33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided[n] him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.
I. Entering: Cross as a torturing and a killing tool in ancient time.
As today is Palm Sunday and as we are entering Passion Week from today, I hope to think about the meanings of the Cross, which is a representation of the instrument of the crucifixion of Jesus and is the best-known symbol of Christianity. I believe that today is an appropriate time to think about the Cross, as Jesus entered Jerusalem today like a triumphant king, but, a week later, killed there on the Cross.
This is a torturing tool in Medieval times (Pillory and stocks), but as you see on the screen, today we could find it in an amusement park, like Legoland in Florida. This is not a torturing tool any longer today, but it’s built in an amusement park for a photo opportunity for fun.
However, it was originally a tool used for punishment by public humiliation and often further physical abuse. If the people of the Medieval times would see the pillory and stocks in an amusement park or county fair, and people posing on it to take a picture with smile, they might get shocked and embarrassed.
How about a cross which was a tool that tortured and killed political criminals, robberies, murderers or enemies against the Roman Empire? Someone from the first century walking our streets today would be utterly appalled to see the cross on our churches and around our necks. They couldn’t repress their astonishment, because the cross was only used to hang and kill criminals in their time. It was a tool of death penalty.
Seventy years before Christ, after the smashing of the revolt of Spartacus, roads to Rome were lined with 6,000 crosses and 6,000 men dying on them. At the death of Herod the Great a revolt broke out, and the Romans crucified 2,000 people in Jerusalem. In 70 A.D. at the siege of Jerusalem, the Roman troops crucified as many as 500 Jews daily for several months. It was their common understanding of the cross.
Other history, however, tells us that the cross became immensely popular in Christian art and funerary monuments from 350 after Christ, as Roman Emperor Constantine abolished crucifixion as a death penalty and promoted it as symbols of the Christian faith. A tool of torture and death penalty became the most important symbol of Christianity. A killing tool on which Jesus was killed became the most beloved symbol of Christian faith. It’s ironic.
How many of you wear cross on your neck?
How many of you have t-shirt that has a printed cross or cross brooch or bracelet?
I have my wooden cross for the worship service on my neck. I love this as it was cut and carved by a local artist from a UMC in Rockford and was given to me when I was commissioned as a local pastor in 2012. It has two words: “Prayer” and “Work.” The artist might think that the cross of Christianity has these two meanings: Prayer and work.
What does your cross mean for you and your faith journey?
II. A Symbol of salvation
First, we know that the Cross is a symbol of Salvation. As I mentioned above, we observe Palm Sunday today to commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was Passover week which means the day was the busiest day in Jewish calendar. People came from the all around the country to enjoy the festival of Passover with their family and neighbors. People gathered in Jerusalem to give thanks to God for God’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery. Passover was to remember God’s power of deliverance.
Jesus, however, knew that entering to Jerusalem was too dangerous to Him and to his group, as he told that He must face His final days in Jerusalem and must undergo the great suffering there: Being rejected and killed, and on the third day be raised to life. He also knew that all these were for us. He knew that he should give Himself to be killed on the Cross to defeat all evils and to save us from our sins and death. He knew it was his purpose of coming.
Jesus died on the Cross to rewrite the story of Salvation for us while others enjoy the festival of Passover in Jerusalem. His Cross is for all. This Cross stood on that hill for everyone’s salvation—Not only for Jews. When we look at the cross, therefore, we remember His sacrificial love saving us from our sins and death. His ceremonial entry ends on this Cross by giving Himself for all.
III. A Symbol of Reconciliation
Second, the Cross is also a symbol of reconciliation, as the curtain of the temple was torn in two when Jesus breathed his last breath on the Cross, so all can access to a place of Divine presence. The Bible says in Matthew 27:51, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” This curtain was made to separate the Holy of Holies from the Holy place. It blocks the way to enter the place of God from human. Only an assigned priest could enter the room behind the curtain.
The tearing of the curtain, therefore, signified that now the way into the Holy of Holies—the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence—was open for all people, for all time, both Jews and Gentiles. It signified also that God’s people always can meet God through Jesus’s Cross wherever they may be and whenever they want.
Therefore, when we wear the cross on our neck or wear a t-shirt that has a printed cross, we indicate that we are the people of reconciling Savior who opened the gate to God and reconciled relationship between God and us.
Hebrew 10:19-22 teaches us, “19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
IV. A Symbol of Obedience
Third, the Cross is a symbol of Obedience.
One of the most dramatic scenes in the Gospel to me is the scene that Jesus prayed in Gethsemane on the night when He was arrested. Jesus spent a time of Passover with His disciples, which includes the Last Supper, and He went to a place called Gethsemane to pray to God.
In Matthew 26:39, Jesus says, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” We know that the cup was the Cross—Great Suffering. Although He knew that He must undergo the great suffering and died on the Cross for all, humanity of Jesus wanted to turn the cup away. But His last word in this prayer indicates that Jesus put His whole trust in God’s plan. He said, “Not what I want but what you want.” And then He was arrested by temple guards and then handed over to Romans.
In verse 34 of today’s second Scripture reading, Roman soldiers offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. In Mark (15:23), it was described that they (soldiers) offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. According to the scholars, it was common to offer wine mixed with narcotic/anesthetic agents to the one being crucified in order to help ease the pain. Especially, gall or myrrh mixed with wine was what was given, which would taste bitter and dull the mind and senses. Jesus, however, would not take any such anesthetic; in order to embrace all that pains and be awaken for all his faculties in order for what lay before him. He prayed from His human heart, but accepted and endured the Cross by the divine heart. He showed how much He loved the world on the Cross by obeying God.
How often do we think that the life hasn’t been fair to us because of pain, suffering, difficulty, and trouble in our lives?
How fast do we ask a pain reliever to numb the pain before praying to God or before knowing the divine purpose of our life?
How does the cross on our neck or t-shirt or church building influence in our life? Is the cross just accessory or just a symbol of a certain group of people?
“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” This is my Facebook front page and I believe this is the one of the most powerful messages that comes from the Cross. We are not the people who only wish for good fortune or a smooth sailing life, but the people who can find the meaning and purpose of life even during difficult times. Jesus proved it for us on the Cross.
V. Ending: A Symbol of a new life.
Last, the Cross is a symbol of a new life.
We absolutely believe that the new life couldn’t begin if there would be no death in the old life. Jesus’ resurrection could happen on Easter morning as Jesus died on the Cross. Because of the Cross, we can live in a new life.
“If you were arrested for drunk driving in Tennessee, you would have to clean the side of the highway for three eight-hour sessions as a punishment., while wearing a bright orange or yellow vest that reads “I am a drunk driver”.
This punishment has been controversial since the law came into effect. But I don’t question about such a punishment. I believe that they are really considering people’s safety on highway as drunk-driving related accidents are extremely dangerous. I don’t question the decision of the State of Tennessee. But what I question is our vest that we have worn every day. Although we were claimed as a new being in Christ though the Cross, we every day wear a vest of shame, a vest of brokenness, a vest of humiliation, a vest of resentment, a vest of guilt, a vest of unrighteousness, a vest of hatred, and a vest of sinfulness. We have worn these vests without realizing it, and denied the truth that Jesus called us to the new life through Cross and claimed us as a new being in Him.
This picture asks me, when I found it on website of a newspaper, that where I have been with the hope of the new life. Am I wearing a vest of bitterness or a vest of unrighteousness? If I am wearing the vests, where do I have to go and who do I have to find to take off it? The answer is the Cross of Jesus Christ that saved me, reconciled me with God, empowered me to obey to God and gave me with a new life in Christ.
People might wear the vest of “I am a drunk driver” in an amusement park hundred years later for a photo opportunity with smile, but those vests that have oppressed and emasculated us must be removed under the Cross, as Jesus died on the Cross for our new life of resurrection.
Beloved friends in Zion, as we welcome a King of peace by waving palm leaves; as we are entering the Passion week from today; and as we are waiting the sun rising on Easter morning, I hope that we all remember these meanings of the Cross—Salvation, reconciliation, obedience and a new life of the resurrection, so these meanings of the Cross will lead your life strongly and wholly.
I pray that the power of the Cross will be upon your daily life and you will live by believing and practicing the meanings of the Cross wherever you may be. Amen.
 And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." (Luke 9:22 NIV)