The Offense (Stumbling Blocks) of the Cross
Rev. Dr. Michael H. Koplitz
We have an exciting statement from our brother Paul which can be translated in different ways. In Galatians 5:11, the verse can be translated as "the offense of the cross." I found this to be an exciting translation, and since we are on our Lenten journey to the cross, this seemed to be an exciting topic. I like the more modern translation of "the stumbling block of the cross" because it is more precise for us to understand today. This verse is one of those times that the 1800s English changed to what we have today. Perhaps this title should be "The Stumbling Block of the Cross." Since I advertised it as "The offense of the cross," I will leave it alone.
What did Paul mean by the cross is a stumbling block to accepting Jesus as our Messiah and savior? That is the question that will drive our discussion today. Paul was an interesting fellow. After he met Jesus on the Damascus Road, he changed his understanding of Jesus' mission and became concerned about people's future. Everything he did after the vision from Jesus was for people. He was not worried about himself. He wanted to save people from the penalty of their sins. Since we have his writings in the Bible, we can extend Paul's concern for people in his day to us. Paul is concerned that we are saved from our sins. The penalty for unrepented sin is so horrible that Paul gave his life to get Jesus' message to us.
Wherever Paul traveled, he started his visit by praying for the people. He did not know who these people were. Many times the people of the town he visited rejected his message and sought to kill him. But it did not matter to Paul. He cared for people whom he did not know. He emulated our Lord Jesus's attitude, who only cared about saving us from our sin, never worrying about himself. Paul suffered economically to bring the Gospel message to us because he gave up his business to get Jesus' message to us.
What Paul discovered in his travels is that the stumbling block to faithful discipleship to Jesus was the cross. Even today, the cross is a stumbling block for many people to accept the Gospel message. Nonbelievers cannot fathom how a torture device brings salvation. The need for Jesus to die so that we can have salvation and eternal life with God is a stumbling block for many people today. Think about the different cults that have formed over the past 50 years. They are usually created by one person believing that God anointed them to bring another message than any major religion. That person gathers followers who are convinced that the leader's way is real. The cult either continues to gain strength, or usually, it dies out when the cult leader dies.
Wait a minute. Using that understanding of how cults today form and die off sounds familiar. To the people in Jesus' day, it sounds like a new cult formed, and it should have died out when Jesus died on the cross. Why did the church survive? A reason for the church's survival is that Christianity is not a cult. It is different from the cults that existed in Jesus' day and the cults developed in our time. Our leader, Jesus Christ, is not dead. He rose from the dead. Many witnesses saw the resurrected Christ. The truth of the cross comes from the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The first Easter morning proves that Christianity is not a cult. We are a religion that God ordains.
This truth must be preached today. It is God's way that Jesus' death on the cross offers salvation from sin and eternal life to all people. Today many people do not want to accept the message of God's grace and love through the cross. It isn't very respectful to so many people. Why are they using the cross as a stumbling block? A simple reason is that they do not understand the events. When you think about the cross that held Jesus, do you also think about Easter morning? The cross is not the end of the story, but rather it is the beginning of the story. Truth be told, many religious bodies call themselves a Christian church that will not preach the cross. The members of such a church do not want to focus on the cross. They only want to feel good when they go to church.
Rob Bell of Mars Church brings in 25,000 people into a Sunday worship. He preaches that there is no Hell. He tells his people that God accepts every person without having to repent for their sins. He tells people that all you have to do is accept that nature took care of things for you. In reality, he says you do not have to believe in Jesus' salvation. Since we are humans, we will end up in Heaven. Wow, is that not radical to your ears? He is entirely wrong, according to our Bible. He has developed a cult of followers.
The truth of the cross is that Jesus' died for the forgiveness of sins. As followers of Jesus, we are instructed to repent for our sins. God's forgiveness for sin comes through repentance and faith in the works of Jesus Christ. George Morrison was a famous preacher who was born in 1866 and died in 1928. He said that it is better to preach the cross's truth to an empty church rather than hide the fact from the people. Over two hundred years ago, we found evidence that the cross was a stumbling block to many people.
Let me share with you another truth. Religion is not pleasant entertainment. To be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ means to live by the Bible's ways, especially Jesus' words in the New Testament. Flat out folks, that is not easy. There are so many places where it is easy to mess up and fail. But do not despair. God put a system in place for us to repent those failures. I must tell you an essential truth of God's repentance system. I know some of you may not like to hear this, but I refuse to hide the fact. Here it is. Sermons are meant to be challenging.
I have known many attendees at church who have told me that they want to attend a worship celebration where they do not have to think and not be challenged. They want to have the hour to not worry and think about their lives. These people want to be entertained and told some cute stories in church. They hate being challenged. That is not the purpose of the sermon. The purpose of preaching the Bible is to learn something or be reminded of how we need to live to please God. So a sermon must have a challenge, or it is not a sermon. You know, if you follow through a challenge from a sermon, you will be pleasing God.
No one ever said that being a Christian is easy. In today's society and culture, it is more difficult to be a Christian who follows Jesus and the Bible. The percentage of our population who are practicing Christians is under 5%. The 2010 US census said that around 70% of respondents identify themselves as Christians. However, our attendance at churches on Sunday to hear the word of God and the challenge is under 5%. Therefore, the conclusion can be drawn that around 5% of our country's population are authentic Christians.
So what are the stumbling blocks that are keeping that percent so low? I should stop here and let you think about this question. (Selah) I am sure you have perhaps children, parents, family members, and friends who do not attend church. They may say they are Christians, but they are not active in learning about Jesus. So let's identify the stumbling blocks of the cross.
Let us start at the beginning. Jesus had twelve disciples and a lot of followers. Their hope was in the traditional messianic promises of a restored kingdom free from oppression. The disciples wanted a victory! The cross was not considered a victory to these men. It was a defeat. The cross was not initially understood by Jesus' followers as a victory. Let me tell you a truth about the cross that it took the disciples and followers of Jesus to understand. The truth is that Jesus' sacrifice was a victory. Jesus sacrificed His life so that we have a pathway to eternal life.
What is the definition of victory for Christians today? Victory is Easter morning. The risen Christ who sacrificed Himself for us. Too many Christians have forgotten that Jesus had to sacrifice His life for our salvation. Good Friday is our recognition of Jesus' sacrifice. Church attendance of the 5% on Good Friday is minimal. I have spoken to many Christians over the years since the movie "The Passion of the Christ" was released. Why will many Christians not watch that movie? It is quite realistic of what Jesus went through to die on the cross. The usual response is that it is too shocking to watch. That is a stumbling block of the cross. You have to accept that Jesus' sacrificed Himself for us. There was no cost to us for the cosmic forgiveness of sin. However, God watched His Son mistreated and tortured to death. God paid the price for our sins. Accepting the cross is taking the sacrifice made on our behalf.
Jesus went to the cross with nothing but His life. He had no money, no riches, no treasures, nothing at all. When we come to the cross of Christ, we must come empty-handed. We must be ready to give Jesus whatever He asks of us. In other words, we must be prepared to offer Jesus our unconditional surrender. Our riches and earthly treasures will not get us into Heaven. Our surrender to live the way Jesus tells us in His Gospels is the pathway to salvation.
We also have to openly accept that the cross is for all the people of the Earth. People of every nation and race are admitted into Heaven's Kingdom, which the cross opens to us. The church should be welcoming in followers of Christ who come from other religions or heritages. There is too much rejection of people who were not born to a Christian family in the church. People who come to follow Christ as adults should be praised that they could get over the stumbling blocks of the cross to find Jesus' victory by His sacrifice. Too often, adults are chased away from the church because they were not born into a Christian family. Besides, people must not be placed into classes of membership. In many churches, the power base is with the wealthiest members.
Many, many years ago, I was at a stewardship class offered by a District Superintendent. He told the church's story where the people bent over backward whenever a particular person spoke. Why did you ask? The person was very wealthy. The church leadership did whatever this person said because they did not want to lose the income. The DS looked at the giving records to discover that this very wealthy person gave $100 a month to the church. The real truth is that there should not be a power base in the church. Jesus' death on the cross makes all His followers equal. We accept people as equals in the church. That is a cultural stumbling block to the cross.
Some will say that we need to remove all the stumbling blocks of the cross. We may end up with thousands of members, like Rob Bell's church. However, our churches will become social clubs if you take away the cross. The cross of Jesus Christ is a fundamental cornerstone of the Christian religion. Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sin. Period. If you take away our obligations to God that emanate from the cross, you might say that there is no Christianity. We have to tell the world that Jesus sacrificed Himself for us.
Let me close with an illustration that George Morrison used over 200 years ago in Glasgow, England. He said that a friend of his who was a doctor was called to see a patient in the hospital. When the doctor first saw the patient, he could tell that the man was dying. The doctor was a good Christian. He said to the patient, "Friend, the best service I can do for you is to ask, have you made your peace with God?" Whereon the patient raising his withered arm and awe-filled eyes said, "Doctor, is it as bad as that?" The doctor told the patient that he needed to be pardoned for his sins and be at peace with God in Christ. The doctor told him to accept God's forgiveness which was freely offered to him. The patient needed to accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his son.
The patient accepted the cross and prayed for the forgiveness of his lifetime of sins. The cross's stumbling block that prevented this man from accepting Jesus Christ became God's glory when he accepted the cross. This patient experienced the holiness of God through Christ.
We need to help people to understand the true meaning of the cross of Christ is just like the doctor did in Glasgow over 200 years ago. I pray that you now have a clearer understanding of what Good Friday means. Do not shy away from the death of Christ. Jesus' death is a sacrificial victory that allows each of us to one day joins God in Heaven and bask in the love and grace of Christ. Embrace the cross and help others to discover the power of Christ's sacrifice for us.