The Scandal of the Christian Message

Recently, a news item is buzzing around the evangelical world and is starting to make it to the secular media—and the buzz surrounds a phrase of a hymn recently written by Keith and Kristyn Getty. The Presbyterian Church USA, a more liberal-leaning denomination, recently decided not to include the hymn “In Christ Alone” by the Gettys based on one phrase: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied.” They wished to put in an alternate line of “the love of God was magnified,” but the copyright holders declined this request. The committee failed to reach a 2/3 majority to include the hymn. In a statement they gave on August 9, 2013, they noted: “The absence of one text, however popular, should not be construed as a failure to address this theological theme.”

Yet, another decided to chime in on this—this one from within the Baptist fold. Bob Terry is the editor of The Alabama Baptist newspaper who, in an editorial on August 8, echoed much of the concern that came from the PCUSA:

“Some popular theologies do hold that Jesus’ suffering appeased God’s wrath,” Terry wrote. “That is not how I understand the Bible and that is why I do not sing the phrase ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’ even though I love the song ‘In Christ Alone.'”

After recognizing that the Scriptures do teach on this subject of God’s wrath, Terry continues:

“Yet there remains a question about whether God was an angry God at Golgotha whose wrath had to be appeased by the suffering of the innocent Jesus,” Terry wrote. “Sometimes Christians carelessly make God out to be some kind of ogre whose angry wrath overflowed until the innocent Jesus suffered enough to calm Him down.”

When you think of this line, what comes to your mind? You may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a line in a song.” Others of you may be thinking, “I always heard that God was a God of love—what’s with this wrath business? That’s very offensive.” Others of you may be thinking, “Yes, God’s wrath and justice—He needs to teach a lesson to those sinners out there.” And the beat goes on.

The fact is, there is a key doctrine in Christianity that all believers must embrace in order to understand the gospel and God’s saving work on our behalf. The term is substitutionary atonement. It means that Christ atoned/paid for our sins in our place. He died a death that we should have died as a punishment for our sins against God on our behalf, so that we might live a life that we did not deserve, but do by His mercy.

And this, my friends, was, and is, and always will be a scandal both to the world and to those who identify with the church. The fact that God’s wrath needed appeasement at the cost of His only (innocent) Son to pay for the crimes I committed—and that this is something Christians should exult in?

Friends, the message of the Cross, and those who are called to preach it, are scandalous to the world, but that scandal brings salvation!

1. The message of the cross is scandalous (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

Read with me 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

18 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.19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

What is a scandal? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines

3 a : a circumstance or action that offends propriety or established moral conceptions or disgraces those associated with it

b : a person whose conduct offends propriety or morality <ascandal to the profession>

4: malicious or defamatory gossip

5: indignation, chagrin, or bewilderment brought about by a flagrant violation of morality, propriety, or religious opinion

The message of the cross is foolishness to the world. It’s offensive. Some even say that the cross of Christ is immoral! One sign that you know someone is not in right standing with God is that they see the preaching of the cross as folly. First, consider the nature of the cross. In that culture, one did not speak of the cross in polite company. Ravi Zacharias reminds us:

Crucifixion was humiliating. It was so humiliating that the Romans who specialized in the art of torture assured their own citizenry that a Roman could never be crucified. But not only was it humiliating, it was excruciating. In fact, the very word “excruciating” comes from two Latin words: ex cruciatus, or out of the cross. Crucifixion was the defining word for pain.

In 2013, the cross holds a meaning of salvation, eternal life, and is used liberally in church décor, as well as in polished silver and gold jewelry around the neck. To the mind of those who lived during Jesus’ time, this would be a shock of the first degree. The indignity, humiliation, and agony that a crucifixion brought was not something to celebrate, nor elevate—much less to show that this is the power of God to those who are being saved.

You see, in that day, the method of speaking meant more than the substance of the message. Ordinary men using ordinary language to elevate an awful issue. Our day is similar in mindset to Roman times. The method trumps the message. If you can say something well, for many it doesn’t matter what you say, it’s in how you say it. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are deemed excellent speakers for their ability to engage their listeners. Others have had more trouble, and many have lampooned those troubles!

The Apostle Paul knew that many enjoyed the oratory of the speakers of the day. But he lets them know where the power comes from.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony[b] of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men[c] but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

How did Paul come across? No lofty speech or wisdom. In weakness and in fear and much trembling—with words not in plausible words of wisdom. But why? Our faith is not in men’s wisdom, but in God’s power. And this is how God operates: in verse 21, it says that “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”

To take this a step further, go to verse 22. We have three groups of people Paul addresses: Jews, Gentiles, and the called.

The Jews demand signs, which we see from Jesus’ ministry. They perpetually wanted Jesus to provide signs that His qualifications as the Christ passed their test. The sign of Jesus dying on the slaughterhouse of a criminal cross and being raised from the dead was not a sign for them of their Savior and Lord.

The Gentiles thought that this was foolish, nonsense, and silly. Not much has changed. An article written back in 2013 from Patheos, an atheist website, starts off an article by saying, “I’m afraid that the crucifixion story doesn’t strike me as that big a deal.” He goes on to ask why we should single out this one? And why this death? And why are we held accountable for a sin that the first man did? Plus, some other Roman and Greek gods did way grander things than this!

See? While some see this as offensive and immoral, some see this as silly. But “to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” So, who are the ‘us’ to whom Paul refers?

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