Christianity is symbolized in the cross on which Jesus died, and the cross conjures up images of brutality and shame. Around the world, Christians respectfully teach that the sins of all humanity are atoned for by the grace of God through the death of his Son. However, the biblical messages that focus on repentance, obedient faith, and salvation are not popular. The cross offends human sensibilities and self-righteousness, and today – in some areas of the world – there is opposition against Christian teachers who assert that all people everywhere are dependent on the crucifixion of Christ for forgiveness of sins.
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to early believers about “the offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11). In the context of that phrase, the apostle was referring to the offended feelings of persons loyal to rituals based in the Law of Moses. Paul insisted on preaching saving faith in the death of Christ. He refused to acknowledge impermanent rituals as though they were equal to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
The death of Jesus for the sins of all people often offends an excessively high view we have about ourselves. The Christian message is not designed to flatter human pride. The bad news is, we are all guilty of sin and, if left to ourselves, we will hopelessly face God’s judgment. The “good news” is, Jesus Christ took upon himself our guilt and died for our sins. One of the most basic passages in the scriptures tells us that, “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
This is the best news anyone can ever hope to hear! How could anyone be offended? Is it because we don’t want to admit that our sinfulness made the horrible death of Christ necessary? Perhaps we are accepting as commonplace the daily news about global violence and immorality. Maybe we are offended at the notion that all humanity is tainted by the evil conduct of ignorant and lesser-developed societies.
We are more favorable to the idea that humanity is on the upswing because of better education and improved living conditions. An ancient Greek philosopher, Protagoras, declared that “Man is the measure of all things.” This simply means that human beings, rather than a god or some moral law, are the ultimate source of value. Teaching that Jesus died on a cross for the sins of the whole world will predictably insult any culture that believes itself to be superior.
The confusing religious pluralism in today’s world is infected with the Protagoras mindset. The biblical emphasis on the crucifixion of Christ is casually dismissed by polite lectures on the “historical Jesus” and a cross-less Messiah. Some people are antagonistic toward any separation between the “saved” and the “lost” or between good and evil. It is not politically correct or fashionable to interrupt our reverie with any reference to a Day of Judgment.
Some people may prefer an emphasis on self-confidence and intelligence and unlimited access to wealth, and call these aspirations the nexus to life. But the earthly appetite for power and control is insatiable and eventually human beings will hunger for realities that are fulfilling if yet unseen. The apostle Peter wrote to distressed and persecuted believers, “The purity of your faith will bring you praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is shown to you . . . You cannot see him now, but you believe in him. So you are filled with a joy that cannot be explained, a joy full of glory. And you are receiving the goal of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:7-9).