Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence (=stumblingblock) of the cross ceased I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
Throughout this epistle we have laid emphasis on the basic message: the flesh or Spirit? The Galatians were upbraided for falling back into the flesh, for following the false brethren, after having made a good start in the Spirit. Paul has shown that the flesh and Spirit are mutually exclusive, and now he mentions the cross, he calls it an offence, or in the literal translation a scandal. Why? Because the Cross is God’s way, it cuts off all works of the flesh, it leaves no room for any to boast.
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 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. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
I Cor. 1:17-31
A3.1 A sign
The Jews required a sign, as was the case of the Pharisees and scribes. And in the context of our thoughts, Jesus’ answer is revealing.
Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
Mtt. 12: 38
When Moses was commissioned by God he objected to the call by saying that his people wouldn’t believe him, so God gave him a series of signs to prove himself in front of the nation of Israel. Moses was to take a rod throw it down and take it up once it had changed into a snake after which it became a rod once more; then he was to put his hand into his bosom, it then became leprous and then changed back to normal; and finally to pour river water onto the ground, which then changed into blood Ex. 4:1-9. To us in the NC these are highly symbolic speaking of Christ’s redemptive work, but to Israel it was sign that God was with them.
In Jesus’ day they were looking for a Messiah that would deliver them from the oppression of the Romans, just as God delivered them from Pharaoh. So surely it would not be unreasonable to expect miraculous signs? Jesus performed miracles, but it seems they took no account of them. Jesus called them an adulterous generation, their hearts were after the wrong things; they were wanting deliverance from Rome, that is things of the flesh, whereas Jesus came to deliver from a greater bondage- sin. Everything in scripture had been pointing to that end: God sending His dear Son to die for the sins of the world.
The signs to Israel in Exodus were of the rod and serpent, symbolising the cross defeating Satan: the hand becoming leprous and then restored, signifying the making whole of the sinner from the curse of sin. Finally the water becoming blood, showing the poured out life of Jesus and the shedding of His precious blood for the whole world.
The Jews in looking for signs missed the whole point of them, they pointed to the one who would come and die for the sins of the world. What we do have is John telling us that the miracles Jesus actually performed were signs that people should believe on Him as the Son of God in order to receive eternal life. Jn. 20:31
Jesus said, in response to the Pharisee’s request is that no sign would be given expect the sign of Jonah. Here He was referring to the typology of Jonah in that he was in the whale’s belly three days and nights. This symbolising the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Once more we see that all these signs were pointing to the great redeeming work of the Cross. What the Jews apparently did was to concentrate on the signs and miss what they were pointing to:- Jesus and His great work of salvation. They were concentrating on the outward, that is the flesh, and not the Spirit.
A3.2 A scandal
So then the signs were all pointing to the great work at Calvary. So why did Paul call the cross an offence? The word in the Greek is scandal. Originally it was the name given to part of a snare to which the bait was attached, and eventually became the name for the trap itself. The word is translated stumbling block in Rom.11:9 ( quoting Ps.69:22); Rev.2:14 & Mtt.16:23. These scriptures show that the word scandal is used metaphorically as something that stumbles or traps people causing causing them to fall by the way.
In this case the application is to the Jews and the Cross. The Jews wanted signs, and the most important sign to them was circumcision, so much that they were willing to do it on a Sabbath day! (see Jn.7:22-24). As we have already discussed circumcision was the sign by which one was seen to be in the OC. By circumcision the Jews thought they were saved, and this is the teaching that the false teachers tried bringing into the early church; but God’s way is the way of the cross. Salvation is only by the Cross of Jesus Christ, without the Cross no one can be saved. All this is contrary to the Jewish thinking. They insisted on circumcision for salvation, thus missing the substance because of their worship of the symbol. And this is true of all legalisms, the outward forms eventually become objects of worship. Circumcision only symbolised the work of the cross in a person’s heart, as we saw in a previous study.
So when God replaced the shadow with the reality that which the Jews held dear had to go. By insisting on circumcision being necessary for salvation people deny the Cross, and by accepting the Cross as God’s method is to deny circumcision. The Cross is of the Spirit, circumcision is of the flesh. The cross means denying all the ways of the flesh, so unless once renounces them one can not be saved. No wonder the Cross of Jesus Christ is a stumbling block to the Jews. It means they have to give up all their carnal religion, and trust exclusively on the work of the Lord at Calvary. The cross cuts right across the works of the flesh, it means an end of all methods of pleasing God, and to trust only on His way – the way of the Cross.
A3.3 The power of God
Paul in the Corinthian letter calls the Cross the power of God. It is God’s method of salvation. It brings death to old way of life. In scripture death is a separation from life. When Adam and Eve fell they died spiritually, that is because of sin, they were cut off from the life of God. Paul describes it as being dead in trespasses and sin. Eph. 2:1. So when a person is born again they are crucified with Christ, that is they are brought into His death and are cut off from sin, and everything associated with it. The cross is God’s power, it is His means by which salvation is applied.
Here are some scriptures on the subject, made without further comment. The order is of no particular significance, and the list by no means exhaustive.
3.3a By the cross He paid the penalty for sin
Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
3.3b By the Cross He destroyed the powers of darkness
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
3.3c By the Cross He destroyed the devil
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
3.3d By the Cross He brings death to the old man
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
3.3e By the Cross we become dead to the Law
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
3.3f By the Cross the flesh is crucified
And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.