Published August 30, 2011

Paul's Epistle...
"Remember The Cross"

Can symbols become so commonplace that they lose their significance? And can this ubiquity rob a once-powerful symbol of its power?

Have you "googled" today? Have you "xeroxed" something recently? Have you asked someone if they'd like a "coke" today (a term used in the Southern states, especially, as a generic reference to carbonated beverages, regardless of brand)?

Each year, owners of major trademarks spend millions of dollars in legal fees to preserve their exclusive rights to those trademarks. Just last year, the NCAA paid $17.2 million just to protect its term "March Madness" as a trademark for its Division I basketball tourney.

Sometimes, though, as in the cases noted above, the use of the term becomes so prevalent that the link to the original owner is forgotten. Any paper facial tissue becomes a "kleenex." Any small bandage is a "band-aid." Cellophane tape is "scotch tape," regardless of the manufacturer. But those are all trademarks referring to the products of specific manufacturers.

When such trademarks, such symbols, become generic through common usage, their value to their original owners is greatly diminished. If "Scotch tape" refers to any cellophane tape, why buy it from the trademark owner, the 3M Company?

"So, Paul, why is that significant to me as a Christian?"

What is the best-known symbol of Christianity? Undoubtedly, it's the cross. Throughout the ages, the cross has been a powerful symbol of what Christ did for us on the old rugged cross, purchasing our salvation through His atoning death.

But in recent times, the cross is seen most commonly as an article of jewelry. It's seen in and on churches as part of the decoration, even part of the architecture. Has it become so commonplace that it has lost some of its impact as a reminder of that which it truly symbolizes?

That's the question that's asked in Eighth Day's recent song, "May I Never Get Over The Cross" (which is September's #1 song, according to Singing News magazine). Here's how the song says it:

I see it on the steeple every time I pass a church.
It hangs there on the necklace I wear every day to work.
Is it a little too familiar? Has it become an empty symbol
I don't think about, ‘cause it's always around?

Can we really sing His praises or talk about His love
If we forget to mention the suffering and the blood?
Or how He was separated for the first time from His Father
There on Calvary? Oh, what agony!

Oswald Chambers, the noted 19th century preacher and author, said, "All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, all hell is terribly afraid of it, while men are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning."  Shame on us.

In Roman times, the cross – crucifixion – was reserved for the very worst of criminals. It was a means of execution that showed extreme contempt for the condemned. Historians tell us the suffering and humiliation of a Roman crucifixion were unequaled. It was an extremely painful way to die, tied or nailed to a large wooden cross, left to hang until dead.

For the past two millennia, the cross has primarily represented to Christians worldwide the great work that Christ came to do. That one symbol sums up – or should – everything that Christ suffered and endured during what we call Holy Week. It was excruciating — not just physically, but emotionally as well.

Remember how, in the garden on the night of His arrest, Christ prayed so earnestly that "His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44). Remember how He was scourged by the Roman guards, ripping and slicing deeply into his now-bloody skin. The "crown of thorns" cut deeply into His flesh, producing rivulets of blood flowing down across His bruised and battered face. Remember how the Romans hammered oversized iron nails (like railroad spikes) through His hands and feet. Remember how His side was pierced by a soldier's spear (John 19:34). Remember how He died in agony, feeling the wrath of the Father – because He carried the sins of all of humanity. In all this, He "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:26). And He did it willingly. "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not his mouth" (Isaiah 53:7).

As the Psalmist reminds us, "the redemption of their souls is costly" (Psalm 49:8), "But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave..." (49:15). Only God could do this. Only God's only Son could pay the price, and it was the price that the Son of God determined (long before Adam's sin) that He would pay. Christ was the sacrificial lamb "slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). Christ "humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8). He was slain because "without the shedding of blood there is no remission" for sin (Heb. 9:22).

If we lose sight of that high cost, the gruesome torture and extreme agony that Christ suffered for us individually — because of His great love for each of us — we devalue the enormous price paid for our salvation! He did for us what only He could do — and what we certainly could not do for ourselves. Eighth Day's song concludes with a prayer of resolve:

May I never get over the cross.
Lord, burn into my memory everything it cost.
Let me see you on that tree, dying for the lost.
Now and forever, may I never get over the cross

Lord, let it be so!

- Paul

"May I Never Get Over The Cross," sung by Eighth Day on their "Everything Holy" CD. Used by permission. Credits: Robert Arthur, Sirrob-Art Music BMI; Monty Lane Allen, KenzieGray Music BMI.

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