Monday, September 28, 2009
The Offense of the Cross
Paul refers to the cross of Christ in a curious way-
Galatians 5:11a In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.
This designation by Paul has caused me to reflect on three ways the cross of Christ is offensive to men and women today.
1. The Cross is offensive because it seems so primitive.
Sophisticated, modern man looks at the notion of one man dying for the rest as too simple, too primitive. Pompous, contemporary man looks at the account of Christ dying at the hands of an religiously zealous, unenlightened, unsophisticated mob as so terribly un-evolved. Present self-made man, is offended by the idea that he is in need of a sacrifice by someone else, especially someone living in the backward times of the first century Greco-Roman world. Many people today think humanity has progressed past the simple religious ways of the ancients, we’re so much smarter now. Everything was so violent back then, such a primordial, prehistoric message of a substitutionary atonement. The message of the cross is for the simple-minded. Sophisticated, advanced modern people, who can truly think and rationalize, can see the primitive, mythical nature of the story of Christ’s crucifixion and thus write off it’s importance.
Of course, Paul had “wise” people living in his day also. To whom he referred in his letter to the Corinthian Church-
1 Cor 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing...
2. The Cross is offensive because of it’s violence
Plain and simple- the cross is a symbol of torture, pain, and agony. The cross rightly conjures an image grotesque and inhuman. Modern forms of execution are relatively clean and neat- lethal injection is so benign, a person sleeps. Even hanging or firing squad provides instant, almost painless death. Crucifixion, by any comparison, is barbaric. The Romans expertly crafted the most extreme form of torture and death ever known and used it on Jesus Christ. The Cross was a form of torture and execution that brought a person to the edge of blacking out so as to cause the most pain and agony that could be experienced for the longest amount of time. Virtually every way a person could feel physical pain was accounted for when devising crucifixion: torn muscles, bruised tissue, pierced nerves, lacerated skin, terrible blood loss, dehydration, multiple dislocated joints, and a slow asphyxiation that would take hours, sometimes even days. All this distress while on display naked and under extreme psychological torture for the duration. Birds of prey pecking and feeding, insects biting, the sun beating down, producing a longing to die that would not come any time soon. If not fortunate enough to die before a certain deadline (in the case of Christ, the Sabbath day), you would have your lower legs clubbed and broken at the shins to hasten your demise.
Indeed, the cross is offensive to so many because it is so brutal. It depicts something so seemingly inhuman. The history of the cross and the actuality of Christ’s torment and death there is not often denied, however the relationship of the cross to us (man) is widely rejected or not considered. Many in our day will say, from their suburban settings no doubt, we have overcome such a violent, bloody, violent concept. As if we live in a peaceful, non-violent world, many modern men find the cross offensive because of how violent it was.
3. The Cross of Christ is offensive because it declares something about us we do not want to hear
The Cross of Christ declares that our sin is so great that it requires the ultimate punishment, and we do not want to hear or admit that. The Cross of Christ declares that our sin was so great that only One who has ever lived could shoulder it’s burden for us. We cannot save ourselves. The Cross of Christ declares that our sin brought about the necessity of the violence that came down on Christ and we could do nothing to improve upon it. The Cross of Christ is a message of complete sufficiency in Christ and total depravity and bankruptcy in us-that’s what is so offensive about the Cross. The Cross is an offense to the self-righteous. The man or woman who is relying on their own imagined strength for salvation, does not like the doctrine of the cross.
Charles Spurgeon spoke of how the Cross offends from the perspective of the preacher preaching the Cross:
“But if he starts to cast the sinner down in the dust, and to teach what Christ himself taught, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him;” and that, in the Scriptures, all men are declared to be “dead in transgressions and sins;” then the proud sinner will turn away, and say, “I am not going to be so insulted, as to have all my powers leveled to the ground! Am I to be made into a mere machine, or into a piece of clay, and to lie passive in the Potter’s hands? I will not submit to such an indignity.” If the minister will give him a little to do himself, and let him sacrifice a little to his own idol, he will drink down the false doctrine as the ox drinks down water; but since we tell him he is powerless, like the poor bleeding man when the Samaritan met him, he says, “I will have nothing to do with you.”
The Cross of Christ is offensive because it declares something about us we do not want to hear- we are sinners and only God can save us.
Indeed, considered personally- I am such a heinous sinner that saving me requires the punishment of Christ on the Cross and I can add nothing to it because I have nothing to add. I’m a poor sinner, and only Jesus Christ is everything to me.
So, Paul's reference to the "offense" of the cross makes good sense, as it relates to the perishing who do not believe. But for me, who believes (by God's grace), the cross means eternal life. All praise to Him.
1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.