It is worn as an ornament from a chain around the neck. It adorns church walls and sits atop steeples. Some believers make hand motions to outline its shape. It is the subject of some of the Church's best loved hymns.
Aside from the way it fulfilled prophecy, it could have just as easily been a noose, a spear or a sword. But it was a cross -- a crosspiece mounted to an upright -- which was the instrument of death for my Savior. Commentators have remarked that because Christ was put to death on a cross, He had been killed in a kosher manner; the blood being drained from His body. Others have stated that the cross provided a public, shameful death, fitting for One who "made Himself nothing" by coming to earth. It was a horrible way to die. Nails through the hands and feet. The inner organs being compacted so that the victim can no longer breathe.
It's not so much the cross that matters, of course, but the event which happened upon it. A death which ended the only life lived without sin. The sacrifice of One whose divine nature was necessary to take on the punishment for the sins of the world.
I've read various theories about Jesus not actually dying, but only fainting upon the cross. Another posits that it wasn't Jesus at all on the cross, but a stand-in -- Judas, perhaps. Men and women have sought to deny and discredit the crucifixion, saying it didn't happen or that it doesn't matter. But it happened. And it matters.
The cross matters because we are sinners. If we were able to live perfectly as Jesus did, we would have no need of the cross. But we cannot. None of us. So Christ willingly, (let us not ever forget that part) voluntarily took our death sentence. The requirement of living a perfect life to enter heaven is met only by wrapping ourselves in the brilliant white righteousness of Christ Jesus.
We cannot atone for our own sin. If I make a mistake and hurt or disappoint someone, I try my best to make things right. But nothing I do can make up for the sins I commit. I cannot make things right. Only what Christ has done will make it right.
I cannot earn that salvation. But it is freely given.
All of my good works combined will never make me good enough. I cannot save. Only Christ saves. If you are counting on your own good works to save you, give it up now. It doesn't work. Salvation comes only through the grace of God in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
And when I survey that wondrous cross, I cannot help but feel loved. My Savior paid the price that I could never pay. And it hurt. Jesus was physically ripped and beaten. My guilt was placed upon Him. His tongue swelled. His lungs gasped for breath. The soldiers and bystanders laughed and mocked. Even one hanging beside Him made fun of Him. Then finally it was over. The thrust of a spear made sure it was finished. The price of my forgiveness had been paid.
The cross matters because without it, I would be without hope. It matters because it made us able to be with the Creator who loves us. Forever. But only if we rely on Him for our salvation and not on ourselves. The cross matters because it shows just how far God was willing to go to make sure I was coming home.