Posts Tagged 'cross of christ'

1 Corinthians, Part 3

This is what man's wisdom looks like to God:  Foolishness.

This is what man’s wisdom looks like to God: Foolishness.

That the Corinthians were in trouble is clear near the very beginning of Paul’s first letter to them –

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV)

It’s not that Paul expected the congregation at Corinth to be in 100% agreement all the time about everything, but on the essentials of the faith they needed to be for the sake of their testimony in an unbelieving world.

The apostle was upset with the various cliques and schisms that had developed in the Corinthian church. There were groups that were fans and followers of Peter, others of Paul, and still others of Apollos. But that kind of thing was out of place in the church. Their loyalty shouldn’t have been to people but to Jesus Christ. No man died for them save the Son of God and Man, Jesus Christ. The Cross of Christ was what should have been uniting them, and that Cross is what unites all believers, from all time, from all over the world. In fact, the most effective way of dealing with just about any problem in the church is to do what Paul did: Deal with them in light of the Cross and Christ’s great love.

The power of the Cross

Human beings tend to be attracted to educated and eloquent humans. We exalt the latest popular preacher or teacher because we are impressed with their words and ideas. That’s what was happening in Corinth. There were these divisions in the church caused by loyalty to men, rather than loyalty to God. As far as Paul was concerned, he was sent by the Lord to preach, not his own ideas or philosophy but the word of the Cross.

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17 NIV)

In truth, Paul baptized only a few people, not because he thought baptism was unimportant but because he had foreseen this very situation at Corinth. The last thing he wanted was having his converts identify themselves with him. His mission – his whole reason for existence – was simply to preach the Gospel of Christ. His ministry was free from any kind of outer ritual or ceremony.

The power to save a soul doesn’t lie in man’s wisdom but in the preaching of the Cross. God designed it like that so that no man (like Paul or Peter or Apollos) could boast about “the souls he’s saved” in his preaching. It’s never “his preaching” that saves a soul, it’s the Cross – which is the wisdom and power of God.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 19 NIV)

It’s strange, this power of the Cross. Its message saves some and causes others to reject its message. That’s what happens when people hear the salvation message of the Gospel – either the listener accepts it or rejects it. In verse 19, Paul introduces a quotation from Isaiah 29:14 to show how much God deplores and dismisses the wisdom of man as a means of salvation. The whole context of the Isaiah quote is interesting –

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” (Isaiah 29:13, 14 NIV)

This is what Paul saw happening at Corinth. The lines were being drawn; there were supporters of this preacher or that yet their salvation was the result no preacher but rather the word of the Cross.

That message of the Cross, by the way, sounds like nonsense to “those who are perishing.” In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Robert Hughes asks a pertinent question:

How could something that seemed so foolish to most people be salvation to a few?

The answer is very simple and goes back to the Isaiah quote. In terms of what was happening in Corinth, it’s not exactly what was going on in Isaiah’s day, but their worldview was essentially the same as that of the ancient Israelites. They exalted man’s wisdom. In the Isaiah passage, the prophet showed how temporary man’s wisdom is – it vanishes with time, and sometimes it’s God Himself who causes it to vanish. It doesn’t matter how clever or well-spoken a man may be, that man and his teachings will eventually come to an end.

In a rather triumphant tone, Paul asks a question designed to answer itself –

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20 NIV)

While no longer quoting Isaiah directly, he is alluding to things the prophet wrote. Things like this…

In your thoughts you will ponder the former terror: “Where is that chief officer? Where is the one who took the revenue? Where is the officer in charge of the towers?” (Isaiah 33:18 NIV)

In this verse, the prophet is describing the peace that would follow when the terrors of the Assyrian danger had passed. People would be astonished; what they thought would never end or change, did. Here’s another quote –

Where are your wise men now? Let them show you and make known
what the Lord Almighty has planned against Egypt. (Isaiah 19:12 NIV)

We all remember what became of Pharaoh’s wise men and magicians – they were made fools of by the power of God.

The pattern of history proves Paul’s case: God disposes of man’s so-called wisdom one way or another. The Corinthians were obsessing over something temporary and of no consequence. The only wisdom that stands the test of time is God’s wisdom.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21 NIV)

And here’s why man’s wisdom is useless in knowing God: It’s God’s purpose that man’s philosophies will always come up short. There is just no way to know spiritual truths in a non-spiritual way. Now, it is true that some aspects of God’s character may be discerned through natural creation, but salvation can only happen as a result of the preaching of that which some think is foolish: the Cross of Christ.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18 – 20 NIV)

Two groups of people

Paul has been contrasting human and divine wisdom (or power). He introduces another contrast with verses 22 and 23 –

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles… (1 Corinthians 1:22, 23
TNIV)

These were the members of the Corinthian church, converted Jews and Greeks who should have been glorying in the Cross, yet both groups clung to their cultural notions of what wisdom looked like. For the Jews, they were a superstitious lot always looking for signs and the Greeks insisted upon rational explanations for all things. Both groups were trying to squeeze God into their particular world view. Paul would have none of that though; all he would do is preach Christ crucified. In other words, he stuck only to the simple truth of the simple Gospel.

To the nationalistic Jews, whose idea of a Messiah was a political leader, the very idea of a crucified Messiah was, well, a stumbling block many could not get over. The Greeks were looking for a world of peace and harmony and beauty, so the Cross with its violence and ugliness just didn’t fit in with their ideas either.

but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:24, 25 TNIV)

And here’s the rub. Those who had responded to the call of God also discovered what Paul knew: Christ is the “power” of God and the “wisdom” of God. The order of that is not insignificant. We discover the redeeming “power” in salvation from sin before we discover the “wisdom” from God. That’s precisely why the unsaved (the Jew or the Gentile) make no sense of the Cross of Christ. They need to experience it first before they can hope to understand it.

Preaching: God’s means of deliverance

To help drive home his point, Paul asked his readers to remember where they came from. They weren’t the smartest or most educated when God called them. Intelligence had nothing to do with their salvation. Of course, this doesn’t mean God only calls ignorant people; He calls all people to repentance. In fact, Barclay makes some interesting points on this:

There was Dionysius at Athens (Acts 17:34); Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Crete (Acts 13:6 – 12); the noble ladies at Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:4, 12); Erastus, the chamberlain, probably from Corinth (Romans 16:23). In the time of Nero, Pomponia Graecina, the wife of Plautius, the conqueror of Britian, was martyred for her Christianity. Flavius Clemens, the cousin of the Emperor himself, was martyred as a Christian. Toward the end of the second century, Pliny, the governor or Bithynia, wrote to Trajan the Roman Emperor, saying that the Christians came from ever rank in society.

And, of course, let’s add Constantine who, in 312 AD, formally accepted Christianity as his religion.

But the great mass of Christians was made up the rank and file of society – slaves and freedmen, simple and humble people. And in Corinth, Paul pointed this out. And he pointed out, brilliantly so, that God often chooses to use the simple things (people) to get the job done.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27 – 29 TNIV)

So we’ve come full circle. God uses the very people we’d least expect Him to use for His glory so that nobody can boast about their great talents or station in life. Wise and educated, wealthy and influential may be able to steal God’s glory (though certainly not all of them do). In contrast, though, Christians – especially of the type Paul is writing to here – may glory in Christ because in Him they have experienced true wisdom and true power. By the world’s standards, they may be nonentities, but through their choice of the Cross they have demonstrated the highest wisdom and experienced the greatest wisdom and power the universe has ever known.

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30 TNIV)

This is a powerful verse that shows how truly blessed believers are. Christ is wisdom to us because He reveals and imparts wisdom, counsel, and the purposes of God to us through prayer and the Word. Through our ongoing relationship with Christ, God manifests more and more of His expansive character, allowing us glimpses of His splendor and mind, giving us a deeper and more profound appreciation for what He did for us. W. Grosheide, in his commentary of 1 Corinthians, put it like this:

What we are and have, we are and have received from God through Christ. United to Christ we are righteous and holy, since all those blessings are founded in His work. Redemption, often used of the liberation of slaves through the payment of a ransom, indicates the way Christ delivers us…by His sacrifice, His death on the cross. In surrendering Himself, He brings us knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.

THE CROSS OF CHRIST, PART 8

Fellowship of the Cross

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

We sing hymns and worship choruses with phrases just like Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ,” but rarely do we stop to consider what those words really mean and what their implications may be. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, was potentially the crucifixion of the human race because all humanity is represented in Him, just as all humanity is represented in the first Adam. The unredeemed name Adam as their head, but the redeemed name Christ as theirs. It is a profound discovery when a Christian discovers Galatians 2:20 and realizes it applies as much to them as it did to Paul. It’s a profound, life changing thought—a true “lightbulb-over-the-head” moment—when you discover that you have already been crucified for your sins on the Cross of Christ.

How is this possible? you may ask. Jesus was crucified two thousands years ago; how could I have been crucified with Him? In the case of the apostle Paul, his conversion occurred over year after Jesus was crucified, yet he made the startling discovery that he had been crucified with Christ. It was a done deal before he became a believer—while he was yet a sinner! Paul, arguably the greatest thinker of all time, made the discovery that His Savior, Jesus Christ, had so identified Himself with him and his sins that he, Paul, had been put to death for them with Christ. That’s why he could now say, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” The man that Paul used to be—the man who persecuted Christians—died with Christ on His Cross. When Paul named Jesus as His Lord and appropriated the work of the Cross, the moment he accepted by faith what Jesus did for him, Paul’s old self died and he became born again! The man he used to be was dead and gone!

What we should note is that Paul did not write that he crucified himself; nobody can do that! Nobody could drive the nails through his own hands. But we are commanded to crucify the flesh and put to death the sinful desires and lusts that are part of the old human nature. That command puts every Christian in quandary; how can you do something that’s impossible? Paul faced this impossibly and wrote about it Romans 7:24, 25—

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

That’s Paul’s “lightbulb-over-the-head” moment: By the death of the Jesus Christ, Paul became dead to sin.

The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:10, 11)

“Count yourselves dead to sin,” wrote Paul. In other words, you are to consider yourselves already dead, as far as sin is concerned. After all, if Christ lives in you, should you expose Him to your old, sinful desires? IF you are a Christian, then Christ lives in you. IF you have been crucified with Christ, then you must consider your old, sinful self as already judged by God in His Son on the Cross in your place. What an incredible paradox: dead, yet alive! What a deep mystery: Christ living in us!

...don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (Romans 6:3—5)

Of course, we reckon all this has happened by faith; it takes faith to believe all this had occurred two thousand years ago!

Let’s look closer at what happened all those generations ago:

1. The world was crucified, Galatians 6:14

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.

We don’t often make the connection Paul made in this verse: the world was crucified on the Cross. As far as Paul was concerned, the world had been stripped naked of all of its outward trappings of beauty and power and nailed to the Cross, helpless and shameful. The world was exposed that day on the Cross in all of its hideous, wicked glory. To Paul, the world had become a pathetic, withered up and dying thing, devoid of any power to tempt him in any way. The glory of the grace of God manifested in Christ on the Cross so blinded Paul to the things of this world that they began to appear to him as rotting, dead zombie-like corpses. The power of God on the Cross put the world in its proper light and forever put to death the notion that things of this world are beautiful and helpful to man. The light of God’s glory showed the exact opposite, in fact. To view the world through the prism of the Cross is to see the world for what it really is. And whatever else the world is, it is not a pretty sight.

It wasn’t just Paul that came to this conclusion, John also found this truth:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

How could you love a stinking, rotten zombie husk? The world is supposed to be dead to you, assuming you are a Christian. What a nasty thing it is for a Christian to love something so rotten; what does that say about his estimation of Christ?

2. Self was crucified, Romans 6:6

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…

The death of Christ not only separated the world from you, but it also separated you from the world. The mighty, glorious Cross of Christ now stands between you and the world, and has crucified it to you and you to it. The “old self” that loved the world and lusted after the things of the world is now dead. In fact, it died two thousand years ago.

The one who has paid the penalty for his sin is now free from that sin. Sin no longer has a claim on him. That person is you, if you have come to Christ and by faith claimed what He did for you. Thanks to the Cross of Christ, you have NO obligation left owing to sin. If you owe sin nothing, why would you want to go back to it? If you know Christ is living in you, why would you want to expose Him to it? It’s a profound truth that carries a profound responsibility: you are dead to sin, the world has been crucified, Christ lives in you, so now live like you believe all that to be true! That is what “living by faith” is all about.

Once when Paul had grown exasperated with the worldly attitude of his Corinthian friends, he wrote this:

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:3)

To act “worldly” is to act like a mere man. In other words, Christians are NOT mere men, any longer! A Christian is more than a “mere man.” Or he’s supposed to. As we look around at the state of the Church, it is glaringly apparent that there are a whole of “mere men” sitting in the pews, living life far, far below where they could be.

You, if you call yourself a Christian, have been set free from the old way. You have been given a second chance to live a full life; a life full of satisfaction and peace and joy. Why in the world would any believer choose to live like a “mere man” when they are so much more? If only we could latch on to the truth of 1 Peter 1:4—

And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. (NLT)

Do you understand the profundity of that verse? As Christians, it is our right and privilege to share in God’s essential nature—we are able to somehow take on His attitudes towards things; to share His thoughts and opinions towards the things of this world. How is this possible? Paul gave us a clue:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

We become more and more like God—we take on more and more of His characteristics—as our minds are transformed through the work of His Spirit in us. It is Christ in us, which Paul once referred to as “the glorious riches” and “the hope of glory” who remakes us into the person HE wants us to become.

3. A new life of power

Returning to Galatians 2:20, Paul concluded that: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” What does that mean? In Romans 6:5, the apostle sheds some light on this deep mystery:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Like they say, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” If we died with Christ, then we must surely rise with Christ; what happened to Him must happen to us.

If the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from death, lives in you, then he who raised Christ from death will also give life to your mortal bodies by the presence of his Spirit in you. (Romans 8:11)

This is not referring to the eventual resurrection of your bodies, which will happen some time in the future. It is referring to the here and now. Thanks to the work of Christ on the Cross, you are guaranteed entrance into heaven—which is a great thing! But the real marvel of the Cross is that you don’t have to wait until you’re dead to start reaping the benefits of what Christ did for you! According to what Paul wrote—under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, mind you—you are already full of the same power that raised Christ from the dead. That same Spirit is in YOU right now, and will give life to your mortal body now. Imagine this: the life of Jesus Christ is being manifested in YOU right now!

At all times we carry in our mortal bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life also may be seen in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:10, GNT)

What a powerful verse! People in the world—mere men—can’t see the Jesus we serve. But, they do see us. The question becomes: Do they see Jesus in us?

You’re the only Jesus some will ever see,
You’re the only words of life some will ever hear,
So let them see in you the One in whom there’s all they’ll ever need,
You’re the only Jesus some will ever see.

The Cross of Christ changed everything; it changed YOU. Let’s start living like the new creations we are. When some see the Cross, they see a horrible thing. Others see the Cross for what it is: a second chance to get life right. Take the chance that leads to life.

THE CROSS OF CHRIST, PART 7

The Enemies of the Cross

For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18, 19)

It is a terrible thing to be God’s enemy. It’s terrible and it’s arrogant to be an enemy to the greatest of all manifestations of the love, wisdom, and compassion of Christ: His Cross. To be an enemy of the Cross of Christ is to be God’s enemy. It is to openly rebel against against God’s merciful desire to save a sinner from his sins by the atoning death of His Son.

Most right-thinking people have no problem honoring Jesus as a baby in a manger, yet they routinely deny His Cross. These people love to sing Christmas carols chock-full of doctrine and theology about the Incarnation, but they don’t like songs about the blood of Christ shed on the Cross. A lot of people, so-called Christians included, may not be the “pronounced” enemies of the Cross, but they are certainly ashamed of it. The question we would like to ask such people is this: Why are ashamed of Jesus’ death but not of His birth? The reality is, Jesus Christ was born to die; He came to earth for the express purpose of giving His life as a sacrifice for sin.

But there have always been people like this. Otherwise harmless, often religious people, who are counted among God’s enemies. The apostle Paul encountered them almost everywhere he went and in Philippi they were part of the Antinomian movement that had taken root in the church there. They professed to be Christians but lived sinful lives. The belief is as old as the church, but it was Martin Luther who coined the term “antinomianism.” It’s a tricky heresy because it espouses salvation by faith alone but without the accompanying change of lifestyle. Antinomianism is alive and well in Church of Jesus Christ today, although antinomian pastors and church leaders would never admit it. Anybody that preaches the wonderful doctrine of “justification by faith alone” without the accompanying obligation to holy living is at least flirting with the antinomian heresy.

This kind of people claim to love God yet never try to live up to the demands of the Cross, which include this:

The Spirit however, produces in human life fruits such as these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, tolerance and self-control—and no law exists against any of them. Those who belong to Christ have crucified their old nature with all that it loved and lusted for. If our lives are centred in the Spirit, let us be guided by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22—25)

They claim to love God but won’t be crucified with Christ. To shun the Cross is to be its enemy because they shun what the Cross stands for:

1. Divine sacrifice, 1 John 4:9, 10

To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins.

The Son of God, coming and dying on the Cross, was God’s way of revealing His heart to mankind—a heart moved to infinite sacrifice by agonizing love. We are familiar with this kind of love; it manifests itself in different ways. For example, an entrepreneur who loves an idea will sink his all to start his business in hopes that it will be successful. God loved sinful man so much that He sunk His all in the transaction that occurred on the Cross: the life of His Son for yours! But in God’s case, there was no risk of failure; it was not speculation, but a purposeful, planned expenditure of divine grace and love that secured your soul.

To reject what God did on the Cross is to be an enemy of the Cross; it is to throw God’s love and grace back in His face.

The antinomians in Philippi showed their enmity by living lives full of self-indulgence. Their God, Paul observed, was their bellies! In other words, they pretty much did whatever made them feel good; whatever gave them a sense of satisfaction. Self-indulgence is dangerous for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is that it stands in complete opposition to the self-sacrificing spirit of the Cross. The Cross of Christ is the greatest example of not only self-sacrifice and self-denial, but it is also the best example of the use of free will. Willingly, without any persuasion, Jesus gave everything He had to save sinners. To live a life opposite to that kind of spirit is to deny it. The carnal mind—the mind set on worldly things—is at war against the mind and spirit of God.

Those who live for themselves are living in rebellion against the purpose of the Cross and the Spirit of the Cross. To be more concerned about the body than the spirit is like being more concerned about the wood of the Cross than the Man who hung on it.

If you call yourself a Christian, the Cross not only saves you, but it shows you how to live!

2. Divine holiness

The intensity of God’s hatred to sin is revealed by the death of His Son on the Cross. The greatness of sin demanded an even greater sacrifice! That’s the equation we’re all familiar with, but there is another way to look at it. The greatness of God’s sacrifice shows the greatness of man’s need—and God’s need. The need was great on man’s side because of his sin, but the need was great on God’s side because of His holiness. Something had to come between the fires of man’s sin and the divine holiness of God; Someone who was equally sinless and holy needed to stand between these two opposites. Only One man, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, was qualified to do the job.

That’s why God cannot save a sinner apart from the Cross. If He could have, He would have answered Jesus’ prayer in Gethesemane differently. It was the love God had for a lost and dying world that caused His Son to drink from His cup of death. It was the holiness of God that would not let that cup pass from His Son. And it was God’s holiness that caused His Son to cry out:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1)

Good works and good words do nothing to atone for sin. Those who think living the good life will get them safe passage through the pearly gates couldn’t be more wrong. You can be a good person and still be God’s enemy if your goodness proceeds from something other than the Holy Spirit within you.

To shun the Cross is to shun holiness; it is to choose the antinomian way of living the way you think is right. To embrace the Cross is to embrace the spirit and attitude of holiness and holy living.

3. Divine riches, Romans 8:32

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

The death of God’s Son on the Cross is God’s promise to all believers that everything they need will be within their reach. If you are born again, nothing you need will be denied you. You have God’s promise on that.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Jesus sacrificed all so you could have all. The storehouse of God’s riches has been open wide for us by the Blood of His Cross. These spiritual and eternal riches are not only what God has, but of what He is. He not only gives us gifts, but He makes us, through faith, partakers of His divine nature!

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3, 4)

If we make the kingdom of God our pursuit in life, whatever our needs may be, they will be met. Every temporal and eternal blessing finds its fulfillment in the Cross. So, to shun the Cross is to refuse God’s best.

But, there are those who only want worldly things; they have no desire for anything spiritual. Their pursuit is for things confined to this world. They have no concept of “heavenly blessings” because they haven’t experienced any because they aren’t looking for them. This person shuns the Cross because they can’t see its value.

4. Divine ultimatum

Going back to Philippi for a moment, Paul writes that there is only one end for those antinomians—those enemies of the Cross—and it is death. There is no other destiny open to some one who shuns the Cross of Christ. When a person—even a good, clean living person—rejects the Cross of Christ, he is rejecting God’s terms of salvation.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

Salvation is not found under the name of a church or a philanthropic organization. It is not found in good works or good living. To reject the Cross is to choose sin, and as we know by now, the wages of sin is death. The writer to the Hebrews nailed it with this rhetorical question:

…how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:3)

God’s terms are unalterable.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… (John 1:12)

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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