Summary: This is the sixth in a series on the most important day in the most important life ever lived; we walk with Jesus to Calvary!
The Most Important Day In the Most Important Life Ever Lived!
The Cross is an Insult
March 17, 2002
The host was incensed. I mean, he was just up in arms, as we used to say; ¡§ticked off¡¨ might be another term. He could not understand the actions of a pastor in Poland, Ohio. This pastor, just a couple of months following the 9/11 tragedies, had had the audacity to raise the Christian flag, on the flagpole outside his church, to a position higher than that of the American flag. Showing, frankly, his ignorance, he wondered out loud on the radio if this did not violate the separation of church and state. I¡¦m still waiting to figure out how this could be, but in his fury he was casting about to find words to vent his spleen.
He probably didn¡¦t like my phone call. I explained that, while we hadn¡¦t done that as a church, I understood completely the position this pastor was taking, and agreed wholeheartedly with what he was trying to say: we, as believers, have a higher allegiance than the state. We must obey God first, rather than men, even if those men represent the government. He seemed to calm down some as I tried to calmly and persuasively give him my rationale. But I won¡¦t forget the gist of something he said, even if the exact words escape me. At one point he made a point something like this: doing such a controversial thing wasn¡¦t in keeping with the character of what a church ought to be doing. This wasn¡¦t decorum, don¡¦t you know; this was¡Kwell¡Kradical! And the last thing, it seemed he was saying, that a church ought to be is¡Kradical!
Today I argue that one of the chief problems with the American church is that we have attempted to tame the Lion of Judah. We have sanitized, sugar-coated, and psychologized our faith to the point that it is bland, and unthreatening, and mediocre to a fault. Our problem is that we have ceased to be radicals, as was the early church, because we have forgotten that that cross is a radical thing! Would you stand with me? Read Luke 23:33; I Corinthians 1:18-24; pray!
It was a humiliating, painful, scandalous, shameful, revolting, terrifying way to die.
„h First, the victim suffered the humiliation of being stripped naked.
„h He would be laid upon his back, and his hands nailed to a horizontal wooden beam.
„h His ankles would then be forced backwards, and nailed into position with one long nail driven through both into a vertical pole.
„h The cross would then be fastened together and hoisted upright; after this, it would be dropped with a bone-jarring thud into a hole that had been dug, ripping muscles and ligaments as it dropped.
„h A peg or rudimentary seat was nailed to the cross, in order to prevent the victim¡¦s body from being torn loose.
„h There the victim would hang, sometimes for several days, exposed to intense pain, ridicule, heat by day and cold by night, until death would come as a merciful friend.
Barbarians had invented this practice, but the Romans had elevated it to an art form, almost, but it was considered such a heinous death that Roman citizens were not executed by this inhumane method. The cross was an insult to the Romans. Only the lowest of low criminals could be executed upon it. And it is precisely that, the wretched means of hideous execution, that we have taken as the very symbol of our faith. It¡¦s hard to speak of modern-day equivalents, because in this country, we are too civilized (and I say that sincerely!) to execute criminals in this inhumane way. Picture the electric chair, or the lethal injection table, or a firing squad, or the gas chamber. Now imagine if one of these were to become the very symbol of your faith. Imagine songs being written about them:
„h ¡§So I¡¦ll cherish the old firing squad¡K¡¨
„h ¡§There¡¦s room in the gas chamber for you¡K¡¨
„h ¡§At the firing squad, at the firing squad, where I first saw the light¡K¡¨
„h ¡§When I survey the wondrous lethal injection table¡K¡¨
„h ¡§Jesus, keep me near the electric chair¡K¡¨
I¡¦m not trying to be silly or facetious in the least; rather, I¡¦m trying to help you understand how perfectly ridiculous it must have seemed to unbelieving people in Paul¡¦s day to hear the words Paul wrote which we read earlier! The cross is an insult! It was an insult to the Gentile mind, the Greek and Roman mind; these were the ones who administered this form of execution to the lowest of criminals. It was offensive to the Jewish mind as well; Jewish law forbade a corpse from being left hanging from a tree overnight.