The Scandal of the Cross
When speaking of the cross in verse eleven, my ESV Bible translates a Greek word there with the word “offense” as in “the offense of the cross.” There’s nothing wrong with that translation. But I would like to shine a light on the Greek word behind that English word. The Greek word is σκανδαλον, which is transliterated, “skandalon.” I think you can hear the English word which is derived from that Greek word—that’s right: “scandal.” I don’t know if saying that the cross is scandalous sounds any more surprising to us today than saying that it is an offense, but I thought it an interesting point to bring out.
So the cross is offensive and scandalous. Why? How so? What makes it so? And it seems that Paul is saying that it is so because it leaves us naked. We can’t clothe ourselves with works of the law. We can’t cover ourselves with ceremonies and rituals. We can’t cry enough, hate ourselves enough, or move mountains enough with our mustard seed worth of faith to be able to say to God, “Look what I did!” No, it is all of grace. And though I tend to believe that ours is a day when bargain hunting for grace on sale is a far greater problem than purchasing it on the higher end, both the “department store” and “retailers” attempt to sale us grace on the cheap. For grace is so priceless it cannot be bought. There’s nothing we can do to earn it. On the other hand, the one who treats his sins with levity has never experienced it.
Paul understood grace as being costly. For preaching God’s grace through the scandal of the cross, he was persecuted. People don’t want God’s grace; they want the grace they give themselves, the grace they earn that makes them feel good about themselves; or, perhaps the grace that winks at their sin and thus relieves them of guilt. Neither one is worthy of the name “grace.” God’s grace cost Him His Son, and if we shall be his disciples, God’s grace will cost us as well—our possessions, our friends, our families, our lives. And if that’s not worth it, then we’ve yet to experience God’s grace.
Paul expresses himself, to say the least, in verse twelve: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” Ouch! Given that the issue was circumcision, well, it’s easy to see the humor. But we must see here, as we have in other places, that God’s saving grace in the cross of Christ was no small matter to Paul; the message of salvation by grace through the faith in Christ Jesus IS the gospel, and no angel from heaven would dare tamper with that message. “So let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured, for here we have no lasting city (Hebrews 13:13-14).