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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

29 January 2006

The Cross: Symbol and Scandal

Q: Why is the cross your symbol, since Jesus was killed on it? If I were killed by someone with a gun, would my mother use the symbol of the same gun to remember me? Please answer me as soon as possible because I am really confused.

A: Christians use the symbol of the cross precisely because it was the instrument of Jesus’ death. His death was not vain and worthless: It also paid for our sins and brought forgiveness from our heavenly Father. While used for torture and death, the cross also brings hope to those who were bothered by sin and guilt. That’s why Saint Paul could write to Corinth, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)”

The CrucifixionScripture speaks of the “scandal” or “stumbling block” of our crucified Savior and His cross, telling the Church that its message is offensive to many in the world who don’t realize their sins and don’t know that they live under God’s wrath and judgment. Yet without Christ’s suffering and death, there would be no Christians, no Christian Church, and no cross symbol to celebrate.

Let’s take a slightly different picture of a family. Suppose that your mother is attacked by someone with a weapon. Out of love for her, you throw yourself in front of the gun and the bullet meant for her strikes you. Your love gave her life. To remember your sacrifice, she wears a small piece of jewelry in the form of a pistol or a bullet.

Even more so, the Christian responds to Jesus’ love for us. He died not only for those who already knew and loved Him, but for those who didn’t know, or who knew and hated. He didn’t suffer and die for good, righteous, holy people, but for sinful, hateful, rebellious people. We place the cross in our churches, wear it as jewelry, and hang it on the walls of our homes as part of our lives of thankfulness for His sacrifice.

We also use the cross or the crucifix (a cross that bears a likeness of Jesus’ body) with joy, because we know that on the third day, Jesus was raised to life and that we, too, will participate in the resurrection and eternal life with Him. It truly signifies Christ’s horrible, violent death. But His death destroyed the power of death, sin, devil, and hell. Our Savior faced the horror so we might receive the honor of adoption as the children of God.

For a bit more, you might read Aardvark Alley’s post Double + Crossed and Paul McCain’s The Crucifix: Powerful Devotional Resource.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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