The Scandal of the Cross

(Adapted from a sermon by Ralph Walker)

Intro: If the Lord permits our Bible class in the gospel of Mark will take us to one of the most important event in all of human history. The crucifixion of Christ. You and I would not be here today if Jesus had not been crucified. Our faith and obedience is predicated on that event and we study it often, and memorialize it every Sunday. But there is a way of thinking about the cross that we may avoid, or at least not consider often.

  • 1 Cor 1:21-25 – 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom;23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. It was the cross that made the gospel message difficult to receive.

I. Paul says the cross was a stumbling block. What does that mean? The word is scandalon, from which we get our English word scandal. When we think of a scandal we often think of a juicy story about some secret someone has been keeping that will damage his reputation. We usually do not see a scandal in the same sense as a stumbling block.

A. The word here meant something that would impede the progress of a person. Vines says… “In NT skandalon is always used metaphorically, and ordinarily of anything that arouses prejudice, or becomes a hindrance to others, or causes them to fall by the way.

1. It denoted what was unexpected (aroused prejudice), and thus tripped over. ex: A local preacher is caught in a pornography sting.. That is scandalous. It is not just a juicy story, but it goes against what we would expect and certainly will impede his progress.

a. So the event of Jesus’ resurrection was not what others expected. It was commonly thought among the Jews that the Messiah could not die. John 12:32-34 32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die. 34 The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?”

b. Jesus’ own disciples did not expect Him to die: Matt 16:21-23 – From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. 22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

B. Can we fully see the cross as the scandal that Paul references? Can we fully understand why the crucifixion was such a stumbling block to the Jews?

1. Our limited cultural perspective: When we see the cross we do not get uneasy. In fact, it denotes good things to us. “The old rugged cross, so despised by the world has a wondrous attraction to me.. I will cling to the old rugged cross. I will cherish the old rugged cross.”. The cross has been culturally cleaned up, and does not present the image or perception of the Christians in the first century. We have never seen anyone crucified.

ex: there is a true story that illustrates this point. The filming of a picture entitled The Handmaiden’s Tale, took place on the campus Duke university. There was a particular scene utilizing Duke Chapel as a backdrop (large gothic Cathedral). One of the scenes involved the use of a gallows. It was set up and remained in front of the cathedral for several weeks. Some students and parishioners complained. It was offensive to them. There were no doubt the mental images of people as they swung from a rope, squirming as they fought for their last breath. The Director insightfully answered them by asking why they were offended by the presence of a gallows, when there had always been a large cross prominently displayed in front of the Cathedral.

a. people are still hung for their crimes, but there are no crucifixions, so we have been able to sanitize the cross, and it can be viewed without the difficult images attached to it.

II. How is the Cross Scandalous? Now we know and understand the spiritual purpose and impact of Jesus’ death. We come to the cross through a series of steps that lead us to this proper understanding. But can we also recognize how the event itself is a stumbling block and scandal? 3 thoughts: (from Ralph Walker)

A. It is a Scandal to Our Sense of Good Taste: By this I mean that it shocks us to see Jesus there. As we have been indicating death by crucifixion was not a pleasant picture to those of Paul’s day. If we view it this way it is scandalous to put Jesus on the cross.

1. Not every criminal was crucified. Not even the detached and cold Romans sent everyone to a cross. Because it was such a horrible way to die, only the worst of criminals were sentenced to crucifixion. In Paul’s statement about Jesus enduring humility and obedience to the will of the Father in dying for us he says that Jesus was obedient “even to the death on the cross”. (Phil 2:8)

 2. Had we been there could we have endured this scene? There was nothing pleasant or peaceful about it.

B. It is a Scandal to Our Reason: Paul also says that to the Greeks (Gentiles) the cross was foolishness. In other words, it does not make sense. Here again we know that to the one who has faith in God, and His plan for our salvation, it does make sense. But there is an unreasonableness to it that Paul would have us recognize. To accept the cross confronts your sense of reason.

1. Gal. 3:13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), Jesus viewed on the cross (hanging on a tree) was a picture of one who was cursed. Cursed by God and man, as one who was getting what He deserved. The OT statement in Deut 21:23 called for the removal of the body of an executed criminal before the sundown, so as not to defile the land. If he deserved to be hung on a tree he was the type of criminal that would defile the land – cursed of God.

a. So when we see Jesus on the cross, reason says something about Him. Consider Isaiah’s statement in Isa. 53:4Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. Even though He was doing this for others (carrying our sorrows ) we esteemed Him stricken and afflicted by God. How could Jesus hanging on the cross be seen as anything other than a criminal?

2. Even among those who did not have the words of Deut 21 about the curse on one upon a tree, the cross made no sense. If we add to one’s understanding that Jesus is God, how do we reason on the cross? (So the one that you worship as God, died on a cross? He was the son of a god, which means the is another god in heaven that was his father, that can do all things, and He allowed this to happen? What kind of god is this?)

ex. – Ralph Walker says that this is illustrated by someone telling you that Possums are invincible. REALLY? There is ample evidence that seems to say they are not. The presence of dead possums on the side of the road may say some things about possums, but not that they are invincible.

      • I do believe that Jesus is God, and is at the right hand of God through resurrection, but I also believe that He was dead for 3 days!

C. It is a Scandal to Our Pride: If I come to the cross I must leave behind every semblance of self-worth. Not my worth, but my self-worth. The scandal of the cross is that it says unequivocally that you cannot save yourself. You are powerless to do it. That is hard for us proud people to accept. We view ourselves as smart, resourceful, self-made, and able to solve our own problems. The worldview of those who gazed up from the foot of the tower of Babel in Gen. 11 is still alive today. We find it hard to accept our own powerlessness. We think we can make something of ourselves, but whatever we have made of ourselves, God has had to undo.

1. the cross says that there is no grading on the curve– No getting by because we are better than others around us. We are all sinners, and everyone’s sin is equally sinful.

2. the cross shows us sin as God views it. Can you view the seriousness of sin by the radical action that was needed to get rid of it? To view the scandal of the cross is to see that sin cannot be minimized through our own accommodation. Jesus’ death was necessary to solve the problem of my lying, laziness, lack of compassion, gossip, envy, idle words, failure to speak kind words.

ex. One of the most deadly forms of cancer is melonoma – a skin cancer. Why is it so deadly? Most people see it, but consider it as just a wart that they can live with. I have had that a long time; it is just a part of me. That is how I am)

3. The cross shows us that we will not be accepted on the basis of our brains, our money, our beauty, our prominence among others, our strength, our abilities, our wisdom, our passion, or even our religious devotion. We are accepted by God on the basis of the cross. Pride goes out the window.

      • Gal 6:14But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
      •  Go back and read with me from 1 Corinthian 1. Paul shows the scandalous way in which the preaching of the cross eliminated the proud hearts among us… 1 Cor 1:26-31For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world [the cross] to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world [the cross]to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised [the cross] God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”

Conclusion: The mishap at Piedmont Airlines some years ago. The Pilot landed at the wrong airport. Instead of Charlotte, he landed at Asheville, 3 1/2 hours apart. Though some voiced concern and amazement that he could make such an error, the airline spokesperson said, “On the whole he did more things right than wrong”. I can see that. He did not crash the plane into the ocean. But look where he ended up!

  • That is why I am here today. I do not consider myself to be a bad person. On the whole I think I do more things right than wrong. but if I am the pilot, I will end up at the wrong place. I need the cross. As scandalous as it is to accept that Jesus, My Savior, died on a cross, I must embrace it with all I have. You need to embrace it as well.