Around 8:00 or 8:30 Friday morning on the fourteenth of April a procession of soldiers leave Pilate's palace, the castle of Antonia. They begin pushing their way through the curious crowds gathered along the cobbled Via Dolorosa. The lead soldier carries a white wooden board on which is written the nature of a crime. Following are four soldiers under a centurion. They hold hammer and nails while guarding Jesus who is bearing his cross. Two other quartets of soldiers keep a careful eye on two robbers. Finally they come to the place of the skull - Golgotha. There Jesus "bore our sins in his body on the cross ... " (1 Peter 2:24).
The third century BC Greek mathematician, Archimedes, once claimed that, given a lever long enough and a place to put it, he could move the world. He did not know, of course, that there would be such a lever and fulcrum. The lever was the cross of Christ and Calvary, the place. Of it Paul proclaimed, "As for me, God forbid that I should boast - except in the cross of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, through whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14).
Before this, however, the Holy Spirit mentioned that if circumcision is the condition of salvation, then the cross had lost its offensive character to the Jews. But since Paul was still being persecuted it showed the offense was still there. "As for me, my dear family, if I am still announcing circumcision, why are people still persecuting me? If I were, the scandal of the cross would have been neutralized" (Galatians 5:11). The word "stumbling-block" denotes whatever actually makes or has a tendency to make people fall or stumble. Properly the word has reference to the movable stick or trigger of a trap, thus a snare or an impediment. From the original we get our word scandal. There can be no doubt that the cross is a scandal. At once it aroused the opposition of Jew and Gentile. The offense is that the death of Christ on the cross is preached as the only ground of salvation. Salvation by the blood of Christ is yet offensive to many for several reasons. I will mention only two here.
First the cross is a scandal because it dethrones our pride. A Greek writer named Celsus wrote a volume in the second century entitled The True Word. Not liking what he read in the beginning of the gospel of John he wrote in defense of Platonic philosophy. Celsus argued that Christians were the scum of the earth and were strangely proud of it; they arrogantly paraded their sins before God and man. How brazen they were, he said, to insist that God loves a sinner. To this pagan it seemed nonsensical that any god would love any but the righteous. The nerve of the Christians! Actually the misguided philosopher put his finger upon the central impulse of the Christian religion for at the cross God placed His arms around the world and blazoned, "I love you."
Our day is much like that of Celsus' time, "Jesus Christ and him crucified" still does not suit human imagination. Paul had written, "we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling-block, and unto Gentiles foolishness ..." (1 Corinthians 1:23). There is reaction rather than response to the cross. Men with thimble minds view God's invasion as a monstrous irrelevance, as something entirely beside the point. The Lord knew that humankind would defiantly accuse Him of making a colossal blunder. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8, 9).
Secondly, the cross in the practical living of many Christians is no more regarded than a beloved antique belonging in the museum of Christian relics. It just does not fit man's fancy. Henry Van Dusen wrote that "modern man burns incense to himself and his own countenance is hidden from him in the smoke." That man is in a precarious predicament is no new revelation. It seems to be common knowledge that the world is coming apart almost at the seams and we have just enough wit to admit that we are at our wit's end. What will we do about sin? What can be done? Beneath the thin veneer of modern self-assurance is tragic bewilderment.
Many have had the sad experience of talking with someone who resented being called a sinner and no wonder, for it certainly is no compliment to so identify people. But many persist in their claims that they need no help. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" are mere words to them. They are like the woman who, when her doctor advised her of some X-ray reports, refused to believe them. When he prescribed a cure, she resentfully stated she cared nothing for it. To argue with a person that a stick is crooked is futile if he has his mind made up that it is not. Show him a straight stick! When we present Christ in his full glory, there will not be much question whether people need help. I am so happy that Jesus did not come down from the cross (Matthew 27:40-42) for I was doomed to go there. There the innocent suffered for the guilty. "Him who knew no sin he made to be sin in our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (1 Corinthians 5:21). "And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). Revolting? A detestable superstition? What do you propose should have been done? My friend, at the cross we received something not deserved but desperately needed - GRACE.