Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Glorious Cross



Part 16 of a series through Galatians

Text: Galatians 6:11-18

The symbol of Christianity is the cross.
  • The Judaizers were preaching circumcision: justification by the law.
  • Paul was preaching the cross: justification by God’s grace.
Why did Paul use "large letters" (v. 11)? Three possibilities: (1) because of bad eyesight (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7; Galatians 4:15), (2) because of poor handwriting, or (3) for emphasis (like typing in italics).

Our focus will be one verse 14. In this verse, Paul gives us two proper responses to the cross:

1. The cross is the object of our boasting.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 14a).

Boasting in the cross would have been an extremely strange statement to make in Paul’s day. The pain of crucifixion was so horrendous that a word was invented to explain it—excruciating—which literally means "from the cross." Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23).

To the world, the message of the cross is stupid. "Foolishness" (moria) = "madness." "Gentiles wrote off the message of the cross not as eccentric, harmless folly, but as dangerous, almost deranged stupidity" (D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry, p. 22). (This attitude toward the cross is illustrated in the Alexamenos graffito: "Alexamenos worships his god".)

To the world, the message of the cross is also offensive. "Stumbling block" (skandalon) = "scandal." "'Scandal' is in fact closer to the sense than 'stumbling block,' since the word does not so much mean something that one is tripped up by as something that offends to the point of arousing opposition" (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 75). Skandalon is also found in Galatians 5:11: "the offense of the cross." Paul had earlier written, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'" (Galatians 3:13; cf. Deuteronomy 21:23). To the Jews, "Christ crucified" was a contradiction in terms (like "godly murderer"). The cursed one ("crucified") is the anointed one ("Christ") didn’t make sense. Christ/Messiah meant power, splendor, triumph; crucifixion meant weakness, humiliation, defeat. Many Jews viewed the crucifixion as the ultimate proof that Jesus had been cursed by God for some sin of His own. In their minds, making Jesus one’s Savior was like asking a pedophile to babysit your children.

The gospel contains three humiliating doctrines: (1) we are sinners; (2) we are incapable of earning salvation; and (3) the cross was necessary. We sometimes might be afraid to proclaim these offensive truths, but Paul wrote, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).

Why should we boast in the cross? The gospel is not about what we do for God; it is about what God has done for us. After suffering on the cross for six hours, Jesus shouted, "It is finished!" (John 19:30). Everything that needed to be done to provide salvation had been accomplished.

When former President George W. Bush was asked about regrets during his presidency, Bush answered that he regrets speaking in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner just weeks after the invasion of Iraq. Bush said, "To some it said, well, Bush thinks the war in Iraq is over, when I didn’t think that. But nonetheless, it conveyed the wrong message." "It is finished!" did not send the wrong message. Christ’s mission was accomplished!

On the cross, a "great exchange" (as Martin Luther liked to call it) took place. Jesus took our sin and gave us His righteousness (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone means boasting in the cross alone.

2. The cross is the pattern of our self-denial.

Through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (v. 14b).

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'" (Matthew 6:24). Paul had suffered for following Christ: "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (v. 17). The Judaizers, on the other hand, were seeking to avoid persecution (v. 12). We can make one of two choices: (1) we can live according to the world's values; or (2) we can live according to Christ's example. Paul wrote to the Philippians, "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8). Paul had made his choice. What choice will you make?