Every year, companies spend millions of dollars on their image. They want to offer the cool product. The want to be the familiar and respectable and reliable company. A big part of their image will be their logo and lots of logos have become part of our cultural vocabulary. The apple with a bite out of it, oddly enough, represents a computer company. I guess they get some cache for associated with something good and wholesome, healthy and recommended. If I might date myself, several years back, Izod had a popular line of polo shirts. Their logo, a little alligator, was stitched over the left breast. I guess their shirts were known for quality, but I don’t know what alligators have to do with quality. Since the Izod shirts became a fad, they also became expensive. The cool kids from the wealthier homes wore them to school, while the rest of us looked on with envy.
Our Christian faith has a logo. You might even say Jesus has a logo. And it is one which no one would have expected or chosen for the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. You never would have picked it if you were trying to develop a popular new religion which would draw the masses and conquer the nations. A rising sun might have been a nice logo for that, or maybe a big smiley face. A dollar sign would be a logo to attract some people; others would like the stick figure family you see so frequently on the back of cars. Those are positive, optimistic messages which people like and want.
No, the logo for Jesus is His most holy cross and he says that by His being lifted up on the cross He will draw all people to Himself. People everywhere has come to associate the cross with Christianity, so much so that in Muslim countries where they don’t want Christianity, they can’t have an aid organization called the Red Cross, so they call it the Red Crescent instead, since the crescent moon is the symbol of their faith. Although people everywhere see the cross as the chief symbol of Christianity, it’s good to remember that in the first century, the cross was a scandal and an offense. Among the Romans, it was a taboo subject. You didn’t bring up crucifixion in polite company. Romans themselves had several advantages to their citizenship, one of which is that if they ever committed a capital crime, they would be beheaded rather than crucified. Crucifixion was a torturous, agonizing, humiliating and shameful death – reserved for the likes of slaves and revolutionaries.
Yet, the cross represents the center of our faith and the chief point of the message of Christ to the world. It does that in five ways as we find them in our Gospel lesson today.
Looking ahead to His imminent cross, for it was only a few days away, our Lord says, “Now is the time for judgment on this world” John 12:31a. The cross is first an act of judgment. We don’t like judgment. We often say it is wrong to judge other people and that we should live and let live. We’re uncomfortable with people judging and we certainly don’t enjoy being around judgmental people who are always criticizing and finding fault with others. We even image that we’re better off not talking about right and wrong. Yet God still judges. He will judge the world for its sin. We will all stand before Him, either upon our death or when Christ comes again. And that judgment is terrible – more terrible than we imagine, because our sin blinds us to the depths of our own sin. We might imagine that we’re generally okay. Yes, we have a few faults. We make mistakes now and then. Nobody’s perfect, right? To err is human, right? The cross says, “wrong.” We are so terribly wrong, so dreadfully far from God’s holy will for us, falling so very short of His perfection of righteousness and love that this dreadful punishment is what we deserve. Jesus, after all, died on our cross. The whipping, the torment, the shame and the degradation that He suffered rightly belonged to us.
The cross is hard medicine. It’s tough to swallow, especially as it shows us our own sins. If this is the cure, how dreadful the disease must be! We can’t just be ourselves and maybe do a little bit of self-improvement and then we’ll be okay. A bit of religion sprinkled over our daily lives won’t get to the core of the matter of our inner corruption. The motives, the methods, and the activities of our selfish choices and unbelieving worldview will all remain untouched. The cross says that without Christ, we are wrong. We need radical surgery. We deserve to die and so He dies in our place. We need to die – to die with Christ in order to rise with Him and be born again. The first message of the cross is the radical sinfulness of our fallen nature. Yet, it is a holy cross because its judgment is just. It is right about our sin, even if it is the only place in all of space and time where we can truly see how terrible our sins truly are.
The second message of the cross is that it is also a defeat for Satan. Again, looking ahead to His cross, our Lord Jesus says, “Now the prince of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31b). What appears to be a terrible defeat for the Son of God is actually His triumphant victory over the forces of evil. Here He takes all that Satan and his demons can do to Him; He endures it and He overcomes anyway. Satan’s claim on humanity must be relinquished when our sins find their payment in the holy blood of the Son of God.
Again, by ourselves, our efforts against Satan will get us nowhere. We might go to therapy, take some drugs, exercise, eat right, and get well-adjusted. We might learn to be more optimistic and take a happier perspective on life. That will all just make us happier servants of Satan and just no closer to God. We won’t be able to stifle the accusations of the accuser and we won’t be any closer to eternal life. It takes Jesus to conquer evil. He is the only one who can do it. He takes the Satanic condemnation in our place. He endures our hell in our place. By sending forth His Spirit, He breaks the evil grip that holds hearts and minds captive to fear and guilt, unbelief and sin. The cross is Christ’s holy victory. He dies like a sinner in the place of sinners, assaulted by accusations of Satan and bearing the condemnation of the Father. Yet He remains the good, loving and righteous Son of God. The Holy Cross means that Satan must yield because Jesus will reign in righteousness and love. The cross is the enthronement of Christ our King and the beginning of His glory.
And that brings us to the third message from the cross: the cross teaches us that God loves us with an immeasurable love. Our Lord alludes to this when He says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (Jn 12:32). The cross takes us and turns us from enemies of God, estranged from God and far from God and makes us friends of God, beloved, and near, even part of His family. It does this at the greatest cost – the death of His Son. And the Father willingly sends His Son into death for us. The Son willingly gives His life for us. We have nothing to offer Him but our own sins and He takes them in order to free us from them. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends.” But He Himself laid down His life for us while we were His enemies. And thus He made us friends with the greatest act of mercy and kindness and compassion the world has ever seen. What a holy cross, sanctified by God’s own holy love which would not leave us in our sins but insisted to come and rescue us and make us His own.
And this powerful self-giving love transforms our lives too. The power of the cross reveals ours sins, defeats Satan, brings us into God’s love and now it also directs our deeds, too, into the way of Christ’s self-giving love. We hear our Lord saying in that same Gospel lesson today: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me” (Jn 12:25-26a). Now we live no longer for ourselves but for Him who died for us and rose again. The life Jesus gives us is a life following Him in service to others. The cross becomes the shape of the Christian life: (+) receiving down from God the blessings of His love and His salvation and then reaching out to others to bless them as well, to be Christ for them in loving service.
As Christians we are daily called to turn from our old lives of sin and living for ourselves. That old life has died on the cross of Christ. The new life He gives takes the shape of the cross of His self-giving love. In this, we discover we have many weaknesses and failings yet, but the Spirit of God helps us in our weaknesses. Jesus is our strength and even amid our faltering efforts. God can and does do His good and gracious will through us. The life of the Church can and does testify to the life of Christ who still lives in and through us, reaching out to a lost world, helping the hurting, mending the broken, and guiding those who are perplexed and overwhelmed. The holy cross means that the Spirit works to make us holy by making us more and more like Jesus who gave His life for us and so we live giving the time, the talents and the treasures of our lives for the needs of others.
Finally, the cross puts our hope solidly in the world to come. Again, our Lord looks ahead to the cross and He says, “Where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (Jn 12:26b). This fallen world is judged by the cross. We are called to a new way of life by the cross. And we have been given a new home through the cross. We no longer belong to this old world and its selfish and self-serving ways. They all end in their own destruction. We are children of God and have a home in His glory to come. We belong with Jesus. The Father is pleased with us for Christ’s sake and He will give a share in the inheritance which Christ has won for us.
Today is holy cross day. The word “holy” can mean a lot of things – it is a word for the perfections of God: the perfection of His righteousness, His love, and His goodness. It is also a word used to describe the things that belong particularly to God, things that are separated from the ordinary and elevated for His sole use and possession. In Israel, the temple was holy – it was God’s house. The vessels and the instruments of sacrifice were holy, as they were put into His service. The priests were holy because God had chosen the sons of Aaron to be dedicated to His service among His people. The cross is holy like this, too. The Son has embraced it. He has blessed it with His saving presence. His own holy body, His own precious blood have marked it. And by the cross, you too are holy: blessed with His saving presence, a dwelling place of the living Lord, body and blood and all. The Lord embraces you and makes you His own. So your hope is no longer for this world. Now your hope is in Christ and Christ alone – where He is, what He does, where He goes and the kingdom He is bringing with Him when He returns again.
What a holy cross It is no wonder we celebrate it and proclaim it. For two thousand years it has stood as the center of the message of the Church because for two thousand years the Spirit of God has been drawing humanity to it, to learn from it and to draw our lives from it. Yes, the cross reveals our sins, but it also defeats our foe. It gives us God and makes us His own. The work of Jesus there for us makes us who we are in Him and guides our life, molding us to be like Him. It grants us a blessed future of life with God in His glory to come.
Info on the history of the Holy Cross: