By Tim Mize
Most of us have heard all our lives about the cross of Christ. A week does not pass without our eating this bread and drinking this cup in its memory. It may surprise us, then, to learn how shocking it was to those who heard about it first. For those first audiences of the gospel, the idea of a crucified Christ was surprising. For many, it was more than they could swallow.
Remember, these people were already hoping for the Christ, their savior:, to come. And they had already seen men come and go, who had raised their hopes only to disappoint them. And now this Jesus of Nazareth had come and also raised their hopes. He, too, however, was stopped. The Romans crucified him, crushing him like any other rebel. If he were truly the Christ, so they reasoned, then he would not have been crucified, or he would have come down from the cross (Matt. 27:39-43).
Furthermore, the scriptures teach that any man who is hanged is accursed (Deut. 21:23). The cross made this Jesus accursed. How, then, could he be the Christ? So the reasoning went among many who first heard the gospel.
Such reasonings were surely in mind when Paul spoke of “the stumbling block” (or, “the offence”) of the cross. “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Cor.1:22-23; Gal. 5:11). The “offence” of the cross refers to the way that people resist the gospel at that very point where it proclaims that Christ died on a cross. The very idea of a crucified Christ does not repulse people like it once did. It is too “old hat,” I suppose, to do that. But humanity has not been relieved of the offence of the cross. The cross is still as resisted as ever. The fact that “Christ died” might have grown acceptable, but the implications of that fact still offend. The cross may not offend human reason so much anymore, but it continues to offend human pride.
The cross will always offend because of the love that is in it. The cross is an expression of love from God, and of love that makes the greatest sacrifice (Jn. 15:13). We resist such a love. It makes us feel uncomfortably obligated. It disturbs our illusions of self-reliance. Our tendency is to say, “I don’t want anyone to die for me.” The word of the cross offends us and says, “Christ died for our sins.”
The cross offends us, too, with the way of life to which it calls. It summons to the way of emptying and forgetting self, of losing oneself in what is good. It is the way of trustful obedience to God and of loving service to others. Our lusts and pride resist this way of the cross.
May there be no offence for us. Let us be open, yielding, and obedient to the word of the cross.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 1, p. 9
January 6, 1994