Cross of Jesus!” This was the random cry of my two-year-old from the backseat of our minivan. Immediately my brain tried to process where I had gone wrong as a parent. Where could my daughter—the child of a minister—have picked up such disrespectful cries of aggravation? How on earth, with two parents who watch their language carefully and who even in our most flustered moments never take the Lord’s name in vain, could she have come up with such a phrase?
I sputtered out, “What did you say?” It was the only thing I could think of. I hoped that maybe it was my hearing and not my example that had taken a turn for the worse. But the answer came back more fervently this time.
“CROSS OF JESUS!”
Thankfully, before I had the chance to sharply correct my offspring on her word choice, she pointed and said, “Over there!”
Both my wife and I looked out the passenger window (I, only briefly, so as not to imperil the other drivers on the road). We saw a large white church and, sure enough, a large “cross of Jesus” atop the steeple.
“Oh,” we sighed in unison.
We then praised our daughter for her astute observational skills, which she had obviously inherited from her superior parents!
Over the next several months we heard countless “cross of Jesus” cries from the backseat, each time pointing out a visible cross on a church building. Then it moved to further cries when she saw people wearing cross necklaces. Our highly perceptive daughter also drew our attention to crosses on bumper stickers, posters, T-shirts, books, and other random sources.
The cross of Jesus has become the universal symbol for the Christian faith. There are even songs about it. The hymn “The Old Rugged Cross” talks about clinging to the cross, loving it, and being attracted to it.
The New Testament also speaks a lot about the cross. All four Gospels describe the death of Jesus on the Roman torture instrument, and how He carried it to the place of His execution. John says, “Carrying his own cross, [Jesus] went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)” (John 19:17). We also know, of course, that a man named Simon of Cyrene carried it part of the way (Matthew 27:32).
Around this time of year, commonly referred to as Easter, Christians center their attention on the “Passion Week,” which focuses on the experiences of Jesus during the week that led up to His death. Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ even helps us to understand Jesus’ suffering in graphic imagery.
But while the cross is certainly an important symbol for Christians, is it the only central element among the events that occurred that week?
One of the earliest Christian documents is a letter written by the apostle Paul called 1 Corinthians. In a key text describing the life and thought of early believers, he writes, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (15:14). While there is no denying the importance of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, without the Resurrection, nothing else that Jesus did actually matters.
Before His death, Jesus repeatedly alluded not only to His death, but also to His return to life. “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ . . . But the temple he had spoken of was his body” (John 2:19–21).
Yet in spite of His numerous predictions of both His death and resurrection, Jesus still had to remind His disciples that He had told them He would rise again (Matthew 16:21; Mark 9:31; Luke 9:22). When Jesus found them the evening after His resurrection, they were mourning His death, believing that it meant the end. Somehow they had missed or forgotten all of His allusions to the fact that He would rise from the dead. For them, His death on the cross was the moment they lost what had been their faith.
As some of His disciples walked to Emmaus the afternoon of the Resurrection, Jesus came alongside them, initially disguising Himself, and began asking them about the events of that weekend. They told Him about the Crucifixion and how it had crushed their hope that Jesus was the Messiah.
Jesus said,“ ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not he Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25–27).
After Jesus finished His explanation, He revealed His identity to the two disciples. They then hurried back to the other disciples and told them that they had met with Jesus and actually talked to Him (verses 34, 35).
A Christian’s faith is rooted in a living Savior—not a dead one.
I have a lot of history books in my library. These books contain extremely detailed accounts of pirates, presidents, pilgrims, and pioneers. I can access facts about the foods they ate, he clothes they wore, and how dysfunctional their families were. I can also read their writings, from personal notes to their published public works. Many times they influence the way I think or help me understand why the world is the way it is.
Yet for all the content inside my history books, not one of those people can save me. They are all dead and have no awareness of my life. They can’t defend me when I mess up, and they won’t be able to give me a new life when this present one ends.
But in his letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote, “Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man” ( 1 Corinthians 15:21).
Not only did Jesus die on our behalf to make amends for humanity’s sin, but Scripture also records that Jesus ascended to heaven in order be our Advocate: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Also, Jesus is “able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
Even the controversial (and highly successful) novelist Dan Brown said, "Suggesting a married Jesus is one thing, but questioning the Resurrection undermines the very heart of Christian belief.” So even those with a reputation for portraying aberrant views of Christ acknowledge that the essence of Christianity is compromised without the pivotal story of the Resurrection.
Jesus is not some historical figure who died thousands of years ago and now lies moldering in a tomb. He’s not just some guy in dusty history books who said some cool stuff and inspired a bunch of people. Jesus is alive and well, and He interacts with His followers every day.
Too often for average believers, Jesus isn’t a daily reality so much as ancient history. Instead of getting Jesus to lead them in their daily lives by impressing their hearts and minds with thoughts about Him, they sit mindlessly in church, unengaged.
Wearing articles of clothing and cross necklaces to identify one’s religious tradition isn’t enough when it comes to being a Christian. It’s about having a personal relationship with God. We serve a risen Savior who lived and died for us—and still lives to shape and transform our lives.