In the early years of Christianity, groups such as the Gnostics denied that Jesus physically died on the cross. They were scandalized by the idea of a suffering Messiah, considering such an image to be ill-fitting for their concept of religion. They liked Jesus, but the cross was too scandalous to accept.
In August 2003, the Church of the Holy Cross in New York City suffered two break-ins over a three week period. In the initial break-in, the thieves made off with a metal money box from the church. I guess they thought it might have some money inside or that it might net some easy cash at a local pawn shop. But three weeks later, the vandals came back and took something far more valuable: a statue of Jesus. The thieves unbolted this 4-foot-long, 200-pound plaster Jesus from the church’s meditation area. Strangely, they left the wooden cross fastened to the wall. The caretaker of the church expressed amazement that someone would try to take Jesus without also taking his cross. “They just decided, ‘We’re going to leave the cross and take Jesus,'” he said. “We don’t know why they just took [Jesus].”
Personally, I don’t find this to be strange in the least. Because I think most people would take Jesus without the cross every single time if they could. That’s what the Gnostics were trying to do two thousand years ago and that’s what plenty of people want to do today.
We like it when Jesus says, Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
We like it when Jesus says, I am with you always, or when He speaks of giving us the abundant life.
We like the way we feel when we hear Jesus say these things.
But the cross?
The cross is really, really messy. It’s a painful reminder of our sin — and we’d rather not be reminded of that. The cross is a reminder that God’s grace isn’t cheap. We’d much prefer the cheap grace of easy, bloodless forgiveness.
But that’s not what we find at the cross.
Like we said last week, we cannot pick and choose from among the great truths of the Bible to make our own little “spiritual smoothie” of verses that bring us comfort. No, we have to accept the whole story if we’re going to accept any of it — and that whole story includes a beaten and bloody and naked Savior hanging on a cross, enduring the curse brought about by OUR sin.
I think it would do us well to remember the scandal of the cross.