The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.
- I Corinthians 1:18
If God sent his son to die for the sins of the world, as the Bible claims and Christians believe, why did it have to be on a cross? Wasnt death by any means enough?
When the Apostle Paul told the Corinthian Church that the cross was foolishness to those who didnt believe it (I Corinthians 1:18-25), he was speaking from historical knowledge. In Bib-lical terms, when Jesus lived on earth there were only two kinds of people, Jews and Greeks (Gentiles), and neither group was looking for a Messiah like Jesus. The Jews were expecting someone spectacular to rescue them from Roman rule; the Greeks, if they had wanted a Messiah, would have insisted that he be eloquent, wise, and nothing close to human.
The Jewish leaders always doubted that Jesus was the Son of God, and his crucifixion confirmed their suspicions. Didnt the Scrip-tures say, If a man is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, he is under Gods curse (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)? When speaking of the crucifixion, the words cross and tree are used interchangeably in the Bible. Thus, the way Jesus died convinced them he could not have been the Messiah.
For 2,000 years the cross has received much interest and devotion. Today we erect them, wear them, and bow in reverence before them. Artists paint them, poets describe them, and hymn writers turn words about the cross into songs such as At the Cross, Beneath the (Old Rugged) Cross, and In the Cross of Christ I Glory. Here are the stories behind two of those hymns:
Following the early deaths of their parents, Elizabeth Cleph-ane and her sisters grew up in Scotland in the care of relatives. Elizabeth was sickly, but because she used her limited strength to care for others, she was also the one they called the sunbeam.
Elizabeth was an avid Bible student and poet, too. Her poem, Beneath the Cross of Jesus, displays both her knowledge of the Scriptures and her love for her Lord. Sadly, Elizabeth would never hear her poem sung, for, like her parents, she died very young, a year before organist, Frederick Maker, composed the tune that accompanies the beautiful hymn we still sing today.
John Bowring was considered the worlds greatest linguist in the 19th century. He mastered five languages by the time he was 16, and could converse in dozens more before he died. Yet, in spite of his work as a translator, statesman, philanthropist and author of 36 volumes of published works, he is best known today for the words to the hymn, In the Cross of Christ I Glory, which are inscribed on his tombstone.
We might still be singing Bowrings poem to a cumbersome, unpleasant tune, however, if Connecticut organist and choir master Ithamar Conkey hadnt had a bad day. It was a Lenten Sunday and, to Conkeys chagrin, only one choir member, a Mrs. Rathbun, showed up for the service. He was so angry that he left the service in disgust after playing only the prelude.
By afternoon he was filled with remorse. He took out his hymnbook and read the words to Bowrings hymn. Before the evening service, which he did attend, Conkey had composed the delightful tune we use today. And what did he call his tune? Rathbun, in honor of the faithful choir member.
The cross is far more than a beautiful symbol, and hymns about the cross more than pleasant tunes. During Lent, or anytime we wear the symbol or sing the hymns, like those who brought these hymns to us, may our devotion to the One who hung there for us increase. The cross may be foolishness to some, but to those who believe its purpose it is the power of God unto (our) salvation (Romans 1:16).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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