The Offence of the Cross
There is a tendency today to try to please everyone and to remove from the gospel all that would offend. Becoming a Christian is regarded as easy and the modern evangelist struggles not to upset people or make them feel guilty. Christianity is commended as a good option. Now, some Christians are offensive in their ways. They are constantly making enemies and hurting people. There is a belligerence and unpleasantness about them. Dealing with them is like embracing a hedgehog! That of course is wrong. Christians should be the kindest, gentlest, and most patient people in the world. But even when they are that, they will be hated. If we follow Christ closely, we will be rejected just as He was. The loveliest true Christian will be despised by the unregenerate. While labouring to overcome any offensiveness we must at the same time heed the warning of Paul. Do not cause the offence of the cross to cease (Gal.5:11). In this article we would like to examine what is “the offence of the cross”. In the Epistle to the Galatians there is a contest between works religion and grace religion. The Christians were in danger of being “bewitched” (3:1). They threatened to give up liberty for bondage (5:1), the faith of Christ for ceremonial legalism (2:16) and life in the Spirit for the lust of the flesh (5:16). This epistle is about the superiority of the gospel of grace, God’s way of salvation, and the uselessness of man's efforts to save himself. Jesus had said: “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Mt.10:38), and “No man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn.14:6). By calling the cross an offence, Paul means that God's way of salvation is opposed to man’s natural tendency to self-righteousness. The Cross Offends Salvation was never to be by military means. When the crowd wished to take Jesus and make a king of Him, He departed (Jn.6:15). God’s plan was “to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb.2:10). A suffering Servant is the only One able to bring “many sons unto glory”. Christ triumphed as the sacrificial Lamb who now rides the white horse of gospel victory (Rev.6:2). For some, however, these things gave offence. It was prophesied of Christ that He would reign as a King forever and ever (Dan.7:27), but how could that be when He died on a cross? The Greek mind regarded God dying on a cross as “foolishness” (1Cor.1:23). The Jews had a further problem. The Law said “He that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut.21:23), so how could the Blessed One be accursed? The cross of Christ was an enormous “stumbling-block” (1Cor.1:23). Paul preached that the Messiah was made sin (2Cor.5:21) and made a curse (Gal.3:13) to redeem us from sin and the curse of the law. That was the offence of the cross to the Jew. Other Religions Offended Salvation is all of God and of God alone. We can do nothing to save ourselves. As Paul puts it, we cannot be made “perfect by the flesh” (Gal.3:3). It is not the cross of Christ plus circumcision that pacifies God, nor is it the cross plus the works of the law, nor is it the cross plus your prayers and your good works. Jesus Christ alone saves. His blood cleanses us from all sin, and nothing else can. Even our praying is stained with sin. Our best works are but rags. The Galatians were in danger of removing from him that called them by believing that Christ plus something else saves (Gal.1:6). In such a case “Christ shall profit you nothing” (5:2). Men must see the cross is the only way of pardon. They must tell their neighbours and their children this. No Mohammed, nor Buddha, nor even Moses, shares His throne. To Christ who is Lord of all we must turn or die in our sins. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). How that must have given offence to the Jews as it does to modernists and followers of other religions today! That is the offence of the cross. Followers of O.T. Ceremonies Offended The cross heralded an end to the ceremonial law. Christ in triumph proclaimed, “It is finished” (Jn.19:30). Shadows fled away, types were fulfilled and the veil of the temple was torn down. “The way into the holiest of all” was now opened (Heb.9:8). What a scandal for the Jew! Acceptance without ritual! Priests and sacrifices done away. The old economy buried by the “bringing in of a better hope” (Heb.7:19). For envy they delivered him (Mt.27:18). Too long they had usurped the “chief seats in the synagogues” (Mt.23:6). By killing Him they thought they got rid of Him. How wrong they were! That death that they devised destroyed all on which they trusted. A hand mightier than theirs was at work, and the old Judaism must bow to the ingrafting of Gentiles. The Jew must end his Judaism, and at this he stumbles and is offended. They said you cannot be saved unless you are circumcised, but Paul replied, you cannot be saved except by Christ alone (Gal.2:16). You too must deny your self-righteousness and accept God’s way. By Jesus you are saved or you will perish. It will be by grace or not at all. This is the “offence of the cross”. Salvation is by grace alone through Christ alone. Any comments or questions please E-Mail me or Rev William Macleod the editor.