What’s the Offense of the Cross?

Jun 19, 2017 2016

The offense of the cross

Some years back I was driving around some Palestinian towns with a local man who was a Muslim. He said to me that Jesus couldn’t be God. I asked him why not, and he told me that God could never have been crucified. He was right. The very idea offends people’s ideas about who God is and how he acts.

Right from the beginning, Christianity was meant to be offensive, and at its core, it still is, and radically so. The Cross event is the central, historical fact of Christianity. In Galatians 5:11, Paul refers to the “offense of the cross.” No-one likes to be part of something offensive, so what did he mean?

In Paul’s time, crucifixion was the ultimate offense, so much so that it was an unmentionable thing in polite society. It was so offensively disgusting that it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen. Crucifixion was reserved only the worst sort of human scum. The surviving writings of the Roman empire hardly mention crucifixion at all, despite how common crucifixion was.

Crucifixion was meant to be offensive in every sense. That’s why the highways entering the major cities featured crosses with the naked cadavers of the criminals hanging off them. It was the best form of Roman propaganda. It worked. It kept the masses under control.

The idea that anyone could worship, let alone expect to be blessed or saved by someone who had been crucified was way beyond a laughing matter. It was offensive, not only to every norm of society and religion, but to common sense itself. To follow a God who had allowed himself to be crucified was so nonsensical so as to be considered stupid.

That’s what the idea of the Cross turns very accepted truth upside down. It did it back then, and it still does it today, even for Christians who think that the main thing about being a Christian is to go to church and be part of the programmes put on there.

The blessing of eternal life is for the one who embraces the Cross despite its offense.

And so, we ask Jesus, “Do you mean to say that the first really will be the last, and that the last will be the first? Do you mean to say that the greatest will be the least, and the least will be the greatest? Do you mean to say that the purpose of life is not to rule over others, but instead to be slaves of all? Do you mean to say that we win by losing, and we lose by winning?”

“Yes,” says Jesus, “That’s what I showed you at the Cross. Hadn’t I told you enough times before? Don’t you remember?”

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Matt 16:24).

Self must die. That’s the offense of the Cross. If we are offended by it, we cannot call ourselves Christ’s disciples. The blessing of eternal life is for the one who embraces the Cross despite its offense. As our Lord and Master said,

blessed is the one who is not offended by me (Matt 11:6, ESV).

– Eliezer Gonzalez

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