While attending a luncheon hosted by the American Renewal Project, I was privileged to hear Ken Graves, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Bangor, Maine. Graves and his church are currently embroiled in a legal battle with Maine Gov. Janet Mills over what are now the strictest rules on church gatherings during the pandemic. Graves explained that churches in "The Pine Tree State" are being denied their God-given right to meet as God commanded.
Then Graves made a powerful statement directed straight at the pastors in attendance. He said something he had noticed, which troubled him deeply, was that so many pastors were under the "oppressive burden of the question" of what the public would think of them if they took a principled stand against the state's egregious actions.
"The fear of man is a snare," warned Graves. "Our pastors have forgotten that the cause itself, the Gospel, is an offense. Far too many of them are trying to pull the teeth out of a passage that God intends to bite with," Graves declared. He said pastors are often unwilling to do the work of the Good Samaritan, who poured both cleansing wine and soothing oil into the wounds of the injured traveler "Wounds cleaned with wine heal better. That certain Samaritan stung him, but did him no wrong," Graves continued. "I want to remind you it is our job to sting. It is our job to soothe.… the festering wounds in this nation. It is the Gospel of our King that brings solace on the other side of the sting."
In the fifth chapter of his epistle to the Galatians, the apostle Paul speaks of the offense of the Cross of Christ (Gal. 5:11-13). What is it about the message of the Cross that is so offensive to people?
In the Expositor's Bible Commentary, C. Truman Davis, a medical doctor, describes what it was like for an individual to be crucified by the Romans:
"What is crucifixion? The Cross is placed on the ground, and the exhausted man is quickly thrown back with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the writs. He drives a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flex and movement. The Cross is then lifted into place.
"The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees flexed. The victim is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain – the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid stretching torment, he places the full weight on the nail through his feet. Again he feels the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of the feet.
"As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fights to raise himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the bloodstream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen.
"Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rendering cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from this lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins: a deep, crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.
"It is now almost over – the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level – the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues – the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air.
"He can feel the chill of death creeping through his tissues….Finally, he allows his body to die."
Most anyone who would read this would likely contend, "No one, no matter how great their crime, deserves so dreadful a punishment."
Yet the Bible teaches that Christ's death on the Cross was substitutionary. In other words, when Christ died on the Cross, although he was innocent, he was taking our punishment (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 6:23; Rom. 5:8). What happened to Christ on the Cross is what ought to happen to each of us. He was standing in our place. He was enduring the penalty which we deserve for our sins.
The Cross of Christ is an offense because we characteristically have too high an opinion of ourselves. We see ourselves as generally good, perhaps very good, or at least much better than so many others. But the Cross strips us of any pride and says that everyone is so sinful, so wretched, so morally bankrupt in the eyes of a Holy God, it took the Son of God's substitutionary death on that cruel instrument of execution to redeem us.
Such a message is an insult to many. Such a message bites. Such a message stings when applied to the festering wounds of the diseased soul. But for those who will believe it, there is solace on the other side of the sting. There is cleansing, healing, and liberation from the penalty and power of sin. We must be broken down before we can be rebuilt and empowered to live as God pleases.
Pastor, why must you bear that "oppressive burden" of being overly concerned about the public's adverse reaction if you should boldly speak God's Word to the social issues of our day?
When effectively delivered, the Cross, Christianity's core dispatch, is itself an offense to the unregenerate heart – it will always result in making someone angry – always! The fear of man is a snare. If you truly preach the Cross, offenses cannot be avoided. Furthermore, it's the message and spirit of the Cross proclaimed over all of life, which alone can save a wayward nation.
Rev. Mark H. Creech is executive director of the Raleigh-based Christian Action League of North Carolina Inc.