The Glory of the Cross

The Glory of the Cross

John Boyd. M.D., D.A.

“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.”—Galatians 6:14.

Paul had been warning the Galatians about the teaching of those who wanted to have them circumcised, to glory in the fact that they had submitted to a fleshly ordinance. By this the Judaiers hoped to avoid persecution from Pharisaic Jews, as Gentiles accepting circumcision were regarded as proselytes to Judaism.

Paul did not glory in fleshly advantages. His only boast was in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ; not merely in the death, but in the cross of Christ. This is an amazing statement when we appreciate what the cross implied.

To the One hung on the cross it meant shame (Heb. 12:2). The Lord did not allow this shame to turn Him from His set purpose. It was the most ignominious of deaths, usually reserved for the lowest of felons. The victim was transfixed naked on a stake, near to the city, whence a multitude of people came to see (Luke 23:48).

“Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood:
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

It also meant reproach (Psa. 69:20). None of the passers-by gave him a word of comfort. Instead we hear their railings, the mockery of the chief priests, and the taunts of the soldiers.

To be crucified was to experience the curse of God. The law said that the victim must “not remain all night upon the tree, for he that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut. 21:23). Christ bore this curse for us (Gal. 3:13).

The cross was the last of a series of steps in the path of humiliation for the Lord. To the depths of this valley He went in response to the will of God. “Wondrous Thy humiliation to accomplish our salvation.”

The cross was to Christ an object of horror, the contemplation of which produced the agony, sorrow, and sweat of Gethsemane.

To those who preached the cross there came persecution (Gal. 6:12). The Jew disliked its mention, for it brought home to him the sin of rejecting the Messiah, and the felony of crucifying the Innocent One (Acts 5:28). To Corinth Paul came preaching nothing save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. As was inevitable the Corinthian Jews “opposed themselves and blasphemed” (Acts 18:6).

To the Jews it was a stumbling block (1 Cor. 1:23). They had asked for a sign that Jesus was the Messiah. The only sign given them was the sign of Jonah, pointing to the shameful death of Christ on the cross. Their idea of a Messiah was One coming in glory to deliver them and to set up His Kingdom. As one from whom men hide their faces they esteemed not the lowly Nazarene. His shame and suffering stumbled them.

To the Greeks the preaching of the cross was foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23). The Corinthians sought for oratory, the wisdom of words (1 Cor. 1:17) ; and for philosophy, the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:29). Paul omitted both from his preaching; rather did he present the cross that their faith should stand in the power of God, and not in the wisdom of men. To the Greeks the cross seemed foolishness, a man crucified in weakness was not their idea of greatness.

Looking at the cross from these standpoints it was an inglorious failure. Paul, nevertheless, said it was the only thing he gloried in. His statement seems paradoxical, glorying in what is inglorious. What is his reason for such a strange outlook? A study of the references to the cross in his epistles will give us the answer.

To Paul Christ crucified was the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). God’s power had been manifested before; in creation, as by His spoken word the worlds stood fast; in delivering Israel from Pharaoh’s bondage; in subduing their enemies; in healing their sicknesses through the Son of God; but salvation, His greatest work, necessitated the death of Christ, even the death of the cross. By this came into being the new creation; by this He defeated His own and man’s inveterate enemy, the devil; by this He delivered man from death; and by this He gave the believer life. What a mighty work was done on Calvary, as the power of God was displayed.

The wisdom of God was also manifested. Man by his wisdom sought to find out God, but failed (1 Cor. 1:21). Yet at Calvary God displayed so many of His attributes. We see His holiness, for there the sword of Jehovah’s justice smote the Lord; His grace, providing redemption for guilty man. There God commended His own love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8; R,V.).

At Calvary God showed man the way back to Himself. It was the only way for all classes; rich or poor, good or bad, young or old. There were revealed the determinate counsels of God in a past Eternity. What other plan could have included all men?

Paul also tells us that through the blood of His cross Christ made peace, and reconciled all things unto God (Col. 1:29). We who had been enemies of God in our minds by our evil works have been reconciled, one day to be presented holy and without blemish and without reproof. Through the cross we have this peace with God.

To Paul the cross meant the crucifixion of the old man (Gal. 2:20). The old, law-keeping, sin-serving, Paul had been by God put to death with Christ on the cross. He had been justified from sin (Rom. 6:7, R.V.), that is, through having died he was beyond the pale of justice. For Paul the cross was more than substitution. It meant also identification with Christ. Not only did Christ die instead of Paul, but he (his old man) also died with Christ. Thus, God has judicially dealt with our old man on the cross. We should regard our old nature in this light. No longer need we fear God’s judgment against it.

In Gal. 6:14, Paul gives further reasons why he gloried in the cross. It was “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Note the full title given to the Lord. In using this Paul would emphasize the supreme dignity of the One Who suffered there; Our Lord Jesus was on the cross.

“Blest cross! Blest sacrifice!
Blest rather be the One
Who there was put to death for me!

The cross was Paul’s great boast, because through it he stood in a new relationship to the world. The world is that order of things opposed to God and headed by Satan (John 14:30). It delights in the works of the flesh, in pleasure, and in fame (1 John 2:16). Paul once belonged to that world (Eph. 2:3), but the sight of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross had changed all this. It had crucified the world. To be crucified meant to be ignominiously put away as detestable. Paul had put away from him, ignominiously and for ever, that system that had put his Lord on the cross. Henceforth, he could have no dealings with it.

“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.”

The world did not want Paul; it had no time for him who made much of the cross. It regarded the preaching of the cross with disfavour, for the crucifixion had exposed the hatred in man’s heart towards the Son of God. It ignominiously set aside, any who sided with the Christ of the cross. To Paul this was not loss but gain, not shame but glory, not a matter for sorrow but for joy.

No wonder, then, Paul gloried in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The pronoun “our” suggests that we believers should also share in this boasting. We would glory in it more could we but see it with Paul’s eyes. Let us not be ashamed of it. Let us make our boast in it, for it means so much to us. It has brought us salvation from sin; it reveals our identification with Christ; it will guarantee our separation from the world.