The Problem with Our Crosses


November 17, 2020

John 19:31-37 (NIV)

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled:“Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.


“They will look on the one they have pierced.”

When is the last time you looked upon the one we have pierced?

We Protestants are big on the Cross but not so much on the Crucifix. Why is that? For a faith built around the blood of Christ, we like our crosses pretty clean. The trouble is this scene was anything but clean.

Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.

We gladly sing of surveying the wondrous cross but when it comes down to it, there’s not a lot of surveying going on.

The empty cross declares life and resurrection. The crucifix declares suffering and death. Don’t we need both? Is this not at least part of the purpose the Gospel writers give us such graphic detail? It brings us back to Paul’s declaration of longing we visited earlier.

“I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and to share in the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

Might it not aid us to share in the fellowship of his sufferings to at minimum be intimately familiar with them? Might we be well served to embrace the painful blessing of “looking on the one we have pierced?” Might it be time for the Protestant part of the Church to learn to behold the pierced one?

Years ago, when my oldest son was young, I kept a small statue of Jesus on the cross on my desk. One day he picked up the little crucifix, and as he pondered it with his small fingers he asked me, “Daddy, what is this for? How do we use this?” The question arrested me. As I began to respond—probably with some ridiculous answer—he interrupted me, saying, “Or Daddy, is this for looking at?”

Abandoning my Sunday School answer, I replied to him, “Yes, David. That’s exactly right. This is for looking at.”

I think I’m going to dig around and find that crucifix today. Yep, that’s what I’m going to do.


Abba Father, we thank you for your son, Jesus, who endured the Cross as the supreme act of love for us. Grant us fresh eyes to look upon the one we have pierced, to behold him in his suffering, that we might somehow become like him in his death. Come Holy Spirit and lead us in this way that leads to real resurrection power. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


1. Do you own a crucifix? If not, why not? If so, how do you relate to/handle it?

2. Why do we resist the sign of the crucifix? Is it latent (or active) anti-Catholic bias? Is that a good reason?

3. Will you develop a practice of “looking on the one we have pierced?” Do you see the importance of this? Why or why not?

PS: Will you join me this Advent? We need to do it different this time—more ancient yet more current. Let’s do it together— every single day. Get the guidebook here.

For the Awakening,

J.D. Walt

Share today's Wake-Up Call!


WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

5 Responses

  1. I’m not dogmatic about this, and perhaps I am wrong, but I do not have a crucifix or any other image or picture of God. It has nothing whatever to do with Catholicism. Nor does it have to do with a desire to “clean up the crucifixion.” It has to do with the second commandment forbidding the making of graven images. You can argue about whether or not the 10 commandments are part of the Law and therefore no longer in effect, or otherwise, but the principle still stands: God did not want his people to have graven images. Clearly, idol worship was an issue here, but I suspect that it is not a good idea to try to represent the omnipotent, omniscient God in a flawed, human work of art. I just don’t want those images in my head. I don’t want them influencing my thoughts about God. It seems a little disrespectful to me.

  2. Answer 1: No, I do not own, nor have I ever owned one. I never really thought about it, but I believe the reason is that growing up Lutheran, my tribe tried to put some distance between themselves and the mother Church. I now can see the value of looking at a crucifix as a reminder of the price paid for our sins.
    Answer 2: I personally have come to see that we Protestants have inadvertently tossed out the baby with the bath water when it comes to the general rejection of anything Roman Catholic.
    Answer 3: I have come to embrace one of Charles Wesley’s hymns which drives this point home, as one of my favorites, “ O Love Divine, What hast Thou Done”. One of my favorite quotes is from a former Jesuit priest, John Corapi : “You’ve got to be centered on Christ. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit forms Jesus within us. No cross? No crown. No pain? No gain. No way around it— if there was a shortcut, I’d know it and I’d tell ya “.

  3. The one thing I learned about Jesus growing up in the Methodist/United Methodist Church, was what it was like to die on the cross. It was when I was in high school and a doctor was invited in to describe to the youth exactly what Jesus went through beginning with his time the Garden of Gethsemane and how that would have physically impacted him. When I finally found the “rest of the story” decades later, I was able to concur with a writer who said we should never be too sentimental about God’s grace; there was absolutely nothing sentimental about the act of grace Jesus provided.

  4. I often regard the cross when I am falling into depression because of chronic pain. When life hurts and I start to doubt God’s love for me I get instant relief when I remember the cross. I say to myself that he loved me enough to give me heaven. My cross is to trust God when my pain level is a 10 and to know that he is not finished with me yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *