of crucifixion involved more than the shame of a brief public hanging. First, the victim was mercilessly scourged with spiked whips, sticks and all manner of physical and verbal abuse. Then the victim was forced to carry his own heavy cross to the site of the crucifixion. Afterwards came the painful process of nailing his hands and feet to the cross. Finally, this slow, agonizing death was aggravated by taunts, threats and buffeting from the crowd.


Christ's Forebodings of Crucifixion

The terror of the cross — like the anticipation of a public hanging — is heightened by the victim's fear of the event. Most criminals were crucified immediately after their trial because the forebodings of pain were more than most mortals could handle. The crucifixion of Jesus was typical in this respect — He was crucified on the same day he was convicted.

But this death sentence was no sudden surprise to Jesus. He anticipated His death by the cross throughout His three-and-one-half-year ministry. As a young man growing up in Galilee, He undoubtedly witnessed a number of the Roman crucifixions.

He was probably aware of His coming death for an even longer period of time — from long before He divested Himself of spirit life. For 4,000 years prior to His human birth, Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament (cf., John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:1-3; I Corinthians 10:4).

The Apostle Paul referred to the deity and the incarnation of Christ in his letter to the Philippians. ". . . Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:5-8).

Early in His ministry, Jesus began preparing His disciples for this shameful death He was to suffer. He continually referred to His coming death, and urged the disciples to "take up his cross" (Matt. 10:38; 16:21; Luke 9:23; 14:27), but His disciples simply didn't "get it" until the very end.

During the last week of His life, Jesus became more blunt about the manner of His death. He gave the twelve disciples the complete step-by-step advance details of His upcoming brutal murder. "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again" (Matt. 20:18-19).

Each of the four Gospels focuses in heavily on this detailed account of Christ's death. Over ninety percent of the Gospel accounts focus on His 3½-year ministry, and about one-third of that covers the last week of His life, His death, burial and resurrection.

Therefore, it would be impossible to summarize all the Gospel accounts regarding the crucifixion in this article, much less the mountain of tradition which has grown out of the event. Let's consider, instead, the effect of Christ's crucifixion on others.


The Shame of the Cross

How would you consider the value of a dead man hanging on a cross? How could you think of him as a savior, a great man, or the son of God? Wouldn't he be more representative of a failure, a criminal, or a "loser"?

The Jewish tradition of the day said, "Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree." The very idea of publicly displaying a dead (or dying) man was the worst sort of degradation he could suffer. In this way, Jesus became "accursed" for us.

Jesus was crucified outside the city. In the Jewish tradition of stoning, this was the lowest form of criminal prosecution — done outside the city gates (Num. 15:36). The Roman occupational army complied with this Jewish custom. In fact, Jesus had to carry His cross so far from "city center" that a visitor from Cyrene, named Simon, was "compelled to bear his cross" (Matt. 27:32).

Many of the disciples, and even many among the "mob" at His crucifixion, believed in Jesus until the very end. But that end was so degrading that even they doubted His Messiahship when He hung on the cross. How could they believe in a Messiah, perhaps stark naked, on a cross between two obviously guilty criminals? His own mother and His twelve disciples saw Him in His shame, and perhaps even they were disillusioned.

Imagine Mary's feelings. All that she'd been through — the virgin birth, the angel's message, the miracles she had seen — must have gone through her mind. At the moment of His crucifixion she also had to bear much shame — especially from her Jewish friends.

"We always knew there was something wrong with Him," they would say. "Now this (being crucified) confirms it!"

For many — even those who saw His miracles, heard His teachings and were benefited by healings — the shame of the cross wiped out any thought that Jesus of Nazareth could be the Messiah.

Even after His resurrection, many of the disciples didn't recover from the shock of the crucifixion. Thomas doubted. Peter went fishing. The others followed Peter back into their old life-styles. Not until the day of Pentecost did the shame of the cross finally become glory to those who eventually preached it around the world.


Disciples Crucified

When the disciples perceived the glory of Christ's resurrection, they finally understood why the abject shame of the cross was necessary, and they became willing even to be crucified themselves!

When the disciples remembered their Master's prophecies, they saw them in a new light. Christ had not only said He would die on the cross, but that the disciples also would drink of His cup and be baptized with the baptism He was baptized with (Matt. 20:22-23).

To the Pharisees, Jesus had been even more pointed. "Behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city" (Matt. 23:34).

James was the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2) and tradition tells us that Peter was crucified (perhaps upside down). Most of the disciples, including Paul, were martyred, and all of the disciples were persecuted continually for the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:12).