The Cross of Christ
By A. Naismath
From ‘Counsel Magazine’ January - February 1999
In the Epistles in which the fundamental facts of the Gospel are prominent
Paul displays a variety of facets of the cross. He refers in 1 Corinthians to
the preaching (or ‘word’) of the cross which he claims and proves
to be the revelation of divine power and wisdom, directing our attention to
the mystery it unfolds (1 Cor. 2:7-8).
Writing to the churches in Galatia, he indicates the persecution and calumny
he had to bear as a preacher of the Gospel from the enemies of the cross of
Christ. This meant for him ‘the offence of the cross.’
In the letter to the Ephesians the Apostle extols the power of the cross by
which the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile had been demolished, and
the consequent unity that the cross has effected (Eph. 2:15-16). The church
at Philippi is reminded of the humility of the cross of Christ when He who is
‘in the very form of God with heavenly glory crowned,’ humbling
Himself, assumed a servant’s form and submitted to the ‘death of
the cross’ with all its shame and anguish. The triumph of the cross is
the special aspect dealt with in Colossians, for by ‘the blood of His
cross’ reconciliation to God has been made possible (Col. 1:20; 2:14-15).
In this study we are concerned with four expressions relating to the cross which
occur in these letters.
1. ‘The death of the cross’ was the final step in Christ’s
self-humilitation (Phil. 2:8).
2. ‘The blood of His cross’ brings the sinner to God in full reconciliation
3. ‘the word of the cross’ is the central theme of all true Gospel
preachers (1 Cor. 1:18).
4. ‘The offence of the cross’ the reproach they receive from legalistic
teachers (Gal. 5:11).
(1) ‘The death of the cross’ was the final step in that tremendous
stoop of the Son of God from Heaven’s highest glory to the utmost depths
of shame and poverty. The writer of the Epistle uses this to counsel the Christians
in Philippi to possess and display the humility of mind that characterized their
Lord and Master.
Kenneth S. Wuest, commenting on the statement in this passage (Phil. 2:5-8)
that Christ Jesus ‘became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,’
‘This does not mean that He became obedient unto death. He was always
the Master of death. Our Lord was obedient to the Father up to the point of
The death of the cross was the punishment of notorious criminals who had not
the privilege of Roman citizenship; and it is beyond human comprehension that
‘held the highest place above, adored by all the sons of flame,’
should stoop to such degradation as that. If He who is Creator and Lord of
all submitted to such a death and displayed such humility in order to fulfil
His Father’s will, surely all who are Christ’s and proclaim such
a Saviour should be constantly imbued with the same spirit.
(2) The expression in Colossians 1:20 - ‘the blood of His cross’
- occurs here only.
We are to understand by it, of course, ‘the blood He shed when He died
on the cross.’ The blood of Christ outpoured in death on the cross made
possible the reconciliation to God of all whose association with sin created
a barrier that excluded them from His holy presence. The purpose of the cross
- to reconcile all things to Himself - was thus completely fulfilled when at
the cross “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing
their trespasses unto them” (II Cor. 5:19).
For those saints in Colosse and faithful brethren in Christ Jesus to whom the
letter was addressed, that reconciliation had already become effectual; for
the Apostle tells them,
‘You that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works,
yet now hath He reconciled.’
The ambassador for Christ therefore proclaims the cross as the proof and plea
of the reconciling love of God, beseeching men in Christ’s stead to be
reconciled to God through the mediation of Him who knew no sin but was ‘made
sin for us.’ Every believer, therefore, though once an enemy, has been
reconciled to God through the death of His Son (Rom. 5:10).
(3) In writing to the Corinthian saints Paul deprecates the spirit of disunity
and the divisions that had blighted their spiritual life and testimony. Instead
of keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, the Christians there
had formed themselves into factions, rallying round their popular leaders and
taking denominational names. Some claimed to be Paul’s followers, other
Peter’s, while others associated themselves with Apollos. Paul disavows
leadership of any party and, in proof of this, protests that his mission was
not to baptize or to canvass for support like candidates for office who made
a display of their oratory; but to preach the Gospel. His message was therefore
‘the word of the cross’ which everyone ‘being saved’
acknowledged to be God’s powerful instrument in their salvation. The expression,
‘the word of the cross,’ - in direct contrast, in the context in
which it appears to ‘the wisdom of words,’ emphasizes the simplicity
of the Apostle’s preaching. At the same time he acknowledged the transcendent
profundity of his theme since it was beyond the comprehension of the princes
of this world. Simplicity, sincerity and lucidity should characterize the preaching
of every true evangelist. In this Paul is our example, for, in the highly cultured,
yet grossly immoral, city of Corinth he determined to know and to preach nothing
other than Jesus Christ and His cross. Yet what a wealth of divine wisdom that
message comprised, for in Christ ‘are hid all the treasures of wisdom
(4) The Greek word, translated ‘offence’ in the last of the four
expressions we are considering, is the word from which we derive our English
word ‘scandal.’ It is elsewhere translated “stumblingblock”
(Rom. 14:13; I Cor. 1:23). In Romans 10:4 Paul affirms that Christ is the end
of the law for righteousness to every one that believes. Judaizing teachers
had visited the churches in Galatia in the Apostle’s absence and insisted
that these Christians, converts from the Gentiles, must be circumcised and keep
the law in order to be justified. In Galatians 2:21 and 3:13 Paul shows them
that the cross would have been unnecessary if a righteous standing before God
could be attained by the works of the law, false doctrine that was promulgated
then by those legalistic teachers is in our day being propagated by sects that
pinpoint the fourth commandment of the law as being essential for salvation.
By A. Naismath
From ‘Counsel Magazine’ January - February 1991