Shelby G. Floyd
In the days of Christ, the apostles and the church he established, the cross bore a stigma of being the most shameful way to die. It was symbolic of great suffering and ignominious death. In the Old Testament writings, the death of Christ was prophesied by Isaiah and many of the prophets:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
Thus Isaiah graphically depicts the despicable, degrading and humiliating beating and death of Christ upon the cross.
THE CURSE OF HANGING ON A TREE
The death of Christ on the cross is several times described as a tree:
•The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree (Acts 5:30 NKJV).
•And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree (Acts 10:39 NKJV).
•Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb (Acts 13:29 NKJV).
•Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed (1 Peter 2:24)
And in the letter to the churches of Galatia, Paul makes a statement that death on a tree—cross, was looked upon from ancient times as a curse from God:
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)
This statement is a reference to the Old Testament writing in the Book of Deuteronomy where Moses stated that a felon that is hanged on a tree is “accursed of God” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). The accursed cross could be compared to death today by the electric chair, gas chamber, firing squad, or those who are beheaded. It was like the hangings from a tree in the wild, wild, west.
But praise God who turned the curse of the cross into glory and the means of our salvation. To the faithful Christian the cross is no longer a symbol of shame, but that in which we boast: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14 NIV). Even though the cross is accepted by most religious people as a glorious symbol, this does not mean that the followers of Christ will not bear the same reproach and stigma that was heaped upon our Lord.
THE STIGMA OF JESUS
As Paul concluded Galatians he said, “Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). “Marks” is translated from [ςτιγμα-stigma] and this is the only time it is used in the New Testament. Thayer defines this word as,
“A mark pricked in or branded upon the body. According to ancient oriental usage, slaves and soldiers bore the name or stamp of their master or commander branded or pricked (cut) into their bodies to indicate what master or general they belonged to, and there were even some devotees who stamped themselves in this way with the token of their gods; hence…the marks of (the Lord) Jesus, which Paul in Gal. 6:17 says he bears branded on his body, are the traces left there by the perils, hardships, imprisonments, scourging’s, endured by him for the cause of Christ, and which mark him as Christ’s faithful and approved votary, servant, soldier.” –Thayer, page 588
Down through the ages earmarks have been branded on animals and on human beings in order to show ownership. For example slaves were beaten and branded with scars; the Jews during the death camps were earmarked with a serial number and the Star of David. These stigmata were to distinguish and identify that they were under the power of their masters.
This is the reason that Paul could boast in the marks (stigmata) on his body that identified him with the cross of Christ and the suffering of Jesus. He specifically and graphically outlined what he had endured to faithfully serve Christ:
2 Corinthians 11:21-28
What anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
Therefore, in view of the stigma and earmarks that he bore branded in his body, no one should question and bother him about his apostolic authority and devotion to his Master. He was willing to give his body as a living sacrifice to God. And so should we who claim to be the children of God: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2 NKJV).
Let us then like Paul be ready to do good to all men and especially the household of faith (Galatians 6:10), be crucified with Christ and separate ourselves from the world and the world from us (Galatians 6:14; 2:20), and become a new creation in Christ (Galatians 6:15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20). This is accomplished when we are baptized into Christ predicated on believing that Jesus is the divine Son of God, deep-seated repentance of our sins and a public avowal of our faith in the good confession. (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10; Romans 6:1-6). The stigma of being a Christian should never cause us to be ashamed of Christ and the cross.
Copyright © 2016 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142