And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.
~ Galatians 5:11, 1 Peter 2:8
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
~ Philippians 3:3, 1 Corinthians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 2:2, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:1-3
The Offence of the Cross, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
‘But 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
As we come back to this great theme, it is important that we should bear in mind the context, the way in which the apostle Paul intends to make the statement. In reading the text, we must put an emphasis upon the word ‘I’. ‘But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. ’The Apostle is contrasting himself with certain other people — with the false Judaising teachers who had been speaking and preaching to the churches in Galatia after Paul’s departure, and who had been causing such confusion in the minds of those simple people with respect to the way of salvation.
The Apostle says about them ‘For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh’ (v.13). That is what they glory in. But as for me, says the Apostle, out upon the suggestion that I should glory in anything, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the one thing and the only thing in which I glory. That is a tremendous statement, of course. And we realise that if we are to be able to say the same, we must know something about the things which he tells us. Our desire to know more shows the sincerity of our concern. As he ends his letter, he gives them a solemn warning to be very careful. He says, ‘For he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting’ (6:8).
So the great question for us is, how does one sow to the Spirit? And it is just here that these false teachers were creating such trouble, and are still causing trouble in the same way to many people in the modern world. That is precisely why I am calling attention to this whole subject. People are asking, ‘What are we to believe? What is this Christian faith?
We are hearing contradictory statements,’ they say. That is what they were saying in Galatia. The Apostle Paul had said one thing; these teachers were saying something different. Paul said you must believe in Jesus Christ and him crucified only, you are justified by faith only. No, said the others, it is by circumcision. You must go back to the law. So here were people in confusion, and they are, as I pointed out, in confusion today. Nothing is more necessary than that we should be perfectly clear about our authority, and there are only two ultimate authorities: the Bible, or anything else you like. There is no other choice. Everybody bases his opinion either upon this book or else not upon it. I do not care what it is if it is not on this. There are many possibilities apart from this, it does not matter, because they are all the same in that they are not the Bible.
Well now then, says Paul, what is the truth? What is the real message? It is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’. The preaching of the cross, as we have seen, is the heart and centre of the whole Christian position; not our Lord’s teaching but the cross — his death. Why? Because it is by this that we are saved.
Now there is the matter in general, but as it is such a tremendous statement, we cannot leave it at that. The Apostle does not merely say that he preaches the cross and that he believes in it. He says, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ So there is more here, and it is to something of this ‘more’ that I want to draw your attention now.
This word ‘glory’ tells us at once that the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the test of every one of us. It is the test of our profession of Christianity. It is the test of our church membership, indeed, of our whole position and profession. There is no more subtle test of our understanding than our attitude to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the cross passes judgement upon us all, immediately and of necessity. You cannot remain neutral in the presence of the cross. It has always divided mankind and it still does. And what the Apostle says is that there are ultimately only two positions with respect to it. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is either an offence to us or else it is the thing above everything else in which we glory.
My dear friends, there never can be a more important question than this: what does this cross do to you? Where do you find yourself as you think of it and face it? It is one of these two, it is either an offence or else you glory in it. Are we all clear about our position? Do we know exactly where we stand? There are some perhaps saying, ‘Well quite certainly it is not an offence to me, but I am afraid I cannot say I glory in it.’ Well, my friend, you are in an impossible position. These are the only two positions —offence, or glory. As we value our immortal souls, let us examine this matter, let us look into it, let us see what the Apostle has got to tell us here, and elsewhere in his writings, about these two positions, in order that we may know for sure.
Now this is important for this reason. Paul’s preaching, as we have seen, is this: It is the cross that saves me, by whom or by which the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world. He says to the Corinthians, ‘I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ (1 Cor 2:2). The Apostle Paul never delivered a lecture. He always preached. And the business of the Christian church is to preach, not to lecture. It is not to deal with politics, nor with social conditions but to preach. I determined not to know anything among you …’—and what a vast knowledge he possessed! All the erudition of this mighty man of God, all his profound understanding, all his knowledge of philosophy and of Greek poetry and a thousand and one other things—and he determined to become a fool for Christ’s sake.
It was even brought as a charge against him. That man Paul, they said, was always speaking about this cross, always about the blood of Christ. It was so simple, it was even childish. He did not take his hearers, they said, into the heights of philosophic understanding.
The Apostle answers and says that that was all deliberate: ‘I determined not to know anything among you, save ….’ I know of a wisdom, he says to the Corinthians, ‘Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought’ (1 Cor 2:6). It is a hidden wisdom. It is a mystery. It is the wisdom of God.
Now the Apostle came to that position for this one big reason. Here is the thing that determines not only the kind of life we live in this world, but that determines our eternal destiny. ‘He that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.’ The thing is terribly urgent, more than ever in this so called atomic age world, which may come to an end at any moment. And there before us is eternity. Where are you going to spend it, as the old preachers used to put it?
Do you know what determines that? Your reaction to the cross. This is the acid test. This is the thing that searches us out of all our hiding and lurking places. This demands a decision urgently, because we are in either one or other of the two positions. Which is it?
Now let us follow the Apostle as he puts this thing before us. Let me put it to you in the form of some principles. Here is the first. To then on, Christian, the cross is an offence. Now I take that word from Galatians 5:11 where the Apostle says, ‘And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.’ In other words, he is saying that the preaching of the cross is an offence to the natural man, to the man who is not a Christian. There is no doubt at all that that was the position in the early days. We have abundant evidence with respect to it. He says it here, and in 1 Corinthians 1:23 he says I know perfectly well that preaching Christ crucified is ‘unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.’ They do not like it, they do not want it, it is an offence to them. And he was persecuted by his own countrymen and laughed at and dismissed by the learned Greeks, because he persisted in preaching this message of the cross.
It was, then, clearly and patently an offence in the early days of the Christian church, and so it has continued to be throughout the running centuries. There has been great argument and disputation about the cross. There has always been trouble about it. This has been the dividing point so constantly through the ages. And it is still the same tonight. The fact that the cross is an offence to large numbers at the present time is only too obvious and too patent. There is scorn being poured upon it, even in the Christian church. This theology of blood, they say. How they hate any mention of the blood.
I remember once listening to some men in discussion. A Christian and a non-Christian were talking together about these matters, and I was sitting in an adjoining room reading, when suddenly the Christian came to me and said, ‘Come, I think you can help us with this discussion.’
So I went along with him and asked what the problem was.
The other man, the non-Christian, who was a very able professional man, said, ‘You know, there is a dispute here, but there shouldn’t be.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘it is my good friend here. Of course I believe in morals as he does. I believe in ethics. I believe in living a good life. I believe in improving this world, but,’ he continued, ‘he will bring in this blood and thunder element.’
That was the cause of the trouble, what he called ‘blood and thunder’. What men call ‘this theology of blood’. They pour their scorn and their ridicule upon it. They hate the Old Testament, they hate what they call the God sitting on Mount Sinai, they hate all this offering of burnt offerings and sacrifices. They say that is primitive religion, and you should not introduce it into the discussion, you should not talk about such things. They hate the cross, it is an offence still, to the polite, the sophisticated, the dilettante, the modern man.
But perhaps the people who find the cross most offensive of all are those who on the surface seem to praise it most of all. I am thinking of the people who tell us that the cross is a very beautiful thing. They preach a lot about the cross, yes, but they preach it as something that is beautiful— so touching, so affecting, so moving. And yet I would say that they, of all people, are the ones who feel the offence of the cross most of all. In fact, they feel it so much that they have got to turn it into something that it was never meant to be. They find it so offensive in its stark reality, that they philosophise it into the most beautiful thing, a kind of aesthetic enactment, and so they sentimentalise the cross and talk about it with great pathos. These, of all people, are the ones who feel the offence of the cross.
The truth is that we are face to face with the very position that has persisted throughout the centuries. We must examine the reasons for this, but before we do so, let me say this. The test of whether someone is teaching the cross rightly or wrongly is whether it is an offence to the natural man or not. If my preaching of this cross is not an offence to the natural man, I am misrepresenting it. If it is something that makes him say how beautiful, how wonderful, what a tragedy, what a shame, I have not been preaching the cross truly. The preaching of the cross is an offence to the natural man. So it becomes the test of any man’s preaching.
Or let me put it in terms of the congregation. If this element of offence in the cross has never appeared to you, or if you have never felt it, well then I say that you likewise have never known the truth about the cross of Christ. If you have never reacted against it, and felt that it is an offence for you, I say you have never known it. It is always an offence to the natural man. Invariably, there is no exception. So if you have never felt it, you have never seen it, because you were once a natural man. There is nobody born a Christian into this world. We have to be born again to become Christians, and while we are natural men and women, the cross is an offence.
So, if we have never known this element of offence, either we have not seen it, or we have had some misrepresentation of it, and that brings me to the next question. Why, then, is it an offence to the natural man? In what respects is it an offence to him? The answer is, that the reasons are precisely those that used to make it an offence to men and women in the first century. I am sorry, but I have to repeat that there is no difference at all in these matters between the first century man and the twentieth century man. Is that in itself an offence to you? It is a part of the preaching of the cross to say that man in every century is identical with man in every other century. That is a most offensive thing to twentieth century man. Let me show you why.
First and foremost it is an offence to his mind. I have to put this first, because man’s ultimate sin is intellectual pride. And this preaching of the cross is an offence to man’s mind, because it cuts across all his preconceived notions and ideas and prejudices. It was a stumbling block to the Jews for this reason. They would tell you, We are expecting the Messiah, and, as Jews, our idea of the Messiah is that when he comes he will be a great military personage. He will collect a great army, which he will head, and, he will destroy the Roman conquerors. He will set up Jerusalem as the greatest city in the world and we the Jews will be the greatest people. We shall conquer the whole world, and we shall be there reigning over all. That is what they expected. At first, when he came and they listened to him, they were rather attracted to him. He seemed to have understanding, and power, and they crowded after him. But they soon lost patience with him. He would not go up to Jerusalem and become a king. On one occasion his own followers tried to take him by force to make him a king, and he had to escape to a mountain himself alone. They all thought of him in these military terms.
So when they found the one who claimed to be the Messiah dying in apparent weakness and helplessness upon the cross, they were deeply wounded and offended. They felt that this was nonsense, ridiculous. A Saviour, a deliverer, dying? He ought to be killing everybody else. He ought to be powerful and mighty, a great king and conqueror. He was an offence to them. He had demolished their preconceived notions and ideas. And it was exactly the same with the Greeks, these men who trusted to their own ability and were so proud of it. This cross cuts across it, does not make any use of it, indeed, as I am going to show you, it does the exact opposite.
So immediately, the cross is an offence, because it cuts across all our ideas. We all have ideas about everything, including religion. We think we know what makes a man a Christian. We think we know what God expects, and we are quite confident that we can do it, that we have it in us. If we only put our backs and our wills into it, we can do it. Is that not it? The cross cuts right across it.
Let me show you how. The second respect in which it is an offence to the mind of the natural man is tremendously important at the present time, even as it was with the Greeks of old. The cross proclaims at once that we are not saved by ideas. We are not saved by thought, or by understanding. We are not saved, if you like, by philosophy. But that is the one thing that the natural man believes—that we are saved in this manner. Who is going to save us? Well, the wise men. And who are they? The wise men are the great thinkers. The country is in trouble, in an awful mess. What can be done? Well, we want the best men, the best thinkers in every realm— political, philosophical, social and in every other respect. The best men, the greatest thinkers, are going to be our salvation. That is how man thinks instinctively. But here is something that tells us that we are not saved by thinking. We are not saved by good ideas. We are not saved by idealism. The most bitter opponents of the cross of Christ in this country today are the idealists who are not Christians. You see, they have their noble ideas, their thoughts about uplift, and what needs to be done, and so do the great profound philosophers. These are the important people, the world says, and they hate the cross, because it cuts right across what they believe.
And then another way in which the cross offends the natural man’s mind is this: people say, and they say it quite freely, that this whole notion of the cross is immoral. To them, the idea that one man should be punished for other people’s sin is immoral. The whole notion is quite unthinkable. A man bears his own punishment. This idea that somebody else comes along who is absolutely innocent, and that you put your guilt on him and that he then bears the punishment—the thing is quite immoral. They say they cannot believe in a God who does a thing like that, a God who can punish his own Son, cause his death, in order to forgive others. It is not justice. They say that it violates their sense of justice and of morality. Have you not heard that? Perhaps you have thought it? If you have, the cross is an offence, because the essence of this doctrine is substitution. It teaches that Christ is the Lamb of God ‘that taketh away the sins of the world’; that our sins are transferred to him, are imputed to him, are put upon him; and that it is ‘by his stripes we are healed’. It teaches that God has smitten him. God has ‘laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Is 53:6). And to the modern man, the natural human thinker, this is an offence, immoral, unjust, and unrighteous. So he hates it and he rejects it.
Perhaps we need to sum up the whole position with regard to the way in which the cross is an offence to the mind of the natural man. What he cannot really endure is that he cannot understand the cross, and that is its essential offence to him. The natural man believes he can understand everything, and he wants to do so. I am sure that you recognise his favourite position, which goes something like this: I am not going to believe a thing which I cannot understand. I am not going to commit myself to anything unless I understand it. Man believes that he has the capacity in himself to comprehend all truth. He can understand everything. He does not believe in God because, he says, he does not understand such a being, and he does not understand the cross either. And of course the cross cannot be understood. As Charles Wesley puts it in a great hymn, ‘Tis mystery all, the immortal dies’. The cross is a mystery, the mystery of substitution, of the immortal dying. It is the mystery of God, as the Bible itself says, but the modern man says he cannot submit to a mystery. He must understand. But here is something that tells him you cannot understand. It is impossible. It is beyond us. It is divine. It is miraculous, it is supernatural and we cannot understand it. And man hates it for that reason. He cannot leave it alone because it is there, and because he has a feeling within him somewhere that he will have to deal with it sometime, and yet because he cannot understand it he hates it; it is an offence to him.
And if it is an offence to the natural man’s mind, it is still more an offence to his heart. The truth is that there is only one ultimate trouble with respect to the cross, and that is our pride. All man’s troubles emanate from his pride. Why did man ever fall? The answer is pride. The devil came to Eve and said, Has God said that you must not eat of that? Of course he has said that, because he knows that the moment you eat of it you will become like God. And the woman liked the suggestion. Pride rose and the man listened. He agreed. They wanted to be as God. What was the cause of the fall of the one who tempted them, the devil? Paul tells us in his first epistle to Timothy that it was exactly the same thing. He lifted himself up in pride, and fell. Pride is the cause of all our troubles and that is what the world does not understand. It is not surprising. Everything is telling us to believe in ourselves, pandering to our pride, building us up and inflating us. Man, modern man! Here comes something that smashes the idol. Pride is ever the cause of the trouble and there is nothing that so hurts the natural man’s pride as the cross of Christ.
How does the cross do that? What has happened that there should ever have been a cross? It is because we are failures, because we are sinners, because we are lost. You know, the astounding thing that we are told in the four Gospels is that the Son of God, when he came into this world, was hated, and not only that, but that he was crucified on a cross. Have you ever thought of that? The Son of God came in to the world as he said himself, not to condemn it, but that the world through him might be saved. What harm did he do? He spent his time in teaching, instructing the common people and others who were ready to listen. He spent his time in healing sickness and diseases, relieving suffering and pain and sorrow. He spent his time, as Peter puts it to Cornelius, in doing good. And yet they hated him, and they crucified him. And the mob cried out saying, ‘Away with him, crucify him!’ Why were they upset by him? What had he done to them?
You know the cause of the trouble? He said one thing that to the natural man is the greatest insult conceivable, the most offensive remark that can ever be made, and it was this. ‘The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Lk 19:10). But surely, you may think, they did not hate that. Yet they did. That is the very thing they hated him for. They did not object to the saving part, but to the suggestion that they were lost, and that they were lost in the sense that they needed to be saved. You see, the very presence of the Son of God in this world is an utter, absolute condemnation of us, every one of us. It is because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, that he ever came, and especially why he had to go to the cross. And this is a source of offence. He tells us that we are failures, that we are sinners.
But then he says more. This is another aggravation of the offence. He says that we are all failures. He says that we are all equally failures. Now that is utterly impossible to us, is it not? What do we say? Well, what we say in our better moments is, ‘I don’t claim that I am a hundred per cent saved, you know, but I am not like that hopeless drunkard, I am not like that fallen woman. There are good and bad in t h is world. There are religious and non-religious people, and there is a very important distinction here. You must not say,’ we argue, ‘that all people are in the same position. You must not say that it makes no difference whether a man is good or bad or whether a man is moral or immoral, whether a man has an ethical code or whether he has not. You must not say that.’ We go on ‘You are violating every moral principle. You are asking for licence, for abandon. The thing is a lie, it is not true. You tell us that the man who has striven to live a good life and has tried to be religious and to say his prayers, you say that he is in the same position as a man who has never prayed, has never been near a place of worship, and has lived only for sin and evil, and vice and lust, you say they are in the same lost condition?’
That is precisely what the cross of Christ says.
The cross of Christ says there is no difference. This was the thing, of course, that infuriated the Jews. But this is how the Apostle puts it in Romans 3, in writing on this very matter. ‘But now,’ he says, ‘the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (3:21– 23, italics added). This was the thing that made them mad. They were mad with our Lord, they were mad with the apostles, who preached that there was really no difference between the Jew and the Greek in this matter of salvation; that the fact that you are a Jew does not save you, nor the fact that you have been circumcised, nor that you have got possession of the law. There is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile, the outsider, none at all. All have sinned, there is no difference.
And this is the thing that hurts the pride of modern man in our own day. The world is full of do-gooders. These people are anxious to put things right. They set up an organisation, they form a society and other people join it and they write protests and they are going to put the world right. And there is one thing they hate. It is this cross, which tells them that you can never deal with the problem like that, and that all are in the same position. There is no difference, there is none righteous, no, not one. It is a terrible thing to be told that all your effort comes to nothing. Let me put that in this form. The cross is an offence to the pride of the natural man, because it says that not only are we all sinners, not only are we all equally sinners, but it tells us that we are all equally helpless. We can do nothing at all. It tells us that all our righteousness is but as filthy rags. All we regard as best is dung and refuse, and absolutely useless. And it tells us, who believe in ourselves and in our capacity, that we can do nothing. That we are utterly and completely helpless and entirely hopeless. And here it offends us and it hurts us, it damns all our efforts, it is an offence to the mind and to the heart. And it is equally an offence to the will of man. It tells him: I do not care what your will is, I do not care how powerful your will. I do not care what your resolutions are. Do all you will, you will never save yourself.
Not the labours of my hands
Can fulfil thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone,
Thou must save, and thou alone.
– Augustus Montague Toplady
It crushes us to the ground. It demolishes everything that we have ever believed in. It leaves us helpless and hopeless, lost, damned, hell-deserving sinners, and that is what it says about every one of us.
And, I say, that that is the offence of the cross to the natural man. Have you ever felt it, my friend? Have you resented being told that your condition is such that nothing that you can do can ever put it right? Have you ever been told, or been offended by being told, that you are lying there helpless on the ground in dust and ashes and the final hopelessness, and that although you get up and try to shake yourself and to reform yourself, you will be down again, and in the end you will be down and hopeless and outcast? Have you been able to hear that without feeling the offence, and a hatred towards it? If you have, I would say that you have never heard it properly. There is something wrong with you. The modern man, the natural man, hates this. It is the opposite of his cult of self-expression and belief in himself, of working himself up psychologically, of trusting himself, and of trusting his own innate powers. Modern man considers himself come of age, able to stand on his own feet, with all his tremendous knowledge. But here is something that demolishes it all. The cross says that it is useless and of no value at all. That is the offence of the cross to the natural man.
But now, turn to the other side. The Christian, by contrast, is, as we saw earlier, one who glories in the cross. ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Let us look at this. This is the important thing for us. You notice what he says. He does not merely say that he admires it, that the cross is simply beautiful and marvellous. No, he does not stand there just admiring it, or merely praising it. I want to go further, he does not just believe it. He does not merely accept its message intellectually. I am going to test you, my friends. The Christian is a man who does not only believe in the cross, he glories in it!
What do you mean by that, says someone? Well, I mean the same as the writer of the hymn when he says:
In the Cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.
– J. Bowring
He rejoices in it. The word that the Apostle actually uses here, is a very strong one. He says ‘God forbid that I should boast. It is a matter of boasting. He makes his boast of it. He says these Jews are the people who want to have you circumcised, in order that they may boast about their converts. They want to boast in your flesh. They are out for their own success and their own name. They boast in that and they boast about what they have done. Oh, says the Apostle, I boast in nothing, and God forbid that I should, save in the cross of Christ. What he means by that is that he not only admires it, he not only believes in it, he is moved by it. He is captivated by it. He says here, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save …’
In other words, the Christian not only glories in the cross, he glories in the cross alone. He glories in nothing else. Hear Isaac Watts putting it:
Forbid it, Lord,
that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God.
There is an exclusiveness about it, which means that to the Christian this is the chiefest thing in history, the most important event that has ever taken place. It means that to him there is nothing which comes anywhere near it in significance. It means that he rests everything upon this, that this means all to him, that he is what he is because of this. He glories in it. I want to ask a question to all Christian believers. Are you glorying in the cross? Or are you just saying, Of course, I always believe, I always have believed, I was brought up to. Can you speak like that about the cross? The test of the Christian is that he glories in it, he exults in it, he boasts of it. It is everything to him, without it he has nothing. He owes all to this, this cross is the centre of his universe in every respect. That is what is meant by boasting.
So, then, let me just ask my final question for the moment. Why does the Christian glory in the cross? There are many answers to that question. First of all, he glories in it because of what he sees in it, or, if you prefer it, he glories in it because of what it shows him. Now here, it seems to me, is the key to the whole matter. I must quote Isaac Watts again because I think he makes this clear. He says, ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross’, and I do not think any man glories in it until he has surveyed it. If you take a casual glance at it, you say, ‘Yes I believe in it’, but my dear friend these men have been moved! Listen to Watts, listen to Charles Wesley, listen to all of them. These men have really seen the meaning of the cross. They cannot contain themselves, they cannot express themselves. Why? The only secret is that they have been surveying it and looking at it, they have been gazing at it. And you see this is a very good test. How much time do you spend in thinking about the cross, in looking at it, in gazing upon it, in surveying it from all its angles?
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.
He looks at it and he keeps on doing so. Ah, it is what he sees that makes him glory in it.
What does he see? What a question. Let me tell you the first part of the answer. The Christian glories in the cross because he sees there the most amazing spectacle that the world has ever seen, or ever can see. We are living in an age that is very fond of spectacles, in the sense of some remarkable happenings and events, some great show. And the Christian glories in the cross as a spectacle, because the more he looks at the cross the more he sees the glory of God being revealed to him. It displays to him the glory of the triune God, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. He sees all that shining down upon him.
What do you mean? asks someone. Well, let us look at it simply like this. He looks at that cross and he sees a man hanging upon it. Who is he? The answer is, as Watts reminds us, the Prince of Glory. ‘When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died.’ And the Christian sees there these extraordinary series of paradoxes, the most amazing paradoxes that the world ever has known or ever can know. It is almost impossible to describe these. I must call upon another poet to help me. Thank God that they have seen it and said it.
Read what Charles Wesley says about it. ‘’Tis mystery all.’ Why? Well, he says, ‘the immortal dies.’ Now there is a spectacle. The immortal, the one who is life and in whom is life, the everlasting, the eternal, from eternity. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (Jn 1:1). He is immortal, he is everlasting. But the immortal dies! Where is a spectacle like that to be found in this whole universe?
Or take it in the way in which the apostle Peter put it to the Jews in the sermon he preached after he and John had healed the impotent man at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. He says, Do you know what you have done? You have killed the Prince of life. You have killed the author of life. You have killed the beginner and controller of life. Now this is what a Christian sees. He can say, I look there at a man, but I know he is not only man, he is God-man, he is God the eternal Son, who has come down on earth to dwell. He is the author of every thing, he made everything, and he sustains everything. But I see him dying. What is this? Oh, it is the killing of the Prince of life.
How difficult it is to put this, but you will agree that the modern man gets very moved by spectacles. He gets very moved and very thrilled by acts of self-abasement and humiliation. He looks at his drama on the television, perhaps some great king pretending to be a nobody in order to do good, and he says, how moving, how wonderful, how uplifting. Oh it is thrilling. He glories in it. But look at this—the Prince of life being killed. ‘’Tis mystery all, the immortal dies.’
But there are other strange things that meet together at this cross.
See from his head, his hands, his feet Sorrow and love flow mingled down.
What a mixture: love and sorrow. Do you see it? ‘Did e’er such love and sorrow meet?’ Surely that is a challenge, is it not? You who are expert in drama, and in art, and in music that can move people, here is the question that the cross asks you. Did ever such love and sorrow meet together or flow mingling down together? No, it is unique. This is the spectacle of spectacles, the spectacle of the ages. Listen to another:
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.
You do not associate crowns and thorns, do you? They are opposites, as it were. The glory and the splendour and the sparkle of a crown and a crown of thorns, fit only to be burnt away, cast away out of sight. But here they come together, ‘thorns compose so rich a crown’.
Again, what do I see there? I see one who is sinless, who has never sinned, who gives perfect obedience to his Father in all things. He has never done anybody any wrong, he is innocent, pure and clean. He is altogether without sin. But I see the sinless one being punished. I see one who is utterly and entirely innocent dying for those who are evil and vile and unworthy. Dying for sinners, dying for rebels, dying for his own enemies. I see, over and above this, the one who from eternity had looked into the face of his Father. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God …’, which means that the Word, the Son, was looking into the face of God eternally, and here on earth he always pleased his Father. He prayed to his Father and looked into his face. I see one who has ever looked into the face of his heavenly Father, his Father, God, in the blessed Holy Trinity. I see that same person crying out in agony, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ That is what I see there at the cross. These endless paradoxes, these things that appear to be utter contradictions, all blending together, becoming one, with a radiance and a glory upon them.
Then I see something else, too. I see the Lord of Glory, the ‘Word’ by whom all things were made and without whom was nothing made that was made. I see the one who has such power that he can make all things, and indeed, as the author of the epistle to the Hebrews reminds us, the one by whom all things consist and who is ‘upholding all things by the word of his power’, holding the atoms together, holding the constellations, holding the whole cosmos together, by his power, I see him dying in utter helplessness, in apparent weakness. You remember how it was hurled in his face, ‘He saved others; himself he cannot save’ (Mt 27:42). You who can heal the sick, and raise the dead, come down. He did not come down. The power and the helplessness are there together and at the same time. I read of the one in whom we are told ‘in him was life’, dying. That is what I see as I look at the cross. I see one who was ‘in the form of God’ (Phil 2:6) dying as a weak and helpless man.
I see one whose concern for the glory of his Father was so great that he put aside his own eternal glory in its visible form, and humbled himself, and made himself of no reputation but took upon him the form and the likeness of a man. He indeed took upon him the form and the likeness of a servant, and humbled himself and was obedient, even unto death. That is what I see, his concern for his Father’s glory. I see his obedience which was an obedience even unto the death of the cross. ‘O my Father,’ he said, ‘ if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ And he drank it to the very dregs. What was that? Your guilt and mine, your punishment and mine. He took it all upon himself. Why? So that God may be glorified and that God may be just over all. He rendered this perfect obedience that he might honour and glorify his Father.
But looking again at him what I see above everything else is the love that made him do it all. ‘Love so amazing, so divine.’ What does it mean? Let the Apostle himself answer the question. This is how he puts it. ‘For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life’ (Rom 5:6–10).
It comes to this, my dear friends, he is dying there because of his love, his love for you, his love for me; his love for those who are sinners, those who are rebels, those who are enemies. He died for people who hated him. As he was dying there, Saul of Tarsus was hating him, but he was dying for Saul of Tarsus. As Paul (to give his subsequent name) puts it later: ‘The Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me’ (Gal 2:20). He did not wait until Paul was converted before he loved him. He loved him as he was, a blasphemer and persecutor and injurious. He loved him even when Saul of Tarsus was there blaspheming his holy name, ridiculing his claim that he was the Son of God, and the Lord of Glory, ridiculing this idea that he is here to teach us and to die for us and to save us, pouring his blasphemous scorn upon him. While Paul was doing that, he was dying for Paul. And he was doing the same for you and for me. You who have reviled him and blasphemed him and hated him and regarded all this preaching of the cross as an offence, he did it for you. That is the measure of his love. When I survey the wondrous cross, what do I see? That is what I see. I see a spectacle that the world has never seen before, and will never see again. I see the holy Son of God bearing the punishment of my sins, the author of life dying that I might live, that I might become a son, a child of God, and go on to spend my eternity in the glory everlasting with him.
And this is only the beginning. I say that what we see in the cross is the glory of the Godhead shining down upon us, first in the face of Jesus Christ. Have you seen it? If you have seen even a glimmer of what I have been trying to say, you must glory in it. You do not just believe it, you do not just praise it. You say,
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
A total allegiance, a total surrender. I live for him; he died for me. In other words, we put it, as the famous Count Zinzendorf, the great Moravian leader put it. It was the turning point in his life when he saw that portrait of Christ with its little inscription, ‘Christ dying on the cross’. He looked at the picture, he, the wealthy and learned Count, and this is what he read: ‘I did this for thee, what wilt thou do for me?’ He saw that there was only one response, and for the rest of his life this was his confession: ‘I have but one passion, it is he and he alone.’
‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ ….’
Do you really believe that the Son of God came down from heaven and died on that cross for you? Do you really believe it? You cannot truly believe it without glorying in it. If you really believe it and see what it means, well, it is everything to you. It is either everything or else it is nothing. Are you glorying in the cross, my friend? If you are, you can take it from me that you have sown, and are sowing, to the Spirit and that you will reap life everlasting.