“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
For 45 years, a 13-foot-tall concrete and mortar cross has stood in an open, grassy flat in a city park in Port Neches, Texas, along the southeast Texas Gulf Coast.
The Port Neches cross remains firmly planted—despite aggressive legal threats from an atheist group charging that it violates constitutional church-state separation.
Port Neches is only the latest example in which the cross, and Christian symbols generally, have drawn fire. In Edmond, Okla., a part of the city seal has been blank since 1995—the year a federal appeals court ruled that a cross on the seal implied government sponsorship of a religion. In California’s Mojave Desert, a cross erected in honor of fallen war veterans was held in legal limbo for years until a private group bought the two acres of public land surrounding the cross so that it could remain. Dozens of other cases could be cited.
Yet these brouhahas over Christian symbols in public spaces don’t begin to plumb the depths of offense the cross of Christ evokes.
Billy Graham knows well the offense the cross carries. He long preached a clear biblical call for sinners to meet Jesus at the cross in repentance and faith.
“People don’t want to hear that they are sinners,” Mr. Graham said in 2013 during the filming of The Cross, a video used during that year’s nationwide My Hope evangelism effort. “To many people it is an offense. The cross is offensive because it directly confronts the evils which dominate so much of this world.”
But it’s not merely secularists who take offense. The message of the cross—with all of its blood-soaked meaning—sometimes meets stiff resistance among people who claim the name “Christian.”
A few examples:
- At the highly controversial 1993 “Re-Imagining Conference” in Minneapolis, an interfaith gathering led by liberal feminist theologians from mainline denominations, such as the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the cross and the blood atonement were trampled underfoot as mere folly. God, Jesus and other biblical concepts were “re-imagined” in Marxist, feminist and pagan terms.
Asked what to do, then, about a theory of atonement for sin, Delores S. Williams, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, told those at the event: “I don’t think we need a theory of atonement at all. I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff.”
She went on to say that Jesus came mainly to show us how to live, not to die for our sins.
- In 2012, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, who wrote the popular modern hymn “In Christ Alone,” found themselves in the middle of a media controversy after refusing to allow their lyrics about the atonement to be altered for inclusion in the Presbyterian Church’s (U.S.A.) updated hymnal.
The Presbyterian hymnal committee had sought to change the words “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” to a less offensive “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.”
Getty said in a later interview that God’s love was indeed magnified through the cross, but God’s chosen means to do that involved a particular blood sacrifice that satisfied God’s just wrath toward sin.
As Mr. Graham said in The Cross, God demonstrated His love for people by giving His Son to die on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
“Jesus endured all of that in our place because of our sins,” Mr. Graham said. “We deserved the cross, we deserved hell, we deserved judgment and all that that means.”
The Bible repeatedly warns believers that the cross will offend the natural mind in its unconverted state.
For the self-righteous, the cross offends because it opposes human effort, the Apostle Paul says, lest through circumcision or works “the offense of the cross has been removed” (Galatians 5:11).
The cross also cuts straight against the grain of worldly wisdom.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18-19, Paul writes: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’”
In fact, Paul goes on in verse 27 to say that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.”
John MacArthur, in his book Ashamed of The Gospel, warns against chasing after worldly approval.
“Evangelism does not require salesmen, but prophets. It is the Word of God, not any earthly enticement, that plants the seed for the new birth (1 Peter 1:23). We gain nothing but God’s displeasure if we seek to remove the offense of the cross.”
W.A. Criswell, who served more than 50 years as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, once said that the cross offends modern man because it repudiates secular humanism.
“It is a contradiction of the chief liberal optimism of the deification of humanity, of the inherent goodness of the human heart,” said Criswell. “The cross is an exposition—an exposing, a public lifted-up presentation—of the darkness and the iniquity and the villainy that is inherent in the human heart (Romans 3:23-26; Colossians 2:13-15).”
Yet the cross offers the only solution for man’s sin debt.
“Of all the things that I’ve seen and heard, there’s only one message that can change people’s lives and hearts,” Mr. Graham said in his message for The Cross. “I know that many will react to this message, but it is the truth. And with all my heart I want to leave you with the truth.” ©2016 BGEA
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.