THE CROSS OF CHRIST, PART 6

The Offense of the Cross

For consider, what have the philosopher, the writer and the critic of this world to show for all their wisdom? Has not God made the wisdom of this world look foolish? for it was after the world in its wisdom failed to know God, that he in his wisdom chose to save all who would believe by the “simple-mindedness” of the Gospel message. For the Jews ask for miraculous proofs and the Greeks an intellectual panacea, but all we preach is Christ crucified—a stumbling block to the Jews and sheer nonsense to the Gentiles, but for those who are called, whether Jews or Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. And this is really only natural, for God’s foolishness” is wiser than men, and his “weakness” is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:22—24, JBP)

A really interesting phenomenon takes place when a believer and non-believer look at the Cross of Christ. The believer sees a sign of ultimate victory and final salvation. But the unbeliever sees the exact opposite. To him, the Cross of Christ is nothing but two pieces of wood nailed together with a some poor schlemiel hanging on it. To the unbeliever, the Cross offends his sensibilities for it makes no sense. This was something Paul discovered and mentioned to his friends in Galatia:

And as for me, my brothers, if I were still advocating circumcision (as some apparently allege!), why am I still suffering persecution? I suppose if only I would recommend this little rite all the hostility which the preaching of the cross provokes would disappear! (Galatians 5:11, JBP)

Yes, sometimes the preaching of the Cross of Christ provokes hostility, and if we are faithful to the truth of the Cross, sometimes we will offend people because, to some people who are trying to be saved by their works, the Cross of Christ which we cherish so much, is a stumbling block. Why is this so? It’s because the Cross of Christ reveals how misguided and how wrong those people are, and nobody likes like to be told they are wrong! The Cross proclaims freedom and liberty from the very things these people are doing to gain salvation.

But to those who have seen the light; to those who have recognized the necessity of “grace alone” in their salvation, the Cross of Christ stands for life and liberty. How sad it is that some folks will stumble over the Cross into Hell.

1. Why is the Cross such a stumbling block to some?

This is actually a very good question because to genuine believers, the Cross should remove the stumbling block of sin from our lives. How, then, does it become the stumbling block?

Death is not an attractive thing to behold. There is nothing nice about watching a loved one die. But Christ’s death was the most pathetic death of all. It’s a staggering thought that the sinless, perfect Son of God should die such a horrible, scandalous death on behalf of the people who killed him. A more staggering thought, however, is that all this took place in the providence of a sovereign God. The tiniest detail of the Cross of Christ was planned and executed according to the will of our Heavenly Father.

When this fact is not understood by people, then the Cross is looked at as a shameful, tragic thing. Or worse, the One on the Cross is looked at as a sad victim of His own principles. “He must have been a good man,” they say, “But he should have kept his mouth shut!”

We expect worldly people to think this way, but there are some in our own ranks who look with some disdain on the Cross. While paying lip service to it, they see nothing attractive in the Man who hung on it. They are repelled at the “blood” that flowed from the Cross. They shun it; they don’t preach it. And they certainly don’t appreciate it. There is no place in their lives for such a barbaric thing. The Cross of Christ can even be offensive to religious people.

Remember what the Scribes and Pharisees said?

Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. (Mark 14:32, NIV84)

Like a lot of religious people today, they wanted the Christ without the Cross. But what they don’t understand is that in the great eternal purpose of God, the Christ and Cross will forever be nailed together. The Man at God the Father’s right hand today bears the scars that He got when He was crucified. Who is He? Heaven calls Him “the Lamb that was slain!” Nobody can separate the Cross from the Man who hung on it.

But we try. When Jesus was within sight of His Cross, some of His very own disciples fled from Him. The Cross of Christ was, is, and will always be a stumbling block to anybody who is either self-satisfied or satisfied with a “religious life” because those people are not willing to be crucified with Christ. They will, however, will be in for a shock one of these days:

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35, NIV84)

2. Who is stumbling over the Cross?

Let’s go back to what Paul said:

we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles… (1 Corinthians 1:23, NIV8)

Neither the proud religious person nor the worldly wise person can pass by the Christ without it affecting them in some way. The two classes of people Paul mentions—the Jew and the Gentile—represent, in a typical way, two classes of people in the world today.

The Jew

Whom does “the Jew” represent? He is the one who was brought up in the ways of religion. Dragged to church every Sunday, he never missed a Sunday school lesson, sat through endless sermons, sang in the choir, is in the habit to this very day of saying his prayers at night and occasionally before a meal. He writes his weekly check to the church and is very orthodox in his beliefs. He doesn’t fellowship with men of “questionable character,” like drunkards or IRS agents. “The Jew” today is an upright citizen; a son of the church. He is a religious man, but the Cross of Christ means very little to him, beyond what he can remember from the Westminster Confession of Faith. He hears about it and may be moved by it, but he doesn’t really see a present need for it.

To this religious man, the Cross is stumbling block. Sermons about the shed blood of Jesus are kind of nasty to him. His mind wanders when the preacher teaches about the Cross. This oh-so-righteous church member has no sense of his own sin and no sense of his need of the atoning Blood of Christ. His life is together; his needs are few, and he certainly doesn’t need much of what God is offering him.

For this kind of person, to open up to the reality of the Cross is to admit his own shortcomings. It would mean the crucifixion of his own goodness. And this would be intolerable to “the Jew.”

The Gentile

Who is “the Gentile”? He is the educated, worldly wise man who knows philosophy and is well-read. To this man, religion is good for those who need it, but he certainly doesn’t need that kind of crutch to get him through his day. In Paul’s day, the egg-heads who lived in Athens were the perfect representatives of this kind of person.

All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas. (Acts 17:21, NIV84)

The so-called “wizards of smart” who think they have a lock on life certainly don’t need the Cross. These are those who have great accomplishments to be proud of; they’re successful in career and marriage. The wisdom of preaching is irrelevant to “the gentile.” The Cross either makes a good doorstop to these people or it repulses them.

3. A real view of the Cross

So, both these classes of people, the religious and the haplessly lost, have their skewed views of the Cross. But what is correct way to view the Cross?

It is the absolute power of God.

The Cross of Christ is the power of God on display and in operation for the salvation of the world. In the Cross, we are able to see all the power that God can bring to bear for the redemption of man from sin and death. The power of God revealed in the creation of the universe pales when compared to the power of God demonstrated by the Cross of Christ.

It is the power of God for us who believe.

This is what Paul told the Ephesians (1:19). We cannot save ourselves; it takes God’s power manifested in and through the Cross to do that. It was the death of His Son that released His power, and to believe in that singular death is to put yourself in the very position to receive God’s almighty power. It is His power that delivers from your sin into His presence.

It is the wisdom of God.

God’s plan for the redemption of sinful man was so perfect—so intricate—that it can only be appreciated in light of the Cross of Christ. That Cross is the full revelation of not only God’s love, His power, but of His wisdom. To look to that Cross is to receive knowledge of God available only to those looking to His Cross.

That’s why no man can find God without Christ. That’s why you can’t have a Christ-less, Cross-less Christianity. Without the Cross of Christ, Christianity is just another religion, full of good ideas and philosophies, but completely void of power.

When we understand the sheer importance of the Cross, we will understand and be able to say along with Paul:

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NIV84)

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