Our message is not you can do it.
It’s not you’re good enough, smart enough and people like you.
What we preach is that you are a glorious creature gone tragically bad, that you have rebelled against the God who made you, but that he did the most difficult thing imaginable to win you back and lavish you with his eternal goodness.
It is wondrously good news. But unavoidable is the offense, that insulting supposition, that bad news that sets up the good. Did you catch it? You’ve gone tragically bad. You’re a foolhardy rebel against the most powerful person in the universe. There’s nothing you can do to save yourself, earn God’s favor or get yourself out of the cosmic pit you’re in—the pit you dug and can’t climb out of.
The offense is that the magnitude of God’s solution—the slaughter of his own Son—shows the magnitude of our wickedness and frailty and utter inability. Yes, the gospel says you’re more loved than you ever could have dreamed, but as Jack Miller and Tim Keller have noted, at the same time, it says you’re more sinful than you ever imagined. And that’s repugnant to the natural palate.
If you’ve never tasted the cross as offensive, you’ve missed something essential.
Why the Cross Offends
Talking about the cross as an “offense” comes from Galatians 5:11: “If I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case, the offense of the cross has been removed.” Why it is that the cross would be seen as an offense? What’s offensive about the crucifixion?
The cross declares how dire is our condition apart from Jesus. It announces how deep the sin goes, how profound the rebellion is, how impossible is our plight apart from Help from the outside. There’s nothing we can do, no effort we can exert, no law we can follow.
The message of Christ crucified says you’re an absolute failure in relation to what’s most important. The horror of killing the Son of God points to the horror of our condition. The badness of Good Friday is a tribute to the badness in us.
The cross embodies some of the most offensive things possible you could say about someone in relation to God and eternity. This gruesome death Jesus died, you earned it. The hell Jesus endured, you deserved it, forever. The shame he underwent, the scorn, the disrespect, the hurt—all these are as suitable to us sinners as they’re unsuitable to the sinless one.