Most of us look forward to our Maundy Thursday worship. We welcome the quiet time to meditate on the love-induced suffering of our Lord. Some of our favorite hymns relate to the cross of Christ: “The Old Rugged Cross”, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus”, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and many others. Consequently, when someone talks about the “offense of the cross” we are perplexed. Who would be offended by the cross?
In Galatians 5:11 Paul writes, “Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.” When Paul wrote these words he was under attack. His message was being criticized. Paul argues that criticism is to be expected. He is not preaching the popular gospel that tells us what we need to DO to earn salvation. Instead, he preaches that we can only be saved through the cross of Christ. This message, he says, the world finds offensive.
Tonight I want to spend a few minutes considering why the world finds the message of the cross offensive.
The Cross is Offensive Because of the Barbarity of the Crucifixion
In the last couple of weeks there have been several stories on the use of the electric chair in Florida. On March 31st, after all appeals had been exhausted, Judy Buenoano, the 54 year-old grandmother known as the Black Widow was executed. See was convicted of killing her husband and son for the insurance money. Mrs. Buenoano professed to make a commitment to Christ while she was in prison. In her last moments she talked about the eternal security that awaited her in Heaven.
On CNN her execution was described in graphic detail. Her head was shaved and her left leg was shaved from knee to her ankle so that the electrodes could be attached. Her head was greased to act as a conductor. When she was brought into the room and fastened to the chair the word was given and 2300 volts, 9.5 amps of electricity was sent into her body for eight seconds. Then it was decreased to 1,000 volts and eight amps for 22 seconds and then 2300 volts, 9 ½ amps for the final eight seconds. An eyewitness said as the electricity entered her body “her fingers clenched into a fist and her body sort of lurched as she was hit with the jolt of electricity. A puff of white smoke came from her right ankle.
The execution of the Black Widow had been delayed because the courts were debating a suit that claimed this form of death to be cruel and unusual punishment. You see, one year ago, another inmate, Pedro Medino was electrocuted in the same state. In his electrocution blue and orange flames up to a foot long shot from the right side of his head and flickered for 6 to 10 seconds, filling the execution chamber with smoke.
My friend, Greg Munro of Australia commented on the execution a year ago with these very relevant words,
This account is real. It shocks us with its brutal frankness and graphic eyewitness description of an execution. You may be feeling uncomfortable, that I would bring such things to your mind in a public address. How morbid. Why dwell on such things? But I did it to illustrate how the gospel writers meant their first readers to feel about the execution of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
Familiarity can dull us to the horror and offense of the crucifixion of Christ. When I read to you about the death of Pedro Medina, you may have felt revulsion. It is a dreadful thing. Even more dreadful is the possibility that he may have been innocent. The account of the execution of Medina shocks us, even though he is unknown to us, even though it only lasted a few seconds and, according to the doctor present, probably involved no pain.
By contrast, the cross of Jesus sounds so familiar to our ears, that we are in danger of forgetting just how dreadful, how horrific, how offensive, it was. We make crosses of brass as ornaments. We wear the cross as jewelry. Perhaps we should wear an emblem such as a miniature electric chair, or a hangman’s noose – for that is what it is a symbol of – shameful execution.
Unlike the electric chair, crucifixion was one of the most refined processes of torture that twisted human justice has ever devised. It was the extreme punishment, reserved for the worst kind of criminal….The victim was totally degraded in his naked, vulnerable shame. It was an offensive thing. Crucifixion was something not mentioned in polite company. If you were offended by my reading the account of this electrocution, then that gives you some small idea of how offensive to the Jewish leaders was the idea that the Messiah could suffer crucifixion. (Http://www.ozemail.com.au/~gsmunro/TEXT/NEWTESTA/LKE23_13.HTM )
The cross of Jesus had a terrible stigma to it. This form of punishment was reserved for the worst criminals. The very notion that the Messiah of God would be asked to carry such a stigma was unacceptable. To some, such teaching would seem blasphemous. The Messiah would never be allowed to undergo such indignity and suffering. God, would never allow it. He is against anything that brings pain. Certainly the Almighty would put a stop to such notions before they could be carried out. Unless of course this is exactly what the Father designed for the Son.
The Cross is Offensive Because of What it Implies About Humanity
The second reason the cross is offensive is that the world does not want to hear that our sin made Christ’s death necessary. We run from concepts related to death, judgement, punishment. It’s not just contemporary mankind . . . it’s always been this way. We want to hear about the goodness of men. We want to talk about our great untapped potential. We resist and fight any notion that we are sinners in the hands of an Angry God.
When we consider that our sin was responsible for Christ’s suffering we turn away. We can’t . . .and won’t bear that responsibility. This is a view of our own sinfulness we don’t want to see.
The Bible paints a clear picture. We have rebelled against God. We have rebelled against God constantly and much more than we are willing to admit. This rebellion is infinitely offensive to our Holy God. We deserve God’s electric chair. We deserve judgement. There are no appeals before God . . . no last minute calls from the Governor. We are condemned unless the Judge, Himself, intervenes.
We can rationalize, we can blame, we can seek to redefine sin. However, God’s standard does not bend. He does not waver. God hates sin. It is so terrible to Him that He is willing to allow His Son to suffer unspeakable indignity and torture to free us from that sin. Let me ask you . . . how bad would things have to be before you would allow your child to suffer?
Anytime we do “our own thing” (rather than God’s) we sin. Anytime we compromise the truth for self-preservation, we sin. Anytime something or someone has more influence in our lives than God, we sin. Anytime we point a boney finger at another in condemnation rather than compassion, we sin. Anytime we make a promise and don’t deliver, we sin.
Obviously the list could go on and on. However, I venture to say that you may have been listening to that list and said to yourself, “everybody does these things.” And you’re right. However, the implication drawn from your comment is this: everyone does them so . . . it’s understandable. NO IT’S NOT. These are the very sins that sent Christ to a horrible death. These are the sins that killed Him! Violence has become so commonplace that we are becoming numb to it. Immorality is so pervasive that we hardly notice. And sin is so much a part of what we do and who we are that we seldom give it a second glance. But those sins we shrug off are the one’s He went to the cross to save us from.
Let’s face it, people find the cross offensive because it shows them a picture of themselves that they do not want to see.
The Cross is Offensive Because it Declares us Helpless to effect our own Salvation
People may be able to deal with the fact of Christ’s suffering, they may be willing to concede their sinfulness but they recoil at the idea that there is nothing we can do to gain salvation. They hate the idea that we are at the mercy of the court.
The cross reminds us that there is only ONE way for us to be reconciled to God. God himself had to take up human residence, live a holy life despite constant temptation from Satan, and then give His life to unimaginable suffering, all to pay for our sin. It is the only way. His glorious resurrection was the exclamation point to His sacrifice.
The world considers this whole idea to be foolishness. The idea of God becoming man. The notion that a perfect God would reach out in such a way to rebellious humanity. The notion seems fanciful. The world laughs. And the world dies.
Americans, perhaps more than any, will resist this teaching. We relish our independence, our freedom. We believe you can do whatever you want as long as you set your mind to it. We believe enough hard work and determination can lead anyone to reach their goals. But it’s a lie!
It is impossible for us to work hard enough to effect our own salvation. We can’t do it. Even if we would try . . .and we won’t. We are helpless.
People want to “control their own destinies”. The Gospel tells us that salvation is gained by those who:
- admit their sin with a sincere attitude of repentance (meaning we are sorry for the sin, not for just getting caught)
- place their trust and surrender their hope to Jesus. Salvation is not about a formula to follow, or special words to be recited. It is a surrender of the heart to Christ. It is saying, “Lord, I give myself to you. I trust you. I will rely on you.”
- It is submitting to His rule and Leadership in our lives.
The thief on the cross is an illustration of what is needed to be saved. The story is well known. Two thieves . . . one is a critic, one sees Christ as the Son of God. The thief sees that he is but a hopeless sinner before man and God. He understands the nature of God. He knows He is to be respected and feared. He senses where to turn for help.
Listen to Greg once again,
In a moment of clarity given to him by the Father himself, he knows that this man [Jesus] will win a deadly triumph. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That’s all. Remember me. The sinner who dies with you. The one who confessed your name. The one who saw who you really were and turned to you for help. And Jesus gasps, with his dying breaths, “I tell you the truth. Today you will be with me in paradise.”
What?! How can this be? It isn’t fair! How can this murderer get off scott free in the very last minutes of his life, just by saying, “remember me Jesus when you come into your kingdom.”
That is the real reason that the cross is offensive to proud human nature. Because it declares that the only way to be saved is to throw yourself completely on the mercy of God.
Do you understand how offensive this is to contemporary man? People want rules to follow. They want formulas. They want control. When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked “What must I do to inherit eternal life” Jesus did not give him a prayer to pray. He didn’t give him a formula to follow. Instead He told Him to obey God. The man replied that he was doing so. Jesus pointed to an area of His life that was more important to him than the Father. He said, “Sell all you have and then come follow me.” The man could not . . . he would not do this. He wanted salvation on His terms. He wanted a salvation that would not interfere with his lifestyle. There is no such thing.
There are several ways I hope you will respond to this message,
1) I pray you take the time to take seriously the message of the cross. See the horror of the cross with fresh eyes. Understand the devastating nature of what Christ suffered for you. See with new freshness the horror of sin. Where it is needed, repent. Where you have been compromising, do so no more. Where you have rationalized, tell the truth. Stop hiding and face reality.
2) Resolve not to water-down the gospel presentation. It is tempting to make things more agreeable to the world. It is tempting to talk about our goodness, power and ability. It is tempting to give formulas and systems. It’s tempting to tell people what they want to hear. We must not do so. Christ’s blood is the only way of salvation. It is only by trusting God’s mercy that we can be saved. To compromise the true message is to withhold the words of life or worse . . .to lead someone down the wrong path..
3) Examine yourself. Are you still trying to find some way to save yourself? Are you hoping to be good enough? Friend, anything other than repentance and faith is a worthless substitute for the truth which alone can save. It is my hope that today you might have the faith of the thief on the cross. The faith that says, “Lord, remember me.” If you ask Him in faith, Christ’s righteousness will be applied to your account. His blood will be applied as payment for your sin. And though it may give offense to a watching world. You will be with Him in paradise.