Our first church assignment came; it was a beautiful red brick structure, interlaced with sandstone from a nearby rock quarry. The church windows made of stained glass added to the sacred atmosphere.
The church had a working bell; rung by pulling on a long rope; the children would take turns tugging on the rope until the bell began to resound; reminding the neighborhood that church would begin soon.
When you came inside the church, you noticed the bright red carpet blanketing the floor; blonde oak church pews filling the sanctuary, and soft yellow walls beckoning you in. In the front of the sanctuary stood a large oak pulpit on a raised platform overlooking the congregation, and on the wall behind the pulpit, a beautiful wooden cross.
The cross, fashioned of solid golden oak, stood four feet tall with the cross piece about three feet across. The wood beams, at least four inches thick, had a soft smooth beautiful shiny finish, very pleasant to look at, a reminder of the Cross of Christ. A person could not come into the church without noticing the cross.
As the Easter season approached, I preached a message on the cross of Christ. As I studied for that message, I realized that the beautiful shiny, pleasant looking cross on the wall, wasn’t even close to the cross that Jesus suffered and died on.
I began to think about it, and I felt deep in my heart that I needed to fashion a real cross of life-sized proportions; a cross you could actually crucify someone on, to show the people what a cruel instrument it really was.
I would go and cut down a tree and make a cross
I got an ax, and I jumped in my pickup truck, driving into the mountains of Northwest Pennsylvania. I walked into the forest looking for the right tree; a tree you could build a cross from; strong enough to crucify someone. I wanted to cut a tree that was dead.
I did not want to take down a live tree, I needed something sturdy, something solid, and as I walked around the forest, I saw it; an old weathered maple tree that would work very well for a cross.
I stood there looking at the tree, and I took my ax, taking a hard swing at the ten-inch base of the tree. The weathered hard maple tree was not going to come down easy.
As I continued to slice into the base of the tree with my ax, my mind began to think of Jesus and the Cross He carried. Each time I swung and struck the base of that tree, I recalled an ugly sin in my own life; a sin His death atoned for.
I kept striking the tree; each strike bringing forward more pain; more remembrances of all the sins that I had committed. Tears began to flow down my face, as I thought of what Jesus did on the cross for me.
Not only, was it for the sins of the whole world He died, but it was for my sins, the ones I committed, and as I continued to chop, the tears flowed. The tree finally fell down with a loud crash, I went over and sat by the tree and I wept as I thought of what Jesus did.
I stepped off about twelve feet for the upright post; taking the ax once again, cutting off the cross beam making it eight feet long. I stood up the twelve-foot post, placing it on my shoulder, and I started carrying it out through the woods; once again, the tears came like a flood.
Bringing the cross to the church
I remembered Jesus trying to carry his cross, battered and beaten, blood running down his face, as he tried to carry it. I went back picking up the eight-foot cross piece bringing it back to my truck.
When I got back to the church, I unloaded the two pieces, and before taking them inside, I notched the upright post and the crossbeam, so they would lock together. I took them inside the beautiful, stately sanctuary and carefully lashed the two pieces together with 30 feet of half-inch rope. Once secured, I groaned as I stood the cross upright in the sanctuary.
I firmly secured the base of the cross, to the platform at the front of the sanctuary, walked back and sat down. The cross was large and rough, not at all like the pretty, shiny one behind the pulpit. It was evident, this cross, was a true representation of the instrument used to kill our Savior; once again, the tears came.
Finally, I found an old hammer, along with three ten inch spikes and I hung them on the side of the cross. I fashioned a wooden sign that read “King of the Jews,” and I placed it at the top.
Over the years, people would come from miles around to gaze at the cross. Some would come just to sit in front of it; most would begin to sob.
We even had people drive hours to come, asking if they could spend the night in the church, sleeping at the foot of the cross.
The Bible says it best . . .
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:18 (NKJV)