Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XV–The Sign of the Cross


Many Christians make the sign of the cross, accompanied by the Name of the Holy Trinity, in worship and at other times.  It is a symbolic gesture that shows respect for the Lord and reminds us of the redemptive significance of the crucifixion.

Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross for crimes He did not commit.  In Matthew Pilate’s wife demonstrates His innocence in a story that is imbedded in Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus by sending her husband word, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” (Matthew 27: 19b ESV) No angel appeared in the wife’s dream, yet one may come to think that divine action was involved in it.  The dream informs the reader that Jesus is innocent of any crime. Pilate himself declares that he is innocent of Jesus’ blood as he hands him over to be crucified. But Pilate is not innocent, Jesus is! What courage from the Roman governor! Before he hanged himself, Judas, the betrayer, threw the pieces of silver, blood money, down in the Temple and declared, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”  (Matthew 27: 4a ESV)

An innocent man dies on a cross, but His death is far from meaningless or senseless.  The meaning of His death is told in several ways.  First, the “Words of Institution” at the Last Supper indicate the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death.  “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26: 26-28 ESV)

At the cross the leaders who reviled Jesus spoke ironically:  “He saved others; he cannot save himself.”  (Matthew 27: 42a ESV)   Of course, He did not save Himself so that He could save others by His vicarious death as the Son of God.The cross of Christ is redemptive.  By it we are saved from our sins, the mission of the Christ as already mentioned in the first chapter of Matthew.

We also carry our own cross.  In two places in Matthew Jesus mentions this.  The first time, Jesus speaks of the taking up of the cross in the context of persecution of disciples, even within their own families.  “And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”  (Matthew 10: 38 ESV)  The witness and apologist is liable to persecution in one form or another.  He or she must be aware of this and prepare for the possibility through prayer and reflection.

In Matthew 16 Jesus says something similar to what He asserts in chapter 10.  “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'”(Matthew 16: 24 ESV)  Here denial is an important theme.  The disciple has to make sacrifices in his service to the Lord.  In these two similar texts an irony is expressed immediately after the saying of taking up the cross: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16: 25 ESV)  What succeeds this saying in Matthew 16 is mention of Jesus’ coming in his kingdom. Matthew 10 is a variant, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Matthew 10: 39 ESV)

Note that in both sayings one’s commitment is to Jesus Christ.  We do these things for His sake, not for the state or for some principle or ideology or personal advantage.  Christ is the foundation of all that we do including our witness and defense of the faith.  There is a transcendent reward, but at the high price of our life.  The martyrs and saints of the ages certainly knew what is said here as they suffered persecution and death.

The cross of Christ is our redemption; our cross is service to Him that originates in the forgiveness of our sins.  “The words Jesus said to the paralytic also speak to us: “Your sins are forgiven.  Take up your bed and walk.”  (Matthew 9)

Michael G. Tavella

December 31, 2019

Have a blessed New Year!

Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XIV–Woes Turned to the Wisdom of Christ and the Blessings of the Kingdom
Discipleship in Matthew and Apologetics XVI–The Resurrection