Paul also uses the word skandalon in the passage we looked at last week, 1 Corinthians 1:22-24.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.1 Corinthians 1:22-24
Our word skandalon is translated here as “stumbling block.” The Jewish people would have considered crucifixion scandalous because, according to Deuteronomy 21:23, anyone who was hung on a tree was considered godforsaken. Crucifixion was a slave’s death. It was sort of the like the electric chair, reserved for executing the lowest class of criminal, never Roman citizens.
Roman crucifixion was an act of complete humiliation. The whole point was to dehumanize victims by stripping them of all dignity. It was intended to demonstrate that the crucified ones were not even of the same species as the executioners. One scholar notes that it was intentionally designed to carry out the most sadistic and brutal impulses that we have as human beings. No wonder some viewed it as a scandalous stumbling block. It surely seemed to be the most godless action in the world at the time.
But the grotesque nature of the cross corresponds to the grotesque nature of Sin. The Bible uses the language of “scandal” to describe the cross because there is a correspondingly scandalous nature to Sin. Sin always seeks to scandalize us. We’re talking here about “Sin” in the “capital S” sense of the word — Sin as an enslaving force, as a Power that holds us captive. That’s how Paul talks about Sin over in Romans 5-6. Sin is an inescapable force that keeps us held down — in that sense, it’s sort of like gravity.
Sin always seeks our destruction. To put it differently, Sin runs up quite a bill — and the bill always comes at the end.
- Numbers 32:23, your sin will find you out. Some newer translations say, your sin will catch up with you. And most of us have lived long enough to know this to be true. Your sin will ALWAYS find you out.
- Romans 6:23, For the wages of sin is death … That’s the tab that sin runs up in your life; and it’s a tab you’ll never be able to pay on your own. Sin enslaves us, chains us down, holds us back.
But the scandal of the cross is that Jesus absorbs all of this into himself. Look at the full verse of Romans 6:23:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 6:23
Death accrues as a result of sin, but the gift of eternal life comes through Jesus. That’s the Good News! In his death, Jesus is giving himself over to Sin and the wages of Sin, which is Death. He does so as this great act of warfare in the spiritual realm. That leads Rutledge to make this powerful observation:
That is one of the most important reasons — perhaps the most important — that Jesus was crucified, for no other mode of execution would have been commensurate with the extremity of humanity’s condition under Sin.Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion
If the wages of sin is death, then in order for Jesus to die for the sins of the world, no other kind of death would have been commensurate with the enormity of such a debt. I think this is one of the keys to answering the “why” question: why did Jesus have to die on a cross?