Sons of the Cross

In recent days, in association with the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, chaos has once again broken out across the Middle East. One of the first parts of the chaos was a mob assault on the US Embassy in Cairo. As events have unfolded, including the murder of the American ambassador to Libya, what seemed like a just another anti-American protest has taken on darker hues.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of this episode there reporters quoted Egyptian protesters to be chanting“Sons of the Cross, anything but our beloved Mohammed.” This a wonderful and striking expression with which I was not familiar. It made me wonder if those Egyptian Muslims may, ironically, pointed us to a great truth about ourselves.

It is not a phrase that appears much in academic or even popular literature. A search of three major databases produced only one result. So, I consulted an Egyptian friend who explained that Coptic (Egyptian Orthodox) Christians have a small tattoo of the cross on their wrists and that Christians are often referred to by Egyptian Muslims as “sons of the cross.”

It is an almost apostolic-era phenomenon: the critics of Jesus’ disciples invent a name, which they intend as an insult and believers take it up as a badge of honor (Acts 11:26; 1Pet 4:16). Where the cross was a scandal to the Romans and a cause of offense to Jews (Gal 5:11), for Paul it became a source and basis for boasting (Gal 6:14).

How could something so disgusting as a bloody cross, the Roman instrument of capital punishment, become a source of confidence? Because it represented the finished work of God the Son, “who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is [now] seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).

For believers in the crucified, naked, and humiliated Christ, his cross is the symbol of our new identity, of our union with his obedient shame and death for us. He was crucified outside the camp (Heb 13:13) where the ritually unclean things were discarded. He was made to be unclean, to be sin for us, that we might become (by grace alone, through faith alone) the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21). As a symbol the cross is what literary scholars call a synecdoche, a part for the whole. It represents not only his “passion” at the end of his life (Latin, passio = to suffer) but also his active obedience before and during the passion (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 37). He suffered as he obeyed and he obeyed as he suffered and the cross was the culmination of it all. Paradoxically, the cross was not only his humiliation but also his exaltation.

“‘and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’  He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:32-33)

The mob shouted “Sons of the Cross!” and indeed we are. Those who have been given new life, who have been given the gift of faith, through which we are united to Christ (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A 30), are his sons, by adoption (Rom 9:4; Eph 1:5), and if so they are truly Sons of the Cross. We can be thankful today for the mysterious providence of God whereby the angry chants of Egyptian Muslims have become a great reminder of God’s undeserved favor to helpless sinners.

12 comments

  1. Sons of the Cross, take up your electric chair “and follow Me.”

    The shame of the cross… our glory and boast!

  2. “Sons of the cross” is a good name, no doubt. But it’s misapplied when used indiscriminately toward Americans, who are overwhelmingly un-Christian. Of course, it is a popular Muslim misconception that Europe and North America are Christian lands.

  3. Yeah, I’ve seen it. NOT worth looking up. Stupid and profane. Imagine Will Farrell acting silly pretending to be Mohammad.

    It’s worth mentioning that the Egyptian Copts are monophysites, having split off the catholic Church in the 5th cent as a result of their refusal to accept the Formula of Chalcedon.

    Also very interesting is the holiday that they celebrate every Sept 11th.

    “The martyrs are embedded in the Coptic calendar, which is dated from AD 284, in commemoration of the martyrs killed for practicing their faith. In that year, the Roman emperor Diocletian began a wave of persecution that left about 144,000 Egyptian Christians dead. It lasted until 311, when his successor declared an era of toleration. Today Copts begin a new year of the martyrs each 11 September, when they remember the defiance of the early martyrs who maintained their faith in the face of death.”

    There aren’t many Christians in the Islamic world. Muslims have a hard time distinguishing between different strands of Christianity, just as we have trouble distinguishing different sects of Islam (mostly because we don’t care to). Perhaps it’s the case that most Muslims think Sept 11th is a Christian holiday commemorating the deaths of these many Christian martyrs. Put that together with the fact that Muslims think America in particular, and the West more generally, is basically Christian. Perhaps the attacks of 9/11 were meant to be a deliberate attack on Christianity, adding to the number of martyrs killed on the very date that we supposedly mourn the loss of those martyrs killed so long ago.

    The irony is that we in the west don’t celebrate Sept 11 as a Christian holiday, so we didn’t get the point. But I don’t doubt the Egyptian Copts understood it.

    And I think that’s the lens through which we ought to view the most recent attacks. The Muslims view themselves as being in a war against Christianity, which for them is political as much as religious. Remember, in Muslim countries, the separation of Church and state that we hold sacred just doesn’t make sense. They can’t really distinguish between President Obama and the Pope. They’re both Christians in charge of Christianity.

    Do you remember the Borg from Star Trek? That was that scary hive-like, collective consciousness possessing alien race with the cube shaped space ship. When they attacked various civilizations, they absorbed the survivors into their collective. Remember their motto? “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”

    It is a very, very common error to attribute Borg-like attributes to those who are “other”, particularly if they are your rivals. Muslims do this to Christians, assuming that we are all acting in concert. In fact, they do this to the entire West, especially the US and Israel, and assume that we’re all part of a gigantic religious-political hive-like monolith.

    We do the same thing to them, of course. How many Americans, having witnessed the attacks in Libya and Egypt, are able to say, “Well, that’s just a part of the Islamic community, not all Muslims, not all Arabs”? More likely Americans will react with statements like, “They’re all crazy!” or “They’re all bloodthirsty!” or “Let’s just nuke the whole Middle East!”

    This error of attributing Borg-like powers to others, especially the enemy, is a well known bias in intelligence analysis that analysts strive to avoid. It happens as naturally as breathing. It’s the path of least intellectual resistance. It’s no wonder at all that Muslims would assume that since the Coptic Christians, with whom they have the most experience, celebrate Sept 11th as a day to honor martyrs, that all Christians, indeed, the entire West as a whole, would do so as well.

    That explains why they were at the US Embassy, calling out to those inside by a name they have given to Egyptian Copts.

    And now the original attacks of 9/11 make sense, and the most recent attacks as well. Islam is at war with Christianity, which it perceives as the West.

  4. Here’s the latest from the AP. It’s a mixed story. He’s being questioned by the Feds but it’s over whether he violated the conditions of his parole. He was convicted a financial crimes and one of the conditions is that he can’t use the internet w/o prior approval from his PO. 1Peter 4:14-16 comes to mind:

    14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

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