How many of you have seen this configuration of crosses as you traveled along our nation’s highways? Sue and I have seen dozens of these exact groupings of crosses along I-95 and I-81—not to mention the ones on the various turnpikes between here and Chicago. Well, this week I did some research and learned the history behind these crosses. I found out that they are the work of a Christian man named Bernard Coffindaffer. In the mid 1900’s Mr. Coffindaffer founded a coal-washing business in the mountains of West Virginia—a business that, thanks to a lot of hard work on his part, helped him to become modestly wealthy. But—all his hard work took its toll and after two heart by-pass operations, Coffindaffer decided he should slow down a bit. He liquidated his business and had just begun his “retirement” years when he had a vision in which God told him to erect as many of these clusters of crosses that he could. Mr. Coffindaffer obeyed by founding an organization known as “Crosses Across America”—and for the final nine years of his life, he spent most of his amassed fortune—approximately $3,000,000—planting these familiar clusters of crosses in 29 states and the District of Columbia—and even so far as along the highways of the nations of Zambia and the Philippines.
Here’s how it would work. Site owners donated the land for the crosses and Coffindaffer paid for the crosses and their installation. In this way a total of 1864 clusters of crosses were erected all over the world before his death in 1993. When Coffindaffer started the cross project he said,
They’re up for only one reason, and that’s this: to remind people that Jesus was crucified on a cross at Calvary for our sins and that He is coming again. Maybe the crosses will make ONE person stop and think.”
But far more than one person did! In fact, thanks to the thousands of people who noticed his crosses, Coffindaffer was the subject of a PBS documentary on his life entitled, “Point Man For God,” and he was also featured on the award-winning series “DIFFERENT DRUMMER.” CBS News did a segment on him as well—one that aired on “CBS Sunday Morning.” So, thanks to Mr. Coffindaffer’s work a LOT of people stopped and thought about the significance of the cross.
Well, tonight before we share communion I want us to do the same thing. I want us to stop and think—and try to understand—why this man would spend his hard-earned fortune erecting nearly two thousand wooden CROSSES when he could have spent those millions enjoying his golden years. I want us to remember why is it that Christians like Coffindaffer and like you and me seem to have a love affair with an instrument of execution. To quote the old hymn, why is it that we, “…CHERISH the old rugged cross?” Why is the cross of Jesus Christ so important…so precious to us…so SIGNIFICANT?
I can think of at least three reasons that we feel this way.
(1) First, we know that the One Who hung on the cross was our SUBSTITUTE.
Whenever we see a cross whether its in a church or in a field beside a road or even on a piece of jewelry—whenever we see those crossed beams it reminds us that Jesus Christ died in our place. And this is very significant to us because we know that before the cross all people were in a desperate situation. We know that, thanks to our sin, we were separated from our HOLY God. In fact the Bible teaches that we were at ENMITY with Him. R. C. Sproul explains it like this,
The natural enemy of the sinner is One Who is holy, and not only holy but powerful, and not only powerful but just, and not only just but omniscient, not only omniscient but immutably so.
Well since God is all these things—and since we are all sinners—and since the wages of our sinful state and the disobedience that comes with it is death. Because of all this we all had a PROBLEM but that’s okay because in His great unfathomable love, God had a PLAN! The moment Adam and Eve sinned, He decided to send His only Son—Jesus, the Christ—He decided to send Him to Earth to take our punishment—by dying as our SUBSTITUTE. Jesus would take the consequence of the sins of all mankind on Himself. He would take our place. He would die our death—and this is exactly what happened on that old rugged cross.
So whenever I see a cross I remember the words of verses like 1st Peter 2:24 where it says,“On the cross, it was MY SINS which Jesus bore [on His body].” He took the beatings and the nails and the DEATH that I deserved—in order to make THE way for me to be saved.
On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines flight 225 crashed just after taking off from the Detroit airport, killing 155 people. There was only one survivor—a little four-year-old girl from Tempe, Arizona, named Cecelia. News accounts say when rescuers found Cecelia wandering around the crash site they did not believe she had actually been on the plane. At first they assumed Cecelia had been a passenger in one of the cars on the highway where the airliner crashed. But when the passenger register for the flight was checked, there was Cecelia’s name. As they studied what was left of the airplane they realized that Cecelia survived because, even as the plane was falling, her mother, Paula Chican, unbuckled her own seat belt, got down on her knees in front of her daughter, wrapped her arms and body around Cecelia and would not let her go. Then with her own body this mother absorbed the horrible impact of the crash—and in so doing saved her little girl.
Apparently nothing could separate that child from her parent’s love—neither tragedy nor disaster, neither the fall nor the flames that followed, neither height nor depth, neither life nor death. Well, doesn’t this story sound familiar? Sure it does—this mother’s love is LIKE the love our Heavenly Father has for us. He send His Son to earth and on the cross He absorbed the punishment for our sins. In essence, Jesus covered us with the sacrifice of His own body in order to save us.
Galatians 3:13 says,“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ died for our sins, the Righteous for the unrighteous.” These verses and others like them underscore the amazing truth that on the cross Jesus paid the price for our defiance of God’s law. He WAS our substitute.
Last weekend our brand new Minister of Students, Kevin Freeman, told of a prayer room that he designed and set up for the teens who attended the state Youth Evangelism Conference this year.
Over a thousand teens attended that conference, and thanks to Kevin’s creative labors, they had a quiet place to retreat from the throngs and be alone with God. And tons of teens did exactly that—they wrote their prayers on a huge mural prayers for each other…prayers for their families…prayers for the lost people of Baltimore…prayers for themselves.
Kevin told us that one of the things that he put in the prayer room was a MIRROR and above the mirror was a SIGN that said, “This is Who Christ died for.” Well, I like that because whenever I look at the cross it’s like looking at a mirror—the cross “reflects” the all significant fact that Jesus died in my place. He suffered FOR me.
Here’s a second reason the cross is significant—precious—to us.
(2) We know it has FREED us from the power of sin.
Now…think about that…what POWER does sin have? Well, in my mind I think sin is like a genetic disease that all human beings are born with. It is a horrible disease that begins to wreak destruction from the beginning—making us self-centered—corrupting our best attempts at goodness—killing us spiritually and eventually physically as well. We all know we have this “disease”—and as Christians we know there was no cure—until Jesus came. You see, on the cross He shed His blood and in that way provided the only cure for sin—a cure that cleanses and heals us and frees us from the power of sin even so far as to removing the sting—the fear of death—for you see, those who believe in Jesus—those who put their trust in His blood—those people do not perish—and instead have eternal life.
And this eternal—abundant caliber of life begins the moment we look to Him in faith as Jesus gives our lives purpose and meaning and empowers us to say NO to sin and temptation. Jesus’ blood frees us from sin’s power—His blood is the CURE for our sin.
Louis Pasteur’s co-worker in the development of what used to be called the germ theory was Dr. Felix Ruh. Dr. Ruh’s granddaughter had died of black diphtheria, and he vowed he would find a cure for what had killed his granddaughter. In fact, he locked himself in his laboratory for days, emerging with a fierce determination to prove, with his colleague Louis Pasteur, that the germ theory was more than a theory. The French Medical Association had disapproved of Pasteur and had succeeded in getting him exiled, but he did not go far from Paris. Pasteur and Ruh hid in the forest nearby and erected a laboratory in which to continue his forbidden research.
As part of that research one day, twenty beautiful horses were led to the improvised laboratory to be a part of an experiment. Dr. Ruh opened a steel vault and took out a large pail filled with black diphtheria germs, which he had cultured carefully for months. There were enough germs in that pail to kill everyone in France. The scientist went to each horse and swabbed its nostrils, tongue, throat, and eyes with the deadly germs. Every horse except one developed a terrific fever and died. For several more days this final horse lingered, lying pathetically on the ground.
Ruh and Pasteur thought that the horse would only last one more night so they had cots brought into the barn so that they could be close by. An orderly was instructed to watch the horse and awaken the Pasteur and Ruh—should there be any change in the animal’s temperature during the night. About 2:00AM the temperature showed a half degree decrease, and the orderly awakened Dr. Ruh. By morning the thermometer had dropped two more degrees. By the next night the fever was entirely gone and the horse was able to stand, eat, and drink.
A few days later when the horse was completely well, Dr. Ruh took a sledgehammer and struck that beautiful horse a deathblow between the eyes. Then the scientist drew all the blood from the veins of this animal that had developed the black diphtheria—but had overcome it. Ruh and Pasteur took that blood and drove as fast as they could to the municipal hospital in Paris. Then they forced their way past the superintendent and the guards and went into the ward where three hundred babies lay, segregated to die from black diphtheria. With the blood of the horse, they inoculated everyone of the babies. All but three lived and recovered completely. They were saved by the blood of an over-comer. Pasteur and Ruh provided the only cure.
Well in a similar way Jesus provided the cure for our sin. You see He died on that cross—but He rose again. Sin and death—this “disease” that plagues us all—it could not defeat Him. So as the hymn text puts it, “What can wash away my sin?” “NOTHING but the blood of Jesus!” “What can cure me—what can make me WHOLE again?” “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
As Ephesians 1:7 says,“In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”
So the cross is significant—it is important—it is precious to us because the One Who hung on it 2000 years ago did so as our substitute. He died in our place. In shedding His blood on those crossed timbers He provided the only cure for our sin. And then, there’s one other reason we cherish the cross of Jesus and it is this.
(3) We know that on the cross God is inviting us into relationship.
Jesus hung on that tree on the top of a hill called Golgotha as an invitation to all mankind to accept the cure He has graciously offered and return to God. With the cross, God was saying as He did through Isaiah, "Come now, let us reason together! Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”(Isaiah 1:18)
In John 3:14-15 and Revelation 3:20 Jesus said,
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life…Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in…
Gypsy Smith, an outstanding evangelist from another age, once expressed this truth in the following words. He said, “I am not afraid of the cross. I know that men used to come there to die, but since Jesus died they come there to live.”
He’s right! Two thousand years ago the perfect Son of God died a painful death on a shameful cross for sinful mankind—for YOU and ME. And when He cried, “It is finished!” He was announcing a new highway that leads into the presence of God.
So—whenever we see one of Coffindaffer’s crosses—we notice them—because we know the cross is God’s loving invitation—an invitation from Him to forgive us and cleanse us and come into our hearts and lives.
I want to invite you now into a time of prayer. I encourage you to take a few moments to examine your own life and confess any known sin. Take time to think of the cross—and its significance in your life. Thank God for sending His only Son to die there in your place. Thank Him for making THE way for your sins to be forgiven.
If you haven’t already accepted God’s invitation—do so tonight—right now. Pray—talk to God—confess your sin and your belief that Jesus is His only Son…and that He died in your place.
Ask Him to forgive you and commit to follow Him as the boss of your life. Then, when you are ready come and kneel at one of these benches and Bobby or Bill or I will serve you. Then you can return to your seat to continue to pray. And—remember, you need not be a member of this church to participate. All Christians are invited to the table. If you are His, this is yours.