November 07, 2013The Apostle Paul uses an interesting word when speaking of the cross of the Lord Jesus. In Galatians 5:11 he uses the phrase "the offense of the cross." The word in the original for "offense" is skandalon, from which our word "scandal" derives. The "scandal" of the cross.
What does that mean? Why would Paul use such a strong word for something that is so beautiful and meaningful to Christians? The cross is the token of our salvation. It is the symbol of a love that sent Jesus, the divine Son of God, to pay for our sins so that we could be redeemed.
The cross is glorious and magnificent. Why did Paul use the word "scandal" when referring to it? Perhaps if we could step back into Paul's time period and culture we would be able to see a little bit better why he would use such an emphatic word. Crucifixion was the most inhumane, ugly and torturous form of execution ever invented. It was against the law to crucify a Roman citizen, thus Paul himself was not subjected to it. It was reserved for the very worst of criminals.
It was a slow painful death, usually lasting several days. Roman soldiers were skilled in driving the pin through the wrist so that the radial nerve was assaulted, causing shock waves of pain when the cross was lifted and allowed to slide into the socket chiseled for it or whenever the poor victim attempted to lift his body so that his lungs could expand to admit air.
We have a word that has come into our language that comes directly from that ordeal; it is the word "excruciating," means literally "out of the cross." It was a pain so intense that a word was especially coined to describe it! It was not only physically agonizing but emotionally humiliating. The artists who depict Jesus on the cross, for the sake of modesty, clothe Him with a garment, but there was no modesty in crucifixion. Yes, the cross was a "scandal." For the followers to Jesus to acknowledge that their Leader died on such an ignominious instrument was a cross they had to bear themselves.
To try to appreciate how this affected early Christians, we have to do some radical thinking. Time and distance have softened and removed much of the "scandal of the cross." Try to imagine the death of the Messiah taking place in somewhat recent times. Try to allow your mind to visualize if Jesus was condemned to death and died on the electric chair, for example. Try to imagine wearing a miniature electric chair around your neck as a reminder of Jesus' death. Try to visualize replicas of the electric chair adorning steeples of Christian churches.
Try to capture the strains of Christian hymns featuring the electric chair of Christ's death. "In the chair of Christ I glory." "At the chair, at the chair, where I first saw the light," and so on. It would be somewhat "scandalous," wouldn't it? How would those who don't know Jesus look at you, giving praise to One who died such a humiliating death? Yet the cross represented every bit of this "scandal" for early Christians, and more. Yet they treasured it; they honored it; they prized the message of God's love which is stronger than death. May you and I today capture more of that appreciation and the depth of a Savior who willingly died for us, "even the death of the cross."
John Anderson is a pastor at Valley Center Seventh-Day Adventist Church