Elbridge B. Linn
Paul’s immortal declaration to the Galatians was, “Far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Paul did not exult in the thought of his education at the feet of Gamaliel, nor in the honor of his Roman citizenship. He did not boast of the exceeding greatness of the revelation given to him. Instead he glorified in the “cross of Christ” which was the very key of his life—a life that was itself the best human exponent of the “cross of Christ.” Paul saw no ground for rejoicing, nor for boasting, nor even living, save in the cross.
What was there about the cross of Christ to lead one to suffer privation and punishment even with rejoicing? What power in the cross could possibly cause Paul to forsake everything that was once dear to him, and count it but “refuse” that he might gain Christ? The cross was to Paul, and should be to every Christian today, the very heart of the Gospel of Christ. It brings light and salvation to the children of men who are groping their way through the darkness of sin. Though once a Golgotha, Calvary has ceased to be a place of skulls. Where men went once to die, they go now to live; and to none who ever went there to seek pardon and peace and holiness did God ever say, “Seek ye me in vain.”
Prophecies of the Cross
Christ crucified is the scarlet thread, running through the warp and woof of the whole Bible. Isaiah prophesied of him:
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed…He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth (Isa. 53).
David opens the 22nd Psalm with the words that burst in agony from the parched and pain-twisted lips of the Savior there on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
The New Testament takes up those prophecies of old and shows how Christ fulfilled them every one. Said Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). Remember that the word gospel means “good tidings.” If one asks, “Good tidings of what?” we reply that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15). Paul’s mission was to preach the Gospel. In doing so, he took heed that he preached “not in wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made void.” The cross, therefore, and the Gospel are inseparably joined. The burden of Paul’s preaching always was “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The tragedy of the cross is the good news for the world! There (at the cross) Jehovah laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:6, 12). After the fulfillment of this prophecy, Peter wrote of Christ, “Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). Paul likewise declared, “Him who knew no sin, he (God) made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
So Paul gloried in the cross. The world of his day scorned the truth of the Gospel, and fiendishly persecuted those who embraced and supported it. To the first century Jew, it was a stumblingblock, and to the heathen philosopher it was foolishness. Wherever Paul went, he was scorned, laughed at, and sometimes called a “babbler.” But nothing kept him from preaching the cross. They stoned him and thought they had killed him, but in the reviving strength of God, Paul returned to the same city to preach the Christ of the cross. They beat him half to death, and until his whole back was striped and bloody, but he continued to tell his persecutors about how Jesus bore stripes for our guilt, and shed blood for our remission. They jailed him, and he converted the jailor, baptizing him into Christ the same hour of the night (Acts 16).
The Cross and God’s Love
The cross of Christ was the most powerful expression of God’s love to men. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son (gave him to be lifted up on the cross and die as a sacrifice for sin) that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Your life must spring from this death; your healing from his stripes; your glorying from his shame. God forsook him that you might be accepted. He suffered as the Son of Man that you might rejoice evermore as a son of God. His noble brow was crowned with thorns that you might wear a crown of glory. He was forsaken in the valley of the shadow of death, that you and I might not have to face death alone, but might say, with David, “Thou art with me.”
The Cross and God’s Wrath
Not only does the cross show God’s love, but it cannot be said too plainly, nor emphatically, nor too often, that it displays also the wrath of God—wrath, not toward Christ, but toward sin. God’s hatred for sin is such that He was willing to bring death to His own son that sin might be destroyed and its power over men might be broken. Christ is the propitiation for our sins. Does anyone think that God will thus punish sin on the cross in the death of His own Son, and yet allow the sinner today to go on his willful and disobedient way? The cross is a warning signal that sin is no trifle which God will overlook. The standard of life and righteousness is no sliding scale to be raised or lowered by human whim and impulse.
The Influence of the Cross
The influence of the cross made Paul a different—a better—man. When he saw the meaning of the cross, the world looked less alluring to him; he had lost his desire for it. This becomes the experience of everyone who is truly converted to Christ. As his appreciation of the cross grows, he is strengthened to resist evil. What a wonderful truth is this! That man will be saved from future punishment through obedience to the Gospel is true, but this is not the whole truth of the Bible declaration. The great good news of the Gospel is this: That men are saved now from the darkness of their skepticism, from the bondage of their superstition, from inhumanity to one another, from weakness of will, from sin!
The cross of Christ presents a pattern of life. We have all sung, “Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free?” and the answer comes, “No, there’s a cross for everyone; and there’s a cross for me.” How truly the words of the song express scriptural truth. Hear Jesus, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23. Truly the way of the cross does lead home, but it leads there down through the valley of decision to deny oneself and do God’s will, up the long slope of service to our fellowman, and across the peaks of self-sacrificing love.