By J. T. Pugh
THE SHOCK OF CONTRADICTION
When a generation of people loses moral principle which could guide them, when life has no overriding, selfless purpose, when no semblance of meaning can be assigned to their experiences, that generation is dead. This horrible, nerveless apathy continues until a shock wave away comfort and pseudo-security. This is done by the calamities of war, famine, and political collapse. Also, a universal, historical event that has its roots in deep-laid moral and religious issues forces people to take a position and, in some measure, become mentally and emotionally involved. For this reason and many more, the crucifixion event is important. This horrendous episode remains both a timeless event and experience as well. Since it is a principle of life, people are forced to either work with it and by it, or to totally reject it. When this principle of the cross is accepted, respected, and applied, spiritual life always springs up. When Christ crucified is lifted up, meaning, joy, and purpose comes into the lives of people who accept Him. Every individual life and every generation needs the lifesaving shock of the cross.
In the fact of spiritual and social corruption, it is easy for morally conscious people to conclude that the world has been in sinful decline for hundreds of years, until in our day we have reached the lowest level of evil that the world has ever known. But that is not true. World history reveals that there have been several levels of wickedness the world has wallowed in during past times, lower and more wicked than our own. History also shows that during these low times, when people revolted against the slime, the slop, and stink of wickedness, it was because a courageous remnant, a dedicated minority, lived and taught against the tide of the lost masses and thus offered a hopeful alternative. The entrance of Jesus Christ into the world, for instance, was so abrupt, so distinctly different, that the event broke the flow of time into “B.C.” and “A.D.” His unmistakable distinction and difference from His contemporaries justified the statement, “I am truth.” The statement was made without qualification or hesitation. It was precisely the statement that the world needed to hear. No doubt, Pilate the Roman governor was well learned in many ways, but when he confronted Jesus, the confusion of his life was indicated in the question he asked, “What is truth?”
Jesus taught His disciples that the church was to be a distinct “salt” in the bland mix of life. He indicated that if its presence could not be detected, it had lost its purpose and its worthiness and should be disposed of. Jesus taught that the holy influence of the church and the truth it expounded should contrast with the environment as a light would in darkness.
Whenever and wherever the church keeps Jesus Christ and Him crucified at the center of its focus, these things occur. Many, to some degree and in some semblance, preach and teach Christ today. But to present Jesus without his cross is to present a powerless Christ.
This week, I finished teaching a seminar composed of young ministers. At the close, we took quite a bit of time for their questions. One young man asked what my greatest concern was relative to the young preachers of this generation? My immediate answer was that I feared that they would lose their focus on the principle of the cross.
I do not know how anyone is able to wholeheartedly follow Jesus unless he knows something about His character. People who truly follow Jesus also seek to become like Him. This means that the “simplicity that is in Christ”-the clear-eyed, constant pursuit of righteousness and truth, that so characterized Jesus, also becomes the main objective of their own lives.
THE SHOCK OF SELF-SURRENDER
Jesus Christ portrays the very essence of self-giving. He laid down His life deliberately in an act of enormous generosity. His entire thirty-three earthly years were poured out in self-sharing, self-sacrificing, and self-losing for the sake of others. The unique wonder of Jesus’ life was characterized by this utter selflessness.
When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He calls us to be like Him, even in our innermost character. People who live this kind of life can always refer to an arresting spiritual confrontation that brought them to a life-changing decision. Basically it is the shock of self-surrendering in the face of a higher value, and for the sake of a greater cause.
People may be shocked by various experiences in the process of life. Because of this, they may never be the same again.
In 1980, Word Book Publishers of Waco, Texas, published a book written Keith Miller and Bruce Larson. The title of the book, “The Passionate People,” attracted my attention. The first few pages of the first chapter, which Did of Bruce Larson’s army experience in World War II, indicated the sincere, open communication which was to follow and convinced me that I needed to -read and study the book.
Bruce Larson tells how his parents had immigrated to the United States from Sweden. They had lived in poverty all of their lives after becoming U.S. citizens. Bruce was born when his parents were both sixty. Being an only child without any relatives other that his old parents, he lived a very lonely life. He tells how he dreamed often that his parents had died, leaving him truly all alone.
At seventeen, he enlisted in the United States Army and became a part of the Fourth Platoon of I company, 397th Infantry Regiment. These thirty men trained together and fought together to the end of the war. Though he despised army life, he found a unity, a purpose, and a cause that enriched the rest of his life.
In this spartan, sacrificial environment, things happened. Pretense and self-preservation were cut away, and the bare reality of life was seen in both its beauty and its ugliness. One such occasion was at the imminent death of his father. He was provided an emergency furlough and traveled by train night and day from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Chicago, but upon arrival, found his father had died. The day before the funeral, an enormous box of roses arrived with a card that said, “Our love and sympathy. The Fourth Platoon.”
Then there was the night in the Vasges Mountains in Alsace-Lorraine when the midsection of a new replacement was laid open by shrapnel. Bruce finally realized that, under the circumstances, there was nothing that could be done for the young soldier. Bruce held the young man in his arms and felt him die with the coming dawn.
It is in moments like these flowers of sympathy and the death of a “buddy,” that all the inconsequentials of life are seen for what they are. All such seems to drop away and a very real, present stillness shuts out sound. In such times of heightened awareness, we cease to be mere breathing, functioning members of the human race. We seem, at that moment, to transcend normality and to experience life at a level of such heightened awareness that can never be forgotten. How sad that life for most people is a meaningless passage of time. They are not able to reflect with any intensive awareness on any part of their lives. No high aspirations have ever pushed them out of comfort zones into risks and personal vulnerability. Jesus’ observation of the Sardis church was that “thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.”3 We all have encountered people characterized by this apathetic deadness. Spiritual renewal needs to come to them. This will not happen without a tearing decision, a renewed willingness to embrace the cross.
THRESHOLDS OF SHOCK
Almost every adult is aware of the treatment of shock administered by medics and doctors in the attempt to restart the heart of a person at death’s door. The only time I personally witnessed this procedure, I was amazed at how drastic it was. But I knew that in view of the value of life, the rough drasticness of this action was justified. I have likewise observed in the spiritual realm, that there can be no resurrection from deadness into a hope for glory without a divine shock. The trauma of an abrupt threshold of a life-changing decision cannot be avoided. Major advancements with God have always been preceded by a costly threshold experience. We see this in Noah submitting to the costly, seemingly ridiculous building of the ark, in Israel’s exodus Egypt, and finally in the controversial death of Jesus Christ upon a cross. In each of these traumatic events, a high amount of risk was involved.
I seriously doubt that a person experiences a completely fulfilled life without knowing some measure of risk. Jesus taught that life had to be lost, in order to be found. In years past, when the famous stunt man, Evil Knievel, used to perform, many people would injure themselves immediately after one of his daring attempts, as they attempted to emulate him and in this, would go beyond themselves.
I think that most people would like to go beyond themselves. Consciously or unconsciously, they seek a cause that they can join, a higher purpose to give themselves to. They sense intuitively that this is largely what life is all about. When people choose always self-protection over self-giving, life for them shrinks and stagnates. Several factors can turn people inward.
The accumulation of bitter experiences tends to shape the attitude of this generation. Though years should insulate, the smoke of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still hang like a cloud in the background of our consciousness. We have never completely come to terms with the frustration and confusion of Vietnam. The violence of our cities, the credibility gap in leadership, the persistence of cancer, and the instability of life in general contribute to a thick callousness that has built up against the normal feelings of life. This habitual stifling of honest emotion has brought to society in general a deadness which makes it unable to truly experience life. We see evidences of this stuporous malady everywhere.
The lives of millions of Americans have been emptied of very vital relationships. These life-constituting relationships are simply dying in our society. They are dying because hundreds of millions of Americans are dead. They are incapable of honest, spontaneous response.
People are revealing their inward destitution by their outward appearance. Many seek to clothe themselves in ugly, over-sized attire because they are ugly inside. They choose the ragged, worn dress of the poor because spiritually, they are impoverished. Since they are homogeneous in all their makeup, they naturally harmonize with their inward beings. Through their outward appearance, they express their true inward selves.
The silent void of the human soul today shows itself in blank looks that seldom express anything. The unmistakable deadness that moves around us in its spiritual silence is frightening. People simply do not completely live anymore. We have observed people who were convicted of the most hideous crimes being given the most drastic sentences, yet showing no emotion at all. It is a foregone conclusion that the crimes they committed may likewise have been passionless, performed with in human apathy.
I must admit that it is difficult for me to relate to people devoid of life’s passion. All my life, I have known the swings of joy and sorrow. I have not found it strange to be touched by the heaving grief of a lost world and to also, almost immediately, be lifted from that agony to ecstasy in the surging worship of a Spirit-filled congregation of Christian people. I have always been awed by the absolute truth of the Bible. Even at 73 years of age, I still appreciate the flag of our nation and our national anthem. I am not ashamed to confess that violations of cherished principles anger me. There are some things to me that deeply matter. The God I have known for the last sixty years has been a God of intense emotion, a God of both hate and love. I was taught that God was absolute in perfect character and that I should love what God loves and hate what God hates. I am at a loss to know how a person can enter into a relationship with God or know anything about God without a passionate commitment. Christianity is first of all an experience of the heart. We know God through love and not through reason. The ancient dictum of David still stands:
“Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, oh God, thou wilt not despise. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.”‘
These scriptures reveal a traumatic experience of passion. David is relating to God with intense emotion. Never in his life did he view God as being aloof, static, and rational. Yahweh was the God of intense emotion who could be angry, who could hate and also love.
Just last Sunday night, July 21, 1996, I stood by the side of a young husband and father at the close of a wonderful worship service. I learned later that he, his wife, and young child had attended the church for the first time that morning. They did not just hear something, they felt something as well. So the little family decided to return to this strange, attractive environment that night.
The young man stood near the altar, his head respectfully bowed. As I put my arm around his muscular shoulders and prayed, there was an immediate spiritual response. Tears wet his handsome face and he willingly spoke to God as best he could. Impulsively, without thinking, he thrust his hands upward, reaching out to a God he wanted above all things. In about two minutes, the Holy Spirit filled him and spoke its own language through his lips. All of this was unrehearsed. It was action altogether spontaneous, highly charged with sincere emotion. The experience was traumatic and will ever be forgotten. Being saved is always a shocking experience. Being confronted by the cross principle in Christian living is an experience of courage and submission.
No Christian will remain spiritually alive and alert without meeting and submitting to the principle of the cross.
Simply speaking, the rudimentary description of a cross would be the meeting of two lines at a center. When this is done, at once four directions are pointed. The sign of the cross has intrigued humanity with its mathematical, scientific, and geographical expressions. Mysteriously, the sign of the cross has been in the ancient cultures of Egypt, Crete, Mesopotamia, India, and China. For a full account of the cross in the context of diverse civilizations, see “The Encyclopedia of Religion,” Macmillan Publishing Co., pp. 155-165, Volume 4. From very ancient times, six types of crosses have been a part of the world’s culture and religion. To compliment His own eternal purpose, God allowed people to be mysteriously attracted to this sign. “In the fullness of time,” God intended that the cross, as a symbol, a principle, and an instrument, be used in the showing forth of God’s powerful love.
We will not take time to deal with the history and peculiarity of all the six types of crosses. However, in order to indicate the deep-seated consciousness of the cross sign, I will make a brief reference to the Swastika.
The Swastika is principally a Greek cross with its ends broken and bent at right angles and all ends pointing clockwise. In India, from ancient times to this present day, the Swastika is regarded as a sacred sign, engraved on the walls of temples. The Swastika is the mark of Buddha’s feet. It is regarded as his footprint.
European history traces the Swastika’s existence back to the Etruscans. It made its appearance into the Germanic Scandinavian world during the Iron Age. It was a common symbol in magic rites. At last, when the message of Jesus Christ was brought to Europe, the Germanic Swastika was replaced by the Christian cross.5 We know that from 1933 to 1945, the Swastika cross was the symbol of Nazism. Hitler re-introduced it counter to the Christian cross as an Aryan cultic sign. We can well take note that many of the powerful, history-changing movements of the world have been cross movements in one form or another. I have made brief reference historically only to the Swastika, since we can relate to its more recent appearance. We could go to great lengths describing the cross sign in the ancient history of Peru, Mexico, and the Mayan civilization. All these historical instances indicate a human consciousness, waiting to be opened by the principle of the cross of Jesus Christ. It was He who died upon this cross that endowed it with transcendent significance.
It is impossible for us to know the high degree of shame that was attached to death on the cross. It was the most extreme method of execution. Dangerous and violent robbers could be crucified at the scene of their crimes. Crosses were set up along the busiest roads where people could see and be moved by fear.
Also, this was an execution typically inflicted on slaves as a show of contempt. Such death was sometimes referred to as “the terrible cross of slaves.” More than 6,000 slaves were crucified along the Via Appia between Cirpa and Rome in 71 B.C.6
In the context of this particular culture, we can see that the cross of Jesus Christ was a sign of extreme shame. Paul described Jesus as having “endured the cross, despising the shame.”‘ The fact that gives the universal shock effect to the event of the crucifixion is that this one who was crucified was not jus: another man. He was transcendently even more than a victimized good mar. He was deliberately identified by the church as “the Lord of Glory,” This offended conservative Judaism beyond words.
THE JEWISH NATION AND THE CROSS
The shock of the crucifixion was especially felt by the Jewish nation. It is impossible for we Gentiles to know how offensive the cross of Jesus Christ was to the Jewish people. In Galatians 5:11, the apostle Paul acknowledged that the offense of the cross would be lessened if he preached that male converts should be circumcised. These words, “the offense of the cross,” reveal that the idea of associating a cross execution with Jewish orthodox was to the _zighest degree reprehensible. In the Christian church, the cross was more than an event, it was a doctrine. This doctrine was the focal point of dissent between the church and the Jewish community.
The cross was also offensive to the Jews because it contradicted the image they had of Messiah. They believed with all their hearts that Messiah would be a liberating conqueror. When John The Baptist came in spirit and power of Elijah as a forerunner of Jesus, his shout of “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” S seemed to confirm this. This was the light that had long burned in Jewish darkness; this was the song that made music in their hearts. With the appearance of John, they could almost hear the sound of marching feet. Instead, in the center of the road leading to their dream world, a cross, rugged, ugly, and real was planted. Instead of a victorious Christ, they were given a shamed, beaten, crucified Christ. Nothing could have been a greater insult to all their expectations. Yet, in spite of the fact that the preaching of a crucified Lord was extremely offensive, the true Christian church exalted him in crucifixion.
Melito of the church in Sardis died in 190 A.D. He wrote of the “strange scandal” of the Christian’s faith, the crucified Jesus.
“He who hung the earth (in its place) hangs there, he who fixed the heavens is fixed there, he who made all things fast is made fast upon the tree, the master has been insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been slain by an Israelite hand. 0 strange murder, strange crime. The Master has been treated in unseemly fashion, his body naked, and not even deemed worthy of covering that (his nakedness) might not be seen. Therefore, the lights of heaven turned away, and the day darkened, that it might hide him who was stripped upon the cross.”‘ The seeming ridiculousness, the wonder, and intrigue of this controversial event and its underlying principle has not ceased to force itself into the consciousness of people. God’s involvement with shame has spun a web of mystery too intriguing for the human mind to let alone.
There is no doubt that the apostles believed and taught that God in flesh was nailed to the cross. This is clearly expressed by Paul in I Corinthians 2:78. “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.” You will notice that Paul felt no need to justify his assertion that “the Lord of Glory” had been crucified. Then there is no wonder why the Christian cross has become a rallying point of the church, an unmistakable symbol of Goths love and redemption.
THE DEATH OF JESUS AFFECTS THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE
Scofield outlines “The seven superiorities of Christ,” found in the first chapter of Colossians. Jesus is listed here as: “the image of the invisible God the firstborn of every creature creator of everything before all things head of the church preeminent over all the fullness of the Godhead”10
The climax of this tremendous acclamation is found in Colossians 1:20: “And having made peace through the blood of his cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself — whether they be things on earth, or things in heaven.”
We find here seven wonderful declarations that are mysterious and spacious. These assign Jesus to a place of centrality in the whole cosmos. He is named as its Originator, its Sustainer, and its Goal. Jesus is also shown in his relation to the chaos of its sinful ruin; as its Redeemer, its Reconciler, and its Restorer. Through Jesus, a mysterious harmony is struck between people and God, within man himself, and also within Heaven itself.
This “peace” is made “through the blood of his cross, to reconcile all things unto Himself.” Thus the cross stands at the center of everything. The rower of the cross is not only efficacious in the life of the believer, but reaches to the outer bounds of creation. The work of the cross must be measured its provision so deep and broad that righteousness and peace are able to meet together and to kiss each other. This is the ultimate of all judicial reference. Here argument stops. Here the universe, both earthly and heavenly, ills into silence. This is the power and wisdom of the cross principle.
Here we find quantities and elements that defy analysis and elude comprehension. In the context of world history, death by the cross is ordinarily not so unusual. But when we remember WHO died on Good Friday, A.D. 33, we are arrested. The image of the invisible God; the firstborn (imagined or conceived) of all creation; the Originator and Sustainer and Goal of the cosmos; in a mystery entirely baffling, He became flesh, and He died.
That death occurring at the heart of the universe is felt to its furthest bounds. So there is not a person born or unborn, there is not a decision that anyone has made or will make that the stark naked cross does not stand a witness to and a judge of.
THE CROSS IS RELATED TO ALL PEOPLE
The cross is complex in its relation to all factors of human existence. Since its implementation, it has afforded a bridge between races and cultures of people. It has spanned the chasm of hostilities simmering long between individual people and groups of people. It has connected the segments of human history, creating meaning and continuity.
Those of us who have experienced the cross believe firmly that the eighteenth year of the Emperor Tiberius was the most important year, for it was the year of the cross. It was the year the “King” died. He died under a trilingual sign that proclaimed Him so. This sign, which in plural language hung over our Lord’s head, signified His death as world embracing. Since the cross is so comprehensive in its ministry, in some sense it is also complex as to humanity’s understanding of it.
The death of the cross was the lowest stage of humiliation. In view of the scandalous image that the cross portrayed, we have to agree with Paul that there had to be a mysterious force which we do not fully understand yet, which is generated by its principle and application. Paul unequivocally declared the preaching of the cross to be “the power of God and the wisdom of God,” yet he also admitted that the cross principle could not be understood by worldly wisdom:2
THE MYSTERY OF THE CROSS
To live the cross principle involves a mysticism of life. This mysticism rests on a mystery of a life generated by death and of love in the midst of hatred. The cross is many things we do not yet know, certainly mystery and mysticism.
On one side, the cross is a symbol of the mystery of human freedom in rebellion. Thus the cross affects God. The violation of God’s great project of love produced the cross, a signification that a reign of men and women without God has been established. Out of this revolt the cross emerged, a witness to total human lostness.
No one has ever lived who has grasped the complete, profound meaning of the cross in its entirety. The historians have only recorded the fact. The fishermen, revenue collectors, and prostitutes upon which its shadow fell, on a certain cool day in April, had a far greater insight than the more learned then and now.
Those who experienced its sights and sounds never ceased to talk about it. Slowly since then, a large segment of the world has come to believe that the greatest event in time and eternity was and is the cross. This one historical event provides the answer to the persistent questions of life that have vexed lonely people from the beginning of time until now. These answers provided by the cross could not be spoken. They had to be demonstrated. We do not understand the immeasurable love of God, but the cross illustrates it so that we cannot doubt it.
To say that God is love is to say that God is vulnerable. We know that God is also perfect, but has not chosen to be perfect without the perfection of the people He loves. The people whom God loves can choose to accept or reject His invitation to love and perfection. This is so because love only occurs in freedom, and in the encounter of two freedoms. God is not indifferent when people exercising free choice choose to reject His love. God suffers from this. I must believe that even God does not enjoy suffering. But because love desires harmony, God continues to love even in the face of human rejection.
THE MYSTERY OF THE CROSS IN THE CHRISTIAN’S LIFE
In the course of a lifetime, most people will see this same strange choice made ‘v someone who selflessly loves. But love has never been exampled with as much unmistakable transparency as it was the day that Jesus died. Pure motive and the absolute surrender of all power were set in shocking contrast against the selfish cruelty of mankind. This ignominy had to be suffered. All the possibilities of suffering were exposed upon the cross. Thus Golgotha becomes the terrible, yet fascinating arena of our faith. Our vital, deep roots of faith as we live for God become increasingly tied to the fury and drama of our Lord’s crucifixion. All the truths of the Bible could not be made clear without the illustration of love provided by Calvary. And inasmuch as God’s love never changes or ceases, I am sure that the pain illustrated by Calvary still continues.
I do not doubt that the silence of God in the face of human suffering is because God also is suffering.’ Jesus is represented to us as “a man of sorrow acquainted with grief.”‘ We are told that He is still “touched by the feelings of our infirmities.”‘ Though Christ has triumphed judicially, His cause will not rise in complete triumph until the work of the cross is finished in the earth. Thus it is entirely possible that God, who still wears the flesh of Mary’s son in Heaven, may also continue to feel the pangs of earth’s sorrow. The work of the cross is still present in the earth, extended through the commitment of the church. It is necessary that the principle of the cross continue in the lifestyle of the church. In his day, Paul perpetuated this principle. “I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake which is the Church.”‘ Paul felt that the cross principle, lived out, portrayed the true power and wisdom of God.
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jew and Greek, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”‘
The cross was planted at the crossroads of the world. The blend of nations and cultures was such which cross-crossed Palestine, that the title Pilate wrote with his own hand to be placed on Jesus’ cross was written in three languages; “and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.”‘ These three languages represented the three most influential cultures of that day.
This occasion of the handwritten title is more than a partial event. It signifies that whenever or wherever people stop to think and try to make sense out of the tangle of life, no matter how deep their philosophy or how extended their education, they must confront the principle of the cross.
The cross is like a barrier across the track of common thought. It confronts the creative person’s hunger for novelty with the deep-laid psychological, factual reality of a stumbling stone. The rugged truth of the cross did not compliment the alluring philosophy of the Greeks. It offended their fleshly mental pride since it did not harmonize with what their speculative ingenuity had created. The cross was introduced, not as an addendum to these things, but as a corrective contradiction, in order that the true “wisdom of God” could be known.
THE CROSS REVEALS THE HOLINESS OF GOD
The event and principle of the cross is a doctrine that incomparably reveals the awfulness of sin. This it could not do without exposing the awesome holiness of God. Any doctrine that obscures God’s holiness also veneers man’s sin. Such a doctrine may make us easy but it can never make us good. Redemptive forgiveness always has in it an element of personal death or loss.
The one who forgives must bear the cost of the offender’s transgression. This kind of forgiveness does not decorate the sin it forgives. If I forgive my child in such a way that it diminishes his sense of sin, then I become a participant in the sin. Perhaps the statement of Jesus can be applied to this suppostion, “If any man love his child more than me, he cannot be my disciple.”‘
The cross reveals the horrifying nature and consequence of sin. It is in the place where love and forgiveness is most supremely revealed that men have gained the most searching convictions of their sins. Churches where the lived-out principle of the cross is not present do not provide the awesome sense of God’s holiness. Consequently, the exceeding sinfulness of sin is not by the sinner and deep conviction, followed by drastic conversions, are less in evidence.
You will find in “The Heart of Wesley’s Journal” (p. 85) the record of John Wesley’s first sermon among the Northumbrians at Newcastle-on-Tyne. He states that he thinks he had never seen such wickedness as he encountered there. He had never heard such blasphemy, such cursing, such swearing, even from the mouths of little children. His reflection was, “Surely this place is ripe for the master.” In addressing these poor, wicked, diseased people of Northumbria, he used the tender words of Isaiah 53:5. With great compassion, he led them to Calvary. “He was wounded for our transgressions: He -vas bruised for our iniquities.” These godless sinners felt the holiness of God and the awfulness of their sin in the presence of Calvary. When he finished speaking, the people stood in silence weeping. They clung to his clothes and to his hands.
ALL THE ENERGY OF LIFE WAS A PART OF CALVARY
All the spiritual challenges a Christian will confront in life can be identified in the tremendous struggle of the crucifixion.
Mixed into the scenario of Jesus’ cross were the impatience of Pilate, the political greed of Herod, and the religious power of the priests. These seething ingredients and more formed the occasion of our Lord’s death. All of these we have named are spawned by the desire to control, to be fully in charge. This desire to be a monarch in miniature creates occasions for Calvary today. In confrontations with these carnal drives, the response of the Christian must always be the response of Jesus Christ. If true Christianity is to survive, surely we agree that someone must follow Jesus and respond the way He responded. This Christ-centered decision causes the cross to be a continuous event occurring always where Christians live and make living decisions.
Always the cross is God’s response through His people to a moral discrepancy. By their selfish and evil choices, people create the need for the cross to be lifted in the various experiences of life. The crosses upon which good people die symbolically today are often hewn with axes made of human greed and marked with indifference and insensitivity. We suffer as victims of other people’s selfishness. To these arenas of struggle, we can foolishly choose to bring the carnal weapons of warfare. But if we choose the response of Christ, we accept the truth of Paul’s statement that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but are mighty through God.”
Mixed into the crosses that men build for each other is the desire to devalue and cheapen. It stands as an insult that Jesus was sold for the current equivalent of only twenty-four dollars. Society of that day valued the lips of timeless truth this cheaply. To fasten into helpless neutrality the hands of blessing, Judas received twenty-four dollars. A relationship which meant so much to the righteous one was worth so little to the one that Jesus so sincerely reached for the night of the last supper.
Deceitfulness is part of the material used in the crosses which cruel, insensitive people construct. The kiss that Judas gave must have been the bitterest kiss of recorded time. It is seen as history’s greatest lie. It was the kiss that stood for nothing. It was given by a pretender, one who wore the double mask of allegiance and treason. Those who have sincerely followed Jesus over the path of long years, both saint and preacher, have met enough of these pretenders to fill a thousand Gethsemanes. In fact, Jesus is disposed of for far less than twenty-four dollars every week. The multitude of churchgoers who register in their decisions for the coinage of liberty and personal convenience almost seem in majority. The trend seems to sell Him for whatever the market price is. The level-eyed Christian who holds his relationship with Jesus dear is in danger of being suspected of being less than what he appears to be. Thus we really should not be so badly wounded or greatly surprised when we find that a relationship we hold dear is sold off cheaply or that our cheek has felt the brush of the pretender’s kiss. Such people who deeply discount relationships created at great cost have evidently not espoused the totally selfless principle of Jesus’ cross. For every virtue of Christianity is present there.
People who follow Jesus today will meet, in various ways, the same strain of violence that swept Jesus toward Golgotha. The world we know is a violent world. On a personal level, faithful, patient, and kind people are daily victimized by violent people. Internationally, mass suffering is brought about by the relative few in leadership who are obsessed by the greed of power. This bitter experience is not new to the world. The cruel actions of power-driven conflict abounded before Calvary and at Calvary.
Calvary answers the questions of conflict. The cross was steeped in conflict. Jesus did not respond in kind to the geyser of hate, spewing out of violent men like black ink. He neutralized it with forgiveness. This is the greatest lesson of life. This is the lesson Paul wrote to the Romans twenty-seven years after the cross was introduced to the world.
“Recompense no man evil for evil. If it be possible as much as lieth in you live peaceably with all men. Avenge not yourselves, but give place to wrath: for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”20
The answer to conflict comes from Calvary. Only the people who have seen hate fail in the cross’s shadow will accept this as a valid answer.
All the scrambling of values that people continually do has never really decentralized the cross. Whether we accept it or not, whether we like it or not, the cross remains central to all the choices and consequences of life. All that precedes it is preparation. All that comes after it is consequence. The choice we make relative to it finally, according to Jesus, determines whether we save our lives or lose them. There is no way that we can enjoy the triumph of the cross without sharing in its responsibility and its inconvenience and its pain.
THE VERY NATURE OF THE CROSS DEMANDS A PASSIONATE RESPONSE
The cross was God caught up in the violence of life and death. The cross in turn is a question of life and death, faced by every living person. We are to give all we have because God gave all He had. We are to spend all our love on Jesus for He spent all His love on us. Since Calvary, God has made no agreement for half a life. We gather from the statements of Jesus that we must be prepared to offer Him everything. If we are not, then we should not bother to offer Him anything.
The apostle Paul did not feel that he had begun to live until he had crucified himself.’ Elsewhere in his epistles, he made it clear that true life in its abundance and power had only come to him when he put to death the fleshly priorities and drives of his natural life.
The cross, though postured in seeming failure, substantiated the claims of Jesus Christ. Its effect upon humanity is a mystery to this day. Instead of continuing to rail on the cross with scorn, people in time began to salute it. They have come to exalt it as ultimate love.
The skies were leaden and gray as a group of my friends slowly walked out of the former concentration camp of Buchenwald with me. We could feel snow in the air. The stiff wind chilled our bodies. Our spirits were already chilled and our minds numbed by the evidence we had seen of sophisticated, methodical human slaughter. I remember that I was, strangely, not filled with scathing denunciation against the German people. I was simply personally humiliated and guilt-stricken. Here was a horrible event in history so devastating in its deliberate cruelty that the base of guilt seemed broader than one nation. I remember keenly feeling that I too, in some way, was partly to blame. Among my friends shuffling along beside me, I prayed aloud, “Dear God, forgive me for being a part of this human family.”
I felt this same deep personal guilt as a small boy, age nine, when my mother read aloud to me by lamplight the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. I sobbed aloud as I lay in the bed beside her. As I dried my eyes with the sheet, I felt as if I had helped crucify Jesus. And vicariously, I was to later understand that indeed my sin represented me at Calvary.
Wise men today no longer judge the cross a wretched thing. In its presence, they see themselves as such. Since that fateful day, there have come streams of people, two thousand years long, each apologizing in its shadow for that part of human nature that made it necessary.
The concept of the cross is no less drastic now than it was on that particular April morning 33 A.D. It does not, however, impact us as it should because the circumstances are so different. We confront the cross casually and logically in the midst of easy living. We hear of Golgotha in air-conditioned comfort, seated on padded pews, soothed by the sweetness of the church organ.
The story of the cross must be told in selfless acts of love. Such a universal act is described in the most well-known scripture of the Bible. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”‘ Does God ally love loveless humanity that much?
The cross said He did. The cross was the clearest, strongest way that God could say, “I love you!” To those who choose to carry it, that same intimate changeless message is spoken. Though it was raised in the sand of the first century, its shadow of infinite compassion falls the entire length of calendar
THE CROSS IS AN ESSENTIAL PRINCIPLE OF CHRISTIAN LIFE
The reason that the engineer continues to calculate the answer to structural problems the same way year after year is that most often there is no other way solve the problem. In the field of engineering, calculus and theoretic, he works according to principles and this is without options. The principle of the cross is the only equation that will work the complex moral problem of the universe. The reason the crucifixion came to be was that there were no alternatives. Jesus Christ would never have finally sat down in His seat of authority in heaven with scarred hands and feet had there been some other way. He would have never shamed his modest mother with his naked death II. He had an option.
The cross is an indisputable principle of real Christian life. It stands straight and secure amidst the wrecks of time. The cross has little need for relevancy in its age. Each generation attempts to profile its own culture feverishly and defensively.
The cross, however, stands sufficient and strong. In this lonely stance, it is shocking and arresting. The shallow and non-contemplative at once judge it to be out of time, but those who have been pricked by the splinters of its rough wood know that it is timeless. This ageless incongruity draws attention to the sacrifice of God. There is deliberately set in the path of every person this divine contradiction to the selfishness of mankind.
The life and death message of the cross is such an intricate paradox that it defies analysis. Only the sincere who have experienced the life from death principle in their own lives understand it. They accept the cross principle, knowing that Christ could not have given humanity life without giving up His own.
Jesus taught that this was the universal principle involved in the reproduction of all spiritual life. He taught that unless a grain of wheat was willing to cease to be, it could never reproduce itself. Life always grows out of death. When we see the wind-whipped grain rippling in bountiful harvest on the western plains, we know that the death of millions of seed has preceded this harvest.
The ancient wisdom of Job declares that “The rush cannot grow without mire.”‘ The mire that the rush sinks its roots into as it thrusts itself upward is composed of the waste of death. Many thousands of plants through prior years have died and fallen to the bottom of the pond, there to decay into the rich mire that shall offer sustaining life to other water plants.
The mockery which the enemies of Jesus hurled in His face as He hung on the cross was ironically true: “He saved others, Himself He cannot save.”‘ All who have supervised mission endeavors have observed that no one is able to save himself and others at the same time.
WE ARE JUDGED BY OUR RESPONSE TO THE CROSS
People who do not choose to take up the cross do not usually occupy a bland, passive position in the church. They do not deny the saving significance of the cross, but deliberately spurn the cross by their lifestyle. The cross is not accepted as an influencing factor in the shaping of their lives. In Philippians 3:18, Paul labeled such people as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.”
Paul is not referring to Jewish believers here, but to Gentiles who had associated themselves with the church but had not allowed the judging principle of the cross to excise the cancerous flesh from their lives. Paul describes the carnality of their lives in verse 19. “Whose end is destruction, whose God their belly, and whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things.” church-going people were evidently not living a life that was so open-sinful.
Paul names three things they were doing which characterized them as um-cross bearing Christians and hence “enemies to the cross of Christ.” First fey were sensual in their regard for food. They were not exercising discipline in their eating habits. Next, they were inordinately egotistical. Simply put, “It is a shame that they glory so much in themselves.” Then thirdly, they focused the main drive of their lives on “earthly things.” Does Paul in these two verses describe anyone you know?
The reason Paul wept about these people was because their “end is destruction” (verse 19). In not choosing the simplicity of the cross life, their focus was altogether on saving or preserving their lives, but instead they lost them. They became enemies to the simple, disciplined lifestyle of the cross. Paul’s word to the Galatians tells what these Philippians failed to do; “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”‘ In the lives of the people Paul wept over, there was little, if any, crucifixion.
These church attenders were not enemies to the fact of the cross, but to the spirit of the cross. The spirit of the cross is self-sacrificing love. Paul calls this cross association “the spirit of holiness.”26
THE CROSS IS AN EVENT OF SEPARATION
We see both in the Old Testament and the New that separation was a part of finally aligning oneself with God. Both in ceremonial observances and in lifestyle, Israel was distinctive in its separation unto Jehovah God. Jesus taught severance in many ways. He taught that it was better to sever the eye or limbs of the body than allow them to become our final spiritual undoing. He spoke of the church symbolically pulling from the world multitudes of fish that would be separated.
At present, the culture of the last and present generation is being drawn into the church by the gospel net of evangelism. Their concepts of themselves are prideful and self-exalting.
They do not come before God in humility and fear, grateful for the choice to kneel and pray. Since they have little consciousness of the hideousness of sin, they remain unconvicted and largely non-repentant. They must have an abrupt, unyielding, unapologetic encounter with a challenging counter culture. They must meet Jesus crucified first of all.
Unfortunately, at a time when there needs to be an uncovered exposure to raw commitment and unprotected love, the cross has faded into an unreal symbol so smoothly acceptable that it cuts and tears nothing away. Taken up with trying to meet humanity’s current need, the cross is suspended only as a symbol or Christian ornament.
The cross introduces us into another dimension of life. The saving of our lives, which Christ promises us as the consequence of taking up the cross, is found on the other side of loss.
Apparent folly has always associated with the heroics of life. Who doubts that Abraham’s travels to and through a strange land were taken at high risk of complete loss? Most all change is also a chance trustfully taken. This is the path and logic of the cross.
The above article, “The Shock of the Cross” was written by J. T. Pugh. The article was excerpted from Pugh’s book, The Wisdom and the Power of the Cross.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.