Have you ever wondered why Catholic symbols of the cross have Jesus hanging on it, and non-Catholics show the cross as two intersecting lines without the Christ? My background is not Catholic so I believed the "empty cross" was the best way to emphasize the risen Lord, and not get hung up on the suffering Lord. After all, we serve a God who is alive, not dead, right? Certainly our Lord is resurrected, and not overcome by the grave, but some verses in the Bible (such as the that shown below) help us appreciate both the humanity of Christ and his divinity.
The following verses recently challenged some of my thinking. In chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, the writer discusses what is commonly though of as the "heroes of the faith." Here is the last verse of that chapter and the first 3 of the next. "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 11:30-31, 12:1-3). Our Christian faith is based solely on what Jesus has accomplished on earth, culminating on the Cross, and in heaven, bulminating on the Throne. Jesus extends perfect mercy, while ruling with perfect justice.
The phrase "fixing our eyes on Jesus" jumps out at the center of these verses. Our perception of Christ will determine how we live out out faith. There are two extremes to gravitate towards. One over-emphasizes mercy, and the other over-emphasizes justice. One over-extends the human activity, and the other over-extends the divine. One dignifies the human to diminish the divine, and the other devalues the human to over-spiritualize the divine. Our gaze on Christ should not be either human or God, but both human and God. The words used in the Scripture above are "pioneer" and "perfecter" of faith. Faith is "perfected" in the human condition, and faith is "pioneered" in the heavenlies. The physical and spiritual realms are both active together accomplishing the purposes of God.
How does this work out practically? Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Because of our confidence the spiritual reality, we can act with assurance in our physical world. For Noah, it meant bulding an ark to protect from floods, even though the world had never known rain before that time. For Abraham and Sarah it meant trying for a promised child though Sarah had not been able to bear children and they were well beyond child-bearing years. For Moses, it meant leading his people out of Egypt even though the king's army had the ability to wipe them out with little effort. For King David, it meant many incidents of courageous battle in the face of overwhelming odds against him. For Samson it meant returning to God for a second chance, even though he had lost his strength to wild living.
The cross of Christ is more than a symbol. It is the intersection of the divine and the human. God desires relationship with his created human race. He wants humans to know him. Religion does not produce relationship with God. Religion emphasizes human self-effort to perform good works for gaining favor with God. Contrary to what many believe, God is not impressed with good works. Religion has a way of erecting barriers to nullify the Cross. Relationship, on the other had, breaks down barriers. Relationship accepts the Cross for what it really means. Jesus paid the debt owed by the human sinful condition. No matter where you are in your relationship with God, the Cross can have more power to resurrect your circumstances. If you already know Him, great. By surrendering more of your heart to God, his divine ability to wash your soul clean of shame and guilt becomes more real. If you don't know God at all, it's never too late, or too soon, to start to get to know Him. "Fix your eyes on Jesus" and you're sure to find God. Jesus is a safe refuge. The cross is our refuge and hope.
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