There are many reasons why the cross of Christ may be accurately described as both terrible and glorious. For example we know from the infallible truth of revealed scripture how terribly the Lord Jesus Christ suffered on the cross. The Holy Spirit within us testifies to the greatness of His sacrifice for us. We also know the glory of the cross because He who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (Jesus); (2 Cor. 5:21).
Beyond the traditional meanings behind the terrible and glorious nature of the cross we can easily find other meanings and applications. As if often the case with scripture when we meditate upon it (I’m not speaking of apostate “centering” or Eastern meditation here, but rather quiet and prayerful reflection upon the Word); we find that it is likened to a brilliant diamond that has multiple facets and colors, each captivating us as we turn and admire it. It has long been known and accepted that there is a “threefold” application to scripture: One, the literal message of the text to the literal audience in context of the time it was written. Two, the universal moral or philosophical application to all men at all times. And thirdly, the scripture’s life application to the individual who is responsible before, and ultimately accountable to God our Creator and Judge.
This brings me to the thrust of our subject today, how terrible the cross, how glorious! For we shall see that because of the truth of the cross men are wholly without excuse for failing to recognize and acknowledge their Creator God and bow their knees in humble submission to His Christ.
When the Apostle Paul was at Corinth the Lord spoke to him in the night by a vision: “Be not afraid, he was told, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee…for I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). Had Paul been afraid to bring the simple gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to the city of Corinth with its Jews and with its Greeks? If so, he was afraid no longer after the vision had been given to him. “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:20-21).
If the Corinthians would but look at the facts as they were, and particularly as they had shown themselves in the course of history, they would be compelled to acknowledge the bankruptcy of the wisdom of man. What answer had Socrates, Plato and Aristotle been able to give the deepest problems of life? Shall we say they gave no answer? No, indeed for they could not escape giving an answer. But the answers they gave were wrong. Their wisdom had been made foolishness with God. In the light of the challenge which Paul brought, the wisdom of the Greeks was not merely inadequate, it was downright sinful! Man had originally been made perfect. He had then in Adam broken the covenant that God had made with him (Romans 5:12). Man was now a covenant breaker and, as such, subject to the wrath of God.
Having such a view of the true nature of man Paul did not merely plead for a “more complete system” for recognition of the “spiritual” or “supernatural” dimension in addition to the material. Paul did not want to merely add the idea of the personal confrontation with Jesus Christ to that of the impersonal study of the laws of nature or science – so called. In short, he did not ask for the privilege of erecting an altar to the living God, Creator of heaven and earth, next to the altars to gods that had been born of human minds. Rather he pleaded for, and in the name of the Lord required of men a complete reversal of their point of view in every dimension of life. The entire house of their interpretation of life had to be broken down. Many of the building blocks they had gathered could no doubt be used, but only if the totally new architectural plan that Paul proposed were followed.
It has been a repeated mistake of Christian apologists to approach unbelievers as though their interpretation of certain areas of reality (e.g. nature) were quite intelligible in terms of their professed philosophy (regarding reality, knowledge, and ethics) and acceptable as far as it goes, simply needing to be supplemented with some propositions about the supernatural. In reality the apologist’s focus should not be restricted to the supernatural dimension, but rather should encompass the entire range of human knowledge since God is the author and source of all true knowledge.
But back to Paul; how could he expect that covenant-breakers should become covenant-keepers? How could those who worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator be expected to turn from their evil ways? Would they turn as soon as it was shown to them intellectually that the wisdom of this world has been made foolishness with God? Absolutely not. Their minds being darkened, they would appear to others to see while yet they did not see. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Or could they – being natural men – be expected to desire and will to believe that which might seem intellectually paradoxical to them? No, Paul did not expect that, “because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).
Yet the apostle did not despair. He did not lower the requirements of the gospel in order to get men to accept it. Being truly all things to all men, sacrificing himself without limit for the sake of Jew and Gentile alike, he yet continued to insist always on the complete rejection of the “wisdom” of man and the substitution for it of the “foolishness” of God. For this he had good reason. The reason is that the Christian conversion calls for a completely new intellectual outlook or orientation regarding everything that exists, not simply a change of opinion on a few particular points regarding God. The basic assumptions that were previously taken for granted and professed as one’s philosophy, being based on worldly and human thinking in rebellion against God, must be discarded in their entirety in favor of the “philosophy according to Christ” (Col. 2:8, 2 Cor. 10:5).
Furthermore Paul knew all the evidence was for the truth of his message. Since there is no evidence that is intelligible apart from the Christian worldview, there is no evidence that counts against the truth of Christianity. And since no evidence counts against Christianity, it is not merely probably true or probably provable, but is known with absolute certainty as the self-testifying scriptures state. There is no reason, no evidence that stands against it.
Can anyone really doubt that God, the God whom Paul preached, does exist? The eternal power and Godhead of Paul’s gospel are clearly visible to all men everywhere (Rom. 1:19). He spoke at the beginning of history in direct supernatural fashion to Adam. All men are therefore without excuse. There is no fault in the objective revelation of God to men. It is ubiquitous, no one can escape being confronted with it. There is no area of relationship where the face of God the Creator and Judge does not confront man. It is not as though the evidence shows that some god exists, or that God probably exists. If such were the case then there would be some excuse for man if he did not bow before his Maker. Paul boldly claims that all men know deep down in their hearts that they are creatures of God and have sinned against God their Creator and Judge.
Nor is it as though the evidence for “theism” were clear but the evidence for “Christian theism” were obscure. Paul boldly asserts that men are bound to believe the facts of Christianity to be true as soon as they hear of them. When he declares the fact of the resurrection of Christ, he asserts that through it all men have been given assurance of the day of final judgment by the Son of man (Acts 17:31).
Through Paul’s gospel presentation we see that God’s objective truth stands before men as a challenge. Men cannot react neutrally towards it; they must accept or suppress it because they do not want to believe it. Paul knows that those who cling to the “wisdom” of the world do so against their better judgment and with an evil conscience. Every fact of theism and every fact of Christianity points with an accusing finger at the sinner saying: “You are a guilty covenant-breaker; repent and be saved!”
The truth Paul brings requires a response, the response of repentance, and repentance is produced by a contrite heart. Paul’s truth is “existential”. He who rejects it commits both intellectual and moral suicide. Yet Paul also knows that sin is of such a nature as to make men prefer intellectual and moral suicide to the truth of God in Christ. Repentance means the recognition of bankruptcy. It involves the suppliant’s attitude – begging for mercy, for pardon, for life. It means fleeing from the city of destruction and pressing toward the celestial city even when all your “worldly and wise” friends are going in the other direction. It means bearing the offense of the cross in all its terror and glory. Will any of the wise of this world accept the gospel and repent?
Yes, they will. Paul is quite sure of that. He knows that God “has much people in the city”. He knows that he himself had been a persecutor. He remembers vividly how the Lord had appeared unto him. “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are not ye my work in the Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1) Now that Jesus has come into the world to save His people, His Spirit will set them free. That Spirit will take the things of Christ and give them to His people. God’s work is one. God the Father so loved the world that He gave His Son that they who believe might be saved. God the Son came into the world to do the will of the Father. God the Spirit will give men hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone. The believers in Corinth were the work of the Apostle. “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. (2 Cor. 3:3)
The natural man who of himself cannot discern the things of the Spirit is by that Spirit renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him. (Col. 3:10) With this assurance that the Spirit of God, who had enveloped him in heavenly light and turned him from being a persecutor to being an Apostle, can and will enable men to turn from the wisdom of the world in order to accept his gospel, Paul goes forth boldly among men everywhere. Speaking for Him who spoke to Lazarus in his tomb, Paul does not hesitate to speak for those who are dead in trespasses and sins. (Eph. 2:1). He expects that the spirit will in sovereign mercy enable men to repent.
Shall we as Christians, facing the wisdom of the world in modern form, dare to do what Paul tells those who are his work in the Lord to do? Shall we dare to be steadfast and unmovable, never doubting that the wisdom of the world has again been made foolishness with God? Shall we have full confidence that our labor for the Lord will not be in vain? In truth the God has made foolish the wisdom of this world in the modern day no less than in the day of Paul. Instead of accepting the favors of modern man and his wisdom – so called – we should challenge the wisdom of this world. It must be exposed for what it is – utterly destructive of true knowledge in any field. It has frequently been shown to be such. It is beyond the possibility of the mind of man to weave together the ideas of pure determinism and pure indeterminism and by means of that combination give any meaning to life. Either modern man will have to admit that he knows everything or else he will have to admit that he knows nothing. The only alternative to this is to claim both absurdities at the same time.
Let us be reminded that we as Christians are not in ourselves wiser than other men. What we have we have by grace unmerited. We must be “all things to all men”, but it is not kindness to tell patients that need strong medicine or immediate surgery that nothing serious is wrong with them. Christians are bound to tell men the truth about themselves; that is the only way of bringing them to recognize the mercy, the compassion, of Christ. For if men are told the truth about themselves and if they are warned against the false remedies that establish men in their wickedness, then by the power of the Spirit of God, they will flee to the Christ through whom alone they must be saved. For herein we see how terrible is the cross to them who perish, and how glorious it is to those who are being saved! May we who are called by the name of the Lord stand boldly and proclaim His Gospel to a sinful and fallen world!