(April 03, 2023) Geri B challenges…

We have all heard the saying, ‘The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history!’   And unfortunately, this can oft be said that as Christians we ignore the lessons of the Old Testament, the warnings of the New Testament, and repeat the sins of Israel in our day and age.

Let me hone in on one example: that of the elevation of the symbol of the cross not only in traditional denominations, but also increasingly throughout independent and pentecostal churches; which at times overshadows the work of redemption done by Christ through the shedding of His blood  that washed away our sins forever.

I would even go so far as to say that the cross has become a focus for worship, rather than the Lord Jesus Christ! Not deliberately I suspect; but most certainly in a way that detracts from the focus on Christ that God the Father requires.

We are lifting up a cross, and an empty one at that; rather than exalting the one who was crucified on it, and who has the power to grant us life, eternal life!

In history
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will live. So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. If anyone who was bitten looked at the bronze snake, he would live’ (Numbers 21:8-9).

When the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord on their journey to the Red Sea by speaking against God and Moses, the Lord sent venomous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. When the people recognised their sin, the Lord commanded Moses to mount an image of a serpent on a pole. Anyone who was bitten could look at the snake and would be healed and live.

In itself the snake and the pole did not hold any special powers; it was the faith and obedience of the people to look upon the mounted snake which would bring the healing. The act or decision to look meant acknowledging the need for God’s intervention to heal and deliver. Those who refused to look would die in their sins.

Jesus used this very event to describe to Nicodemus what would happen to Him at the time of his death and what the result would be for us …

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up; so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15).

Just as Jesus would be lifted up on the cross, those who looked to Him and believed would have eternal life.  Jesus did not say to Nicodemus that we were to believe in a cross… but to believe in Him.  That looking to Him meant that we understood what His death was accomplishing for us –

  • Forgiveness of sins.
  • Washing away our filth.
  • Cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
  • Delivering us from the power of darkness.
  • Justifying us as if we had never sinned.
  • Sanctifying us (making us holy).
  • Readying to do the work of God.

The cross He was nailed to did not have any power, and does not have any power in itself. It is significant only for the fact that it fulfilled prophecies from the Old Testament that Messiah (Jesus) would die for us, and to a degree, how He would die. Just a few of those scriptures are highlighted here:

  • Psalm 22:16-18:  ‘Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they piece my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lost for my garment.’
  • Isaiah 53:5: ‘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.’

Another prophecy, which speaks of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross is found in Deuteronomy 21:23 which states any person who is hanged on a ‘tree’ is described as being cursed.  Jesus fulfilled this passage, since ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”’ (Galatians 3:13). All people are under a curse because of our failure to obey the Law (Galatians 3:10).

Time passes…
The Exodus from Egypt has been loosely pegged at 1496BC and the reign of Hezekiah around 726BC – approximately 770 years has elapsed. Around 701BC, the 14th year of his reign we find that the people of Israel, or Judah more specifically, were burning incense before the bronze serpent and had turned it into an idol that they were worshipping. 

Hezekiah recognised that this was an abomination in the eyes of God and ‘removed the high places, shattered the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles.  He also demolished the bronze snake called Nehushtan that Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had burned incense to it’ (2 Kings 18:4).

Hmm, what had happened over time? We know that God had commanded Moses to make the bronze serpent, and He had commanded any of the Israelites who were bitten to gaze on it. This object had been preserved until the days of Hezekiah and perhaps the people felt it was a perfectly legitimate way to honour Yahweh.

Even though the Ten Commandments say not to worship images, the people perhaps did not think what they were doing was wrong. Perhaps they argued… ‘We’re not worshipping the serpent. The serpent points our thoughts to the true God. We are told to burn incense to God. Why not do it by this image He told Moses to create, which reminds us of Him and His power to deliver?’

Remember, God never told the Israelites in the days of Moses to worship the image – He simply told them to look at it. Hezekiah needed to destroy the bronze serpent because even if the people were worshipping the correct God, it was still idolatry if they did so in the wrong way.

Could this be what we are seeing today? With the cross? Sounds awfully familiar to me…

Over 2000 years ago Christ was crucified for us, on a cross. But, He is no longer on the cross. He died and rose again! The cross is empty! And therefore, we are not commanded to look at the cross, but to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Paul does state in 1 Corinthians 1:17-19 that the cross has a message, and that it is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. This message was the gospel – preaching Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles – Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians1:23-24). The problem begins when we give more attention to the object (the cross), than to the One we are supposed to be exalting.

But today, we hold up the cross, even an empty one (some still have Jesus on it as if the work has no completion!), as the focus and symbol of our Christianity. We put it at the front of our churches – large and ornate, sometimes even decorated! I have been in some churches (pentecostal too!) where the cross on the platform has been draped in fairy lights, shawls, flowers and various other decorations as if it is a shrine of some sort. 

In some strongly Catholic nations, every Easter devotees will have themselves tied to a cross and carried through the streets of a town or village. They perform this ritual year after year thinking they are making atonement for sins committed over the past 12 months – some are even nailed to the cross!  They do it sincerely, but in error – they are looking in the wrong direction and they have become deceived.

Do we, like the Israelites of old, think it is right to bow at the cross in reverence to God and Christ, when in fact we were never commanded to do so? Some theologians tell us the Old Testament saints were looking forward to the cross, while we look back to the cross for our salvation. But that is not correct! Nowhere does the Old Testament talk about the cross, but it does talk about looking to Messiah, to the One who was to come, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. In the New Testament again we are told to look to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith; not to a cross alone.

In the Book of Revelation do we read anywhere about the cross in heaven? Do we read about John speaking of the cross anywhere? Or does he rather, talk of the Lamb that was slain – 28 times Jesus is portrayed as a lamb and we are specifically called to worship the Father and the Lamb – ‘Unto him who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honour, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever’ (Revelation 5:13b).  

Clearly this book depicting the end of the age is very much about Christ, and the angel speaking to John specifically states that we are to worship God and no other, and nothing else (by inference). ‘And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I fell down at this feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God”’ (Revelation 19:9-10).

Worship Jesus only!
I fear we are becoming like the Jews during the time of Jesus, where the Pharisees and scribes questioned Jesus on why His disciples were not walking according to the tradition of the elders, and Jesus answered them: ‘Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: They worship me in vain; they teach as doctrine the precepts of men’. You have disregarded the commandment of God to keep the tradition of men.’  He went on to say, ‘You happily set aside the command of God to maintain your own tradition’ (Mark: 7:6-9).

We have set aside the word of God which expressly commands us to seek the Lord and have no idols or images to ensnare us. Many Christians of several faiths (denominations!), even Pentecostal, have looked down on and judged Catholics and Orthodox Christians for their worship of saints and icons, yet we hold the cross aloft as a rallying point and focus of our worship. Hypocrites indeed!

Let us let go of this tradition of man and return to the true worship of Christ and Christ alone – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – who is worthy of all our focus and worship.

Geri B strongly believes in God’s word and is a faithful, insightful intercessor and encourager. Links:

One comment

  1. It is true, sometimes the focus of people can lead to a mistaken emphasis, when we think of the cross it is the ‘finished work’ which Christ accomplished that should be our focus. ‘In Christ alone my hope is found…’

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