The scandal of the cross is a point of fact which, I think, cannot be overstated. Indeed, one of the prevailing themes of St. Paul’s ministry is the offensiveness of the cross of Christ (Gal. 5:11; 1 Cor. 1:23; Rom. 9:33; 11:9). But what makes it such a “stumbling block” or “skandalon”? Rev. G. Campbell Morgan has a pretty good answer:
In the early days of Christianity a stigma attached to the followers of the Nazarene, particularly on account of the Cross. It was something so utterly and absolutely unheard of that religion should be centered in a Cross; and whether to the Jew, the Roman, or the Greek, the Cross was a stumbling-block, a scandal, an offense, something utterly and absolutely objectionable. To the Jew the Cross meant disgrace, for it had been associated with the breaking of law, and its penalty: “He that hangeth is accursed of God.” To the Roman the Cross was an indication of defeat, and there was no crime in Roman equal to the crime of defat. To win was everything. To lose was disgrace, and the proud patrician Roman, looking upon Jesus crucified, held Him in supreme contempt because He was beaten. And to the Greek the Cross was the utterest degradation. To the Greek who stood for the perfecting individualism, for the ideal man, in form and feature and fashion — for every man aimed at perfection — for a man to be nailed to a Cross, and to be mauled in his death, was disgusting. To preach the Cross to the Jew was to preach the instrument with which the law-breaker was punished. To preach the Cross to the Roman was to preach to a victorious people the instrument of defeat. To preach the Cross to the Greek was to preach to people who were seeking for perfect individual culture, the most disagreeable and disgusting method of death and failure. A stigma was attached to the religion of Jesus because at its very heart and center stood this Cross.1
The scandal of the cross has not ceased. It is still scandalizing men and women even now, even today. It puts before them the horrid image of a crucified King, an executed Messiah. It demonstrates the pervasive depravity of the heart of man while also wondrously exhibiting the propensity of God to save. For while the Son endured such bloody defeat, he was simultaneously effecting our blood-bought deliverance. All the offensiveness of sin and magnificence of condescending love are seen in that “old rugged cross.” May it, then, continue scandalizing souls into recognizing their sin and their Savior from sin.
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
G. Campbell Morgan, The Westminster Pulpit: The Preaching of G. Campbell Morgan, Vols. 1-10 (Fincastle, VA: Scripture Truth Book Co., 1954), 1:2.217–18.