Have any of you ever accidently walked into the wrong restroom in a public location? Better yet, have you ever actually went in, used the restroom, washed your hands, and left- not noticing that you were in the wrong restroom? I have… In fact I’ve walked into the wrong restroom by accident to many times to count.
Ok here’s another one: When my grandpa passed away a couple of weeks ago, I went to the restroom in the church. Luckily, I only had to straighten the tie and wash my hands, because I walked in, walked to the mirror, washed my hands, and straightened the tie, before I noticed the cleaning lady in the men’s restroom with me. It scared me, because I was thinking about using the bathroom before the service!
I appreciate the universal symbol for restrooms!
My point is this; public restrooms have symbols that depict the sex of the restroom. One for men, one for women, and sometimes one for the handicap. I hate when you go to a restaurant, like Outback for instance, that has really strange signs on the doors. I like the universal symbol for public restrooms- the male and female stick figures. I walked into too many wrong ones in my life that I’ve developed a fear for walking into the wrong one. When I go to restaurants like Outback and see the “Blokes” sign on the door, I can’t help but wonder, “I hope this is the right bathroom?”
I went to Canada one time on a mission trip- now just let you know everything in Canada is weird. But we went out to a TGIF’s one day for lunch and the mood it me just right. I got up from the table wondered around the restaurant for a couple of minutes until the waitress directed my path. I walked to the door and saw the universal symbol for the “Male” restroom. Ok, so I’m in another country that speaks about 3 different languages. The door had about 3 or 4 different languages, but under that was the nice square plastic sign that had the male stick figure, assuring me that I was going into the right bathroom. I could go in with confidence! Which is definitely something that you want when you’re in another country?
Symbols are important, are they not? Definitely the public restroom symbols!
The fact is, there are symbols everywhere. On our computers, on the restroom doors, … etc. Symbols communicate something to us. The same is true for religions. Religions have symbols. These symbols communicate something to us about the specific religion. These symbols tell us what it stands for or what is most important to the people who follow the religion or something about the religions history. I want to show you some religious symbols:
The first is the Lotus Flower. The lotus flower is popular among many of the eastern religions, but especially popular among Buddhism. The lotus flower grows in muddy water. As it grows up through the water it actually blooms above the water. At night the flower will close up and will actually descend back under the water. When the sun comes up the next day, the flower will return to the surface.
This flower in Buddhism symbolizes the beauty of spiritual birth. It symbolizes new beginnings, it symbolizes the cycle of life, beginning with birth and ending in death. It symbolizes beauty in the mist of chaos.
Another symbol is the crescent moon, which often symbolizes Islam. The crescent moon actually pre-dates Islam and there is much speculation to what the moon actually symbolizes for the Muslim faith. The symbol itself was adopted by the Islamic faith after Ottoman Empire in 1453. In all actually, most devout Muslims do not hold to any symbol, but choose to simply point to Allah as their source or symbol for their religion.
Yet another symbol is the Star of David, most popularly used by Judaism. The star is made up of two equilateral triangles that intersect. These two triangles symbolize God covenant with David. That his thrown would last forever and that the Messiah would ultimately descend from his family lineage.
And then, of course, Christianity is no exception. And for many years now, Christians in the church have identified with this symbol- the cross.
The cross is the most likely choice for Christianity. It says a lot about who we are and what we believe as the Church. The cross is central to everything Christian. Some of you may be wearing a cross on a necklace or have one in your home somewhere.
Did you know that the early Christians tended to ignore or avoid any association with the cross? They avoided the association most-likely for two reasons: 1) The cross would have been known by people of the time as the method used to kill Jesus. Because of all the hype when Jesus rose from the dead, being associated to the cross could have led to a lot of persecution or danger concerning their new found faith in the Christ. 2) The cross was directly associated with the killing of a common criminal during that time. I’ll explain this in a moment.
At this time, however, the Church or local bodies did have some symbols to associate themselves with, such as: the peacock- symbolizes immortality, the dove, the palm branch, and the fish.
Well a couple of hundred years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there were various discussions regarding the selection of an appropriate symbol to most accurately define the Church and its mission in this world. Many symbols where considered, but only one really worked. Only one really depicted the most central and important thing about Christianity and that was the cross!
A symbol, once avoided by the Church, is now adopted and embarrassed.
Today for us, it’s a no brainer! “Duh, the cross is a good fit.” Looking back, we can see that the cross definitely defines Christianity the best. Even in our culture, we can think, “The cross is a beautiful symbol. It symbolizes unwavering love and grace.”
But at the time of Jesus, the cross was a horrific visual symbol- symbolizing brutal punishment and death.
In the book Vintage Jesus, writer Mark Driscoll does a fairly well job of reminding us of the brutality of the cross. Let me read to you an excerpt from the book:
Crucifixion was invented by the Persians around 500 B.C., perfected by the Romans in the days of Jesus, and not outlawed until the time of Emperor Constantine, who ruled Rome in the fourth century A.D. In the days of Jesus, crucifixion was reserved for the most horrendous criminals. Even the worst Romans were beheaded rather that crucified. The Jews also considered crucifixion the most horrific mode of death, as Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says: “And if a man has committed a crime punishment by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for hanged man is cursed by God.”…
To ensure maximum suffering, scourging preceded crucifixion. Scourging itself was such a painful event that many people died from it without even making it to their cross. Jesus’ hands would have been chained above his head to expose his back and legs to an executioner’s whip called a cat-o’-nine tails. The whip was a series of long leather straps. At the end of some of the straps were heavy balls of metal intended to tenderize the body of a victim, like a chef tenderizes a steak by beating it. Some of the straps had hooks made of either metal or bone that would have sunk deeply into the shoulders, back, buttocks, and legs of the victim. Once the hooks had sunk deeply into the tenderized flesh, the executioner would rip the skin, muscle, tendons, and even bones off the victim as he shouted in agony, shook violently, and bled heavily… Jesus then had a crown of lengthy thorns pressed into his head as onlookers mocked him as the “King of the Jews.” With that, blood began to flow down Jesus’ face, causing his hair and beard to be a bloodied and matted mess, and his eyes to burn as he strained to see through his own sweat and blood. Jesus’ robe was then used as the pot in a gambling dice game.
Jesus was then forced to carry his roughly hewn wooden crossbar of perhaps one hundred pounds on his bare, traumatized, bloodied back and shoulders to the place of his own crucifixion. The cross was likely already covered with the blood of other men. Timber was so expensive the crosses were recycled, so Jesus’ blood mixed with the layers of blood from countless other men who had walked the same path before him.
Despite his young age and good health, Jesus was so physically devastated from his sleepless night, miles of walking, severe beating, and scourging that he collapsed under the weight of the cross, unable to carry it alone. A man named Simon of Cyrene was appointed to carry Jesus’ cross. Upon arriving at his place of crucifixion, they pulled Jesus’ beard out—an act of ultimate disrespect in ancient cultures—spat on him, and mocked him in front of his family and friends.
Jesus the carpenter, who had driven many nails into wood with his own hands, then had five-to-seven-inch, rough, metal spikes driven into the most sensitive nerve centers on the human body in his hands and feet. Jesus was nailed to his wooden cross. At this point Jesus was in unbearable agony…
Jesus was then lifted up, and his cross dropped into a prepared hole, causing his body to shake violently on the spikes. In further mockery, a sign was posted above Jesus that said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”….
At this point during the crucifixion, the victims labored to breathe as their body went into shock. Naked and embarrassed, the victims would often use their remaining strength to seek revenge on the crowd of mockers who had gathered to jeer at them. They would curse at their tormentors while urinating on them and spitting on them. Some victims would become so overwhelmed with pain that they would become incontinent and a pool of sweat, blood, urine, and feces would gather at the base of their cross…
None of this was done in dignified privacy, but rather in open public places. It would be like nailing a bloodied, naked man above the front entrance to a grocery store…
As we can see, the cross was the most horrific and elongated method of death that could ever have been invented. The experience of the cross was intended to make the dying process as long as possible.
Why was it so hard for the Jews of the day to understand that Jesus was the Messiah? It was because they could not understand why the God of the universe would let His Son dies such a horrible and bloody death!
A Moment for the Cross
A question for you tonight: What does the cross mean to you? How do you see the cross? Do you see it for its powerful message? Do you see the fact that Jesus went to this deadly cross for you? Or do you see something else?
Maybe when you look at the cross you are reminded of the bad experience you once had at a church; where they said one thing and did another. Maybe for you, when you look at the cross, you see only the hypocritical face of a person who holds to the name of Christ but lives like the devil; and you are the one who has had to pay the price for their sin.
When you look at the cross, do you look at it in such a way that you want to believe its message, you want to believe that it true, you want to apply it to your life, but it just seems so hard to believe?
Or maybe as you look at the cross you see several spiritual issues in your life that you haven’t dealt with yet. You’re looking at yourself and you’re starting to wonder “is there something more to all of this?”
I want you to take the next couple of moments to reflect silently on the cross and the significance of it in your life. Then I want you to think on these words: “Long before you decided what you were going to do with Jesus, He decided what He was going to do for you.”
Why the Cross?
Jesus knew that God had sent Him for a reason, for a mission that had to be accomplished. Jesus also knew that He would have to die for this mission to be accomplished- that His death was the key factor to God’s mission being completed.
Take a look at Mark 8:31
“He then began to teach that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this…”
Jesus knew that He must die, in fact He taught this to His disciples.
Again He taught this… take a look at Mark 9:31
“The Son of Man is going to be delivered over to human hands. He will be killed, and after three days he will rise.”
Jesus knew that everything He said must come true and that there was no way around it!
In Isaiah 53:1-6, Jesus’ mission was prophesized to Israel. Lets’ take a look…
“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. It is for our sins, He came to the cross to die. He was not some helpless victim or some wimpy guy who had no control over what happened to Him. Jesus came to accomplish this very mission. Jesus died because He loves us. Jesus died so that He can have a relationship with us once again.
The Passover celebration that we talked about last week is very important to the understanding of this today. Just like in Egypt, when God passed judgment over the houses that placed their faith and trust in Him by signifying with the lamb’s blood, God today is doing the same thing. When we choose to place our faith and trust in Him by signifying it with our belief in Christ’s blood, He passes over our sins and grants us mercy. The same goes for us today as during the Passover; where there’s blood, there is mercy.
Isaiah again tells us: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Tonight as we close, as you are preparing to leave this place. If you are willing to place your faith and trust in God, and to follow the Way of Christ; I would like for you to go over to the table in the back. You will find on the table, a bowl of red paint and several brushes. If you are willing tonight to place all of your trust and faith in a God that you cannot physically see but can spiritually sense. Then as a symbol of your trust, I would like for you to paint your name around the outside of the door entering this room. If you are a believer already, but you would like to show your devotion to Christ, I ask that you join us in this as well tonight.
If this is not something that you are ready to do. If this is something that are not willing to do. It is ok. I am not seeking to point out anyone in the room or force anyone to make a commitment that they are not ready to make. If this symbolizing act is not for you, please take this opportunity to spend some time in silence talking to God about the questions that you may still have. The Bible tells us, “we have not, because we ask not” and that “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Spend this time now asking God to reveal Himself to you over the next few months, ask Him to mold your heart to receive the truth of His Word, ask Him to reveal the truths of His love so that you can see them.