‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Galatians 6:14).
The problem with the Judaisers was that they never understood the cross. If they had, they would never have mentioned circumcision in the same breath.
To say that circumcision is as essential to salvation as the death of Jesus, is like saying a slight cold is as serious an ailment as cancer, or peanut butter sandwiches as good a meal as roast beef and all the trimmings. It is absurd and reveals a heart that has not grasped the wonder of what took place on Calvary.
The person who has seen the depravity of his own sinful nature and begun to feel his guilt will understand that nothing short of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God can possibly meet his need. In contrast, the unbeliever finds it impossible to see this.
The Bible’s teaching about the cross started long before Jesus was born. The messianic prophecies in the Psalms, Isaiah and Zechariah, for example, are crucial, if we are to understand the meaning of the cross. They are amazing in their accuracy and point clearly to Jesus Christ.
When we come to the New Testament and life of Jesus, we find him saying time and again that he was going to be put to death. He wasn’t speaking as a pessimistic fatalist, but because he knew that this was why he came into the world.
Drawing on the Old Testament, Jesus said, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life’ (John 3:14-15). By ‘lifted up’, Jesus was describing his death on the cross (John 12:32-33).
Throughout the New Testament the message of the cross is clear. Peter said, ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’ (1 Peter 2:24); John said, ‘The blood of Jesus, [God’s] Son, purifies us from every sin’; Paul stressed, ‘We preach Christ crucified’ and he resolved to preach nothing else to the Corinthians but ‘Christ and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2).
Why did Paul act this way? Because the message of the cross is that Jesus took the sin, guilt and punishment of guilty sinners. He faced the wrath and judgement of God instead of his people and died in our place, and so God is now able to justly forgive us all our sin.
No wonder the gospel is good news! Could there ever be better news? That, instead of spending an eternity in hell, we can be accepted in heaven?
By any reasonable standard, you would expect that people would be delighted with such a message. If there was a particular job about the house that needed doing but I dreaded it and kept putting it off, I would be overjoyed if I got home and found a neighbour had done it for me. I would rush and thank my kind friend. So why don’t people receive the message of the cross gladly?
The message of the cross speaks of human sin and divine wrath and judgement. Today, people reject both sin and judgement, and either reject outright or change the message. They sentimentalise or shroud it in superstition, so that it becomes nothing more than a lucky charm.
Basically, people do not see sin as a problem; therefore, there’s no need for an answer. But God warns us over and again in the Bible of sin’s terrible consequences. This message comes to us with its gracious invitation to salvation, but also with a warning if we reject it.
During the Gulf War, Iraq launched scud missiles against Israel. These terrible weapons gave just one minute’s warning of approaching destruction and death. When that warning came, everyone ran for cover. It would have been stupid to reject the warning and refuse to take shelter.
The Christian is someone who has seen that he faces a far greater danger than scud missiles. He has seen his sin and takes it seriously. He has heeded God’s warning and fled to Christ for shelter, forgiveness and salvation.
We boast or glory in the cross when we acknowledge that nothing else can save us. For there Jesus dealt with two things against us: the law, ‘having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross’; and the powers of darkness, ‘having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them triumphing over them by the cross’ (Colossians 2:14-15).
Paul’s language here is taken from a triumph of the Roman army. A victorious general would parade in triumph through Rome with captured kings and generals chained to his chariot. In this way Paul depicts Christ’s triumph over Satan: the evil one is defeated and chained to the chariot of our Saviour.
On the cross Jesus disarmed Satan and took away his power. There he made a public spectacle of his victory. The whole world was witness to it, and still is every time a sinner is saved. The triumph of the cross was complete.
Jesus anticipated this on Palm Sunday when he said, ‘Now is the time for the judgement of this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out’ (John 12:31).
Man, because of his sinful nature, had violated God’s law. So the law instead of being a blessing became a curse to us, and Satan could quite properly use it to accuse and condemn us.
We are guilty; ‘the power of sin is the law’ (1 Corinthians 15:56). But, on the cross, Jesus fulfilled the righteousness of the law for us. He paid our debt and figuratively nailed the cancelled statement of our debt to the cross as proof of payment.
When we are saved from sin through Christ, the triumph of the cross becomes our triumph. Satan can still tempt us, but he can no longer compel us to sin.
His influence is still strong in the world, but it is limited in the lives of God’s people. He is chained like the lions in Pilgrim’s progress. As Christians, we should live in the reality of the triumph of the cross. We are no longer slaves to sin so, therefore, we are not to let sin reign in our lives (Romans 6:6, 12).
To be concluded
Peter Jeffery is a retired pastor, who has ministered in Cwmbran, Rugby and Port Talbot