It’s not a big surprise that the cross is the most enduring symbol of the Christian faith. But it should be. We’ve grown so accustomed to seeing crosses that we often forget the fact that the cross was originally scandalous and repugnant to everyone.
The cross was Rome’s brutal way of executing its most despised criminals. Death on a cross was designed to be not only excruciating but also humiliating. Roman citizens were protected by law from ever being crucified. Some wanted to be protected from even hearing about a crucifixion. Cicero, the Roman poet, wrote, “Let the cross be banished from thoughts of Romans….”
Yet today we see crosses everywhere. They are mounted on church buildings and walls; they are worn as earrings or necklaces.
So why have Christians chosen to identify themselves with something so demeaning and despised as the cross? Why would the apostle Paul write, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14)?
The answer is that the cross has a dual meaning to Christians: Pain and gain. Disgrace and Grace.
The cross reminds us of the pain and disgrace Jesus endured. It also speaks to us of the grace and gain we receive as a result. As Peter said, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
On the day we humans did our worst to Jesus, he did his best for us.
All who embrace the message of the cross, trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection as payment for their sins, are given forgiveness and eternal salvation. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
That’s why we call the day Jesus died, “Good Friday.” And that’s why the cross remains the enduring symbol of the Christian faith.