The Offense Of the Cross
October 7th, 1956 @ 7:30 PM
THE OFFENSE OF THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-7-56 7:30 p.m.
The text tonight is Galatians 5:12. We read the passage last Sunday evening: Galatians 5:1-12. Tonight, we shall read seven through twelve. Galatians five – the fifth chapter of Galatians – the seventh verse through the twelfth. Do we all have it? Galatians, the fifth chapter, the seventh verse. The title of the sermon is The Offense of the Cross, and you shall see that as we come to the end of the passage. All right, together, Galatians 5:7-12:
Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?
This persuasion cometh not of Him that calleth you.
A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
I have confidence in you through the Lord that ye will be none otherwise minded; but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.
And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased.
I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
That’s my text: The Offense of the Cross.
The people who composed these churches in Galatia were doing fine in the Lord. They’d been saved by faith in Christ [Galatians 3:26-27, 4:7-9]. They’d received the Holy Spirit just by opening their hearts to the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus [Galatians 3:2-3, 4:6]. They were under no bondage of any law. What they were doing, they were doing out of the love of Christ in their souls. And while they were enjoying this great liberty in the Lord, while they were walking in the light of faith, there came Judiazing teachers who said to them, "Now this thing of believing in Christ is a beautiful thing. His lovely words, His adorable life, His sweet and precious manner – all of these things about Jesus are most acceptable and fine; but you can’t be saved by the cross of Christ alone. You must add to that faith, to that trust. You must add these other things: the works and the commandments of the Law" [Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1, 5:1-4].
So Paul’s answer to the Judiazing teacher, and writ large here in this Book to the churches of Galatia, is a defense of the gospel of the cross: that we are saved by the faith in our hearts [Galatians 2:16] as we look toward that brazen serpent raised up in the wilderness [Numbers 21:5-9; John 3:14-16] – "made sin for us, Him who knew no sin" [2 Corinthians 5:21], and that without that cross, without that sacrifice, there is no remission of sins [Romans 5:8, 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Hebrews 9:22].
So in answering that, he said to them, "If a man can be saved by the ordinances of the Law, then why am I persecuted as I preach this other way of salvation in faith in Christ alone, for then, they have no cause to persecute me" [From Galatians 2:21, 5:11]. The offense of the cross. The word translated "offense" in the Greek is skandalon. "For then is the scandal, the offense of the cross, ceased" [Galatians 5:11].
Now, the sermon tonight is built around the question and its answer. Is there any offense, is there any scandal, in the cross today? This was written almost two thousand years ago. Hasn’t all of that changed? It looks as though it has. We build our churches on a ground plan of the cross. High on our steeples, it has become an honored and a sacred symbol. It is embossed in our Bibles. We make jewelry out of it. We wear it around our necks. It has become a subject of beautiful art. In fact, a poet who has no regard for faith at all will place the cross largely in his lines. It seems as though the cross has taken the world captive. But has it? Really, most of this is cheap sentimentality.
The same scorn and condemnation that was brought to the heart by the preaching of the cross in the day of the apostle Paul is no less true actually today. Isaiah had a keen insight into that when in the fifty-third chapter he wrote: "There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised . . . a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" [Isaiah 53:2-3].
I have three reasons why the offense of the cross is a scandal today, and the first is this: It is a repudiation. It is a contradiction of the chief liberal optimism of the deification of humanity, of the inherent goodness in the human heart. The cross is an exposition – an exposing, a public lifted-up presentation – of the darkness and the iniquity and the villainy that is inherent in the human heart [Romans 3:23-26; Colossians 2:13-15]. And that is a contradiction of that wonderful, sentimental, buoyant optimism that preaches that men are essentially good and not bad.
In a Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh more than a century ago, there were two ministers who were colleagues, and one of those ministers at the morning hour preached and decanted on the inherent love and adoration in the human heart for virtue: that when goodness appears, humanity just automatically bows down and worships before it. Whether by irony of circumstance or by forethought nobody knows, but the minister – his colleague – that evening, when he preached, he said that virtue had come into this world in the form of moral loveliness in the person of the Son of God – pure, holy, and without blemish – and that humanity had taken Him and nailed Him to a cross, and He died outside the city gate.
That cross is an open exposition to the world of the human heart, which is vile, and black, and dark, and in no wise acceptable unto God. It is a condemnation of humanity. Think of it. There He is, outside the city wall, raised on a little knoll, and just beyond is the city. On the inside of that city is Herod the king with his cheap, coarse vices [Matthew 14:1-11; Luke 23:8-12]. That cross is a condemnation of him and an exposition of him.
On the inside of that city is cold, crafty, Caiaphas with his chicanery, with his worldly wisdom [Matthew 26:57-68; John 11:-53]. That cross is a condemnation of him. On the inside of that city is Pontius Pilate with his eye fearful for his own personal career [Mark 15:1-15], and that cross is a condemnation of Pontius Pilate. And on the inside of that city are the scheming Pharisees, and the scribes, and the elders of the people [Luke 22:66-71], and that cross is a condemnation of them.
And on the inside of that city, and now there at the foot of the cross, are Roman legionnaires, and with dice they gamble for the garment without seam [Matthew 27:35; Luke 23:34; John 19:24]; and that cross is a condemnation of them.
Had things been right, and had mankind been right, there had been no crucifixion on a place called Golgotha [Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17]. But His blood, and His wounds, and His death is an exposing of the human heart.
In the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis, God says that He looked down, and behold, the imaginations of the hearts of the men that He made was evil continually; and it repented God that He had made man [Genesis 6:5-6]. The gospel of the Son of God is diametrically opposite to the philosophy of the world – that we’re good and getting better. The preaching of the cross is that our hearts are wicked and desperately so, that we are a lost and a condemned humanity [Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-18]. That is the offense of the cross [Galatians 5:11].
The offense of the cross today, as it was then, is because of its tremendous, deep, personal call for sacrifice and self-denial. There came running into the way, as Jesus passed by, there came running into the way a rich, young ruler [Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22], fine, upstanding, acceptable, respectable, and he kneeled down where everybody could see him [Mark 10:17]. Nicodemus came to see Him by night where nobody could know [John 3:1-2, 19:39]. This young man, this young ruler, where everybody could see in the light of day, he came and knelt down before the Lord Jesus openly in the way, and he had the question to ask: "What does it take for me to get to heaven? What am I to do in order to be saved? What am I to do to inherit eternal life?" [Matthew 19:16; Mark 10:17].
And the answer of the Lord was: "You take the world out of your heart. You take the world out of your soul. Take the world out of your life. Take it out, give it away, and come take up the cross, and follow Me; and thou shalt have treasure in heaven" [from Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21]. And the offense of the cross was too great, and the young man, hearing that saying, turned away sad of heart, heavy in countenance [Matthew 19:22; Mark 10:22].
In the second [book] of Timothy, the last chapter, number four, in the tenth verse, Paul says, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world . . ." [2 Timothy 4:10]. That’s humanity: to follow the popular Jesus on the shores of Galilee [John 6:22-24]; to repeat His great precepts, the Golden Rule [Luke 6:31]; to follow Jesus in His triumphal entry into Jerusalem shouting "Hosanna," [Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9-10; John 12:12-13] and "We are a follower of Him who spake the Sermon on the Mount." But who takes up his cross and denies the world and follows Him outside the city gate where He was crucified bearing his cross? [Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23] Who denies the world? Who does?
Within a month, I sat here in the city of Dallas in the midst of a great group of religious leaders in the city. On one side of me was a great businessman in our city, and on the other side of me was another, and this is a religious gathering, and I’m there seated between those two able, wealthy, famous Dallas men. They belong to the church. They’re a follower of the Lamb [John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:12-13]. Their names are on the book [Book of Life, Revelation 20:12, 15].
The man on this side, all the time that I was there, talked of nothing but gambling – this man. And the man on my right, on this side, he talked of nothing but drinking. And there I was, the pivot-man in between, and they, laughing and carrying on, having the biggest time of their lives – me in the center there – this one about his gambling and this one about his drinking.
"Are you a prude? Why, what’s the matter with saying ‘damn’ and ‘hell’? It helps you politically. What’s the matter with playing poker? You’re a good scout. What’s the matter with taking cocktails and drinking? That’s to be nice and appreciative of your host. That’s the way men have a good time. That’s the way women have beautiful parties. What’s the matter with that?"
There they were, carrying on, and took me right into it, and I had to be nice until finally to be nice was unbearable. And finally, I said to the man on this side and the man on this side – I said, "The way we are talking, you would think that I had been brought into acquiescence into this thing that you all do. But I want you know that I think gambling is a sin and I think drinking is a sin, and I don’t want you to get the idea by my sitting here and acquiescing in this conversation that I think it’s right for a man who’s a child of God to gamble or to drink."
Well, they looked at me, and they said, "Yes, we know that about you."
I said, "Well, I just wanted to be sure that you did. That was all."
There’s a typical instance of the popular Jesus. We believe in the Great Prophet of Nazareth. We are followers of Him who preached the Sermon on the Mount. We believe in the great ethical concepts of the Son of God. But who denies this world and comes out of it, and, if necessary, beyond the gate bears His cross and the reproach outside the city walls?
I heard one of our fine, fine men here in our church, I heard him yesterday say that "Where I live – it’s a lonely life where I live, where all of the world around me is compromised and their practices and their ways are not the ways that I can share. And I live among them a lonely life."
I don’t see how you can escape it. If you’ve given your heart to Christ and if your life is devoted to Him, how can you do except to come out of the world? That’s the offense of the cross [Galatians 5:11]. They have no quarrel with the Jesus of the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], and the Jesus of the Sea [Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 4:35-41], and the Jesus of the quiet time, and the Jesus of the great triumphal entry [Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-13]. It’s only the Jesus of the cross that the world finds a scandal and an offense [Romans 9:30-33; Galatians 5:11].
I haven’t time to multiply that endlessly with our children. Our young people: in how many areas and in how many categories do they find themselves in a struggle in their own souls and hearts? "What shall I do, and where shall I go, and what shall I say, and in what shall I indulge?" The offense of the cross; the scandal of the cross [Galatians 5:11].
This last avowal: "Then is the offense of the cross ceased" [Galatians 5:11]. The cross is an offense to those who refuse to see in it and to accept it as the only way to God, the only way of salvation [2 Corinthians 2:15-16]. Nobody has any quarrel with Jesus when you place Him in a pantheon. He’s one of the great religious teachers of the world. Nobody has any quarrel, nobody feels any scandal about, nobody feels an offense concerning those great, beautiful words of the Lord Jesus: beautiful, beautiful, high ethical gems.
And here we have a book – you can go buy them – and in the Life magazine a whole series of articles on the beauty of Mohammed and what he said; and the glory of Mahavira; Buddha and what he said; and the gracious words of Confucius and what he says; and the fine, ethical precepts of Moses and what he said; and the fine and beautiful and lovely gems of teaching that drop like distilled dew from the lips of the Lord Jesus. There’s no offense in that: just one in a great succession of religious teachers. We’re happy to have Him. We love for our language to be enriched with such literature and for humanity’s moral and ethical life to be elevated by the presence of such high and holy sublimity in our midst.
But when it comes to saying that in Him alone, and in that cross alone, is our only way to God [1 Timothy 2:5], our only way of salvation [Acts 4:12], the only forgiveness of sins [John 14:6], then there is an offense and there is a scandal in the cross [Galatians 5:11]. This Buddhist, he goes to heaven his way; this Taoist, he just goes – he’s just got another way; and this Jewish friend, he just has a Mosaic way; and this Confucianist, and this Muslim, he just has a separate way; and all of us saved – just different ways.
What do you do? "There’s none other name under God, given among men, whereby we must be saved" [Acts 4:12]. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" [Galatians 6:14]. "These are they who … have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" [Revelation 7:14] – not in the rituals of Moses, not in the precepts of Confucius, not in the Ramadan of the Muslim, but in the blood of the Son of God – the offense of the cross [Galatians 5:11].
May I haste to say just a little brief word about the cross of Christ: the answer to our need, the gift of our salvation, the washing away of our sin? Sin does three things. It alters our world, our universe. It brings death and estrangement from God. And the answer to those things is found in the cross of Jesus Christ.
First, sin alters our universe, our world. Did you ever read the Bible and notice this? Adam felt naked in the presence of God though he was covered with his garment of fig leaves [Genesis 3:7-10]. Sin alters the whole life around us – the universe above, and the universe below, and the universe on the inside – and all of us come into that altered world – all of us. "There’s no one that sinneth not" [1 Kings 8:46]. "There is none righteous, no, not one" [Romans 3:10]. "All have sinned and come short of the expectation of God" [Romans 3:23]. And that whole world around you and inside of you is altered. There is shame and there is nakedness, and you feel it in the presence of God even though you’re clothed with your garment of fig leaves.
And the answer of the cross is this: "And the Lord God took an innocent animal and slew it, and shed its blood, and made a garment of skins" [Genesis 3:21]: the atoning sacrifice of the blood to cover the nakedness of the man and his wife. God’s covering, which is the word in the Book for atonement, God’s covering, God’s atonement for our sin, that’s the cross [Romans 5:11].
That second thing: "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die" [Genesis 2:17], "The soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:20], "As by one man sin came into the world and death by sin," [Romans 5:12], "For the wages of sin is death," [Romans 6:23], and that’s an iron chain that God Himself has linked. And the answer of the cross: in the blood of the sacrifice on the altar, there is remission of sins – "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord" [Romans 6:23]. "This is the blood of the new covenant," [1 Corinthians 11:25] – the new promise of God for the remission of sins.
And at last, sin is an estrangement from God [Isaiah 59:2]. It’s a wall of partition. It’s a shutting out. It’s a sending away. It is a disinheritance. To me, one of the great, great, great passages of the whole Bible is this in the second chapter of Ephesians:
That [at] that time ye
– we –
were without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
But now, but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off
– outside, sent away, disinherited, prodigal –
ye are now made nigh
– brought near, brought home –
by the blood of Christ.
For He is our peace, who hath made both one
– God and us –
and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us,
Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments and ordinances, for to make in Himself twain one new man, making peace,
That He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.
And came and preached peace to you which were afar off and to them that were nigh.
For through Him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers and you’re no more foreigners . . .
And you’re no more prodigals, and you’re no more disinherited, and you’re no more far off, and you’re no more lost, ". . . but ye are now fellow citizens with the saints in the household of God" [Ephesians 2:19].
You now belong to the great heavenly Father "made nigh by the blood of Jesus Christ" [Ephesians 2:13]. Our estrangement is no more "for God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself . . . and has committed to us the gospel of reconciliation" [2 Corinthians 5:19] to wit, that "God made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" [2 Corinthians 5:21]. "And we then as ambassadors beseech you in Christ’s stead, ‘be ye reconciled to God’" [from 2 Corinthians 5:20]. The gospel of the cross of the Son of God.
I know to the high and the haughty mind to kneel, to bow down, to confess, to repent, to acknowledge, to look up into the face of One crucified is a scandal and an offense. But to the heart that is humble, to the soul that wants God, in that kneeling, in that humility, in that contrition, in that confession, in that committal in faith to Christ, there is healing for the soul [Malachi 4:2]. There is the washing away of sin [Titus 3:5]. There is peace and union with God [John 15:5; Romans 5:1; 1 Corinthians 6:17; Colossians 1:20]. There is an adoption into the household of faith [Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5]. It’s the glory road to heaven [John 14:1-6].
Would you do that now? Would you? Humbly, prayerfully, earnestly, devoutly, contritely, kneel at the feet of Christ. Pray in His name. Look up into His face. Follow Him in this life and the life that is to come. Would you do it? Would you do it now? "Pastor, I have felt God’s call. This is my time. Here I am, and here I come." Into the fellowship of His church on that confession of faith, or by baptism or by letter, as God shall open the door, say the word, would you come in this great throng here tonight? As the Spirit shall lead, would you make it now? Would you come and stand by me while we all stand and sing?
THE OFFENSE OF THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Judaizerscontent to accept Christ as a good man
1. But the cross as a way of salvation was an offense
C. Has this changed?
1. The cross is a ground plan of the church, on our steeples, jewelry, the subject of art
2. Yet what it really stands for is still an offense and scandal(Isaiah 53:2-3, 1 Corinthians 1:22-23)
II. The cross is an open exposition of the true character, nature of the world
A. It contradicts cheap sentimentality that defies humanity and glosses over the iniquity of the human heart
B. It is a condemnation to humanity (Genesis 6:5)
III. The cross is a call to self-denial, repudiation of the rewards of the world
A. The rich young ruler; Demas(Mark 10:17-22, 2 Timothy 4:10)
B. Interesting to follow the popular Christ around Galilee – who follows Him outside the city gate, bearing His cross?
C. Worldly popularity vs. Christian dedication
IV. The cross claims to be the only way of salvation
A. Makes claim without any alternative(Acts 4:12, Galatians 6:14, Revelation 7:14)
B. To some the cross is one of many ways to heaven
C. What sin has done, the cross undoes
1. Sin alters the universe(1 Kings 8:46, Romans 3:10, 23, Genesis 3:21)
2. Sin brings death (Genesis 2:7, Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 11:25)