By Jim Willis
TEXTS: Isaiah 53; Gal. 6:14
"In the Cross of Christ I glory, Tow'ring o'r the wrecks of time; All the light of sacred story Gathers around His head sublime." (John Bowring, 1825)
If you were to come to my house, you might notice I have a number of crosses and crucifixes on the wall. Some of them were gifts given by friends; some are purchases I made over the years. Most days you will probably see me wearing a small wooden cross around my neck. I have been criticized for wearing a cross, having crosses in my house as well as crucifixes. Some say I am worshipping the cross; some say it's actually a pagan symbol; others have accused me of putting Christ back on the cross when it comes to the crucifixes. And to be honest I held all of these thoughts myself. I grew up in a very conservative Church of Christ where women wore little jewelry (and certainly not a cross or crucifix); some women didn't cut their hair...little or no makeup was worn; dresses only were worn by women (until a particularly cold winter in Illinois and the women rebelled and started wearing pantsuits!) Our communion set needed replacing because our congregation had grown and additional trays were needed. Some of the trays you could order had knobs on top of the covers; some had crosses on top. The person ordering the new trays was told "Be sure to get the covers WITHOUT the crosses on them." I think you get the picture.
The first time I saw a cross in a Church of Christ building was in the spring of 1967, my first year at Harding College. I sang in a group called the Harding College Chorale; one of our stops on that tour was either Prescott or Arkadelphia, Arkansas. This old conservative Church of Christ boy walked in and above the baptistery was a Cross! Of all things! A Cross! To my amazement the roof didn't fall in! Something about that cross began changing my thinking on the subject of crosses in the church building; after all wasn't this building dedicated to Jesus Christ, what better place to display a cross than in his building.
Throughout the Old Testament altars were build, stones erected, and monuments dedicated. When children of Israel got ready to cross the Jordan River, they were instructed to pick 12 stones from the middle of the river and erect them on the other bank. WHY? Joshua 4: 5-7 "Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites,:6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?':7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever"
Bill Allen, who served as Pulpit Minister of the College Avenue Church of Christ, made this statement that stuck with me, "We have let the world steal our symbols." And that's true, we have! At that time many motorcycle gangs and hippies sported crosses and yet their lives were far from displaying Christ. Others associated wearing a cross or crucifix as a form of idol worship. And for other reasons people were hesitant about wearing or displaying crosses.
So why do I have crosses and crucifixes and no longer concerned about having them or displaying them? Simply this: like altars, stones and monuments erected in the Old Testament as reminders, so the crosses and crucifixes serve as a reminder to me of what my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did for me on the cross. When I see a crucifix it reminds of the pain and suffering he went through for me on that cross. I don't bow before them, venerate, or burn incense to them. Yet they serve as a simple reminder just as taking a bit of bread and a sip of grape juice each Sunday reinforces that in a tangible way what he did. He said, "Do this in remembrance of me."
That brings me to the last word, RAINBOWS. Many people are turning their backs on another of God's symbol (Genesis 9:13) because it has been adopted and is often associated by a group they may not agree with. I for one won't let the world rob me of one of God's most beautiful symbols. "But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by who the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14 NKJV)
Jim Willis is standing in for Scott Johnson this week.