About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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The Symbolic Cross

What do we mean when we portray the cross symbol?

More importantly, what is understood by those who see the cross symbol portrayed?

When we speak to people, we want to use words or other symbols which they understand. We need to know our audience in order to properly communicate.

When we use symbols to communicate, we need to know what the symbols represent to our audience. What a symbol means to us may not be what it means to those to whom we wish to give a particular message.

The following is a simple list of just a few examples of some words and symbols that may be interpreted differently by different people or in different contexts


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·       deoxyribonucleic acid: understood by those who have studied chemistry or biology; more commonly recognized when referred to as ____ (see below)

·       acetylsalicylic acid: understood by those who have studied chemistry or medicine; more commonly recognized when referred to as ____ (see below)

·       ! : commonly understood as an exclamation mark, but is also a mathematical symbol representing factorials

·       * : commonly understood as an asterisk, used in text as a pointer to an annotation or footnote, but has other uses as well

*   used as a bullet style, in text formatting

*   used to mark something in the text as important*

*   used to indicate some irregularity in a particular accomplishment

*   understood by computer programmers as the multiplication operation sign

*   understood to indicate that there is some sort of disclaimer, usually in fine print**

*   understood by mobile phone users as indicating special service numbers


·      # : presently popular “hashtag” in social media; pound sign on the telephone keypad, or number sign

·       ribbons: used in various colours to represent various causes

·        swastika:

*   some generations associate this symbol with one of the most hated men on earth; may not have any significance to the current generation

*   is a sacred symbol to some religions

·       peace sign: was one of the most prominent symbols of a generation, but does not hold the same place today


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To a religious person the cross symbol may represent his faith, sanctification, Jesus himself, or the cross on which Jesus was crucified, or something else particular to the individual believer.

To victims of the Crusades or of the Inquisition, the cross symbol represented barbaric atrocities. To people, today, who are aware of that history, the cross symbol speaks that same message.

To some people the cross is simply an accessory, a piece of jewelry.

To some people today, the cross symbol speaks of hypocrisy, religious fanaticism, sexual abuse, irrational dogmatism or bigotry and intolerance.

We understand what Trevor means when he says “morons”. We would not likely get the opportunity to explain that meaning if we walked into Bridge Street United, Calvary Community or St. Michael’s, Swiss Chalet, City Hotel, Belleville Public Library, Centennial Secondary School or Loyalist College , Autosystems, Belleville City Hall or the Quinte Sports & Wellness Centre, or any other setting, and called the occupants morons.

Even for us there is diversity in the meaning and significance attached to the cross symbol. Do we expect the unsaved of the world to know what we mean by it?

If the first thing that someone notices of us is a cross symbol, then we may not get the opportunity to explain what it means to us, because it has an entirely different sense to him. He may be offended not by Jesus, or by the cross on which Jesus died, but by what has been associated with that symbol in his life.

We must present the message of the power of the cross of Jesus Christ, a message not confused or encumbered by using a language of symbols which mean something different to our listeners than what we mean to convey.



deoxyribonucleic acid : DNA     acetylsalicylic acid : ASA or aspirin


* has a meaning similar to N.B.     ** you may not be able to read this



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