“Uh.. yeah Park, we know.” Do you though? I’m not sure we understand the significance here. The Cross is a symbol for death and torture. To be crucified is arguably one of the worst deaths you could experience. But God took this symbol and redeemed it, so much so, that millions, maybe even billions, of people around the world are wearing crosses around their necks right now. So what does this have to do with the cross being “vertical and horizontal”? To answer this I need to run over to Ephesians 2:11-22 real quick:
“11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[a] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by[b] the Spirit.” (English Standard Version)
I know there’s a whole lot here but if we break it down into thirds you’ll be able to understand why I picked this section.
Verses 2:11-13: Paul reminds the Gentiles in his audience of their former life apart from Christ, separated from God and looked down on by the Jews. But he also reminds any Jews that might be reading this letter that they are “in the flesh” just like the Gentiles, without Jesus, they were hopeless too. (v. 2:11)
Verses 2:14-18: Paul preached that both Jews and Gentiles are reconciled to God through Christ’s peace making work. Together, now as one new man, they have access to the Father.
Verses 2:19-22: Paul proclaimed that the Jews and Gentiles are fellow citizens being built together into the dwelling place of God.
What’s Paul’s big idea in this section? V. 14. “[Jesus] himself is our peace” is one of the most important phrases in this passage because it’s the pivot point for the section as well as the entire book of Ephesians. The Apostle Paul pivots from the former life of the Gentiles, when they were separated from Christ and hostile with the Jews, to the new life in Christ and the peace between God and man and man and fellow man. V. 18 “We both have access” is one of the most important phrases in this passage because Paul uses this phrase to move from the past tense of the Gentiles former life and what Christ accomplished in the past to now what that means in the present for the Gentiles to whom this letter is written. This phrase sets up the “so then” in verse 19. Paul urged his believing audience to remember that though they were once separated from both God and each other, they have been brought near to God and other believers by Christ’s peace making work, to be a dwelling place for God, Himself.
Paul’s big idea is huge for his original audience but it’s also huge for us who believe today! Here’s where we can understand the significance of the cross. The cross is vertical; since Christ died on the cross in our place, we who believe in him for salvation have peace with the Father through the Holy Spirit who applies Christ’s work to us. Our vertical relationship is redeemed, restored, remade and all sorts of other “re” words that apply! Think about that for a second, because of Christ, we have peace with God Himself! This peace is not merely the absence of strife that we think of in a “cease fire” today, but rather it’s the Old Testament understanding of “Shalom”. Shalom includes the negative aspects of a ceasefire and lack of fighting along with the positive blessings of living in communion with our Creator. This word “peace” or “eirene” in the Greek, is rich and beautiful; one commentator even says that the phrase “Christ is our peace” is Paul’s summary of the gospel itself.
So we get it now, right? Christ is our peace; between God and man stands Christ the mediator. This explains how the cross is vertical. But what about the horizontal aspect of the cross? Paul emphasized the strife between the Jews and the Gentiles, not to blast them but as a reminder of where they’ve come from. Christ is the peace between God and man. Because man has peace with God, man can now have peace with other men! Because Christ has forgiven us of our sins, we can forgive other men who sin against us. Paul reminds the Jews and Gentiles who were within earshot of his letter that they are now one in Christ. This lesson is also urgent for believers today. Christ stands between us and The Father, he also stands between us and other believers.
Can this lesson be applied between Christians and non-Christians? Well, there are definitely principles that can be drawn out of this passage for dealing with people of other religions and belief systems, but this passage is more about Christian’s being united to God and other believers through Christ Jesus. Does the Bible teach that we should live at peace with everyone? Yeah for sure (Romans 12:9-21), but not here. I’m harping on this point because it’s so important for Christians to be unified with other Christians! We really don’t do a great job of walking in the peace that Christ earned for us. We need to love one another, especially those in the household of faith, who are being built into a dwelling place for God alongside of ourselves!
The cross itself is a perfect analogy for the peace that Jesus Christ accomplished for us on it. It’s vertical beam should remind us that we have shalom with God our Father through Christ in the power of The Holy Spirit. The horizontal beam should remind us that Christ accomplished peace for us between ourselves and that we are commanded to walk in unity and love with other believers by the power of The Holy Spirit, for the glory of God.
The Cross is both vertical and horizontal.