The Offense of the Cross, by John G. Lake
“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).
“Offense,” the stumbling block of the cross. This word calls for careful consideration. After writing to the Galatians, Paul calls attention to the “offense of the cross.” He suggests that those who read his letter would understand what he was saying. The “offense of the cross” was expected. If it was absent there was something wrong.
“In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering over the wrecks of time,
All the light of sacred story,
Gathers round that head sublime.”
We have almost with astonishment, and even with a tendency toward reluctance, come to a phrase like this, “The stumbling block of the cross,” or “the offense of the cross.” And in meditation I ask you to consider with me the word, the arresting challenge of that word “offense” or “stumbling block.” It is very interesting to see how the great translators have attempted to get over the import of the word.
Wycliff’s translation employed the word that is now obsolete in our language. He rendered it the “sclaunger” of the cross. That was two words merged. We have divided them into “slander” and “scandal.” Cranmer translated it “slaumger.” The Geneva Council translated it “slander.” The Roman Catholic translated it “scandal.” The King James translates it “offense.” The English and American Revised Standard versions put it “stumbling block.” They were all trying to interpret the word. I am daring to submit for your consideration the Revised Version, as exactly expressing the word: “scandalon—stumbling block.”
Listen: Something in the way, in the way of progress. Suddenly you trip and stumble and fall. That is the word. I am not quarreling with the word “offense.”
What does this mean, “the stumbling block of the cross?” It was something that men stumble over intellectually; stumble over emotionally. It is a stigma attached to the cross.
The cross was well known throughout the Roman world. The Romans had taken it over from the Venetians for capital punishment. But even in that world it never produced anything in the sense of scandal or upheaval. It was the symbol of justice. It was the symbol of punishment for breaking the law. It was the poetic result of wrong doing, against righteousness and justice. Men were not scandalized by the cross.
Then what is Paul talking about? It is the cross of Christ. Yes, but why should it be a scandal? It was the cross of Christ as presented to the world. What was being presented to the world that would make it a scandal? What were those early ministers and preachers declaring about the cross of the Nazarene?
What were they declaring? They were declaring that the cross was the very center of religion, the secret of government, and the inspiration of culture. That was what characterized the scandal. Jews from Jerusalem were moving out over all the world. Wherever they went they were telling that the cross of the Nazarene is the center of religion. It is the secret of authority and government. It is the inspiration of true culture to human life. Men laughed. They stumbled over it. Men were against it emotionally, morally and intellectually.
We can see that there is the same sense in the minds of men today. The cross is still spelling to men a scandal. Men are still intellectually tripped by it. They still revolt against it. The cross is still bearing a stigma.
You and I are called to represent that cross in word and in life, and if we fail to do it, we are failing in loyalty to our Lord and Master.
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Will you come patiently with me to the historic scene? Yes, I would remind you of the well known fact that while Pilate had the superscription written over Jesus, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” that the wording was not the significant thing. The significant thing was that he had put it in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. The purpose was that no stranger near the cross should fail to read it. The three languages of the world powers were there.
Now look at the cross. First look at it from the soul of the Jew. Then look at it from the mind of the Roman. Lastly look at it from the person of a Greek.
Now supposing you could put yourself back of the scene, and could see it as a Jew, and was aware of the fact that its witnesses were telling that is was the secret of religion. The Jew looking as that cross, What did he see? Disgrace! To the Jew the cross was the place of moral disgrace. “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” Criminals; cursed.
Then for the Jew to be told that that cross was the CENTER of religious life, the secret, and the only secret of righteousness for an individual and the world, don’t you see intellectually how he stumbled over it; that the cross of the crucified male-factor is the secret of righteousness? PREPOSTEROUS!
Then imagine you are a Roman and look at the cross from that standpoint. In the time our Lord was born into this world and exercised His ministry, and went to that cross, was the only time in human history where a great power had mastered the known world. It had been attempted and never succeeded. It was the period known as PAX ROMANA, Roman peace. While I agree that “war is hell,” I declare that that period was worse. Man or woman, boy or girl, did not own his or her own soul under the rule of Rome. Her proconsuls were everywhere; her soldier’s were everywhere. An example is shown by Pilate, the Roman governor; he had mingled the blood of the Galileans with the Jewish sacrifices.
A Roman comes and looks at the crucified Nazarene, and the Roman is told that that is the throne of an imperial power and imperial empire. That that is the King; that that is the One and the only One who ever will subdue humanity so that His rule will be universal. I can hear the laughter of Rome at the very suggestion. The Roman suggestion of the cross is that the man there is not only in disgrace, but that the man is DEFEATED, not a question of morality to them. They had their own laws and jurisprudence, but were not bothered with morality.
Notice this, that at that moment on the throne in Rome was a man that was known notoriously. The Roman believed that power was all that was necessary. And that Galilean, whether He had done anything that was wrong or not, being on the cross, could He be a King? If the Jew says, “preposterous,” the Roman says, “ridiculous.”
Why do the Romans object? Naturally we see why. A defeated man be king? They had a false philosophy of government. The philosophy of force. If you have plundered a man so that he dare not do what he wants to do, you have conquered. Rome did not care if my inner heart was in revolt. If they bludgeoned me and I had to do what they said, “That is victory.” Yes the whole scheme of government is that; we have not escaped it yet. We still think we can compel a man to be moral, you can restrain him but that doesn’t change his heart.
There He was on the cross. What do I see there? The weakness of God! Paul says it is stronger than men. You look at the cross and there is one supreme thing manifested. It is the exhaustion of human power. Man attempting to govern has done all he can. He can do no more. He has taken the criminal and put Him on a cross. He has executed Him. All the armies of Rome can do no more. In a few moments that malefactor will have left the world. Is that all? They have done their utmost; they are powerless.
Jesus said, “Fear not him that killeth the body, and after that,” that laughter of the man that thinks he is done for when he kills the body. He faces a rude awakening.
Now for a moment, do not be a Jew or a Roman but a Greek. I am not thinking of the chattering Greek merchant. I am thinking of some chance traveller from Athens. He looked at that cross. If he had looked once, he would never have looked again. A mutilated man was disgusting to the Greek. Greek idealism was looking for the perfection of personality, and there was no room for mutilation in their thought.
It is not a question whether or not this is the result of morality. A broken and mutilated man, the Greek with his esthetic culture turned from it. He would not have looked twice.
Then there passes through the Greek cities, one after another, men who proclaim that the broken, mutilated man on Judea’s cross is the inspiration of culture, and of all that is refined and beautiful in life. The Greek intellect stumbled over it. Emotionally the Greek revolted against it. If the Jew said, “preposterous,” and the Roman, “ridiculous,” the Greek said “absurd.” Wherever the Gospel was preached the scandal of the cross became known, the offense of the cross was created.
Why were these things so? What is the real meaning in the Jews’ objection of the cross, that it is the center of religion? And to the Romans when they were told it was the secret of government? And to the Greeks when they were told it was the inspiration of culture?
Take the Jew. Why was the Jew scandalized by the cross? Because he had an inadequate sense of sin and was ignorant of the God of his fathers. In the presence of that cross when told it was the center of religion he objected because he only saw there the moral delinquency. It was not the curse of the King, but the man who put Him there. “He was made sin.” That is the sinner’s place, and they did not see it; and men still do not see that it is the only place for sin and that God can not deliver a man except his sin is put there. The route of religion is the cursing and cancelling of sin. Unless sin is cursed and cancelled there is no approach to God.
A man tells me he is disgusted at the cross and that it is the religion of the shambles; that man has never had an adequate sense of sin. A man tells me that he does not go to Church; he goes to the country to worship. Worship God through nature while sin is in his heart? Nonsense. Earth is crammed with God, and every bush ablaze with Him, but only he who sees takes off his shoes. You cannot worship God while there is still sin in your soul. There on that bitter cross the God of eternity and the God of Moses was dealing with sin so it would be blighted, blasted, cursed, cancelled, and the way open. And when He cried, “It is finished!” the veil of the temple was rent in twain, and there was a way to the heart of God opened for humanity. They did not see it. Men were ignorant of God. God is holy, yet so full of infinite love that He would bow and bend and stoop, and when sin must be cursed, gathering the curse into His own being and bearing our sins in His own being on the tree, brought deliverance. The cross in religion, to those who are blind and ignorant of God, is still made a scandal and a stumbling block.
Why do the Romans object? A defeated man, dying on a cross, a King! Whoever had heard of such a thing. To the Romans, the Man on the cross had no power as He would soon die and it would be all over. I repeat what Jesus said, “Fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). After that, then what? His resurrection from the dead. He is God’s King. He is going to rule over this world. The secret of His rule is love. His subjects will serve Him because they love Him. He will not bludgeon a man into submission and call it victory while that man in his heart is still in rebellion. Men are afraid of God because of wrong concepts. Let a man meet God in Jesus and he will love God.
To the man with the ideal of bludgeoning power we point to the power of the resurrection. Don’t look at the cross and stop there. Look beyond and see the mighty Christ at the right hand of the Father. Listen to the greatest declaration and cry of victory in the history of the world. “I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen, and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:17–18).
Why did the Greek revolt at the sight of a mutilated man? The soul of Greek idealism was expressed in the observance of the Olympic Games. It was the perfect person, the perfect personality, the perfect body with its smooth flowing muscles. The sculpture of ancient Greece displayed this high idealism. Their statues are marvels of perfection that express a high ideal of physical beauty. It is no wonder the Greek would not take a second look at the mutilated Man on the cross.
To the man who is looking for physical perfection we would say, “Look at the cross and what it stands for, then look beyond.” What will he see? What will the Greek see? He will see one “clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as the flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace” (Revelation 1:13–15). His transfiguration was a foretaste of His beauty. “His face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). Our body shall be like His glorious body (Philippians 3:21).
To the Jew, to the Greek, to the Roman and their counterparts today we point you to the cross and point out what it means and then take you beyond into the glories that are there and are yet to come to us.
“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” (1 Corinthians 1:23–24).
Christ, the power of God, can change your life. He can make a new creature out of you. Old things will pass away and all things will become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Old things are passed away. That is the power of the cross. All things are become new. That is the power of being raised in newness of life in Him (Romans 6:4).
There is the power of His resurrection yet ahead for the physical body (Philippians 3:21). We are to be presented perfect in Christ Jesus, perfect in spirit, perfect in soul, and perfect in body (Colossians 1:28, 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
The above post is contained in Volume 2 of our John G. Lake print collection. It’s available now on Amazon.