April 30, 2007

The Scandalous Cross
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Sometimes the Scripture can come painfully alive to us. This happened to me late yesterday afternoon.

As I was driving out of the church parking lot, I noticed that the cross we used for Palm Sunday and Easter was still laying behind the dumpster. This was not a fancy cross; just a makeshift thing made of two 2-by-4s nailed together. I decided it was time it was disposed of.

The cross was too long for the dumpster. I put one end of it on the low brick wall and jumped on the main beam to break it. I did not realize how old and rotten the 2-by-4 was. When I came down on it, my left foot went right through it, and my heel hit the parking lot surface with all my weight behind it. An immediate pain ran from my ankle to my knee, and I knew I’d really injured myself.

I thought of the Scripture verse that referred to the cross as a “stumblingblock.â€? I had not just stumbled, I had wounded myself. Jacob walked with a limp as a reminder of his encounter with God at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22). Now I will be limping for some time while the Lord is teaching me something about the place of the cross in a believer’s faith.
I went to the “stumblingblockâ€? passage (1 Corinthians 1:23), to confirm a memory I had about the original Greek of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Christians. He used the word “skandolon.â€? In other New Testament passages this word is translated “offense,â€? “cause of offense,â€? “hindrance,â€? “obstacle.â€? But here, maybe the straightforward transliteration of the Greek word into English tells the story best: The preaching of the cross is a scandal.
Paul said that to certain religious people of his day this was a very scandalous idea. The blood, the suffering, the death—these were bad enough. But added to them was the fact that this particular form of punishment was shameful execution reserved for the worst of criminals. And in the Christian gospel, people were asked to admit that they were sinners and could be saved only by calling out to this man dying the shameful death of a criminal. How humiliating! How scandalous!

Lots of people today call themselves Christians but are embarrassed by the cross. Preaching “Christ crucifiedâ€? as the way of salvation seems barbaric and crude. Modern sophisticated people find it somewhat scandalous. Well, people who think like that will never be able to experience the salvation Jesus came to bring. They need to stub their toe on the cross—maybe even trip over it and fall to their knees.

Like the prophets of the Old Testament, I am choosing to see my injury as a parable by which God is teaching me and others through me:
“All ye who see me limp, consider this as a reminder that the cross is at the center of the gospel. Be scandalized by it to your own destruction. Instead, fall, bow, confess your sins and embrace the crucified Christ.â€?

This Sunday’s service will include the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which graphically reminds us of his suffering and death. We will be asked to “eat his fleshâ€? and “drink his blood.â€? That’s gross and repulsive. We’ll be celebrating a scandal!

No. We’ll be celebrating our salvation!