By Anthony L. Jordan
OKLAHOMA CITY (BP) — What would you think if people everywhere wore jewelry shaped or imprinted with an electric chair?
Think of it — beautiful and ornate jewelry made of gold or silver and adorned with diamonds or other precious stones. No, fine jewelry, beloved jewelry in the shape of an electric chair — the symbol of death to murderers — does not sound appealing at all.
Yet over these 2,000 years, the cross — the place of Roman execution for murderers and hardened criminals — has become the symbol of hope around the world. I am often astounded by those who wear a cross around their neck as adornment. The cross has become one of the most cherished forms in jewelry. Amazing!
What turned a cruel place of execution and death into a worldwide symbol of hope? I contend only one thing and one person — the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross of Golgotha. He alone changed a harsh, ugly, horrible symbol into a sign of love and hope.
For followers of Christ, the cross is much more than a sentimental, heartwarming symbol, and it is more than a piece of jewelry. The cross is the symbol of punishment, wrath and judgment against sin. It is the place where the Savior bled and died to pay the penalty for our sin. While hope springs from the cross, its dark reality of immeasurable physical, emotional and, above all, spiritual suffering cannot be missed.
The death of Christ is substitutionary atonement for sin and rebellion against a holy and righteous God. In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam and Eve there would be consequences of disobedience and rebellion. From the moment our parents (Adam and Eve) took the fruit, sin placed a mark on all of us. We are like our Genesis parents; we are marred by sin and rebellion against our God.
Jesus took the consequences of our sin. He took our death, wrath and judgment. God laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He who knew no sin became sin for us. Jesus gathered up the decrees and sin debt against us, and they were nailed to the cross.
The apostle John records that Jesus cried from the cross, “It is finished.” There are some powerful word pictures behind the original word translated “finished.” I give you only one: This original word was used in accounting to describe a bill that had been paid in full. Jesus drank the last dregs of the wrath of God against sin in our behalf. Stamped across our sin account in heaven is an eternal decree in regard to our debt — Paid In Full. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Once and for all, Jesus took the sting from sin, death and hell for all who believe when He died on the cross. The operative word is “believe.” Ultimately, we receive forgiveness or bear the punishment for our own sins based on one simple reality — faith. Are we willing to put all our faith in Christ? To reject all other ways and to turn from our sin to trust wholly in Christ turns the cross from a symbol of hope to real hope. To reject Jesus and His death on the cross releases the wrath and judgment of God upon us. The reformers were right. Salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone.
For the world, wearing a cross around one’s neck stands for hope they do not understand or frankly care much about. They just know the cross is a feel-good symbol of love and hope. You can be a rebellious pagan and wear a cross, but for a follower of Christ, the cross represents the place of suffering and death of our Savior as a substitute for us. The cross is the place where our sin debt was paid in full.
I suggest the next time you see someone wearing a cross, ask them what that cross means to them. It may well be a conversation starter to give a witness of the true meaning of the cross.
And the next time you place a cross necklace around your neck, breathe a prayer of thanksgiving to your Savior for His great love and sacrifice. Because of Him, your symbol of hope is more than a symbol. You have hope that will not be denied. Eternity awaits and you will spend it in heaven. What a Savior!
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. This article first appeared in the convention’s Baptist Messenger newsjournal (www.baptistmessenger.com).