I was standing in the elevator of a hospital when a woman, noticing that I was wearing a suit and tie with an ID badge clipped to my suit jacket asked me, “What kind of doctor are you, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Now, I just can’t let these kinds of questions go by without having a little fun. I’m sorry, but you gotta have fun in life once in a while. Like the time when I was in a home improvement store and I was wearing khaki pants and a blue oxford shirt, the exact same thing that the employees of the store were wearing.
A customer came up to me and asked me where the power tools were. And of course, I couldn’t resist, so I said, “That would be aisle 23, across from the light bulbs.” As he was walking away, I pointed toward a real employee and said, "Actually, ask that guy there. He can help."
So anyway, I’m on this hospital elevator and this woman asks me what kind of doctor I am. And I said, “I’m a spiritual surgeon and I operate on sinners.” She actually thought that was kind of funny.
But truth be told, I think pastors are kind of like doctors, because in a way we’re both in the health profession, and we both care about the well being of the people we see.
Think of all of the people that Jesus healed during his ministry. It seems like he was constantly laying hands on people who had infirmities and diseases so that they would be healed. You can imagine how the crowds were drawn to Jesus because of his ability to bring healing.
Today, as part of our sermon series on the crosses of Jesus, we focus on the Tau cross. Tau, spelled, “T-A-U.” And the particular meaning of this cross is that it is commonly associated with God’s gift of healing.
I’d like to have us think about three types of healing that are associated with this particular shape of Jesus’ cross.
Physical, Emotional, & Mental Healing
The first aspect of the Tau cross is that God desires for us to receive physical, emotional, and mental healing. In the Book of Numbers from the Old Testament, there’s this strange story, at least I think it’s kind of strange, where Moses is leading the people of Israel through the wilderness toward the Promised Land, but along the way, they complain and they begin to stop trusting in God and Moses, their leader. And it’s to a point where there is a real possibility that the people whom God had rescued from Egypt will turn back.
As it becomes apparent to God that the people might totally give up on following Moses through the wilderness, God sends poisonous snakes which end up killing some of the Israelites. But God also provides Moses with a remedy for these poisonous snake bites by having Moses make a bronze serpent, which he then wraps around a pole and he tells the people to look at the serpent so they can be healed.
Now, if you’re like me, that might sound like a strange way for someone to be healed from a snake bite, but this is the image that various medical organizations use even today as a sign of healing. It’s the symbol of serpents wrapped around a pole.
But it wasn’t the bronze serpent itself that brought healing to the people. The point of this story is that it was the power of God through the symbol of the bronze serpent wrapped around the pole that brought healing. This just goes to show the power of symbols. Just by looking at this serpent on the pole, the people were healed.
During the time of the bible, it was believed that the type of pole that Moses used to bring healing to the people was in the shape of a capital “T.” Just like the medical profession has picked up on this symbol to represent healing, the Tau cross also reminds us that God wants to bring physical, emotional, and mental healing in our lives.
The Tau cross can also remind us of how Jesus healed people during his ministry. In the Book of James, we are told that we are to anoint those who are sick so that they can be healed. The anointing of oil has a long history of God’s desire to bring healing in our lives.
I have a friend who’s a pastor and he told me about a time when he went to the hospital to visit a member of his church. He happened to have a little container of anointing oil with him in his car and he thought that he would take it with him and offer it to the person he was going to visit. He doesn’t always bring anointing oil with him, but for some reason, he felt nudged to do so for this particular visit.
This elderly woman ended up appreciating this opportunity to receive an anointing and a brief prayer for healing. My friend then told me that he left the hospital and he had about a twenty minute drive back to his church. When he was about halfway back to the church, he got a call on his cell phone.
It was the secretary at the church. Evidently, the son of this elderly woman who had just arrived to the hospital saw my friend’s business card which had the church phone number listed on it. This man called the church to see if my friend would be able to come back to the hospital. His mother had told him that she had been anointed with oil and because he was going through some medical problems at the time, he wanted to be anointed as well.
And even though my friend was already several minutes away, he turned around at the nearest exit and returned to the hospital and anointed this man and offered a prayer for healing.
But it’s not just about physical healing because we know that God also cares about our emotional and mental healing as well. A little later in our worship service, an invitation will be extended to come forward and receive an anointing of oil. Like this man in the hospital this might be a good opportunity for us to receive an anointing of oil from one of our Stephen Minister Leaders so that we can receive God’s healing presence and love.
The Tau cross reminds us of the pole that Moses used to bring healing to the people of Israel and of Jesus ministry of healing. God wants to bring healing in our lives as well.
A second aspect of the Tau cross is that it is a powerful symbol of God’s desire for us to receive spiritual healing.
Whenever Jesus heals someone, the word that the scriptures use for healing is the Greek word “sozo.” It’s a word that doesn’t just mean physical healing, although it can have that meaning, but it also can refer to spiritual healing. And sometimes it’s a little ambiguous as to which meaning is intended. Is it referring to physical healing or is it that the person received spiritual healing and received salvation? Or maybe even both?
One of the reasons why the word can have these different meanings is because of the Jewish and biblical understanding that we’re not just physical beings or emotional beings or spiritual beings. All of these dimensions are an important part of who we are.
So when God brings healing in our lives, it’s not only about one dimension of our lives. It’s about all of who we are.
One day, a man named Nicodemus came to Jesus to ask him some questions and Jesus ended up talking to Nicodemus about the importance of spiritual healing. Jesus said, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.”
And Nicodemus is confused by all of this, thinking that it’s impossible to go through a second birth when you’ve already been born. Guess how Jesus tries to help Nicodemus understand what it means to have a spiritual healing or a second birth?
He refers back to that story from the Book of Numbers which we already looked at a little earlier, the story about the poisonous snakes and the bronze serpent being put on a pole and lifted up to bring healing to the people.
Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
What’s Jesus talking about here? He’s talking about the time when he will be crucified on a cross. He will be lifted up on the cross and take upon himself all of the sins and the evil that the world can throw at him, and through his death, and as we place our faith in him, we can receive eternal life. We can receive a spiritual healing in which we are born again and saved from our sins.
And right after Jesus uses this analogy of comparing his death on the cross with the serpent on the pole story from the Book of Numbers, we get this wonderful verse that many of us know by heart.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
This is the good news of the Christian faith. That in any given moment, you and I can respond to God’s invitation by looking at the cross and what Jesus did for us and be born again, and receive eternal life.
As C.S. Lewis, the great Christian thinker of the last century once said, “It can happen today, if you’d like.”
All we need to do is to look to the cross, turn from our sins, trust in Christ, and be born again.
The story is told of three men in France who were walking through the countryside together. And the one man kept going on and on how the problems of the country could be blamed on the church and the Christian faith.
Every time they would see a church, this man would point to it and say, “That’s the problem with our world today. Religion.”
As they were walking by a cathedral, the man started complaining about the Christian faith again as he pointed toward the building in disgust.
One of the men said, “Well, if you feel that way, why don’t you just go into that cathedral and tell the priest what you’ve been telling us?” And the man said, “Alright, I will.”
So he went inside the cathedral, found the priest and told him what he had been telling his friends all day long, that the Christian faith was just a bunch of superstitions and that the church was the reason the country was in such bad shape.
The priest listened patiently as the man went on and on with his complaints. When the man was finally done, the priest said, “Before you leave here today, I want to offer a challenge to you. I challenge you to go into the sanctuary and look up at the large crucifix with Jesus hanging on the cross, and I want you to say these words, ‘Jesus Christ died on the cross for me and it doesn’t mean a thing to me.’”
And the man said, “Sure, I’ll take up that challenge.” And so he went into the sanctuary as the priest instructed him to do, and he went up the full length of the aisle until he made it to the large crucifix. And after he stared at it for a few moments he said, “Jesus Christ died on the cross for me and it doesn’t mean a thing to me.”
He went back to the priest and told him that he did exactly what he had told him to do. As he was about to leave the cathedral, this wise priest said, “I dare you to do it again.” And the man shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sure, why not?”
Like the first time, this man slowly walked up the long middle aisle and when he finally made it to the foot of the crucifix, he stared into the face of the crucified Jesus again. And as his eyes were fixed on the face of Jesus with the crown of thorns and his pierced body, he began to say those same words, “Jesus Christ died on the cross for me.” He stopped for a moment and then he started over. “Jesus Christ died on the cross…for me. And, and it doesn’t…” He couldn’t continue.
He stood there motionless and then he slowly knelt down there in that huge cathedral and he began to cry.
The tau cross is a cross that reminds us that if we want to receive spiritual healing, we are to look to the cross and be born again.
The tau cross reminds us that God wants us to experience physical, emotional, and mental healing. It reminds us that God wants us to experience spiritual healing where we are born again and again and again and again.
Offer God's Healing for the World
And number three, the tau cross reminds us that God is calling each one of us to offer the healing love of Jesus Christ to the people around us.
The Tau cross is often associated with St. Francis of Assisi who lived during the Middle Ages and who ministered to those who were sick and especially to those who suffered from the skin disease of leprosy.
St. Francis chose the Tau cross as his emblem because it represented life-time fidelity in being a servant of Jesus Christ for the sake of others. It was a reminder of his pledge to serve the least and the outcast of his day.
St. Francis even had a special habit or robe made so that every time he would stretch out his arms, his body would take the shape of the tau cross, which reminded him that he was to be the hands and feet of Christ for everyone around him.
When we look around us, we can’t help but to see the many opportunities to serve those who are in need of God’s healing.
Maybe today, the reason you decide to come forward to be anointed with oil is because of this third aspect of the Tau cross. You want to be anointed to be sent forth from this place as one who offers God’s healing presence to those around you, especially to those who need it the most.
Whatever reason you choose to come forward to receive an anointing of oil, whether it’s to receive physical, emotional, or mental healing, or if it’s to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, or if it’s to become one of God’s healing agents in a broken and hurting world, I invite you to come.
Come and experience the healing presence of Jesus Christ in your life.
Crosses of Jesus: The Tau Cross
Small Group Questions
Numbers 21:4-9 & John 3:14-21
March 19, 2017
This week in our series on the different crosses of Jesus, we focus on the TAU cross. This cross is in the shape of a capital "T" since it is believed that this was the shape of the pole that Moses used to lift into the air for people to see and be healed from their poisonous snake bikes (See Numbers 21:4-9.) The medical profession has picked up on this Old Testament story and use this as their symbol.
Have you ever felt that God healed you from an illness or disease?
The biblical word that is used for "healing" can refer to physical as well as spiritual healing.
Have you ever felt that God has healed you, "spiritually?" How has this kind of healing been a blessing in your life?
Pastor Robert shared how St. Francis of Assisi who is famous for how he offered God's healing love to the outcasts of his day, adopted the TAU cross because it represents God's healing for all people. He even had a special robe made so that when he would stretch out his arms, his body would form the TAU cross.
Share how you might offer yourself in the shape of the cross by offering God's healing love to others through the church.
Our Gospel reading offers us one of the most recognizable verses in the entire bible which is John 3:16.
Read John 3:16 together out-loud:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”