You see them throughout the world. We make them of gold and jewels and drape them around our necks. We carve them of exotic wood and adorn church buildings with them. We fashion them of different sizes and shapes of stained glass, pieced together to form exquisite works of art that fly our souls heavenward.
But the cross was not designed to sparkle on throats or beautify a place of worship. Invented before the 4th century B.C. by the Persians, its purpose was as an instrument of slow, torturous execution. By the time of Jesus, the Romans had begun using this way of hanging their worst criminals. Making it a public spectacle served as added humiliation. Anyone could walk by a murderer or thief as they hung on the rough-hewn boards and spit on them or cast abuse up at them.
Thus hung Jesus, naked before the world, nailed between two real criminals while the world gaped, supposing Him a fool. After all, He’d raised three people from the dead, multiplied food for thousands, and healed multitudes. Why was He submitting to this mockery and abuse, like a stupid lamb? They railed at Him, “You saved others; but you can’t even save yourself!” Why did He not use His power to subdue the Roman guards and come down from that cross, if He truly was the Son of God?
The answer to this question, my friend, is why we call the Friday before Easter “Good Friday.” The goodness in His heart compelled Him to hang in our place, so you and I could have a relationship with the God of the Universe.
Don’t believe for a second that if Jesus had wanted to, He could not have freed Himself and jumped down. He told the crowd, “Don’t you know that I could at this very moment call ten legions of angels to come and rescue me?” Yet He remained to the end, although it meant God turning His face from Him. Not because He was a fool. No. Because He loved us too much to let us die in our sins and spend forever in Hell.
No one kept Jesus on the cross but Jesus.
Next time you put your favorite crucifix around your neck or gaze upon the loveliness of a stained glass cross, remember how it came to mean a sweet symbol of love and beauty, rather than an instrument of death. Remember that Jesus went there of His own free will, to give you a future and a hope.
And, if you’ve made Him the Lord of your life, you’ll hear Him say one day very soon, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into my joy” as He welcomes you to Heaven. Cross my heart.