Why Are Crosses In Churches?
1. The cross is a tool for carrying out the death penalty. Christ was executed by crucifixion. The church has been preaching Him as the crucified one. For two thousand years long the church has been doing this really foolish thing as seen from the world's eyes. A cross is hung in every church sanctuary. "Why are crosses in churches?" This theme has continuously been addressed by the church since the first era with the apostles until now. This is also the subject of today's sermon, but we won't be able to answer all the whys in just this one service. I would hope that we might read one passage of scripture like we always do and that the Lord himself would through this passage make a part of the meaning of the cross plain to us.
Through The Blood Of Jesus
2. Let's read verse nineteen again. "With that, brothers, we have the conviction that we enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus," (10:19).
3. They say that The Epistle To The Hebrews was written mostly around eighty A.D. There was no longer a temple in Jerusalem. It had been destroyed by the Roman armies. Therefore, where it says "enter the holy place" it does not mean to enter the holy place in the temple in Jerusalem. It means to draw near to God, to enter into fellowship with God. Through this entire epistle the author repeatedly states that we should draw near to God. At the end of verse twenty-two as well he urges, "In full trust and dependence, won't you draw near to God with all your hearts?" Also, he lectures at length by referring to the situation behind his exhortation and in quoting from the Old Testament.
4. About when this epistle was written, the church had already experienced great persecution and was still undergoing many different trials. Christians were living amidst all sorts of ordeals. What the author was trying to say to these such people was not "How will you ever make it through these hardships?" He says, "Won't you draw near to God?"
5. We are always looking for is this: a way to get out of trouble, to get rid of a burden we bear, to get healing for our illnesses or get over some pain. And I think we should seek help in these areas. But, what we should seek even more than all of these is to draw near to God. [We should seek] to live in fellowship with God. For, without drawing near to Him it is impossible for our lives to have meaning, to have the power to put up with burdens, to have true happiness or even ultimate salvation.
6. So, how can a person draw near to God? He says it is possible "by the blood of Jesus." In order to understand what he means by "by the blood," we have to go back in time a bit. We'll have to go back to the days of Moses.
7. From Exodus chapter twenty-five and so forth some regulations related to worship are recorded at some length. After Israel was lead out of Egypt, we come to the scene set where the Lord speaks to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Whenever we start reading this, many people are sure to get sleepy by chapter twenty-eight. It's all written down with great detail. The first thing recorded is how to make the tabernacle. Detailed instructions on how to construct the place of worship, even on the details on what construction materials to use, are given in the text. This means that it was important for the Israelites, to be thoroughly taught how to approach God and how to worship him.
8. The foundation for thinking about worship is seen in the way to construct the tabernacle. The tabernacle is made of three parts. There is a courtyard to the outermost part. Then there is the section called the holy place on the inside. The holy place is where the priests serve in worship. Then at the innermost part of the holy place there is a section called the most holy place divided by a curtain. Only the high priest was permitted to cross this curtain. And he didn't enter into it empty-handed. The Book Of Hebrews in chapter nine explains it this way:
"When all that has been described above is prepared, in order for the priests to carry out the worship, they would also enter into the first tent (the holy place). But, into the second tent (the most holy place), once per year only the high priest would enter and he would always go in carrying blood to offer on behalf of his own and the people's errors," (9:6-7).
10. In other words, only certain persons were authorized and that person would go in carrying blood first. Redemptive blood was necessary for a sinner to enter the most holy place. The blood of an animal was needed so that it would die bearing the responsibility for the person's sin.
11. What do these conditions mean? Through the composition of the tabernacle and the ritual, God was very thoroughly teaching the Israelites two things. The first thing is that "God is the Holy One and sinful humans cannot come near him." The second thing is that "If one can approach God it is by the blood of redemption and having one's sins forgiven."
12. So it should make some sense to us when put like that, that we humans soiled by sin cannot draw near to God on our own natures. A "god" approachable so simply and without forgiveness of sin is no more than a human built idol and not the true God. If the god has no power to slay it has no power to give life either. If the god has no power to judge it has no power to save either. That's how the idol gods are. But, the One whom we should approach is not like one of the idol gods, but is the living GOD able to judge and able to save us.
13. So what should we do? Should we bring the blood of an animal like they did? The Bible says, "We have the conviction that we enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus," (verse nineteen). That is to say, when we approach God, when we worship God, we no longer need to bring the blood of an animal because Christ already has become the perfect sacrifice for us. That is what happened on the cross. The Bible (in Hebrews 9:12) reads, "Not through the blood of the goat or young bull, but through his own blood he accomplished eternal redemption by entering the holy place just once." Our conviction that we can approach God comes only from the blood of Jesus. It doesn't come by any thing else than that.
Through The Opened Way
14. Also, the Bible has this to say, "Jesus has opened through the curtain, that is, through his own flesh a new and living way for us," (verse twenty).
15. What we are reminded of when we read this passage is the scene of Christ's cross as depicted in the Gospels. Please open to Mark's Gospel at chapter fifteen and verse thirty-seven. It says the following: "However, Jesus lifted his voice and gave up his breath. Then, the curtain in the temple ripped in two from top to bottom," (15:37-38).
16. That event associated with the death of Christ is a pretty strange thing to happen. As for the temple curtain spoken of here it was proper for this curtain to be the divider between the most holy place, which I explained earlier as a place in the tabernacle. It was the curtain that used to divide the holy God from sinful humanity. But there's something to it that it tore upon Christ's death. Although the Lord Jesus was the son of God, he did become as a human having taken on a body of flesh. In addition, when his body as a human being was torn upon the cross and he ended his life on earth, the curtain was also torn that used to divide God and human. In this way, the new way was opened, in which we could approach God.
17. When we read further on in light of this from verses nineteen and twenty and even up to twenty-two, one image shown to us by the Bible becomes real clear. Through an old time form of worship it is made clear to us how we are to approach God.
18. We have come into the holy place. What is being called "the holy place" here is "the most holy place" I spoke of earlier. That is, we have come into the place partitioned by the veil. That is, we have been drawing near to Him whom we by our very natures are unable to draw near to. That's what we do in worship and in prayer. And just as the old time high priest used to carry in the blood of the goat or bull we too will approach God carrying in the invisible blood of Christ. That's because we cannot get near to God as sinners without the forgiveness of sin which comes from the blood of Christ. And it is through the way that Christ has opened for us that we enter into the holy realm. The curtain that used to have to be there has been torn in two. It was the body of Christ that has been torn while on the cross. We draw near to God through Christ's torn body, through the unseen but opened way.
19. Also, the one who shed his own blood was resurrected back to life and is serving as a great priest for us. The Lord Jesus is accomplishing this on our behalf. So we are not a people in pain from the guilt of our consciences. The holy rite of "baptism," which is especially administered under the authority of this our high priest, expresses this grace in invisible form. The Bible says, "With hearts purified and our consciences without blame, our bodies are washed in pure water," (verse twenty-two). Therefore, the scriptures strongly exhort us as follows: "In full trust and dependence, won't you draw near to God with all your hearts?"
20. The author of The Book Of Hebrews is encouraging suffering persons while still undergoing various persecutions and ordeals to draw near to God. Because there is true salvation when drawing near to God. "Why are crosses in churches?" Because we believe that we are first able to draw near to God through the crucified Christ. And because we believe that our true salvation lies therein and we proclaim that salvation.