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What the Bible says about Stauros
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Matthew 10:38

The second commandment forbids the use of any physical representation of something used in the worship of God. It prohibits anything that tries to represent divinity in a physical way, such as pictures or statues. The crucifix (an image of Jesus on the cross) certainly fits into this category. Even though the stated intent is for use as a remembrance of the crucifixion, God commands us not to use any image or likeness in our worship of Him.

The cross has been used as a religious symbol since long before the crucifixion of Jesus. It originated in the Babylonian mystery religions, where it was a symbol of the god, Tammuz. In his book The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop summarizes the universality of the cross by saying that “there is hardly a pagan tribe where the cross has not been found.” The cross did not even become associated with nominal Christianity until the time of Constantine, centuries after the crucifixion. And while the Scriptures refer to the cross metaphorically, the apostolic church never made use of it in a physical way.

In addition to the pagan origin, the question is still unresolved exactly what Jesus died on. The Greek word translated as “cross” is stauros, meaning a stake or upright pole. It may have had a cross-beam on it, or it may have simply been a long piece of wood, thick enough to bear the weight of a human body. Adding to the mystery are four scriptures asserting that Jesus was hung on atree (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; I Peter 2:24), and the Greek indicates a green, living tree rather than a stauros of dead wood. Because of this, one possibility is that the stauros of Jesus was just the crossbeam, which was attached to a living tree.

But the traditions of nominal Christianity have memorialized the pagan cross. To add insult to injury, millions venerate the means of death of the Messiah through their physical representations, rather than commemorating His death as He commanded, through the annual observance of the Passover (see I Corinthians 11:24-25). Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus Christ despised the shame of the cross in order to become our Savior, yet nominal Christianity both memorializes that shame in an image and turns it into a good-luck charm.

In studying Christ's instructions for taking up or bearing our stauros, it is clear that He did not intend for us to have anything to do with a physical crucifix, any more than He intended for us literally to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand to avoid sin (see Matthew 5:29-30). Rather, the use of the cross stands for a much larger concept that cannot—and should not—be crammed into a mere icon.

The Jews living under Roman dominion were all too familiar with crucifixions. When they saw a man carrying a stauros, it could only mean that his time on earth was essentially finished; they knew that man was as good as dead. So when Jesus told His followers to take up their crosses, they also were to account themselves as already being dead. What life remained was given over to the control of another, symbolizing complete surrender, while pointing to the encumbered life of a disciple.

David C. Grabbe
What Does It Mean to Take Up the Cross?

Luke 9:23-25

Jesus presents the choice between clinging to our former lives or letting go and entrusting our new lives to His care. He points out that all the riches of the world mean nothing without a spiritual life—a life that will not be held captive by the grave. We might have some years of glorious living in a physical sense, but inevitably, the same event happens to us all.

He emphasizes the tremendous waste of squandering the opportunity for eternal life in exchange for a little more fun or comfort today. Christ reminds His followers that He will be coming again to reward people for the choices they made—whether they valued Him and sought Him, or were ashamed of Him and sought the dead things of this world.

One other instruction appears here: the command to deny oneself. He is not advocating asceticism but allowing God to set the terms of one's life. It is about renouncing one's own life in favor of the life that Christ is offering—one far better but more costly.

To follow after Him, we must willingly reject—even disown—any aspect of life that is not in subjection to Him. This involves putting to death the works of the flesh and purging the love of the world, including the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (I John 2:15-17). We must hold at bay all those things embedded deep in our human nature that prevent our being worthy of Him.

We must realize that to carry a stauros is not a brisk walk with a little stick softly resting on one shoulder. The stake, or the crossbeam, was a thick and heavy piece of wood. It weighed down the bearer and hindered normal mobility.

Similarly, some aspects of our calling and conversion burden us and make it impossible to walk as others do—and that is by design. Becoming a follower of Christ has never meant having an easy life. It has tremendous benefits and blessings, but it also has its burdens because of the nature that remains inside us, weighing us down as it fights for dominance. This is why in Galatians 5:24 Paul says that “Those who belong to Christ have crucified their old nature with all that it loved and lusted for” (Phillips' Translation).

The fact that we must take up our cross daily means that we must lift that crossbeam every morning and crucify our carnal nature up until we go to sleep. Then the next morning we rise and shoulder afresh those things we have to bear, crucifying the flesh again. This routine begins at baptism, but it does not end until our final breath.

I John 5:3 says that God's commands are not burdensome, yet the carnality that remains within us considers them to be so. Many believers have had to face the dilemma of being offered a better-paying job if they were willing to break the fourth commandment and work on the Sabbath, or the ninth commandment by misrepresenting ourselves. Similarly, they could have more money by breaking the eighth commandment and robbing God of His tithe. If we are accustomed to getting our way, then these behavioral limits will seem burdensome, but only because we still lack the perspective of the divine Lawgiver.

Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). In Christ, we still have burdens, but they are far easier to bear when He is providing the strength. As we become aligned with His standard of conduct, the burdens become less about the conflict within ourselves because of what we feel God will not let us do and more about the conflict we will encounter from the world as God's way of life offends them. There can be external conflict but internal peace because we are in alignment with God.

But until we are of the same mind as the Lawgiver, our carnality will tirelessly pressure us to ease our burdens by playing fast and loose with God's instructions. That is part of the cross we have to bear until our perfecting. God's law is not the problem—it is the carnal mind feeling vexed that makes our obligations feel heavy.

David C. Grabbe
What Does It Mean to Take Up the Cross?


 




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