The Cross of Christ

The Cross of Christ

A. Naismith

The Preaching of the Cross

In the Epistles in which the fundamental facts of the Gospel are prominent Paul displays a variety of facets of the cross. He refers in 1 Corinthians to the preaching (or ‘word’) of the cross which he claims and proves to be the revelation of divine power and wisdom, directing our attention to the mystery it unfolds (1 Cor. 2:7-8). Writing to the churches in Galatia, he indicates the persecution and calumny he had to bear as a preacher of the Gospel from the enemies of the cross of Christ. This meant for him ‘the offence of the cross.’ In the letter to the Ephesians the Apostle extols the power of the cross by which the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile had been demolished, and the consequent unity that the cross has effected (Eph. 2:15-16). The church at Philippi is reminded of the humility of the cross of Christ when He who is ‘in the very form of God with heavenly glory crowned,’ humbling Himself, assumed a servant’s form and submitted to the ‘death of the cross’ with all its shame and anguish. The triumph of the cross is the special aspect dealt with in Colossians, for by ‘the blood of His cross’ reconciliation to God has been made possible (Col. 1:20; 2:14-15). In this concluding study we are concerned with four expressions relating to the cross which occur in these letters.

i. ‘The death of the cross’ was the final step in Christ’s self-humiliation: (Phil. 2:8)

ii. ‘The blood of His cross’ brings the sinner to God in full reconciliation: (Col. 1:20-21)

iii. ‘The word of the cross’ is the central theme of all true Gospel preachers: (1 Cor. 1:18)

iv. “The offence of the cross’ the reproach they receive from legalistic teachers. (Gal. 5:11).

(1) ‘The death of the cross was the final step in that tremendous stoop of the Son of God from Heaven’s highest glory to the utmost depths of shame and poverty. The writer of the Epistle uses this to counsel the Christians in Philippi to possess and display the humility of mind that characterized their Lord and Master. Kenneth S. Wuest, commenting on the statement in this passage (Phil. 2:5-8) that Christ Jesus ‘became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,’ writes, ‘This does not mean that He became obedient unto death. He was always the Master of death. Our Lord was obedient to the Father up to the point of dying.’ The death of the cross was the punishment of notorious criminals who had not the privilege of Roman citizenship; and it is beyond human comprehension that He who ‘held the highest place above, adored by all the sons of flame,’ should stoop to such degradation as that. If He who is Creator and Lord of all submitted to such a death and displayed such humility in order to fulfil His Father’s will, surely all who are Christ’s and proclaim such a Saviour should be constantly imbued with the same spirit.

(2) The expression in Colossians 1:20 — ‘the blood of His cross’ —occurs here only. We are to understand by it, of course, ‘the blood He shed when He died on the cross.’ The blood of Christ outpoured in death on the cross made possible the reconciliation to God of all whose association with sin created a barrier that excluded them from His holy presence. The purpose of the cross — to reconcile all things to Himself — was thus completely fulfilled when at the cross “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19). For those saints in Colosse and faithful brethren in Christ Jesus to whom the letter was addressed, that reconciliation had already become effectual; for the Apostle tells them, ‘You that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled.’ The ambassador for Christ, therefore proclaims the cross as the proof and plea of the reconciling love of God, beseeching men in Christ’s stead to be reconciled to God through the mediation of Him who knew no sin but was ‘made sin for us.’ Every believer, therefore, though once an enemy, has been reconciled to God through the death of His Son (Rom. 5:10).

(3) In writing to the Corinthian saints Paul deprecates the spirit of disunity and the divisions that had blighted their spiritual life and testimony. Instead of keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, the Christians there had formed themselves into factions, rallying round their popular leaders and taking denominational names. Some claimed to be Paul’s followers, other Peter’s; while others associated themselves with Apollos. Paul disavows leadership of any party and, in proof of this, protests that his mission was not to baptize or to canvass for support like candidates for office who made a display of their oratory; but to preach the Gospel. His message was therefore ‘the word of the cross’ which everyone ‘being saved’ acknowledged to be God’s powerful instrument in their salvation. The expression, ‘the word of the cross,’—in direct contrast, in the context in which it appears, to ‘the wisdom of words,’ emphasizes the simplicity of the Apostle’s preaching. At the same time he acknowledged the transcendent profundity of his theme since it was beyond the comprehension of the princes of this world. Simplicity, sincerity and lucidity should characterize the preaching of every true evangelist. In this Paul is our example, for, in the highly cultured, yet grossly immoral, city of Corinth he determined to know and to preach nothing other than Jesus Christ and His cross. Yet what a wealth of divine wisdom that message comprised, for in Christ ‘are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’

(4) The Greek word, translated ‘offence’ in the last of the four expressions we are considering, is the word from which we derive our English word ‘scandal.’ It is elsewhere translated “stumblingblock” (Rom. 14:13; 1 Cor. 1:23). In Romans 10:4 Paul affirms that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes. Judaizing teachers had visited the churches in Galatia in the Apostle’s absence and insisted that these Christians, converts from the Gentiles, must be circumcised and keep the law in order to be justified. In Galatians 2:21 and 3:13 Paul shows them that the cross would have been unnecessary if a righteous standing before God could be attained by the works of the law, false doctrine that was promulgated then by those legalistic teachers is in our day being propagated by sects that pinpoint the fourth commandment of the law as being essential for salvation.