Summary: Why was the cross a stumbling block for people to accept Christ in Paul's time and today?
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.