May 24, 2019

The Offensiveness Of The Cross

And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offense of the cross ceased (Galatians 5:11, KJV).

“I know of a church where they no longer speak of the blood of Jesus,” said my friend. She said this church thinks it too outdated. Is speaking of the blood of Christ outdated in your church?

Telling the Good News does not give me any reason for bragging. Telling the Good News is my duty—something I must do. And how terrible it will be for me if I do not tell the Good News (1 Corinthians 9:16, NCV).

Jesus replied, “We must go to the nearby towns, so that I can tell the good news to those people. This is why I have come” (Mark 1:38, CEV).

It seems that preaching the Gospel of grace, which is the story of the Cross, was very important to Jesus and to Paul. If that is so, why is it not important to us?

And now I want to remind you, my friends, of the Good News which I preached to you, which you received, and on which your faith stands firm. That is the gospel, the message that I preached to you. You are saved by the gospel if you hold firmly to it—unless it was for nothing that you believed. I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Good News Translation).

There is a story told of an old woman who claimed she and God talked on a regular basis. Her bishop was doubtful of her claims to hear from God. After all, he prayed on a regular basis, but the Lord never spoke back to him. So he decided to put this woman to the test in order to reveal her for either a misguided soul or a fraud. He went to her and said, “The next time you are talking with God, ask him to tell you what my most grievous sin was.” The woman agreed to do so.

A week later the bishop returned and asked, “Did you ask God to reveal to you my worst sin?”

“Yes,” said the woman. “I did ask him.”

“Well,” said the bishop, “what did he say?”

The woman said simply, “He says he forgets.”

But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24, NASB).

 

Youcef Nadarkhani is 34 years old and is from Rasht, in the Gilan province of Iran. For the past ten years he has been a pastor in a network of house churches. He was previously imprisoned in December of 2006, the charges being apostasy (leaving Islam for Christianity)  and evangelism (spreading the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ), but was released two weeks later.

He is married and has two sons, Daniel age 9 and Yoel age 7. They were attending a local school when the government decided that all children should be taught about Islam, including those from Christian families. Youcef went to the school and protested this based on the Iranian constitution, which allows for freedom to practice religion. As a result, the secret police called him before the political tribunal in Rasht, Iran on October 12, 2009. At that time he was arrested, charged for protesting, and has been in prison in Lakan (which is seven miles south of Rasht) ever since. Later the charges changed to apostasy and evangelism to Muslims.

Because Youcef’s faith remained strong, they decided to arrest his wife in order to place more pressure on him. On June 18th, 2010 Fatemah Pasindedih was arrested, charged with apostasy and placed in prison in Lakan. During this time their boys went to live with a relative. Both Youcef and his wife Fatemah were threatened by authorities that their children would be taken away and given to a Muslim family. Youcef was not swayed to turn back to Islam, so his wife was put on trial without an attorney, and sentenced to life in prison. An attorney was later hired and the sentence appealed. The sentence and conviction were overturned and she was released.

On September 21 and 22, 2010, Youcef was put on trial, and verbally given the sentence of death. A written verdict was delayed and then delivered, on November 13, 2010, by the 1st Court of the Revolutionary Tribunal. He is to be executed by hanging for the crime of apostasy. Twenty days are allowed to appeal the sentence with the Supreme Court of Iran.

On December 5, 2010 the verdict was appealed to the Supreme Court, but on June 28, 2011 we learned that the Supreme Court reached a decision. The third chamber of the Supreme Court in Qom upheld his conviction for apostasy and the death sentence. They have commanded the local court to re-examine whether or not he was a practicing Muslim from ages 15 to 19. If it is determined he was a practicing Muslim he will be given another chance to recant and then he will be executed.

The re-examination of his case was held September 25th through 28th. From the very beginning it was demanded he recant. Even before the case was heard or the trial completed. During one hearing he was told to recant and he responded, “You ask me to recant. Recant means to return. What do you wish me to return to? The blasphemy that I was in before Christ?” The judges responded, “To the religion of your ancestors, Islam.” Youcef replied, “I cannot.”  (Present Truth Ministries)

For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man (Galatians 1:11. NASB).

Christianity is NOT a religion; it is the proclamation of the end of religion. Religion is a human activity dedicated to the job of reconciling God to humanity and humanity to itself. The Gospel, however – the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is the astonishing announcement that God has done the whole work of reconciliation without a scrap of human assistance. It is the bizarre proclamation that religion is over – period. (Robert Capon)

***

The gospel is the good news of what God has accomplished in the person of his Son, in his life, death, and resurrection, to secure the forgiveness of sins of all who will repent and believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. In other words, the gospel is something that God has accomplished. It’s not something that we do. Our faith is not the gospel. Our repentance is not the gospel. But they are the effects of it. So we could say that the gospel is an indicative, not an imperative. In other words, it’s an accomplishment by God; it’s not a command to us. The gospel is what God has achieved, not something that we are to attempt. (Sam Storms)

***

Our method of proclaiming salvation is this: to point out to every heart the loving Lamb, who died for us, and although He was the Son of God, offered Himself for our sins … by the preaching of His blood, and of His love unto death, even the death of the cross. (Count Zinzendorf)

***

Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him, and say, “Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and given me what is yours. You have become what you were not so that I might become what I was not.” (Martin Luther)

***

It is not thy hold on Christ that saves thee; it is Christ. It is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee; it is Christ. It is not even thy faith in Christ, though that be the instrument; it is Christ’s blood and merit. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)

***

There is a great lesson there for Christian teachers, and for all who are trying to advance Christ’s kingdom. The more earnest and eager they are to have men saved, the more willing the are to go all lengths to meet them. And this is right, for we must be all things to all men—to the Jews as a Jew, to the Romans as a Roman; but remember, there are a few great facts we cannot yield, though they run counter to the whole spirit of the age. It were better to empty a church and preach the cross, than to fill it by keeping silent like a coward. It were better to fail as Paul failed with the Jews, then to succeed by being a traitor to the cross. And that is why I look with such uncertainty on much that the church is trying to do today. Religion can never be a pleasant entertainment. When the offense of the cross ceases, it is lost. (George H. Morrison)

And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offense of the cross ceased (Galatians 5:11, KJV).

Do you suffer persecution for preaching the cross of Christ? Do you speak and sing of the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world? Is the proclaiming of the Gospel as important to you as it was to Paul and Jesus?

Do you understand that the Gospel begins and ends with Jesus’ death on a cross and his resurrection from the grave? Do you realize that it has nothing—not one thing—to do with you? Our only role is that of Lazarus: we are dead and we stink.

Does the cross offend you? Is it too outdated? Is it simply a fashion statement you make with your t-shirts and jewelry and maybe even a tat?

The cross that offends is the only doorway to life. If you cling to it, and then offer it to others, you will be shunned by those who claim to be Christians but who want to enforce rules and standards and theories. Are you willing to be shunned?

Are you willing to be offended?

Comments

  1. As one who drove the nails into his body, I can only answer with sincere repentance in the the words severally recorded by Luke: God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

  2. I’d say the Gospel begins with the Incarnation, not Christ on the cross. The ultimate condescension, the cross, was not possible without that previous condescension. That’s a pretty offensive thought: holy, infinite, immortal, eternal God being subject to the limits of time, to the limits of a normal human body, to the limits of mortality, and surrounded by sinners. Want to blaspheme God? Stick Him in a normal human body and then kill Him. That’s exactly what He did, willingly, to make us right with Him.

    • Its quite amazing that the Logos, who moved in and through creation, penetrated the world he formed, and the King entered it among his subjects. O Magnum Mysterium.

    • Aidan Clevinger says

      I don’t know – when Christ comes again, He’ll still be in a mortal body. And yet the Bible pictures teh Second Coming as a time when Jesus is unveiled in all His glory. Thoughts?

      • Not sure…but it’ll be pretty awesome…however He decides to do it.

      • Glenn A Bolas says

        And, remarkably, we will share in His glory.

        It’s what one teacher of mine called ‘the Divine Bungee-Jump’. He plunges down into our muck, as low as He can go, then springs back up, pulling us with Him.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          It’s what one teacher of mine called ‘the Divine Bungee-Jump’. He plunges down into our muck, as low as He can go, then springs back up, pulling us with Him.

          A similar “Harrowing of Hell” (though done by a mortal) is a key scene in the My Little Pony/Alan Wake crossover fanfic novel Creeping Darkness. Which also includes a climax where an immortal god-figure volunteers to give up her powers, immortality, and even life in exchange to resurrect a beloved dead mortal.

          Like I said long ago, I have encountered more Gospel echoes & parallels in MLP fanfics than in officially-Christianese fiction.

    • Glenn A Bolas says

      And don’t forget the Resurrection.

      Our Orthodox brothers and sisters grind their teeth when we Westerners harp on about the Cross but see fit only to mention the Resurrection in passing. And I can kinda see their point. To paraphrase Paul, if Christ only died to save us from our sins, we’re still in them. The two need equal weight.

      • true….but it is not either-or but BOTH!

        Without the Cross, the Resurrection is impossible.

        With the Resurrection, the Cross is meaningless.

        A long time ago I remember an atheist asking “So, if your Jesus had lived and died in Soviet Russia, wouldya’ll be wearing little silver or gold electric chairs around your necks?”

        Yeah, I think we would.

        • Glenn A Bolas says

          Exactly. As I said, they need equal weight.

          On a completely irrelevant sidenote, did the Soviets use electric chairs? I’d always associated that particular form of capital punishment with America myself.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Electrocution was uniquely American, though the Phillippines also used it for a while. (Don’t ask how I know this off the top of my head; let’s just say I was a really morbid kid in high school, long before there was any Goth scene.)

            And mixed metaphors and/or confusion of imagery is nothing new.

  3. The cross is offensive.

    We, the enlightened, progressive Christian an’t stand not having a hand in all of this salvation stuff.

    So…we engage in religios projects, great and small…so we won’t be left completely out of this great work accomplished by God with (of course) …our help 😀

  4. Jeff — I love that story about the woman and the bishop. Thank you!

  5. The gospel is grace and until you’re gripped by grace it’s going to make no sense whatsoever, it will only cause offense even to the average pew warmer or most devout parishioner. As I’ve said before Jeff, I really appreciate the message of undiluted grace you bring in Michael’s absence.

  6. There’s two different ways that the message of the cross gives offense. One is when we preach it _wrong_ and preach it in a limited manner: i.e. painting a picture of an angry God punishing Jesus in our place, a message that has no direct grounding in the Bible and is very different from the examples we have in the Bible of the preaching of the first Christians.

    The other way the message of the cross can be an offense to the world is when we preach it in its fullness: not just a victory over the individual sinful deeds we have done, but total victory over sin and death and the Devil, an end to everything within us that needs to die, a public spectacle showing exactly what the authorities of this world can and cannot do through their violence, and so much more. If we’re going to offend, at least let’s offend people by preaching that radical and life-giving message of the salvation of the world, not just a limited message of freeing individuals from feelings of guilt or inadequacy.

    The message of the Gospel is radical and is a threat to every human authority that sets itself up against God. The kingdom of God is a dangerous force, and those in power know that – for example, several friends of mine were threatened with federal arrest yesterday merely for sitting quietly in a circle outside the Federal Reserve building here in Boston praying against the greed and inequality in our society. I myself have been chased down a sidewalk by police in New York City just for standing with a group of friends near the stock exchange reciting a litany against the injustices in our society. Public prayer frightens people who want control. The name of Jesus frightens those who hold power by wealth or violence. And well it should. No wonder regimes like Iran fear it, and no wonder even the authorities here in the US don’t like to hear it spoken.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      One is when we preach it _wrong_ and preach it in a limited manner: i.e. painting a picture of an angry God punishing Jesus in our place…

      Isn’t this called “Penal Substitutionary Atonement”? Whatever the name, it was very prominent & widespread in the Evangelical Wilderness during my time in-country. To the point it seemed the ONLY picture painted of the Cross at the time.

  7. Agreed! I do as well!! Keep it up we need more posts about Gods Grace and to constantly be reminded of it in a world that is totally against it and in many cases just doesnt get it.

  8. I think the main reason that most people disregard, downplay, distort, or avoid the true message of the cross is that it leaves no space for human pride.
    The cross of Christ tells us that all our individual and collective efforts to modify our behavior, all our human achievements and knowledge, all the power and authority possessed by human governments, and all the workings and practices of religious institutions — all that added together and multiplied by a million — would still fall infinitely short of what Christ accomplished at the cross.
    The cross tells us that we are all sinners and criminals with no hope outside the charity, mercy, and grace of a loving and forgiving God.
    And that’s a place where human pride cannot abide.

  9. The Robert Capon quote and the Sam Storms quote are spot on — excellent meat to ponder!

  10. Jonathan Brumley says

    “So we could say that the gospel is an indicative, not an imperative. In other words, it’s an accomplishment by God; it’s not a command to us. The gospel is what God has achieved, not something that we are to attempt. (Sam Storms)”

    Do folks here understand what Sam is asking that we not attempt?
    What is an example of “attempting” the gospel?

    • When I was a child in a strict fundamentalist church in Atlanta, Georgia, the “good news” of the church run Christian School was proclaimed. ( I am not against Christian schools, but hear me out) We were told that by removing our children from the wicked public school system and putting them in schools with Bible curriculum and high standards of dress and conduct that we would raise an army of pastors, missionaries, and Christian workers that would turn the country around.

      Our efforts were the key. Church members sacrificed thousands of dollars, and school teachers worked for miserable pay, confident in the fact that we would achieve the revival of America. Yes, the Gospel was written in our doctrinal statements — but the excitement and the thrill was in what WE WERE DOING, not in what GOD HAD ALREADY DONE. What we were doing was “good news” (it was what excited us) and the Gospel of God’s achievement was, in reality, a boring afterthought.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Out of curiosity, what percentages of that future “army of pastors, missionaries, and Christian workers” took the Marilyn Manson, Richard Dawkins, or Fred Phelps route when they turned 18?

        • Josh in FW says

          too many

        • I can’t say. But I learned to swear, drink, smoke pot, fornicate, be racist, and many other things from my fellow classmates who had been isolated in a “Christian” environment. 30 years later, at a class reunion, some had lived fairly consistent lives, many had returned to the church after some disastrous decisions in life, but there were others who had no interest at all in the things of the Lord.

          My Christian generation did not tend to go as radical as Manson or Dawkins, but I am noticing that trend in the lives of our children’s generation. Quite frankly, I don’t think they see a big difference between those who claim to follow Jesus and those who don’t. We Christians want the same things as the unbelievers: power, control, wealth in this world. The idea of giving these up is terrifying to us.

          Perhaps if they had seen Christians who had heard the admonishment of Paul to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . . who being in the form of God, emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave . . . who humbled Himself . . . who became obedient to death on a cross”, they would find Christians who were at peace whether or not they had the things of the world. May God have mercy on our short-sightedness!

    • Glenn A Bolas says

      I’m not so sure about this one. Sure, I get what he’s saying and I agree completely with that. The Cross is a singular act of God to save us from our sins, and nothing we can do could ever add to or subtract from it. The only contribution we make to the Cross are the sins that put Him there.

      But I don’t think you can say the Cross is not also a command. It can and should be both. We are to become like Christ, and that includes the Cross. Christ Himself commands us to take up our cross and follow Him. Of course, it is only by His grace and the power of His Cross that we can ever hope to take up our own, but that doesn’t make it any less imperative. Indeed, I think what irks so many of us about the prosperity preaching so prevalent now is precisely this notion that Christ has suffered so I don’t have to, rather than the more biblical idea of having fellowship in His suffering.