Why the Empty Cross?
Meditations on the Cross

Gary Combs ·
March 31, 2024 · cross, easter · Romans 6:4-11 · Notes


Of all the symbols that Christians might have chosen as an emblem of the faith, why the cross? The answer is that the cross points to Christ’s death as payment for our sins and the fact that the cross is empty points to Christ’s resurrection as the power that gives us new life in Him. The empty cross points to the empty tomb!

In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, he told them that it was being united with Christ in His death and resurrection that made it possible for them to live a new life. We can experience this new life in union with Christ’s death and resurrection.


Good morning, church. He is risen. He is risen indeed! Amen. It's good to see all of you here this morning.

We're continuing our series entitled Meditations on the Cross. And over the past few weeks, we've been looking at the cross and asking questions about the meaning of the cross. And today we're asking this question, "Why the empty cross?" Why the empty cross? Why is it that Christians have this symbol of a cross, of all the things that we could choose as our symbol, what we've chosen?

Perhaps it's because, first of all, the cross points to the death of Christ on the cross, that he died for our sins, paying for our redemption. But the fact that it's empty also points to the empty tomb that he is risen, that once and for all, he has paid for our sins. This is why we have the empty cross, is because it points to the new life we have because of Jesus. He says in John 14:19 (ESV) "… Because I live, you also will live." This is the promise of Jesus.

And he has this promise that this life, even in this present moment, is better than you ever thought possible. He says in John 10:10 (NLT) "… My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life." This is life that begins at the very moment we receive Jesus. Is this the life you're experiencing today? Would you look at your life today and say, my life is rich and satisfying.

It's full and overflowing, abundant. Would you describe your life that way today? People want to live a good life. What is the good life? I looked it up in the Webster's dictionary.

What's the good life? Here's the first definition that Webster's gives. The kind of life that people with a lot of money are able to have. That is, she grew up poor, but now she's living the good life. That's one way that Americans look at the good life.

Here's another definition. A happy and enjoyable life. That is, she gave up a good job in the city to move to the country in search of a good life. And so we often think it's about material things or about money. The Pew Research Center actually took a survey of Americans and asked them, what do you think makes a good life?

What do you need for a good life? And would you like to hear the top three results? Here are the top three results from this survey. The first, 69% said family. You need family to have a good life.

The second was a good career. 34% said career. And then 23% said money. That was the third highest one. There's only one problem.

People that pursue the good life often encounter that the good life isn't really good enough. It leads to the first reality. And I hear this all the time as I'm talking to people during the week. People are exhausted pursuing the good life. They're just wore out.

I hear it all the time. Life is so busy, it's out of control. My schedule controls me. When people are exhausted, they're tired, they're out of energy. And exhaustion leads people to the second reality, and that's emptiness.

People start feeling empty inside, like, what's it all mean? What's the meaning of this life? I couldn't sign up for another thing. People have their kids in every kind of sport and playing every kind of musical instrument. I remember when I was growing up, my parents would just say, get out of the house and go play in the yard or something.

Today, though, we have got these schedules where our kids have to do so many things. We're feeling exhausted and we're feeling empty. If this is the good life, people say, why have I felt so unsatisfied with it? And that leads to enslavement. People feel trapped.

You feel trapped today. Some people feel trapped by debt. I got a nice house, but I got a nice mortgage to go with it. People in Wilson county right now are all tore up about the new revaluation of our homes. I mean, you see it and people are just worried sick about even if you own your home, then the.

The state wants to own part of it, too. It seems. We feel enslaved. Maybe today somebody feels trapped in a relationship with a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and it's not really who you want to be with, but you're lonely and you feel trapped. Maybe you feel trapped by the expectations of other people around you.

Maybe you feel trapped by fear and anxiety. People feel trapped today. Maybe you feel trapped by bitterness and unforgiveness towards someone who's hurt you and you just can't let go of it. Do you ever feel these exhausted, empty, enslaved? Then I've got good news for you.

There's a better life. There's a new life. There's a good life in Jesus. And it's the only place that's found, and it's not found in all the places that people are looking. It's found in Christ alone.

In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul told them that it was being united with Christ that leads to the good life, that leads to a new life. And I believe as we look at the text today, we'll see two ways that union in Christ is indeed, what leads to that full and rich and satisfying life? So let's look at Romans chapter six, starting at verse four. Romans 6:4-11 (ESV) 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. This is God's Word. Amen.

We're looking at two ways that we can experience this new life in Christ. And if you'll look at verse eleven, you'll see that Paul, like a good preacher, has summarized it for us. The first way is this.

1. Consider yourself dead to sin in Christ.

As I was saying, look at verse eleven. Paul tells us at verse eleven, he says, so you also must consider yourselves dead to sin in Christ. It's an interesting command kind of phrase here. It's in the greek imperative voice, you must consider, you must consider. But we don't really have a word like this because it's aimed at yourself.

And so order yourself to do this. It's not somebody else telling you to do it. It's not even Paul telling us to do it. He says, when you look at your life, decide to count your old life, your former life, dead to sin, count it dead. Don't count it as a bad habit.

Don't count it as a boo boo or a mistake. Say, no, you know what? I crucify my old life. I count my old life dead in Jesus. It no longer has power over me.

This is what he says. He says, think about it. It's kind of like this accounting kind of term. Like, you know, when you get ready to get a loan from the bank, they'll ask you for your assets and your liabilities, and you look at your old life, you look at your sinful life, and he says, take it and put it in the liability column. Count it dead.

Count it as something that I no longer want to be that way. I'm counting my old life dead so it no longer has power over me. Dead to sin, literally. You see, in verse six, brought to nothing so that it no longer has power over us. In verse six, we see this and then notice this.

Here's the secret. How do I do that? How do I. How do I put to death those sin areas in my life? Let's say that you're a worry wart.

Let's say that anxiety is something that just keeps you troubled all the time. Now, you do know in the scripture that Jesus says, do not worry. And if Jesus says, don't do it, then guess what? It's not just a bad habit. It's a sin.

Worry is a sin. Do you know why worry is a sin? Because it doubts God's provision. It doubts God's power. This is why Paul says in Philippians 4:6, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." And so worry. I'm just picking one right now. I could pick any sin area. Worry is a sin.

Now how do you get over worry? You could say, well, you could say this. You know what? My mama was a worrywart. My mama's mama was a worrywart.

I come from a long line of worry warts. It's a habit I can't break. That's not counting yourself dead to it. Here's what you say. You say in Christ, I'm no longer that.

I'm now a faithful person. I'm a believer. I'm full of hope. And so I'm counting myself dead to that. It's a decision I make in Christ.

This is about union. In Christ. Notice this repeating this repetitive phrase. It's in verse four, five, six and eight. With him, you see that?

With him, with him, with him. Verse eight. Verse four. Rather, we were buried. We were buried, therefore, with him, by baptism.

Verse five. We have been united with him in a death like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him. That's in verse six. And then who him?

Who's all these him hims? Well, you get over to verse eight and you find out with Christ. With Christ. This is the secret. This is the secret.

Because Christ took on sin, death in the grave, and defeated it. With him, we can count our former life dead to sin. We can stop being what we were. We can break that addiction. We can break that habit.

We can break that bitterness. We can be set free, and we can count it dead so it no longer has power over us because we're with him. We are united. Do you see that in verse five? We are united.

We are now in union with Christ. Literally, the word united could be translated, planted together, born together. We now share the same spiritual DNA because of Christ. First of all, we are in him. It says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." So we're in Christ. We're in Christ, and this is the new reality. We are in union.

But not only are we in him, but he is in us. It says in Romans 8:10 (NLT) "And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God." This is amazing, that we are in Christ and he is in us. This is the secret.

This is the secret of union with Jesus, that we are one with him. Therefore, because he died to sin on our behalf, now we can count ourselves, we can consider ourselves dead to sin as well. We can move on from it and we can lay it aside. I don't know what you do when you get ready to go to bed at night, when you take off your clothes. Maybe some of your pajama wearers.

I don't know what you do, but when I go to bed at night, I take off what I was wearing at that point and just kind of flop it over a chair like that. And then it's waiting for me when I get up the next morning so I don't have to break in any new clothes before breakfast. I'll just go put that back on whatever's flopped over the chair, and I'll do my bible reading and have the coffee and so forth. Then I'll take a shower and go to the closet and put some new clothes on. Aren't you glad you found out what I do in the mornings?

That's Gary. Why are you telling us this? Well, we have this temptation every morning to put on our old, smelly, dirty clothes. They're comfortable, they're broken. It's easy to slip back into the old life.

It doesn't have any power over you now in Christ, but it sure is comfortable and you'll find yourself sliding right back into it. But we are to put on, like clean clothes every day. When you get up in the mornings, think about, am I counting my old life dead today? I heard Doctor Charles Stanley some years ago talk about a morning practice. He had.

And before he would get out of the bed, he'd say this. He said, "I put my hands like they were cupped down and just pour out on the bed. I would lay there and say, Lord, if there's anything between me and you, I pour it out right now. I just confess it afresh;  just bring it to my attention if there's anything I need to get cleaned up."  And he'd listen and he'd pray.

Then he said he'd do this and hold his hands on the bed, cupped up. "Now fill me afresh with your holy spirit so that I can go out and live for you today. Not my life, but your life." And so there's this tendency, we're forgetful people, and we'll slip back, but we don't have to because of Easter Sunday, because of resurrection life, because Jesus paid it all. We can count our old life dead, our sin, our sin dead.

It no longer has power over us. And so we might walk in this newness of life. Did you notice the word baptism in verse four? We had a baptism first service, and we were happy to show you the video of it. We had six people get baptized today and identify their lives with Jesus.

You'll see in Romans here that verse four began, 4 "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." Certainly this speaks of the reality that we saw at the first service today, that these people came and said, I repent of my sins. I confess Jesus as my lord and savior. And then they identified with him by having their old life buried and their new life risen to Christ.

It's a picture of what Christ has done for them and in them. And so Paul's referring to it here. But it's not just the water baptism, but it's also the spiritual reality of being baptized into the Holy Spirit so that you're born again. And Paul's referring to that, I think, as well. It says in Galatians 3:27(ESV) "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

And so we follow and we do this, verse four, so that we might walk in him. Did you see that in verse four, we might walk in him. It's not a sure thing. It's in the subjunctive voice here, the glory of the Father. We, too might walk in newness of life, that we, too might walk.

It's something you might do. You want to walk in newness of life? You can. You might do it. You know how to do it.

Count yourself dead to sin. Count that old life, and you can walk in this new life. It's available to you this newness of life. In order that you can do this, what are the results of considering yourself dead to sin? Look at verses six through seven.

The first result is your old nature is brought to nothing, literally made inoperative, inactive. The old clothes are still laying there across the chair. You can still pop them on, but you don't have to. Whereas before Christ, before you receive Christ, you had to. That's the only set of clothes you had.

That's the only life you had. But now you have available to you this new life. You can say no to it. That's one result. Here's another result.

Verse six says, you're no longer enslaved to sin. The chains of sin have been broken. You have freedom, which verse seven says, "For one who has died has been set free from sin."  Sin's penalty has been paid. You're no longer under a death penalty.

You're free from this. In Galatians 2:20 (ESV) "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."  This is the secret.

It's union with Christ. It's not trying to be like Christ. It's not trying to imitate Christ. It's not even just putting the bracelet on your arm that says WWJD. What would Jesus do?

That seems like a nice thought. But we don't have to wear the bracelet. We can have Christ living in us, and we can live in him so that we live the Christ life that he lives through us. It's union with Christ. This is the reality.

It's not trying to imitate him. It's to try to let him live his life through us and so that we yield our lives to Jesus. Why? Because we've counted our old life crucified with Jesus. We're dead to it now.

I've got on my finger a wedding ring. And this morning I talked about how that baptism is kind of like a wedding ring. You say I do first, if you'll remember how that works in a wedding ceremony. You say I do to you and to no other. I've left all other women behind, and she has left all other men behind.

And we've said only unto you. Now I count myself dead to all the other relationships. Right? You don't say these things, but that's what you should be meaning, right? And now I'm saying I do to you until death do us part.

This is the marriage vow. And then you put the wedding rings on. You can go to a jewelry store and buy a wedding ring and pop it on. That doesn't make you married. What makes you married is the act of the will saying, I do.

And then you put the wedding ring on to show everybody that you're taken. And that's what baptism is. It's a public witness of an inner change. And so that everybody sees. Now I'm claiming Jesus.

So this wedding ring, as I was referring to, has an inscription on the inside that says, RDC to GWC. Robin Depory Conner to Gary Wayne Combs. That's me. 6/2/79. By the way, this June 2 will be 45 years that she's been sticking with the old guy.

Can you believe that? What a godly woman, right? To hang with me. Now, you might not know this, but the first two times I asked Robin out, she told me no. She did.

She told me no. And, ladies, take note. That's what really made me go for her. All of a sudden, I was like, okay, Mount Everest. I'm going.

I'm going to go after this. To woman that has told me no twice. And so after she told me no the second time, I came up with a strategy. We were both music majors at rap university, and we both had to go to this concert. They always, you know, if anytime there was a concert or anything, we had to go and write a report on it or something.

And so I saw her after one of our classes, and I said, are you going to the concert tonight? And she says, of course, you know, she could be a little smart with me sometimes in those days.

And I said, well, good. We'll sit together, see what I had going there, right? She had to go anyway. Why not sit with me, right? And so she said, okay, see, I had her then.

I had her right there, and the rest is history. She told me no the first couple of times. I wonder if you've been telling Jesus no. He's been pursuing you.

You've been telling Jesus no. See, he loves you so much. When I saw Robin, I thought, wow, she's really beautiful. And then I started getting to know her and found out some things about her, that she was from a family, that they had a gospel singing group, and I was a believer, and I was like, man, she's a follower of Jesus, and she's pretty, and she's nice. I wish she'd stop telling me no, but I was just.

And I wasn't married. I was emotionally attracted, intellectually thought she was the right person. It wasn't until I, as an act of the will, asked her to marry me. And she said, I do. And I said, I do.

And then all three go together. And that's how it is with following Christ. It's about intellectually knowing who he is, that he's the son of God, that he died for his sins. It's about emotionally that the Holy Spirit's stirring you up. And maybe it's you he's stirring up right now, and you feel attracted to his message, but you're still not a believer in Jesus until you say, I do.

Yes, Jesus, I believe in you. And so are you saying no to him as he pursues you today? How many times have you said no, he must really love you, that he keeps knocking on your heart's door? This is the hard part of following Christ. For many people, it's admitting that you're a sinner and that you don't want it anymore, that you're sick and tired of being sick and tired and tired of your life, and you want to follow Jesus.

And it means counting yourself dead to sin. Which leads to the second consideration that Paul calls us to, and that's to:

2. Consider yourself alive to God in Christ.

We're back at verse eleven again, where Paul summarizes his message. He first of all told us to consider ourselves dead to sin in Christ. And then he says, consider yourselves alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Consider yourselves alive to God. This is the exciting reality that we could be experiencing, the resurrection power of Jesus living in us today. Isn't that amazing? Notice in verse four and nine it says, he's been raised. And since he's been raised, our spirits have been raised.

Now, in him it says, in verse five, he was resurrected. In verse eight it says, we can live with him. We can have this eternal life. When does eternal life begin, by the way? Does it begin after these bodies die?

And that's when eternal life begins. No. Eternal life begins at the very moment you say yes to Jesus. Because eternal life, this kind of life that Jesus is talking to us about, is not just quantity eternal, but it's also quality, full and satisfying, rich and overflowing. And it begins at the very moment you say yes to Jesus.

Notice that in verse nine it says, never die again, so that Christ's resurrection is permanent. These bodies will die, but you will never die as a believer. Your soul will move from the body immediately with the Lord. We've been talking about the cross of Jesus these past few Sundays, and we talked just a while ago about the thief on the cross who turned to Jesus. And he said, master, would you remember me when you come into your kingdom?

And Jesus turns to him, and this was the only person that he talked to, as all these others were mocking him, he turned to this person, he turned to this thief, and he says, today, truly today, you will be with me in paradise. Today, this very day, you will be with me in paradise. So here's what we know. The very moment that these bodies die, this is what death is. It's the separation of the soul from the body.

That's what it is. This body dies. Paul says, if you're a believer, Jesus says it, too. If you're a believer, it's like your body was put to sleep. It's just put to sleep until resurrection day for your body.

But the soul immediately is transferred to heaven, to what jesus called paradise when he was talking to the thief. Immediately. The book of 1 Corinthians says, "absent from the body, present with the Lord."  Close your eyes in this world, open them to the next. This is the reality.

And so never die again. Death is no longer in dominion. Did you see that? It no longer has dominion over you. He died to sin.

And then it says, verse ten, "...once for all..." You could translate that once for all of us. His death was sufficient for all of us. But it seems to be more like a timing word here when you study on it, because in contrast to all of the priests and in the Old Testament, all the little lambs and all the offerings that they had to do all the, you know, every year, on the day of atonement time, year after year, none of those sufficed. Once for all.

But when jesus came, his death was sufficient for all time. It doesn't need to be redone. This is why we as Protestants have an empty cross, is because there's no reason to have him on the cross in our, even our symbology, because we know it's once for all, he never has to do it again for us. Did you see that in verse ten? Once for all, he's got it done for us so we don't have to add to it.

He's done all that's necessary so that we can live and be alive to God. What are the benefits of this resurrection like his? Did you know, someday you get a resurrection body? As a believer, I'm glad about that, because I've just about wore this whole thing out.

I mean, I've had good time with it. I've played football, and I've run motorcycles. And I've done all kinds of things, and I won't even tell you all the things. The cliff diving and things I did as a teenager. The thing you didn't want to say to me as a teenager was, I dare you.

Famous last words. And so my body's getting older and it's run down, but, you know, praise God. You get a resurrection body. What will that body be like? It'll be like Jesus.

He's the firstborn from among the dead. His body is the prototype. Who wants a new body? I do. I want a new body that built for heaven, built for forever, built for eternity, to be in the presence of God.

That's one of the benefits. You get a resurrection body, you get to live with Christ in a place he prepared for us, never to die again. Death no longer has dominion. And you're alive to God, spiritually alive to God. Did you realize that the world is filled with the walking dead?

Because we're all born with a body, a physical body. We're all born with a soul, but we're also all born, ever since Adam and Eve, spiritually dead, separated from God until you receive Jesus, and then you're spiritually born again. So then you're made alive spiritually. It says in Colossians 2:13-14 (ESV) "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…"

That's what it means. To be born again is to be made spiritually alive. Because of Adam's and because of his sin, all of humanity has been born, separated from God, spiritually dead, apart from God. But in Jesus, made alive again. In Colossians, we are encouraged here by Paul.

He says,Colossians 3:1-4 (ESV) "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."  This is a positional truth.

Experientially, we're right here. I'm standing right here. You're seated right there, right? And you're like, I know where I'm at. I'm right here.

But did you know, positionally, you're already with Christ. If you're a believer, you're already there. It's so sure that you're already there, just waiting for the rest of you to catch up, because I'm in Christ and he's in me. This is the union of Christ that we're talking about. And because of this union in Christ, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I can count my former life dead, my former sinful life dead, and I can count my new life alive to God in Christ. This is the new reality that we have. Spiritual life flows out of union with Christ Jesus. This is what we're talking about this morning as we remember the empty tomb, as we remember the empty cross, as we remember how Jesus overcame sin, death, and the grave. When you were watching the video of those being baptized today, I'm sure that it was perhaps encouraging to you, maybe even a little emotional to you.

But for some of you, it may have been a stirring where you went. You know, I've never done that, or I did it when I was little, but I didn't really. They baptized me when I was a baby, or I was little, and everybody else seemed to be doing it, so I just kind of did it. But I haven't really lived for Jesus on this Easter Sunday when we all are just so excited to be together and we can't wait to go to grandma's house and have, you know, a meal together, and we're all dressed up in our nicer clothes. But what if today was the day?

You said, I wanted to make the decision to follow Jesus today. Intellectually, I'm here because I believe that he died for sins. He was raised from the third day, and he lives today. That's why I'm here. I believe that intellectually and emotionally, I'm stirred up when I see baptisms and when I hear you talking.

But as an act of the will, I've never said yes. I've never said, jesus, come and save me. I've never been baptized. Really. I've never made a commitment.

Are you still saying no? Every time he asks, it says in Romans 10:9 (ESV) "...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans, chapter ten, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, that means just to say with your mouth, Jesus, you're the son of God. You're the Lord. You're the king. You're the boss.

Come and be the master of my life. Have you ever said that? And believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. So you believe it. So you say, Jesus, you're the master.

I believe in my heart. God raised you. Then maybe you'll be saved. That's what it says, right? Maybe you'll be saved.

First you got to join the church, then you'll be saved. You got to go live a good life. Then you'll be saved. It doesn't say any of those things, does it? It says if you'll confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

You know why that's true? It's because he did all the work. He did all the work. He did all the work. And it's our part to say yes to the gift.

He's knocking at the door. Will you consider yourself dead to sin in Christ. And yourself alive to God in Christ? Let's pray. Lord Jesus, thank you for your word.

Thank you that we can confess you now. You've been pursuing us. I pray first of all for that person that's never done that. You've never said yes to Jesus. You've never said I do to Jesus.

Would you do it right now? Right in your seat? You can do it. You don't have to wait. Prayer is just an expression of your faith.

You can pray with me right where you are. Dear Lord Jesus, pray with me. Dear Lord Jesus, I'm a sinner. I repent of my sin. And I turn to you and I confess you as lord.

And I believe that you died for my sin. That you were raised from the grave on the third day. And that you live today. Come and live in me. Forgive me of my sin.

Adopt me into your family. I want to be a child of God. And I want to follow you as my lord and savior the rest of my days. If you'll pray that prayer of faith, believing a transaction will take place. You'll be made spiritually alive.

And you'll live the new life that Jesus promised. I'm praying for you right now as you pray along. And then there are those here that have never really been able to say no to an addiction. Or no to some habit or some hurt. Maybe it's a forgiveness thing.

You're a believer, but you've never been able to move out of that place of bondage. Let's just pray together about that right now. Lord Jesus, I believe I can do all things through you. Help me to count myself dead. Consider myself dead to this old addiction, this old habit.

This old place of brokenness. Lord, I believe in you. And I trust you. And I lay it to rest in you. Because of your resurrection life living in me.

I pray it now in Jesus name. Amen.