Broadcasting now. Watch Live.

The Scandal of the Cross

Tom Pennington Galatians 6:14


I'm hoping on August 1st, which is sort of the first Sunday as everything gets cranked up for the fall. I'm hoping to go back to our study on systematic theology, the great doctrines of the Bible. And to begin to look that night at the attributes of God. I've been reading up on it this summer and enjoying my study. And I'm looking forward to sort of unleashing all of that on you in the coming weeks. But tonight, I want us to look at a passage and a theme, relating to our celebration of the Lord's table together. And then next week we have something else planned as well for you. But starting off August 1st, you let everyone know that we're going to be going back to those great themes and looking specifically at the attributes of our God.

Tonight, as I said, however, I want to go a little differently, a little different passage with you. Turn with me to Galatians 5. I was struck by something the apostle writes here in Galatians 5.

He says in Verse 11, "But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision," which is what of course the Judaizers were preaching a mix of law and faith. He says if I still preach that, "why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished." It's an interesting phrase, "the stumbling block of the cross." Literally, the Greek word is, you'll recognize it - skandalon. The skandalon of the cross, the offence of the cross or the scandal of the cross. What does Paul mean? Well, if you think about it for a minute, we proclaim something that is inherently an offense. That is inherently a scandal. Think about it. We preach that a pheasant carpenter, who was crucified as a criminal, is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. That is, truly a scandalous message, an offensive message. It was revolting to the first century world. In fact, crucifixion, the cross was reserved for slaves and rebels and terrorists, sort of the dregs of the criminal justice system. In fact, no Christian in the first century or at least I should say, none that we know of, use the cross as a symbol of his faith. There wasn't cross jewelry and no cross clothing. There were no crosses penned to the front of the buildings, the homes or edifices where they met. It wasn't until a hundred years after the cross, after the crucifixion, that the cross began to be a symbol of the Christian faith. You see the cross is God's scandal.

It was an absolute contradiction of human wisdom. Turn to 1 Corinthians, and I want you to stay here for a moment. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, "For the word," or the message, "of the cross is foolishness to those who were perishing, but to us were being saved it is the power of God." Now why would God choose to involve himself in what is really scandalous, in an offensive message? His son dying as the worst of common criminals. Well, he explains.

Verse 19. Here's why:

For it is written. I will destroy the wisdom of the wise. And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside. Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not come to know God. God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached (that is, a message about a crucified. God) to save those who believe.

It's God's scandal. It was his absolute contradiction of human wisdom, and he did it on purpose. He did it on purpose to exalt his own wisdom. No human being would have ever dreamed this plot. You see in the Roman world, there was one public act that was designed to bring the deepest and most profound shame. It was the act of public crucifixion. Crucifixion as you have heard was borrowed from the Persians, but it was perfected by the Romans. It wasn't merely a tortuous means of execution. It was intended to place an indelible stigma on the victim. In fact, sometimes the Romans would crucify a dead body because it would mean it was meant to make a statement about that person. It was designed to produce great humiliation and loss of honor. Every step of the process was designed to humiliate the person being crucified. From a public trial that was intended to label that person as a shameful person, to flogging and torture, to hanging the victims completely naked, so that they were open to humiliation and shame. Often soiling themselves in the days they hung on the cross with urine and excrete. All of these things, every part of the process was designed to bring shame. In common speech, the Romans referred to the cross as the tree of shame.

The writer Cicero, the Roman writer Cicero said that the cross was so despicable in degrading that an honorable Roman should never mention it in public. And you know what most all followed his advice. Of the hundreds of thousands, or I should say tens of thousands of crucifixions that were perpetrated by the Romans, the greatest and fullest accounts of crucifixion that we have occur in the gospels. It was a shame even to the Romans. That was the cultural climate in which Paul lived and preached. You see the cross by its very nature as something that Christians are constantly tempted to be ashamed of because it was meant to be shameful. I love what Lloyd Jones writes, listen to this. He said that if you've never been ashamed of the message of the cross, he says the real reason is "not that you are such an exceptionally good Christian, but rather that your understanding of the Christian message has never been that clear."

It's a temptation to be ashamed of the cross because it is shameful. The Gospel of Christ is nothing but the story about a publicly shamed man. Christ's crucifixion was intended to publicly humiliate him and discredit all of his claims to honor and to legitimacy. You see for Paul to speak of a shamed criminal in such glorious terms as he did was absolutely scandalous. But that's exactly what Paul did, and he tells us why. Turn again. Stay in Romans 1 if you're still there and notice what he says. He says, "We preach Christ crucified". You see what he says? The word Christ, of course, is the Greek term equivalent to the Old Testament Hamasia – Messiah. He says, we preach Messiah crucified. The essence of our message is a crucified Messiah. God on a cross.

How exactly was that message received? Notice what he says in Verse 23, not very well. He says, that's our message. That's the essence of what we're talking about, and here's how it's received. To the Jews, it's a stumbling block. There's our word again, skandalon. It's an offense. It's a scandal. You see, the Jews just couldn't conceive of a Messiah being shamed like that. There's an interesting debate in the second century that we have recorded for us. It was between the Christian apologist, Justin Martyr and a man by the name of Trypho. Trypho was a Jewish teacher of the law. And in one of the debates, Trypho responds to Justin Martyr's argument like this. Listen to what he says, "It is quite clear that the Scriptures announce that Christ had to suffer. But prove to us whether he must be crucified and die so disgracefully and so dishonorably, the death accursed in the law. For we cannot bring ourselves even to consider this." You see to the Jews, it's an offence, the Messiah crucified and to die in such a shameful way? But notice back in Verse 23, the Jews aren't the only one with the problem. To them, it's an offence and to the Gentiles its foolishness. You see to the Greeks and the Romans; it was absolute foolishness. The Greek word for foolishness you'll recognize as well. We have an English word that comes from it. The Greek word is moriah, it's the word from which we get moronic. To the Greeks and to the Romans the message of a slain God, it was moronic. It was stupid to use a word that we use often in the vernacular. It is folly.

Martin Hengel writes "To assert that God himself accepted death in the form of a crucified Jewish manual worker from Galilee, in order to break the power of death and bring salvation to all men, could only seem folly in madness to men of ancient times." And it was. It was. And today the response is no different. It's still either, the cross is still either a scandal to some, or it's moronic foolish to most. So how should we respond to what we sing about, the old rugged cross that emblem of suffering and shame? How should we respond to that? To some, it's an offense. To others. it's just folly.

Well Paul tells us how we should respond in spite of the fact that it was intended to shame Christ, in spite of the fact that it was God's purposeful scandal. Paul tells us how we should respond in Galatians 6, and I want us to look at that briefly before we celebrate the Lord's table together. Galatians 6. Here it is. Here's how to respond to the scandal of the cross. 6:14, "But may it never be that I would boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Paul says, listen, you want to know as a Christian how to respond to the shameful message of the cross. Here it is.

Let me give you several responses. He says, first of all, I want you to boast in the work that Christ accomplished there. I want you to boast in the work of Christ, or as one writer calls it, the cross work of Jesus Christ. Contrast that, with the response of the Judaizers. Notice Verse 13. For those who are circumcised, talking about the Judaizers, those who mix their keeping of the law with faith and said both were necessary to be saved. They don't even keep the law themselves. They don't really keep it. But they desire to have you circumcised, Galatians, so that they may boast in your flesh. Notice where the Galatians or excuse me where the Judaizers boasted. They boasted in themselves, in their own accomplishments and the accomplishments of others. In their rigorous keeping of the law, even though they really didn't keep it as it was intended. They were boasting in their fastidious adherence to the right of circumcision. In other words, they found their glory and boast in what they did and who they were. That's where they boasted. They took pride in that. You see, there's a sense in which the truest test of whether you're in Christ is if you're willing to come to the place of making the devastating acknowledgement that you have not and could never contribute anything to your salvation. Paul says, I've come to the place where I don't boast in anything else, but in the work that Jesus Christ did for me on the cross. If you think you have anything to do with your acceptance before God, then you aren't acceptable to God. Paul says, listen, I will never boast in who I am or what I have done. In fact, I renounce everything that has anything to do with me. I renounce the person that I am. I don't want anything to do with me. You know that's really what Christ meant when he said in the gospels, if any man would come after me, if anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself. What he really was saying is, renounce yourself. Say, I've had it with me. I don't want the person that is me. I don't want to associate with the person that's me. Renounce yourself. That's what Paul did. He said, I don't boast in my accomplishments. I don't boast in who I am or what I've done. I don't boast in anything except in the cross. You see, our Christian lives begin with a complete renunciation of ourselves and our own achievements.

Turn to Philippians 3. We're going to get here and shortly in our study of Philippians. Philippians 3. Notice what Paul says. He says, listen in Verse 4, "I myself might have confidence in my flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more". Let me tell you about some of my accomplishments. Let me tell you about my pedigree, Paul says. It's - it's amazing. He says, I was circumcised the eighth day. I'm of the nation of Israel. I'm the tribe of Benjamin, the special tribe. I'm the Hebrew of the Hebrews. As to the law of Pharisee, I'm fastidious in my adherence to the law. As to zeal, a persecutor of the church. As to the righteousness, which is in the law, found blameless. Now he wasn't saying that he perfectly obeyed God's law. In every sense he was saying, from an external perspective, I appeared to be a perfect keeper of the law.

But he says, Verse 7, "whatever things were gain to me, those things I've counted as loss for the sake of Christ." We'll see when we get here that Paul is dealing in accounting terms. And he says. Listen, I had all this stuff in my profit column. I mean I had a pretty impressive background at a pre impressive birth, the family I was born into. What I accomplished in my life was pretty impressive. But when I came and found myself as I really was in front of Christ, I cashed all that in. I've sold it all for what I could gain in Christ. It's like, you remember the parable of the field in the Gospels. Christ says, the king of heaven is like a man who comes across this great treasure buried in a field. And what does he do when he finds the treasure? He goes, and he sells everything he has to buy that field so he can gain the treasure. Christ says, that's what it's like to come to me. You realize everything you've got is worth nothing compared to the treasure of knowing Christ. That's what Paul says in Philippians 3. He says, "More than that" Verse 8, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." He said, it was nothing.

His Christian life began with a renunciation of everything that he had in his gain column. That attitude continues as Christians. Notice how Paul puts it in the negative back in Galatians 6:14. He says, negatively, "May it never be that I would boast except in the cross." But in essence, he's saying the positive. You know what he's really saying. He's saying, I will always boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Greek word for boast means a triumphant, rejoicing confidence or a joyful confidence. We could translate it, rejoice or boast as it translated or glory. The thing in which I take absolute delight, it's the thing in which is all my trust and confidence. To boast in the cross, is to boast in God and in his work, and in Christ, as the only Savior. To boast in the cross alone means I absolutely renounce any of my own efforts. It means, I take absolutely no credit for my salvation.

Keep your finger in Galatians and turn back to 1 Corinthians 1. God's intention is that as we look at the cross and we look at ourselves, we lose all ground of boasting and we take full confidence in God and God alone. Notice how he says it.

In 1 Corinthians 1:26 he said,

For consider your calling brethren, there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not so, He may nullify the things that are.

Now, you know you've read that passage many times in your Christian life but imagine sitting in the pews in Corinth. You've just gotten a wonderful letter from the apostle Paul. And you know you're feeling pretty good about your church and about all that's going on. And Paul begins his letter by saying, okay, I want you to think about yourselves for a moment people. You're not wise, you're not mighty, you're not noble. Instead, you're foolish and you're weak and your base and you're despised. Now as people were gradually slinking down in their pews. That's true of us as well. Oh, there's some, he says, not many. But why would God do that? Paul goes on to tell them and us. Notice Verse 29, "So that no man may boast before God." You know, God does what absolutely contradicts human wisdom. And He does it for one reason, and that is so He alone gets the glory.

But by His doing, Verse 30, you are in Christ Jesus. Who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that just as it is written, let him who boasts, boasts in whom? In himself? No, in the Lord. That's why God did it. That's why God chose you and me. We're not impressive. We don't have a lot in the game column. We don't have as much in the game column as Paul did. But God did it so that we wouldn't glory in ourselves. We wouldn't glory in anything except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, why does, Paul says we should never boast in anything except the cross? I mean doesn't he elsewhere say that we're to boast in God and we're to boast in our weaknesses and we're to boast in tribulations? Why did he say we're not to boast in anything except the cross? Well, I think John Piper's right when he says this: for the Christian, all other boastings should be boasting in the cross. Why? He goes on to write this because for redeemed sinners, every good thing, indeed, every bad thing that God turns for good was obtained for us by the cross of Christ. Apart from the death of Christ, the sinner gets nothing but judgment. Apart from the cross of Christ, there is only condemnation. Therefore, everything that you enjoy as a Christian is owing to the death of Christ. You see, every blessing that flows to us from God flows to us through the cross. That's why he says glory only in the cross.

A couple of weeks ago, I was late getting home, and I promised my girls, I knew that, and I promised my girls that when I got home, I would give them a kiss. And so, I went up to their rooms and they were already in bed asleep. And I walked in the room and you've all as parents had this experience. I walked in the room, and I looked at those little sleeping delights, my girls. My heart was filled with gratitude to God for giving them to me and for just the joy of the moment. Did I deserve that? Do you deserve any of the temporal joys that you enjoy? No, if we got what we deserved, it would only be the wrath of God - immediately. Every joy, whether it's temporal or whether it's eternal, comes to us was bought by Christ on the cross that He died. The cross of Jesus Christ bought that moment, and it bought the blessing of family and love and earthly joy and eternity. God designed the cross so that Christ and His death would get the glory both now and forever. You want to know how to respond to the shame of the cross? Boast in the work that Christ did there.

There's the second response he gives us here. He says, die to the world. Die to the world. Notice what he says back in Galatians 6:14 "But may it never be that I would boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which (that is through the cross) the world has been crucified to me. The world has been crucified to me." Notice that's passive. "The world has been crucified to me." What Paul is really saying is this, the Holy Spirit, through my understanding of the cross has produced a catastrophic change in my soul. The Holy Spirit crucified the world to me. What does that mean? Well, first of all look at the word world. The word world here has the idea of the mindset and values that characterize fallen mankind. The world is all of those earthly pleasures and treasures, as one writer calls them, all of those earthly pleasures and treasures, honors and values that tend to draw the soul away from God. It's the sphere in which the flesh lives and moves. The term represents power and wealth, and pleasure and indulgence. All that draws humanity after it, which so many seem to crave as the most important thing and in which they find their supreme delight. You want to know what the world is? Look around you and everything that the world finds its greatest joy and delight in apart from God and his good gifts is the world. It's the world. It's defined for us in 1 John. Turn to just briefly turn to 1 John 2. You've seen this verse many times, but just note how he defines the world. 1 John 2:16, "For all that is in the world," here it is, "the lust" or craving of the flesh, "the lust" or craving of the eyes, "and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father but it's from the world." That sort of wraps your arms around the world: It's craving to satisfy one's physical sensual appetites outside the bounds of God's law, it's craving to possess and own what one doesn't have, and its craving to esteem honor outside God's sovereign purpose. That's it. As far as Paul was concerned, all of that died. It was crucified. The world had become dead to Paul.

It's interesting, John Calvin says that Philippians 3 is a commentary on the world has been crucified to me. Turn to Philippians 3 one more time. Let me show you a phrase we didn't look at before. Here's a commentary on what it means that the world has been crucified to me.

Verse 7,

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I've counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For whom I have suffered the loss of all things.

That so far, the tense of the next verb is interesting. He literally says. And I am still counting them refuse. He said, listen, I go on counting all that matters to everyone else as refuse. Does that describe you? Does what matters most to most of the people in the world matter nothing to you? You have a totally different set of values. That's what Paul is saying. He said, listen, I was crucified to the world. The Holy Spirit put to death the desire for all that stuff that most people live their lives for. Do you still live to pursue whatever unbeliever around you lives for? Are your values the same? Paul says the right response to the message of the cross is to let the cross put to death your desire for what motivates everyone else. Live for a totally different reason.

The final response he gives us there in Verse 14 of Galatians 6 is to accept the world's rejection. Accept the world's rejection. There is shame that comes with the message at the cross. And guess what? If people know you embrace it, you're going to suffer rejection. And Paul says, that's all right. So did I. Notice what he says, "Through the cross, the world has been crucified to me and I to the world".

Now I don't know about you, but when I used to read that I used to see it as sort of just to turn a phrase, it kind of meant the same thing. The two phrases were saying the same basic thing. That's not true. What Paul is saying here in this phrase is, as far as the world is concerned, I have been crucified and died. I've died to the world and as far as the world is concerned, I've been crucified and died. In other words, I lost everything in the world's eyes. I lost my position. I lost my status. I lost my prestige. I lost my reputation. All had become an object of contempt in his community, Duncan, one commentator writes, Paul's ideals and outlook had become so spiritual and unworldly that the world can ignore him just as if he'd ceased to be. This often happens in our world doesn't it.

In fact, you want to see. You want to have a little experiment? Go into a secular environment, your workplace or your community, and as there's a little gathering, just open up with the concept that you're a committed follower of Jesus Christ. And watch people sort of turn away. Those who had some interest before, they just sort of ignore you from that time forward because as far as their concerned, just like Paul, you've been crucified and died. They have no interest in you whatsoever. This is a contrast again with the Judaizers. Paul says, let me tell you what they want. Notice Verse 12, those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. In other words, they want to show off and they want to avoid persecution. Paul said, not me. He said the world, as far as I'm concerned, and as far as the world is concerned, I've died.

You see, the Judaizers wanted to be admired. They wanted to be accepted by those that mattered in their world by their Jewish friends and by the leaders. Contrast the Judaizers craving for recognition, acceptance with Paul's own comments about himself. I want you to turn to 1 Corinthians 4 and notice Verse 9. Paul in his Corinthian epistles often resorts to a form of sarcasm. And he does this here in 1 Corinthians 4:9. Listen to what he says. "For I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men." We're a spectacle, he says. Verse 10. "We are fools for Christ's sake. But you are prudent in Christ."

We are weak, but you are strong. You are distinguished, but we are without honor to this present hour. We are both hungry and thirsty and are poorly clothed and are roughly treated and are homeless. And we toil working with our own hands. When we are reviled, we bless. When we are persecuted, we endure. When we are slandered, we try to conciliate. We have become, watch this, as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things. Paul understood that when you embrace the scandal of the cross, the scandal of a crucified God, it affects your reputation. And he says, bring it on. I accept, I accept it. Who matters to you? Does it matter to you that people look with disdain when they learn you're a Christian? Paul says, listen. Learn to accept the world's rejection.

It comes with the territory. It comes with the acceptance of Jesus Christ. He said, I'm an apostle and just call me the scum of the earth. I'm like something you scrape off your shoe. That doesn't mean we seek that out, but it means when it comes, we learned to rejoice in God. Christ said that. I've told you before, but I've often been shocked by Christ's words in Matthew 5. When He says, the last of the beatitudes, he says, Verse 10 "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Happy when you've been persecuted Verse 11. "Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Listen, learn to think like Christ and Paul. Learn to say when you're insulted when someone turns away because they know, you're a Christian at the office, when someone ignores you for the promotion that you really deserve. When family don't want you to be there at the gatherings because of the salt and light that you bring. Rejoice and be glad. Accept the scandal of the cross.