On a recent trip to the Holy Land, we visited a place called the Mount of the Beatitudes, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It’s the place where Jesus delivered His Sermon On the Mount recorded in Matthew’s gospel. In 1938, the Franciscan’s built a beautiful octagonal-shaped chapel on the grounds commemorating the eight beatitudes Jesus taught. As we were leaving, I overheard a conversation between two ladies who were entering the gift shop.
“You like to shop, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes! I love to collect crosses.”
Rarely does a day pass that I don’t see somebody wearing a cross as a piece of fine jewelry. In fact, on my right hand I wear a beautiful sterling silver ring into which a Texas jeweler named James Avery carved a cross. I cherish it because my kids gave it to me years ago on Father’s Day. However, there’s something about the conversation I eavesdropped between those two ladies that I find strange.
Can you imagine somebody saying, “Oh yes! I collect electric chairs” or “I collect medieval guillotines” or “I collect hangman nooses”? How did the cross, a Roman means of barbaric capital punishment, become a collector’s item, let alone such a beloved symbol of faith? At the very least, people attribute sentimental value to the cross, viewing it as a symbol of suffering. At best, Christians understand the deep meaning of the cross of Christ, placing their faith in the One that bore the penalty for their sins.
Nothing is more central to the Christian faith than how we understand Jesus's death upon the cross. The slightest misunderstanding of His crucifixion dilutes what is otherwise the most dynamic event in world history. As important as the cross is to the Christian faith, there's still so much confusion and controversy surrounding the death of Jesus.
The truth is not everyone embraces the cross in the same way. Some people consider the cross as mere folly, as nothing more than the tragic ending to a good life that was caught in a tangled web of political and religious gamesmanship. “If Jesus was God,” they scoff, “what was God doing on the cross?” Others want to reinterpret the cross for our modern times, giving it an extreme makeover through religious syncretism, sentimentality, or by reducing it to a mere symbol. Still others believe the power of God flows through the cross to save us from eternal damnation. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul summarizes, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18).
How should we interpret the cross of Christ? What is the meaning of the cross? From the early days of the Early Church, followers of Jesus have reflected on the significance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Through the writings of those apostles that witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we understand the meaning of the cross for us today.