Boasting in the offence of the cross
What things do we boast in or rejoice about?
Yesterday my favourite football team moved into second place in the Premier League, and on the same day their women's team won the title for the first time ever. Liverpool Football Club had much to brag about yesterday.
People rejoice in all kinds of things; family, home, career, sporting success, car etc. But Christians have something very different to boast in. And it is, to outsiders at least, an odd choice. The apostle Paul, writing to believers in the province of Galatia (now in modern day Turkey), says, "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14).
The word for boast also means to rejoice in or to exult over. It carries that meaning, for example, in Romans 5:11. But in the context of the letter to the Galatians it stated in contrast to those who wanted the Galatians to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. Paul says of them that they wanted to avoid the persecution that comes from proclaiming the cross of Christ, and so they preferred to boast to others that they still called people to obey the Law. The cross aroused such opposition because it said that we cannot, any of us, work our way to God, not even by keeping the Law that God gave to us, because our inner nature is hostile to God. It arouses antagonism because it tells us that we were all sinners who stand under God's merited anger and faced the dreadful prospect of being judged and found wanting by the God of the universe. It offended (and offends still) because it confronts us with our true natures as selfish, self-seeking, God-denying, idol worshipping people whose love is fatally curved in upon itself. And the cross offends because it says to us that the only way that this could be overcome was for God the Son to take on human flesh, to step into our world as one of us, and to die on a hideous tool of execution. It offends and offended because it said and says that the cross was no tragic accident but the deliberate design of God. It was there that Jesus, God the Son in human flesh, took our sins upon himself and bore their just punishment so that we might not have to. It offended and offends because it says that the only way to God is through the cross. It says that of we deny Jesus and crucially what he did on the cross, then we will still bear our own sin and its rightful judgement will still fall upon us. All of that is deeply offensive to us because we think of ourselves as mostly good, we could do better of course, but we are on the whole pretty okay. But the cross confronts us with the verdict of God that we are far from being good. Good is defined by God and not us. And the reality of the empty tomb and Christ's glorious resurrection is the evidence from history that God truly did choose the cross as his way of bringing rebellious God-haters back to him.
Sadly many Christians are more like Paul's opponents. They fight shy of the cross. True they often affirm it to each other, but to outsiders they speak of God being good to them, of God making them whole, of God healing them, of God giving them peace. They even talk of us having a personal relationship with God and being promised eternal life. But they flinch from saying that it is the cross of Christ that makes us Christian. Being a Christian redeemed at the cross of Calvary frees from the condemnation that was my due and releases me from the wrath of God. And so we are people who, publicly as well as privately, ought to boast in, rejoice in, be exultant about, the cross of Jesus.
And notice that Paul says it is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ? The cross does not save in and of itself. An execution of one man in the Middle East in the days of the Romans would have no impact at all if it were not for the unique nature of this man. For this man is also the Lord. The cross is our salavtion because of whose cross it was. This was God in the flesh. One who was infinite in his nature as God and fully able to bear the load of an eternal condemnation for sin. And as God, he is able to reconcile us to God in himself. Additionally, as God, he shows the love of God by taking to himself the punishment we shoudl bear so that he can offer to all of us the opportunity of life and life to the full. But he was also man. He is perfectly able to represent us before God. He has lived as a man amongst us. He has borne death with us and for us.
And it is the cross of the Lord. Jesus is the Lord of all things and of all our lives, whether we choose to accept that or not. And he was no less Lord when he died on the cross. In fact that was the crowning moment of his Lordship. It was here that he won the victory over sin and death and the devil. The decisive act took place there. The battle is not yet finally over, but the outcome is no longer in any doubt. Just as from the moment that the allies established a bridgehead in Normandy, and perhaps even earlier at Stalingrad, the Second World War in Europe was effectively over but the fighting dragged on for some time after, so it is with the total victory won at the cross. A defeated foe fights on in bitterness but knows deep down that he cannot win. And it is this victory on the cross, this display of the Lordship of Christ, that will be celebrated for all eternity (see Revelation 5:9-14).
There is more that could be said about this verse from the letter to the Galatians, especially about what it means to be crucified to the world and it to us. Suffice to say that it shows that the cross is a cross of separation. The "world" stands for all that continues to deny and oppose the gospel. Those who belong to Jesus have died to all that and need not feel the need to apologise for the offence of the cross. In fact we should expect it. The cross offends the natural person's sense of their own innate goodness. And it offends her desire to live a totally independent life because it declares that Jesus is Lord and demands her allegiance not her rebellion, and it says that he is entitled to decide what is good and what is bad and not us. But if bearing the offence of the cross means that I will live for ever in the presence of my beloved Lord Jesus then that is a price well worthy of the paying.
So, Christian, imitate Paul (the apostle and not me) and if you must boast, boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.