The Meaning of the Cross

By   •   December 17, 2004

The Greater Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade presented the Gospel to crowds totaling more than 300,000 people, and more than 14,000 responded to Mr. Graham’s messages to accept Christ. The following is adapted from Mr. Graham’s message on Nov. 18, the first evening of the Crusade. —The Editors

Tonight I want to talk about something that has been on the mind of a lot of people in the last year. I want to talk about the passion of Christ. You know, when “The Passion of the Christ” opened this past February, it became the widest-playing independent film of all time. But in spite of the number of people who have seen the film, many people do not understand the deeper meaning of the Cross. That is what I really want to talk about tonight. What does it really mean–the Cross?

When you go throughout the world, you see many churches with steeples. When the Communists tried to outlaw religion in Russia and in Eastern Europe, they forgot that the cross was on many of their churches and cathedrals. The cross is worn on the necks of so many people, but they don’t know what it means. What does it mean to you tonight?

First, the Cross shows us the depths of our sins. We don’t realize what sin is in the sight of God–how deeply it offends Him and how it separates us from Him. Before Jesus went to the cross, He prayed in Gethsemane. He was agonizing, sorrowful. He prayed to God, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39, NKJV). He looked into the cup, and what did He see in that cup? He saw the sins of the whole world! He saw murder, war, racial prejudice, adultery, lying and fraud.

People ask the question, “What is sin?” Sin is coming short of God’s righteousness. God is righteous and holy. He cannot look upon sin. A diamond may be perfect to the natural eye. But if you take it to a specialist and he looks at it through a glass, he sees a defect in it. And God looks at us that way.

Cliff Barrows and I were in Atlantic City many years ago with our wives. We had had a service, and we were walking down the boardwalk. A man was auctioning diamonds and other jewelry. We decided to go in. When we got married, I had given my wife a diamond that was so small, you couldn’t see it with a microscope. So I decided to get her a better diamond. I had $65 in my pocket. I eventually bid it all and bought the diamond. It was a perfect diamond, I thought. The next day, I went to a jeweler, and I said, “Can you look at this diamond and tell me how much it is worth?”

He looked at it through his glass, and said, “Oh, maybe $35 or $40.”

“What?” I said. “This is supposed to be two carats!”

“Look at it,” he said and gave the glass to me. I looked at it, and even I could see it was full of defects. And that’s the way God looks at us. We go to church and pray. We are good, moral people. But He looks at us through His own righteousness, and He sees in all of us the defects–our sin.

The Scripture says all have sinned. We have all come short of God’s requirement. The Bible also teaches that sin is breaking the Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments. We are not to worship idols. We are to honor our parents. We are not to steal or cheat. We are not to commit adultery, lie, commit fraud or many of the things we read about in the newspaper today.

The Bible says that we are sinners by nature and by choice. James 4:1-3 says: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (NKJV). We are all that way. Sin has affected our minds. The Scripture says, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14, NKJV).

Sin also affects your will. Jesus said, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34, NKJV). There’s something of which you are guilty. You can’t break this habit. You would like to, but you have no power to do it. You are a slave. You cry for freedom, but there is no escape.

But Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32, NKJV). Then He said that He was the truth (Cf. John 14:6).

Sin also affects your conscience. Every one of us has a conscience. Sometimes it’s a little red light that comes on every time we sin against God. But you can have a conscience that doesn’t work any longer. You have gone against your conscience for so long that it’s dead. You are no longer shocked or offended by sin around you or sin in your own life.

There’s a penalty to sin. The wages of sin is death. The Cross says to the world tonight, “You are a sinner. You are under the sentence of death.” That means spiritual death, eternal death. But not only does the Cross show us our sins, it also shows us the love of God. God is saying tonight, “I love you. No matter what you have done–how bad you have been–I love you.” And the death of Christ is what makes the Good News. God is saying to you, “I love you. I forgive you because of what Jesus did on the cross.”

The Cross is a pardon; it’s a reprieve from death for people who don’t deserve it. None of us deserves to be saved. None of us deserves to go to heaven. But God is love (1 John 4:8), and God is grace and mercy. “Grace” means something that you don’t deserve, something that God just gives you. God offers you a pardon tonight. He offers you forgiveness; He offers you assurance of Heaven if you die. And that can happen right here tonight. “God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, KJV).

I heard a story of one of the great men of the past. The devil came to him and listed all of his sins. The man asked, “Is that all?”

The devil said, “No, I’ve got a lot more.” And he listed the rest of them.

“Now what will you do?” Satan said.

“Now,” said the man, “write this beneath them all: The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin” (Cf. 1 John 1:7).

Jesus died on the cross for you, and the Scripture says that you can never be the same once you have been to the Cross: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV).

Do you feel that your life has been a failure? Is your life turned upside down? Do you wonder which way to turn? The choice you make tonight will affect your whole life. It will also affect where you spend eternity. Where will you be a hundred years from now? You won’t be here, but the Cross guarantees a future life. The Cross is followed by the Resurrection. The death of Christ was not the end. There’s a Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Scripture teaches that Christ is reconciling the world unto Himself. He’ll reconcile you. You are separated from God by sin. But when you come to the Cross, you are united with God, and you become a partaker of His own nature.

There were two thieves crucified with Jesus that day. Both of them reviled him, but one suddenly changed. He said to Jesus, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42, NKJV). He didn’t have time to join a church. He didn’t have time to be baptized. He didn’t have time to live a good life. He just said, “Remember me.” And Jesus said, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43, NKJV).

He said today. It won’t be yesterday or tomorrow. It’s “today you will be with me in Paradise.” And the first person that Jesus greeted in Paradise, I believe, was that thief. Jesus can do the same for you, whoever you are.

What about you? Have you ever been to the Cross and really opened your heart to Jesus Christ? You may be a good person, a moral person, a church person, but you are not sure that you really know Christ as your Lord and your Savior. I’m going to ask you to make that commitment to Christ.

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