The most recognized icon, and most intriguing metaphor the world has arguably ever known is the cross. We find images and references to the cross everywhere… on our clothes, jewelry, bumpers, logos, within places of public and religious gatherings. The ubiquity of the cross is good, and it may be bad, for the very commonality of the cross may obscure its original, and brutal meaning: An icon of tortuous power used to suppress any and all resistance to the empire.
The Romans weren’t the first to use crucifixions, but they perfected its use. They killed thousands, tens of thousands, and depending on whom you read, hundreds of thousands of men, women, boys and girls in gaudy and violent demonstrations of power throughout their territories. By way of the cross (and sword, spear, chariot, and horse) peace was maintained all throughout the ancient near east. Pax Romana is the Latin term for the peace of Rome. It was, as the peace of an empire always goes, a particularly unsettling kind of peace, because it was peace gained only through violence.
The way the Romans, and other empires, used the cross would be powerful enough to cause it to be one of the world’s most notable icons, but the real reason the cross winds up being so powerful is because of Jesus. Interestingly, ironically, and tragically Christ used the cross too. While the Pax Romana virus was sweeping the world, a certain anti-virus was introduced known as Pax Christus. That is, the peace of Christ. Both Rome and Christ used the cross, but, of course, they were used in completely different ways.
With Rome, the cross is used to subjugate.
With Christ, the cross is used to serve.
With Rome, the cross is used to dominate.
With Christ, the cross is used to deliver.
With Rome, the cross is used to coerce from the outside-in.
With Christ, the cross is used to transform from the inside-out.
With Rome, the cross is used in malevolent anger.
With Christ, the cross is used in magnanimous grace
With Rome, the cross is used vengeful retribution.
With Christ, the cross is used in saving restoration.
With Rome, the cross is used to let everybody know who's out.
With Christ, the cross is used to let us all know everybody's in
With Rome, the cross is two inanimate pieces of lumber.
With Christ, the cross is the Tree of Life.
With Rome, the cross is used to mete out violence
With Christ, the cross is used to absorb violence.
We see, in the contrast between Rome and Jesus, that in the end, there are only two things you can do with the cross: You can use it, or you can be used by it.
The question is: how are you using the cross?
We might respond by saying, well, we have never crucified anyone, nor have we ever painted a cross on the side of our chariot and run anyone over. No, we probably haven’t. But, who of us, in our right mind, would say, I have never fallen victim to the temptation of using the practices and rituals of my own people group, to exclude others from my circle? Who of us could honestly say, I never deny anyone access to my circle based on clique, tribe, family, community, ethnicity, social standing, nationality, etc…? None. We have all fallen short of God’s radical inclusiveness. The truth is, we have all used the cross. It is the symbol of our failure.
However, it is also the symbol of our greatest victory! Because, there on the cross, Jesus absorbs our sin, our wrong-doing, our proclivity to exclude and scapegoat. God was willing, on the cross, to lay the sins of the world on his Son’s shoulders. Jesus entered into death only to defeat death from the inside out. The cross, in other words, isn’t just the way to death, it is also the way to life! And now we arrive at the real reason the cross is the most intriguing and powerful symbol the world has ever known. It’s not just because it was a symbol of the brutal power of man, or the failure of man, or the death of the Son of God. The real reason the cross stands above all else is that in, addition to the aforementioned things, it is also paradoxically, a symbol of life.
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. –The Apostle Paul