Monday, March 12, 2012

Cicero on the offence of the Cross

Wretched is the loss of one's
good name in the public courts,
wretched, too, a monetary fine
exacted from one's property,
and wretched is exile.

But, still, in each calamity
there is retained some trace of liberty.
Even if death is set before us,
we may die in freedom.

But the executioner,
the veiling of heads,
and the very word ‘cross,’
let them all be far removed
from not only the bodies
of Roman citizens
but even from their thoughts,
their eyes, and their ears.
(Cicero, 106-43BC, Pro Rabirio Postump 16)

Crucifixion was a reserved for the lowest of the low, rightless non-Roman citizens who had been sentenced to suffer a most excruciating death for their crimes. As a method of execution it was designed to humiliate and degrade as well as kill. On that basis it might be thought that the Christian church would want to hush up the fact that its founder, Jesus Christ was crucified. The opposite is the case. Jesus regarded his death by crucifixion as the moment of his exaltation when his divine glory would be most fully revealed, John 8:28, 12:32-33, 17:4. 

The apostles placed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at the very heart of their preaching, 1 Corinthians 2:2. This was despite the fact that the idea of a crucified Messiah was a stumbling block to the Jews and an offence to the Greeks, 1 Corinthians 1:23. No amount of rhetorical razzle dazzle could obscure the "offence of the cross" (Galatians 5:11). That is why Paul renounced rhetoric and preached a crucified Christ in a crucified style, 1 Corinthians 2:1-3. He knew that nothing but the power of the Spirit of God could make his preaching convincing and effective, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5. 

The reason why the apostles made Jesus' scandalous death so central to their message is that they believed that he did not die for his own sins as a failed Messiah, but for ours, as the world's true Saviour. "Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8),  "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3), "who have himself a ransom for all" (1 Timothy 2:6), "he himself is the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 2:2). 

The cross of Jesus is the great revelation of the glory of our triune God. There we see that the Father so loved the world that he have his only Son to suffer and die for us at Calvary. There we see the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us, bearing our sins in his body on the tree. There we see the eternal Spirit lovingly upholding the Son as he offered himself to God in our place. 

Cicero urged his fellow Roman citizens to avert their thoughts, eyes and ears from the cross.  But the cross of Jesus holds our thoughts captive. We live by looking to him who was lifted up for us. The message of the cross is a symphony of God's grace to our ears. That which was most shameful to Cicero was the proudest boast of the apostle Paul, Galatians 6:14.

That is why we sing...

 1    O what matchless condescension
            The eternal God displays;
        Claiming our supreme attention,
            To his boundless works and ways.
                    His own glory
            He reveals in gospel days.

    2    In the person of the Saviour,
            All his majesty is seen!
        Love and justice shine for ever;
            And, without a veil between,
                    Worms approach him,
            And rejoice in his dear name.

    3    Would we view his brightest glory,
            Here it shines in Jesus’ face;
        Sing and tell the pleasing story,
            O ye sinners saved by grace;
                    And with pleasure,
            Bid the guilty him embrace.

    4    In his highest work, redemption,
            See his glory in a blaze;
        Nor can angels ever mention
            Aught that more of God displays;
                    Grace and justice
            Here unite to endless days.

    5    True, ’tis sweet and solemn pleasure,
            God to view in Christ the Lord;
        Here he smiles and smiles for ever;
            May my soul his name record;
                    Praise and bless him,
            And his wonders spread abroad.
            (William Gadsby, 1773-1844) 

1 comment:

Leslie Wolf said...

Wonderful post. Beautiful.