In my work life, I deal a lot with branding. The company I work for helps communities to find and build their brand, so I do a lot of writing about branding, product development, that kind of thing. A lot of what we have to do is educate our clients about what a brand really is, and what it isn't. One of our biggest messages with new clients is that branding is not just a logo. A logo supports your brand, but it isn't your brand.
However, in cases of extremely well known brands, the logo does become synomous with the brand itself. Think the Nike 'swoosh', Mickey Mouse ears, or the big McDonald's "M". You see the symbol, you know exactly what it stands for, and what the brand is promising in terms of the product or experience. It takes a lot of work (and a whole lot of money) for a company to build a brand that is so universally recognizable. Companies like Nike, Disney and McDonald's have poured millions of dollars (at least) into their branding campaigns, working for decades to build a brand, and a logo (symbol) that is instantly recognizable and understood by the masses.
But they've got nothin' on the cross.
The greatest branding campaign the world has ever seen wasn't hatched in a conference room in some high rise building with a bunch of suits and creative types bantering ideas back and forth. It didn't come from a guy designing stuff on his Mac. Nobody paid a flashy company millions of dollars to come up with and execute a carefully planned strategy designed to sell products.
In the time of Jesus, crucifixion was not just a death sentence. It was a painful, humiliating, shameful death sentence. The cross then would have been a symbol of shame, of worthlessness, of torture and death. Jesus was sentenced to die on the cross, not just to execute him, but to humiliate him. He was hoisted up there to not only deprive him of his life, but his dignity - and the dignity of his followers as well. Their leader, their great rabbi in whom they put their faith, was stripped, beaten, and killed like a common criminial.
What a wonder it is that today we drive by nearly any Christian church and see a cross. What was once a symbol of death and humiliation has become the most recongizable, powerful symbol of Christ Jesus. We wear the cross around our necks, we display them in our homes and in our churches. We process a crucifix up the aisle at mass, displaying it at the center of our worship. Even the most austere churches who have rejected any ornamentation usually still display a cross.
The cross today is the ultimate symbol of God's grace, mercy, and unconditional, unending love. It reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus and the salvation God offers us (for free, by the way - you can't get a better deal than that). As if the story of Jesus needed anything to make it more incredible, He took something that was a symbol of shame and death and reformed it into the symbol of love and salvation.
The cross has become something beautiful, something extraordinary. And the fact that Jesus' act of dying on that cross, and rising again to new life, took a symbol that was so negative and made it the ultimate positive is just the tiniest hint at how powerful God really is. It gives us the smallest of glimpses into the power Jesus has to change the world. If He can take one little symbol of death and transform it into the ultimate symbol of salvation and life, imagine what He can do if we let Him in our hearts.