THE OFFENSE OF THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-31-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. These morning hours I am preaching through the Book of Galatians and am in the fifth chapter. And the message is on a word in the eleventh verse. The title of the sermon is The Offense of the Cross, and the text:
And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision (that is salvation by keeping the law, by trying to be good), why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offense of the cross ceased.
Now there is a word there, that when I look at it, I remember having seen that word before—“Then is the offense of the cross ceased.”
Skandalon, skandalon, then is the skandalon. Our English word scandal comes from it. Then is the skandalon, translated here offense, of the cross ceased [Galatians 5:11]. Now I have run into that word before. And here is where you will find it. In the first chapter of the first letter to Corinth, Paul writes beginning at verse 22:
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
[1 Corinthians 1:22-25]
Now that same word skandalon is in that passage. Only it is translated by a different word. “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a skandalon, and unto the Greeks moria, foolishness, idiocy; But unto us who are saved, whether a Jew or a Greek, Christ,” the dunamis, the dynamite of God and “and the wisdom of God, “the sophia of God. Because the mōra of God,” “ta mōra” our word moronic comes from it, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; the weakness of God is stronger than men” [1 Corinthians 1:22-25]. There is that word skandalon, translated here in Corinthians a stumbling block, translated here in Galatians an offense [Galatians 5:11], the preaching of the cross—a skandalon. That is the Judaisers; a group who said that you couldn’t be saved by trusting the Lord, that the cross was no atonement for sins, rather it was an offensive instrument of execution [Galatians 3:13].
Those people who were saying that you had to be saved by commandment- keeping, and by moral obediences, and by rituals and ceremonies, but that you couldn’t be saved by the cross, by trusting Jesus alone [Galatians 5:3-4]; that occasioned, the writing of this letter to the churches of Galatia. Now those people, those antagonists to Paul, they were perfectly willing to admit the beautiful life of the Lord Jesus. But what they objected to was this preaching of salvation by the atonement, the cross of the Son of God. Now, this happened a thousand nine hundred years ago. Has it changed? Is it a different kind of a world today in its attitude toward the cross than it was in the days of the apostle Paul nineteen hundred years ago? Now there is no doubt but that there is a sentimental attraction to, an affection for the cross of Jesus Christ that has pretty well swept over every facet of the cultural and political and social life of the whole world.
Our churches today are built in the form of a cross. We’ve taken the cross and put it on top of the highest steeple as a symbol of great love and honor. It is an acceptable piece of jewelry. It is worn as adornments around our necks. It is embossed on the Bible. And It is used in ecclesiastical architecture and decoration as a very fine instrument of embellishment. It is a subject of art for centuries. And poets who have no particular interest in faith at all will use the cross as a symbol of tremendous dedication in their most poetic lines. It has literally captured the imagination of the world.
But ultimately and fundamentally has our attitude changed toward the cross. Most of what we see and what we hear and what we look at in its attitude toward the cross of Christ is nothing but cheap sentimentality. We are quite willing to come to the Christ of Galilee [John 1:43-51] or the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], or the Christ of the Golden Rule [Matthew 7:12], or the Christ of affection, demonstrated in His love for little children [Mark 10:13-16], or the Christ of superior philosophical wisdom and teaching [John 7:14-46]. But are we willing to come to the Christ of the cross? [Matthew 27:32-50]. Has the offense of the cross ceased? [Galatians 5:11].
Some time ago there was a woman in London. She was a socialite, one of these butterflies, and her thinking was shallow and her religion a cheap veneer. And in a company of literary figures in London in which Thomas Carlyle was present, she began to expatiate upon the death of Jesus and upon His crucifixion. And she was saying that those Jews back there crucified the Son of God, but had He come in her day, and in her life, and in her city, and into the culture to which she belonged, that the Lord would have been received with open arms and with acclaim, and she turned to the great literary genius, Thomas Carlyle, and said, “Don’t you think so, Mr. Carlyle?”
And I copied his answer. “No, I don’t, madam. I think that had He come very fashionably dressed with plenty of money and preaching doctrines very palatable to the higher orders, I might have had the honor of having received a card from you on the back of which would be written to meet our Savior. But if He had come uttering His sublime precepts and denouncing the Pharisees and associating with publicans as He did, you would have treated Him much as the Jews did and cried out, ‘Take Him to Newgate and hang Him.’” That’s just Thomas Carlyle’s attitude about had the Lord come in his time He would have been received just about as He was received in the days of the apostle Paul.
Now all of that, as you would know, set me to thinking. Then is the offense of the cross ceased? What is that and why is it as true today as it was in the days of the apostle Paul; the skandalon of the cross. Now I have three answers. Number one: the cross is offensive to the world because it exposes the nature and the heart of true humanity and human life. It is the nature and it pleases the man, it is the nature of the human creature to deify himself. And he speaks of and constantly palavers and repeats those optimisms concerning humankind, that we are able to solve our problems, and that we can save ourselves, and we are taught to have great confidence in our abilities, all of which sounds very, very fine, and that human nature is fundamentally good, and what philosophy and education and religion ought to do is in no wise to condemn but to point out and to bring out the finest in the human heart.
Well, you know, humanity I would to God was like that. But it is the opposite of that. I read where in Edinburgh there were two preachers, pastors of the church, and one preached in the morning and one preached in the evening. And the one that stood up in the morning said that there is an instinctive natural federation for goodness on the part of humanity, of mankind; that when virtue appears, human beings immediately set it upon a throne and bow down and worship before it. It is apparent goodness, and the human heart responds to it as such; and were goodness and virtue to enter immediately, humankind would enthrone it. Now that’s what he said in the morning.
Unknown to him and unknown to the second pastor, the second pastor preached in the night, in the evening service. And this is what he said. He said that virtue and moral goodness came into this world, speaking of the life and glory and beauty of Jesus Christ, but instead of being enthroned it was mocked, and ridiculed, and spit upon, and rejected, and finally murdered, and hung on a tree.
Was the man in the evening service correct or was the preacher at the morning service correct? All we have to do to see the fundamental actual nature of humanity is to read it in history or in the Bible. In the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis for example, the Lord looked down from heaven and saw. What did He see? That violence and wickedness covered the earth. And that the imaginations of the thoughts of the hearts of men were evil continually! [Genesis 6:5, 11]. And anybody can read of the sordid declivity and degradation that characterized the life of Israel, and of Judah, and of Assyria, and of Babylon.
And when I come to the first chapter of the Book of Romans, which describes the life of the people in the Roman Empire, I don’t read it in public services. I never heard it read in a public service, nor did I ever hear of it being read in a public service. You just don’t read the first chapter of Romans in mixed audiences and in public services. Yet that’s the life of the Roman Empire, and it sounds like the life of America today. What we need to do is, looking at humanity, what we need to do is look at in the background of what actually happens and what the human heart is actually like. Now you will never find a better picture of the human race and the human heart than you find in the day of the cross.
The [nineteenth] chapter of the Book of John says that the Lord was crucified outside the city, just beyond the great city gate [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12]. That is He was publicly exposed. He was crucified naked. And the throngs passed by and looked at Him as He suffered and as He died [Matthew 27:39-40]. And the death of the Son of God [Matthew 27:32-50], the cross of the Son of God, is an indictment, it is a condemnation of the city, and the state, and the race, and the empire, and of all humankind! It is a condemnation of Herod Antipas in his coarse vices and his cheap ribaldry. It is a condemnation of Caiaphas, the conniving high priest [John 12:49-53]. It is a condemnation of Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator [Matthew 27:24-26], who had his eye on his career and on his position. It is a condemnation of Judas Iscariot with his covetous, traitorous betrayal [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50]. It is a condemnation of the scribes and the Pharisees and of the rulers of the temple who sought to place their advancement above that of the truth brought to them by the Son of God. It is a condemnation of the disciples themselves who forsook Him and fled [Matthew 26:56], of Simon Peter who three times denied that he didn’t even know Him [Matthew 26:34, 69-74].
The cross is a condemnation of all humanity. The shadow falls over every heart, and every generation, and every nation, and every kind. It’s like the dark wings of the death angel that passed over Egypt in the days of that awful night [Exodus 12:7, 12-13, 23]. And this generation is no different from the generation before it, nor are we different from the generation that is yet to come. Violence and murder and bloodshed and evil is at the heart of the universe, and it is in all of us. Yesterday afternoon, yesterday afternoon I buried a beautiful twenty year old young wife who belongs to our church. She was murdered, seated in her car with her seatbelt around her, just right back of the hospital here where she had driven in order to see her sick young husband.
The offense of the cross is first of all because it exposes the true nature of the human heart and of this mortal world. What is the offense of the cross? It is second, it is offensive because it is a call to self-denial and a repudiation of the rewards of the world. And we don’t like that. It goes against everything that we want and sense and feel. The rich young ruler found that. The Lord invited him to take what he had and give to the poor and then the sentence, “Come take up the cross, and follow Me” [Mark 10:21]. And it was too great a denial [Mark 10:22]. Demas found that in the last chapter of Paul’s last letter, 2 Timothy, Paul writes, “Demas, Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” [2 Timothy 4:10].
To follow the Christ around the shores of Galilee is very beautiful. And to follow the Lord in His life of ministering to the needs of the little children and to the poor is very beautiful. And we look upon Him and His denial and sacrifice with admiration. But as for our taking His reproach and going outside the city gate, bearing that reproach, is a skandalon to us [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12]. The call for self-denial is too much for us. Ah, I see that everywhere. I see it in me. I see it in the church. I see it in the people. I see it universally. We don’t like to be looked upon as prudes and as squares. We like to be looked upon as regular fellows, as good sports.
One of these civic clubs, they were singing, they say that old so-and-so he ain’t got no style. He style all the while. He style all the while. And seated between two of them, I was the pivot man in between. And those two fellows were talking about their gambling and talking about their drinking and talking about their whoremongering promiscuity. And I was seated there, and I was supposed to enjoy it. Am I not also to be a regular fellow? Am I to be a prude, a Puritan, a square? And finally before the thing was over I said to the two men, “I just want you to know before I leave, I just want you to know, that I don’t share in appreciation of anything that you fellows have talked about today. I just don’t.” But that’s the world. The politician is supposed to use hell and damn, and he is talking all the time. That shows he is a regular fellow. He is also supposed to gamble a little. He is also supposed to drink. Why, that shows that he is a regular fellow. And who wants to be prudish or puritanical or Victorian? The offense of the cross.
Same way about the things that we reach for in life. What is success? Why, success is measured and demonstrated by affluence and by all of the accouterments that go with wealth and advancement. And if you are not that you have not succeeded—not in the eyes of the world. Self-denial is not a virtue; rather it is something that pertains to failure. And there is nothing so miserable as failure, as is, they say, there is nothing that is so successful as success.
This fellow, he hasn’t achieved, he hasn’t accumulated, he hasn’t advanced, and he is a failure. Maybe, these missionaries over here remind me, there was a man; there was a man who lived in a little house, a little house. And he dressed shabbily and poorly. And he was stingy and penurious. He had a little salary and he lived a little life. Upon a day the pastor went to see him. And the meal was very meager. But the pastor happened to find out as he visited in the home of the old man, the pastor found out that for the years of the life of that penurious man, that stingy man, that shabbily dressed man, that failure of a man; that for the years of his life he had taken his little salary and had lived on a little part of it for himself and had supported a missionary on the foreign field for years and years and years. Yet he is a failure! Look at him, how he is dressed. Look where he lives and look at the penuriousness of his life.
We had a deacon here in our church that rode a bicycle down here to church all his life. All you old-timers know him. He rode a bicycle down here to church all his life. He was killed on that bicycle because in his old age he couldn’t see any too well, and a car ran over him and killed him, and I buried him. And yet that man gave everything he had to the church and to the work of God.
The offense of the cross: it is not liked; it is not acceptable because it calls for self-denial and a repudiation of the rewards of the world. To a man who has found the cross as the way of life; the emoluments of the world are nothing; nothing. You couldn’t buy him with them; the blandishments of them are nothing.
Third: the offense of the cross; it is offensive to the world because it presents itself as the only way of salvation. And it does so without apology. It does so statedly and pronouncedly. There is no other way for a man to be saved [John 14:6; Acts 4:12]. That is the preaching of the cross.
You know, in that passage in which I found that word skandalon, “we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a skandalon, and unto the Greeks moronic idiocy” [1 Corinthians 1:23]. And I can understand that. How in the earth is it that a man who is executed—the electric chair to us is the same thing as the cross was to them back there—how could a man crucified be the instrument of salvation, and as these Greeks heard it, it was idiocy. And as the Jews heard it, it was a skandalon. It was an offense!
If the preaching of the cross could be accepted as a way of salvation, there would be no offense in it at all. Here in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, they brought before Gallio, the deputy governor of Achaia, Paul and his companions. And when Gallio listened to them, he said, “I never saw such foolishness.” And he drove them from the judgment seat, and Gallio cared for none of those things [Acts 18:12-17].
The attitude of the world toward religion is as the attitude of the Hindu in India which now keeps out our missionaries. The attitude of the world is there are many ways to heaven, not just one. The Buddhist has his way, and the Shintoist has his way, and the Confucianist has his way, and the Mohammedan has his way, and the Taoist has his way, and the Christian has his way. But we are all striving for the same place. But when the Christian religion stands up and says, “But there is none other name under heaven, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12], it is a skandalon! It is an offense!
The Christian religion has met that from the beginning. When you ask why the Roman Empire and why the Roman Caesars persecuted the Christian faith, when the Roman government as such had the most tolerant attitude toward religion of any government that ever lived or ever existed. Yet it persecuted the Christian faith. Why? Because the Christian refused to compromise the faith with any other religion or any other form of worship. Absolutely refused; and they persecuted the Christian. The offense of the cross, that there is none other way to be saved except in Jesus Christ [John 14:6; Acts 4:12].
Now could I add to that offense of the cross the modern liberal attitude toward it? The cross is presented in the Bible as the atonement for our sins [Romans 5:11], the only way that our sins can be washed away [1 John 1:7]. There is not any other way for us to be cleansed except in the cross. And the modern liberal looks upon that as being butcher shop religion. It is a bloody religion. And he will take the hymnbook; I have been in churches where every song on the blood has been purged out of the hymnbooks. And the death of Christ is like the death of Socrates or like the death of Julius Caesar or like the death of Nathan Hale. It is the death of a great martyr, an example. But it has nothing to do with the atonement for our sins.
The cross of Christ in the Bible is presented as the means whereby we are saved [1 Corinthians 1:18]. The cross of Christ is the instrument of God by which He undoes all of the depredations of transgression and iniquity and wrong doing. May I run that down in three brief words and then we must stop? It was sin that brought the ruin of the universe, the curse of the ground, and the curse of the whole land, and the curse of the animal kingdom, and the curse of the whole creation [Genesis 3:1-19]. Sin did that. But the cross of Christ in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, the redemptive work of Christ is to be the means whereby God redeems, recreates the whole world; all of it; the stars, the earth, the planet, the animal world, the whole earth [Romans 8:21-22].
Second: sin brought death into the world, and the wages of sin is death [Romans 6:23], and the soul that sinned shall die [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. But the cross of Christ is the means of God of changing the whole curse and lifting it. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God in Christ Jesus is everlasting life, everlasting life [Romans 6:23].
And last: the sin that was brought into the world brought estrangement from God, estrangement from God, separation from God [Isaiah 59:2]. Even Adam felt naked in the presence of God though he covered himself with fig leaves [Genesis 3:7]. But we who were estranged from God, this is the second chapter of Ephesians, we who were estranged from God, we who were aliens, we who were far off without hope and without God in the world, we have been brought nigh in the blood of Christ. And the middle wall of partition has been broken down, whereby we have free access to God our Father, washed in the blood of the Lamb [Ephesians 2:11-18].
Ah, the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God is so opposite to how the world would think that a man ought to be saved. But it is the wisdom of God, for the wisdom of God is wiser than men, and the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men [1 Corinthians 1:24-25].
It is God’s open door into heaven, the way of the cross leads home. Ah, Lord, how I need this message and how I need a rebirth into the things of Christ. As we face the new year, O Lord, how I need to drown so many of these things that arise in me, and how I need to replace them with dedicated service for the blessed Jesus.
We must sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, while we make this appeal, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, to give yourself to Jesus, to put your life in the fellowship of the church, maybe to start a new beginning in our blessed Savior, as God would lay the appeal and would press the call to your heart, would you answer today with your life? I can’t say the word but He can. What the Lord would bid you do, come. Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, down one of these stairways, into the aisle and here to the front, come now, make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.