What the Cross Means to the Church

Bible Book: Galatians  6 : 14
Subject: Cross; Easter; Faith; Trust

Galatians 6:14

In many religious circles, there is great emphasis placed on Holy Week. It begins with Palm Sunday, which is today and culminates with Easter Sunday one week from today. And although generally speaking their timing is messed up with a Friday crucifixion and they add a lot of man-made stuff to the week like Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday, the design of these days is for Christians to pause and remember what happened to our Lord when he entered Jerusalem for the final time 20 centuries ago.

But I would submit to you God’s intention was not for our minds to be concentrated on what happened at the cross for only one week out of the year, but that it would saturate and fill and drive every moment of our life. More to the point, His design was that the presence and power and life of the resurrected Jesus Christ would live through as, His followers.

Just before the turn of the century, toward the end of 1999, Newsweek magazine carried an article titled “2000 Thousand Years of Jesus,” the article begins this way:

“Historians did not record his birth. Nor, for 30 years, did anyone pay him much heed. A Jew from the Galilean hill country with a reputation for teaching and healing, he showed up at the age of 33 in Jerusalem during Passover.

In three days, he was arrested, tried and convicted of treason, then executed like the commonest of criminals. His followers said that God raised him from the dead. Except among those who believed in him, the event passed without notice.”

And that’s true. When Jesus was on the earth, hardly anyone outside his own people knew he was here. After he left, it seemed that nothing had changed. And yet, here we are, just over 2,000 years since His birth and we are still measuring time by His coming to the earth. He is the hinge on which history turns. He is the touchstone of truth, the foundation of faith, and the final proof that God exists.

And I think the problem with Easter and Holy Week and all the attachments that come along with it is that the message and impact of what happened there is Jerusalem 2,000 years ago has lost its power to surprise us.

Maybe it’s because we’ve heard it so many times before, but we’ve become so familiar with the details, we’ve become rather disconnected or even unimpressed with the message and meaning of Easter.

But to see the cross for what it really was is to be changed forever.

When Isaac Watts wrote of surveying “The Wondrous Cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, he said, “See from his head, his hands, his feet; Sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did e’er such love and sorrow meet? Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

For three weeks, I’ve been trying to assist us in “seeing” what happened at the cross from the different perspectives found in scripture, what it meant to God, to Christ and Satan.

Today I want to bring the message closer to home and think about what the cross means to the church. One of the best answers to the question of what the cross means to the church is found in Galatians 6:14.

We begin with

I. The Singular Reality of the Cross

“The cross of our Lord”

One of the essential foundational truths of the church is that we believe Jesus Christ was crucified. Don’t slide by that so casually. When we say those words, we mean that the Son of God was murdered on a Roman cross at a place called Skull Hill outside the city walls of Jerusalem.

We believe it literally happened and had you and I been there, we would have seen with our own eyes the slow, agonizing death of Jesus of Nazareth. We would have witnessed the humiliation of Christ as he died between two thieves. We would have seen the blood drip from his wounds. We would have heard him cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

All these things are much more than words we read from the pages of our Bible. It was a literal, historic, documented occurrence. Jesus really did die on a cross.

And because of that,, the cross is the heart of the gospel and the gospel is the reason for our existence. We have nothing to boast about apart from the cross of Christ.

We cannot lay claim to any special intelligence or any special merit or any special outward beauty that recommends us to God.

In Romans 3:23, Paul discusses the universal need for salvation and says, regardless of whether a person is a Jew or Gentile, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

No difference! No difference between the corporate lawyer in a New York office and the drug dealer on the street in Harlem. No difference between a prostitute in a brothel and a society sweetheart in Hollywood. No difference between a gang member on the front page of the paper and the most upright member of Trinity Baptist Church. There is no difference. Apart from the grace of God poured forth at the cross, we would all be going to hell.

That’s why it is so important that we don’t forget or take for granted what happened that day. Listen to this medical description of death by crucifixion written by Rev. Adrian Dieleman in a sermon titled, “He Was Crucified":

“Try to imagine yourself at Golgotha Hill on Good Friday. The cross is placed on the ground and you are thrown backward with your shoulders against the wood. The Roman Legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of your wrist. He drives a heavy, square wrought iron nail through your wrist and deep into the wood.

Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull your arms too tightly, allowing you some flex and movement. The cross is then lifted into place and fastened onto the upright set into the hill.

Your left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving your knees flexed. You are now crucified. As you slowly sag down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in your brain. You push yourself upward to avoid this stretching torment. But now you feel the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves of your feet. As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through your muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push yourself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. You fight to raise yourself in order to get even one small breath.

Now come hours of unending torture: cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps; intermittent partial asphyxiation; searing pain as tissue is torn from your lacerated back as you move up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins: a deep, crushing pain within the chest as your heart cavity fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.

It is now almost over: the loss of fluids has reached a critical level; the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues; the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. Finally, you feel the chill of death creeping through your tissues. You welcome its approach.”

Crucifixion was a horrible way to die, yet that is how the Savior of the world ended his life. I have included this description so that we will understand the physical reality of crucifixion.

But it is not the physical sufferings of Jesus that the Bible emphasizes. Rather the biblical writers focus on what his death accomplished. We all know that he died for others. But what does that really mean?

There is a story from the Civil War that helps to illustrate what it means. The story was originally told by evangelist Billy Sunday, who was born in 1862. It was later repeated in a book by Dr. Robert Coleman called Written in Blood.

The story is about a band of organized outlaws in the Southwest called the Quantrill Raiders. They would sweep down upon an unsuspecting community on the frontier, rob, pillage and burn, then ride away before help could come.

The situation became so desperate that some people in Kansas formed a militia to search out the desperados. They had orders to execute without delay any of the raiders that could be found.

Not long afterward a group of these men were captured. A long trench was dug; they were lined up, hands and legs tied, and eyes covered. But as the firing squad was forming, a young man rushed out of the underbrush, crying out: “Wait! Wait!”

Covered by the guns of the firing squad, he approached the officer in command. He pointed to a man who was waiting to be shot, and said: “Let that man go free. He has a wife and four children, and is needed at home. Let me take his place. I am guilty.”

It was an extraordinary appeal, but the stranger insisted that it not be denied. After a long consultation, the officers decided to grant the request. They cut the ropes and released the condemned man. The volunteer was put in his place, and he fell dead before the firing squad.

Later the redeemed man came back to the awful scene of death, uncovered the grave, and found the body of his friend. He put it on the back of a mule and took it to a little cemetery near Kansas City, where he was given a proper burial.

There he erected a memorial stone upon which was inscribed the words: HE TOOK MY PLACE. HE DIED FOR ME.

There is only one thing lacking in that illustration. The young man who offered to die in the place of another was himself guilty of the same crimes. This story is about one guilty man dying in the place of another.

But something much greater happened at the cross. There a truly innocent man died, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. When Jesus died, he took your place and suffered the penalty meant for you. He who was innocent paid the price that you might go free. This is truly beyond human understanding. As Romans 5:7 notes, perhaps for a righteous man some would dare to die.

But who would die for sinners? Only God’s Son would do a thing like that. That is the singular reality of the cross.

The cross also means, for the church there are some

II. The Implication of The Cross

In the Bible, the cross is always a place of suffering and death. In a practical sense it means four things to the believer. The Bible speaks of us dying to the old life, dying to self, dying to the flesh and dying to the world. Here in our text, Paul says he is crucified to the world and the world to him.

The cross is essentially a confrontation with sin. The cross means that the old life is over and we can never go back to it again. It means there is a brand-new you. It means that we make a decisive break with sin and set out to follow Jesus day by day.

The cross is God’s way of saying, “You can have your sin or you can have my Son — but you can’t have both.”

To be crucified to the world and the world to you means that the things that used to seem so important — the drive for money, the compulsion to power, the need to dominate, the desire to win at any cost, the lust for sexual fulfillment, the desperate search for the approval of others — no longer rule your life.

You live by a new standard and that means saying goodbye to the old way of life. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). Those words mean exactly what they say. Unless you deny yourself and enter by way of the cross, you are not a genuine disciple of Christ.

These are the words of David Wilkerson: “When you kneel at the cross, you will not hear an easy, soft word — not at first. Even though the cross is the only door to life, you are going to hear about death — death to every sin!”

So if that is true, how will that express itself in the life of the church?

III. The Commands of the Cross

The New Testament gives us three commands of the Cross and we dare not ignore these. If we do, we risk ceasing to be the church and simply becoming a religious social club.

We are told to

Carry the cross–Luke 9:23
Boast in the Cross–Galatians 6:14
Preach the Cross–1 Corinthians 1:18-21

We must lift up the cross because it is the only message we have. If we talk about politics, we may get a new man in the White House, but we won’t change the hearts of people. All around us are people who carry a heavy weight of sin.

They are sick in their hearts from the burden they carry. You can see it in their eyes, read it in their faces, hear it in their voices. They long for something better, they wonder how they can be free of their sin. Where can they go?

The church has the answer — and the answer is found in the cross of Christ. When Jesus said “I am the light of the world” and “I am the door,” he was speaking of the cross. You cannot go to heaven unless you enter by way of the cross!”

Allan Moseley, from Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, shares the story of Eros and Bartie Savage. One cold early evening they motored out into San Francisco Bay in their cabin cruiser to share a picnic dinner. They saw a college rowing team and waved to them. The water was very choppy that afternoon, but they continued toward the San Mateo Bridge. They sought passage through the drawbridge, but they were waved off by the tender of the bridge because of the huge waves in the water ahead. They were about to head for home when they saw a red light glowing in the distance; it was in the shape of a cross. They were interested in the source of the light, so they steered the boat to investigate. They had to go through shallow, muddy water and they knew that it was dangerous. There was the possibility of mud getting in the engine and ruining the boat. Sure enough, mud began to come out of the exhaust pipe and the engine temperature reached the danger zone. But they pressed on, compelled to find the source of that red, glowing light in the shape of a cross. When they finally reached the light they saw that it was only a buoy reflecting the red light of the sunset. The Savages felt foolish; they had risked their boat to chase a mirage.

Just then Bartie commented, "Look at all the coconuts in the water." But when they realized what they were seeing was not coconuts at all. It was the heads of the men from the rowing team. Their boat had capsized and sank. They had been in the icy water for an hour and had been tossed around by the waves so that they had also swallowed an hour's worth of saltwater. They were close to death. In one last, desperate hope, they had come together and prayed to be rescued. The Savages pulled them aboard. God answered their prayer for rescue with the light of a cross.

No wonder Paul gloried in the cross. It is God’s plan to save us from disaster. Let me ask you a personal question. What sin is keeping you from God today? Is it anger? Is it lust? Is it a hard heart of unbelief? Is it drunkenness? Is it an uncontrollable temper? Is it cheating? Is it stealing? Is it adultery? Is it abortion? Is it pride? Is it greed?

Some of you are just about to go under, maybe for the last time. I want you to know, there is hope in the cross and all it takes is a prayer of desperation. It doesn’t matter what “your” sin is. It doesn’t matter how many sins you’ve piled up in your life. It doesn’t matter how guilty you think you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been doing this week. It doesn’t matter how bad you’ve been. It doesn’t matter how many skeletons rattle around in your closet.

The cross is God’s answer to your deepest needs. That is what theologians mean when they talk about the “finished work” of Jesus Christ. It’s not just a slogan, it’s a profound spiritual truth. When Jesus cried out “It is finished” (John 19:30), he meant that the penalty for sin had been paid in full.

What Jesus accomplished in his death was so awesome, so total, so complete that it could never be repeated. Not even by Jesus himself. His work is “finished” in every sense of the word. There is nothing more God could do to save you. There is no Plan B. Plan A (the death of Christ) was good enough.


The story is told of an old Spartan who tried in vain to make a corpse stand upright. But after failing time and again, he declared, “It wants for something within.”

How true for all of us. That is what we all want — we want something within. We want a power that can break the chains of sin. We want a power that can enable us to stand upright, to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint. Where can we find such a power within? Only in the cross of Christ.

Everything that we believe as a church is wrapped up in the cross of Christ. It is the central truth of the Christian faith and the pre-eminent event of human history. The cross is our message, our hope, our confidence. It is our badge of honor and the emblem of suffering and shame.

Though the world despises the cross, we rally to it. In this sign, and this alone, we will conquer. Therefore, let us love the cross, preach the cross, stand by the cross, and never be ashamed of the cross.

Hold it high as the banner of our salvation. Lift it up as the hope of the world. There is no power greater than the power of the cross. It is the only power that can lift men and women out of their sins, release them from condemnation, give them new life, and set their feet in a new direction.

Christianity is supremely the religion of the cross. Though the world may not want to hear it, we must preach it over and over — and then urge men and women to run to the cross of Christ. When we preach Christ crucified, rebel souls will lay down their weapons and join us in worshiping him as Savior and Lord.

Someday in heaven we will still sing together, “worthy is the Lamb that was slain”. This is our message to the world. Jesus has died and on Easter Sunday he rose from the dead.

Let the people of God rejoice in the words of Isaac Watts:

When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Let’s pray.