“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). This was an absurd statement in Paul’s world. The cross was an instrument of execution used by the government. The cross was a place of shame, disgrace, humiliation, indignity, degradation, and ignominy. The criminal was beaten, undressed, arms spread and nailed to a cross beam, feet nailed to a vertical beam, and hoisted above the ground for the world to see. Spread eagled, naked, helpless…the scene was designed to humiliate. Who would make that his ultimate boast?
From the moment in Caesarea Philippi when Jesus first told His disciples that He would be crucified, they fought the idea. Messiahs were victors, not victims. To the very end in the upper room and garden they were thinking about which of them would sit in the most honored positions when He came into power. They were thinking of swords, battles, and heroic feats. Peter even pulled a sword against overwhelming odds.
When the crucifiers who were counting Jesus a criminal and an outcast confronted Peter, he denied multiple times that he even knew Jesus. Do you think Peter would have denied knowing Him if Jesus had gone to the palace and called Jerusalem and Israel to arms? Do you think Peter would have denied knowing Him if Jesus had been the one sitting in power? Do you think He would have denied knowing Him if Jesus had raised an army and conquered the Romans?
Peter was fighting the idea of a Messiah crucified as a criminal. When Jesus told his disciples that he would be numbered with the transgressors, his major point was not that He would carry the sin of the world. He was saying to the disciples that he would die a dishonorable death, between two thieves. The disciples were resisting that idea to the end.
I can understand Peter and the disciples. In the world of the university…in the world of the intellectual elite…in the world of the self-sufficient moralist, the cross of Christ is an embarrassing place to stand. The world will always laugh at the gospel of the cross. The world will always scoff at the idea that God became flesh. The theology which teaches that men are sinners before God and need a sacrifice to die and atone for their sins is counted as primitive in our culture.
Many of us as evangelicals deny that we know Jesus by taking the emphasis away from the cross as we speak to His disciples and present our gospel to the world: “Follow Jesus; he will straighten out your marriage. Follow Jesus; He will make you better parents. Follow Jesus; He will make you financially solvent. Follow Jesus; He will enrich your relationships.” Now, that is a Jesus who is easy to like and easy to follow. It is easy to stand in the world and be proud of that Jesus. To attract the world we say, “Come drink coffee and hang out with Jesus. Be comfortable with Him. Kick back with Him. He is anti—institutional. He is anti—authority. Living with Him is a cool ride.”
Dear reader, if we would recapture the gospel we must return to the ignominious cross. The writer of Hebrews is preaching to us:
“For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” Hebrews 13:11-13
Even though the animals were sacrificed in the temple, their bodies were burned in the wilderness outside the camp. If you lived outside the camp you were considered an outcast. It was a reproach to dwell outside the camp. The writer used that analogy to say, “Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem. He was crucified on the city’s garbage dump–a place of refuse. It was a place where criminals were executed. Just so, let’s go outside the camp, “and bear the reproach he endured.”
Let us consider two questions:
Have you ever individually gone to the cross… the place of reproach…the place of ridicule…the place where the world laughs and scoffs? Have you ever gone to the cross as a sinner even while the world mocks? Have you gone to the cross before the laughing world, bowed down and prayed, “Jesus, Lamb of God, Savior, I am a sinner. Have mercy on me. I now trust in you and you alone to save me from God’s just judgment through your atoning death.”?
As a follower of Jesus do you pitch your tent every morning and every evening outside the camp at the Cross? Do you do this in your home, at the university, in the office, on the golf course, at the bar and coffee shop?
If you answered the first question “yes”, then you know what Paul meant when he said, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul was so proud of Jesus and His cross, that He counted it an honor to suffer in the world for the cause of the cross. A couple of sentences after he wrote of boasting in the cross, he closed the paragraph by saying, “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” Be sure, if you pitch your tent under His cross in this world, your life in some way will bear the marks of His ignominy.