My First Prostitute

It was the first time I'd been approached by a prostitute. I was 19 - in my military uniform - waiting in San Francisco to catch a plane to my next duty station. As we talked on the sidewalk, I was struck by two things: first, she was absolutely beautiful; second, she wore a cross on her necklace.

Maybe thinking about the Easter celebration and Christ on the cross reminded me of her. Certainly the incongruity has stayed with me over the years.

Was her cross a cheap insurance policy she hoped would prevent her from getting VD? Or was it the last piece of a spiritual heritage she was holding onto? I don't know. But back then, and many times since, I've seen similar mixed messages.

So, why was she wearing something as gross as a cross? Why not a tiny hangman's noose - or a replica of an electric chair dangling from her gold chain? Why not a small syringe representing a lethal injection? Or a miniature rifle denoting a firing squad?

In our culture, we've lost the meaning of the cross. For us, it has become a comfortable religious symbol - a good luck charm similar to a rabbit's foot. (Note: The rabbit had four of them and it didn't help the rabbit.)

In the time of Jesus, the cross was a very vivid, public way to slowly, torturously kill a man. Forget those pretty little statues you've seen. Jesus didn't have a loin cloth on. The Bible says He was stripped naked. Forget how clean those pictures look. The Bible says He was beaten beyond recognition. Whipped to shreds. Imagine the blood mixed with dirt, mixed with sweat, mixed with hair, mixed with flesh and thorns - mixed with tears. Forget the solitary figure suspended on wooden beams. The Bible says He was surrounded by a jeering, taunting, gambling-for-His-garment mob.

The Roman government wanted to make a loud public proclamation: "Violate us, and you'll have to deal with the cross."

So, why is the cross such a big deal in Christianity? Because God wanted to make a loud public proclamation: "You've violated me, and you'll have to deal with Jesus and the cross. That's the only way you have access to Me" (see John 14:6).

Remember the Old Testament? Constant sacrifices of bulls, sheep, goats and pigeons. Constant shedding of blood because yesterday's sacrifices didn't cover the next day's sins. No, Jesus on the cross wasn't some cosmic God-becomes-a-man-to-help-man-but-the-plan-gets-screwed-up-and-an-innocent-man-gets-crucified.

Instead, it's God's New Testament covenant - His perfect plan - whereby Jesus is the perfect, once-for-all-time sacrifice. Christ becomes the complete payment for man's sins. He paid a debt He didn't owe because I had a debt I couldn't pay.

But, it's tough to accept someone else's free gift. My PRIDE gets in the way. (Notice the middle letter in the word PRIDE is "I.") I'd rather work for my supper, suits, and salvation.

I've heard it said that religion is man's attempt to work his way to reaching God. But real Christianity is God the Father reaching through His Son to touch man. Stay away from religion. It's filled with rites and robes, bells and smells, platitudes and pious attitudes. Real Christian faith is love with work-clothes on.

In the Midlands of South Carolina area, there are many crosses. Some of cement. Some of steel. Some stylized. Some lighted. Some high atop beautiful buildings. But my favorite is one of rough wood.

It's not high. And in a sense, it's not accurate. There aren't three large spikes that would represent one for each hand and one that would have been driven through both feet. Instead, lots of little nails. Driven all around those wooden beams. It's my favorite cross because it reminds me that it was lots of my little sins that nailed Jesus to the cross. My little sins blocked my access and separated me from a high and Holy God. My imperfections kept me distant from our perfect Creator.

So Jesus, the God-man, the perfect sacrifice, went to the cross like an Old Testament animal went to be sacrificed on an altar. To pay for the sins of that prostitute. To pay for my sins. To pay for your sins, be they big or small. To restore us to a God of forgiveness and of hope.

What do you think of the cross? Cheap insurance? A joke? A fraud? Frankly, if Jesus wasn't the Son of God, born of a virgin, fully God, fully man - if Jesus wasn't crucified on the cross - if Jesus wasn't risen from the dead - if Jesus isn't with the Father right now, preparing, providing and pleading for us - if those things are not all true, then Christians are to be pitied and avoided, counted as fools and dopes, shunned and silenced. "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 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" (2 Corinthians 1:17-18).