Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Weight of the Cross

We have a new cross in our church auditorium. I know; its not a news headline. All churches have crosses in their sanctuary, and it is expected that we’d purchase a new ones from time to time. But hear me out; there’s an interesting detail in regard to how we came to have the cross that we do.
When someone discovered that a large wooden cross, which we usually set up in the sanctuary around this time of year, was rotted out at the bottom, my favorite carpenter, Sal Palmeri, volunteered to build us a new one. Two nights ago, Sal shared with me the story behind the construction of this cross. Originally he planned to make the 10 foot cross out of a solid 6”x6” rough-hewn cypress beam. When the wood arrived, however, he noted the weight of the beam and quickly realized that if he were to make a cross from that beam, no one would be able to lift it (well, except, maybe, Sal, himself :) So, he went back to the drawing board. The cross in our auditorium is now both well constructed and liftable (I’ll let you ask Sal how he was able to solve this problem).
Scholars and archaeologists have given a lot of thought to questions regarding the facts Jesus’ crucifixion. If you’d like to know more about their findings you might find the Wikipedia entry for crucifixion informative—it’s well documented. It’s generally accepted that the cross that would have been used to crucify Jesus probably weighed around 300 lbs. Criminals sentenced to be crucified were often forced to carry the crossbeam (which weighed approximately 100 lbs) of their own cross; and this after being severely whipped or scourged to the point of severe blood loss and possible shock.

The gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are all pretty detailed in their accounts of Jesus crucifixion. In fact, if you have a Facebook account I hope you’re following along on our Safeharbor Fan Page and keeping up with the brief posts that describe the life of Jesus from the time he entered Jerusalem (on Palm Sunday) up through his resurrection (on Easter Sunday). As we near the time of his trial and crucifixion, the posts will become more and more frequent. Roman crucifixion was brutal; and, according to the Gospels, the way in which the Roman executioners crucified Jesus was no different. After they beat him brutally, mocked him (humiliation was part of the intent behind crucifixion, to begin with), and ripped his flesh, as was the custom, they forced him to carry his own cross at least part way, to Golgotha—a.k.a. the Skull (see John 19:17; Luke 23:26). What a weight to bear!
I suppose, though, that, for Jesus, the spiritual, psychological, and emotional weight of the cross well exceeded the weight of any cypress beam. I call your attention, once again (this passage has been on my mind so often lately) to the scene at Gethsemane, on the Mt. of Olives (Luke 22:39-45). As Jesus knelt to pray on the night before he was crucified, he was in such anguish over the reality of taking on the weight of our sin, that “drops of sweat like blood” were falling from his forehead. He desired, if it was at all possible, that God would take this responsibility from his shoulders. And as he hung on the cross, he cried out, while darkness covered the land, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” What a weight to bear!
The weight of course, was that of our sin. Paul states, in 2Corintians 5:21, that Jesus took on the weight of our sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God. And, as guilty as that may make us feel, the point of it all was that we would stand before God with no guilt—no weight of sin on our shoulders.
So, why do we walk around with a general sense of guilt? Why do we carry ourselves as if there is some great weight hanging around our neck, or chained to our ankles? Jesus bore the weight of our sin; he did it so that we could become the righteousness of God. What an insult it must be for us to hang our heads and mope around, as if we still carry the weight of our own sin. So let’s stand up straight, hold our head high, and live out the righteousness that we have been given, through faith in the one who took our sin upon his shoulders. Let’s walk around free, unburdened, joyful, and grateful, because our guilt was left on the cross.

~An Unburdened Disciple


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