Why is the cross on the forefront, as far as remembering Jesus is concerned? To most Christians, the cross is a symbol of worship. To other people, the cross is portrayed as an emotional arouser to the significance of Jesus. The name of Jesus is always associated with the cross.
Whenever the name of Jesus is mentioned, people think more about the cross, than what Jesus taught. The name, “Jesus” itself was common, implying that there may have been many, identified by that name. There is no significance in that name, except in the person holding that name.
The birth of Jesus was the most significant event the world had ever experienced. Prophetic Scriptures had been inundated, alluding to the coming Messiah. Humanity as engulfed in sinfulness, needed a Savior. Humans are helplessly under enslavement, without a Savior.
However, it is impossible to benefit from the Messiah’s services, unless aware of that helplessness. Due to materialism, the Jews sacredly kept prophetic Scriptures, but without understanding their significance. They also revered Moses, through whom God communicated His Law.
The sin of idolatry engulfed humanity. But what is idolatry, and why is idolatry unacceptable to God? The Israelites were instructed to worship only the one true God, not associated with the physical universe. That God cannot be likened to anything physically seen or imagined, except obeying His instructions.
“You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:3-6 NIV).
Those Israelites could not understand the meaning of idolatry. They idolized Moses, for being used to communicate God’s word. God could have used anyone, but not for purposes of idolization. Aware of the Israelite’s proclivity to idolatry God hid the burial site for Moses.
“And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over” (Deuteronomy 34:5-8 NIV).
The unenlightened people battle with idolatry. The Israelites revered Moses, as if greater than God who communicated His Laws through Moses. Yet God knew that Moses was not different from the rest of the Israelites, after all. He even denied Moses the opportunity to enter the Land of Canaan.
Rather than valuing the Ten Commandments as objects, God desired the application of those Laws’ spiritual intent. Jesus clarified the misunderstanding, in His encounter with the Jews. As premised on idolatry, they regarded the Law as more important than the principle in Law-keeping.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:23-25 NIV).
The Israelites maintained the idea of idolatry when failing to take responsibility for matters of their communal living. They, apparently, failed to confront issues of corruption. They could not appreciate that no human being was above God’s Laws. This was a problem engulfing the entire humanity.
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you that they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (1 Samuel 8:1-7 NIV).
They unintentionally rejected God as their king, preferring idolatry, instead. What they did not realize was that the physical king would be a symbol of idolatry. Those Israelites considered themselves as God’s people but were unaware of violating the Law against idolatry.
They, obviously, wanted a physical king that they could revere, but being oblivious of the God who had taken them out of Egypt. They were violating God’s second commandment, provoking God’s jealousness, as not desiring to share reverence with anyone? King Saul, as their first king, pioneered many unnecessary problems for the nation of Israel.
They could have avoided idolatry if abiding by the Ten Commandments. They simply needed understanding, which was eventually brought by Jesus, as promised by Moses. Had they taken seriously Moses’s prophesy, they would have had no tiff with Jesus. The story of salvation ought not to have been that complicated, for them.
The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.” (Deuteronomy 18:17-20 NIV).
If the Israelites revered Moses, why could they not apply what Moses said, on the above Scripture? They never found Jesus guilty of violating any of the recorded Scriptures. Apparently, their problem was on the application of what those recorded Scriptures demanded of the Law.
Principally, their encounter with Jesus involved idolatry. They idolized Scriptures, and not the intended significance demanded of those Scriptures. They also idolized Moses, rather than the one who conveyed the message through Moses.
They rejected Jesus for not projecting an idolatrous insignia. They needed something symbolic that could be used, as a reason to idolize Jesus. Unfortunately, that could not be availed. Hence, their behaviour revealed that idolatry could be the greatest stumbling block for humanity.
Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:38-41 NIV).
Those Pharisees regarded Jesus highly, for His undisputed knowledge about God. But they could not find anything appealing for reverence, towards Him. Their problem was focusing too much on the physical, more than the spiritual.
In His conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus highlighted the principle of true worship. This meant that those appreciating His teachings would no longer traditionally put significance on material things. They would worship in spirit and in truth.
You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:22-24 NIV).
Worshipping God in Spirit and in truth invalidates the idolization of the cross, including the name of Jesus. The worshiper would be guided by Jesus’s teachings in every aspect of living. It is also unnecessary to focus on the considered Triune nature of God.
Worshipping in Spirit and in truth implies adopting God’s mind and being with God in His reasoning capacity. As created in God’s image, it cannot be impossible to think like God. Jesus never sought to be worshipped by anyone in this world. It remains a mystery, as to why there are so many worshipers of Jesus on this planet.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NIV).
Logically, you cannot worship a person who serves you. Service, itself, is a form of worship, as showing reverence to one being served. While there are those serving, for purposes of being rewarded, service was mostly done by slaves to slave masters, without expectation of reward.
The Gentile rulers were accorded service, which included being revered. We are still under Gentile kingdoms, whose rulers demand being worshipped. In Zimbabwe, those rulers are referred to as “chefs’ taken from communistic ideology. Those rulers demand respect.
The disciples of Jesus were pioneers of a new civilization. Unlike Gentile rulers, the disciples were to treat each other with reverence. The greatest among them would provide servitude to others. Meaning that the least among them would be served by others. Jesus set a perfect example, having to lay down His life for His masters (vs 28).
The significance of laying down one’s life to redeem others is incomparable to any other type of service. The sinful people were so special, as to be served by Jesus, leading to His death. Though sinful, those humans were created in God’s image. By serving them, Jesus was serving God.
Obviously, this contradicts the idea of respecting Church leaders, according to prevailing traditions? Also, this does not suggest that those being served ought to disrespect those serving them. Servitude was designed for all humans, in the principle of doing unto others as one likes done to him.
People of this world prefer worshipping in falsehoods, rather than in spirit and in truth. Idolatry is the real cause of all problems. The cross is regarded as an important artefact, by most worshipers.
Others revere stories depicting Christ’s agonies on the cross. They are motivated when imagining the pain that Jesus experienced. Worldliness, punctuated in idolatry, is actually denoted by the styles of worship, as observed in most church groupings.
A Christian brother recently told me how he got motivated, after visiting the sites, traditionally known to have been frequented by Jesus. But there is more to faith, than crucifixion experiences.
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-29 NIV).
Unlike the spiritually blessed, Thomas was physically limited. Jesus emphasized the aspect of the inability to separate between physical and spiritual visualizations. When Jesus revealed the imminence of His murder, He did not give instructions that the cross should be treated as a worship symbol.
There is no significance in the manner in which Jesus was to be killed. The import lies in that Jesus treated us as His masters, preferring to die in our stead. That is the spiritual content that needs to be understood by those claiming to be His followers. Such people ought to behave likewise, to their fellow men (1 John 3:16).
Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope.
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