June 26, 2013

Offended by God?

The realities of these Alberta floods is a struggle. Our family is safe, yet not certain of the days ahead. My brother-in-law escaped the rising waters with the clothes he was wearing and his vital medical equipment. His son’s family had to leave their pets to their fate. They were not able to take their cars, vital papers, or anything of value. Yet in all this, there is good news.

My sister tells of the farm where they stayed a few days after evacuation. The week before, people kept bringing food to that farm, unaware of the need that would come. This was a God-thing, an advance preparation that enabled their hosts to care for several families.

I’ve retold this story several times. Christians respond by praising God, yet those who do not know Christ seem oddly annoyed, even offended. Some look at me as if I am lying. Why not be glad for God’s provision?

In New Testament Galatia, being a Christian wasn’t easy. Some were thinking of going back to their religious rituals because that would be easier than obeying the Gospel. Paul contrasted their choice between rites and rituals with suffering for believing in Jesus Christ. Was the Cross beginning to offend some of them too?

But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. (Galatians 5:11)

The cross was an offense to the Jews because it swept away their pride. They believed they were the people of God, not because of His grace and mercy, but because they performed their religious duties and did things that made them special. The Cross says otherwise, that no one is special. All are sinners and this death of Christ is the judgment sinners deserve.

The death of Jesus is our death. He died because we deserve to die. The Cross represents our folly, our inability to save ourselves. It says, “All are sinners” and offends human pride, striking a fatal blow at human efforts to be religious, to please God by our own doing.

For the Jews whose faith had deteriorated into works-righteousness, the Cross proclaimed their ceremonial law useless, their sacrifices, feasts and festivals mere motions. The temple was a sign of their hope and symbol of their unity, but the Cross swept that away too.

We might think that pride in worthy things is okay. That is, it is better to be proud of laws and temples than to be proud of guns or money, yet Paul said, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

The Cross was an offense then and still is today. It cuts at our pride and says what we don’t want to hear. But the Bible is clear — on that Cross hangs the Redeemer who says, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

For some, everything else that Jesus does is also offensive. I’ve told family about the healing that happened in my husband’s body while he was praying for healing in others. Some were offended. I’ve shared the story of the extra food before the flood and some are offended.

Before I condemn others, I must admit the same pride. Often, I run into a problem and without even thinking to pray for wisdom and help, I tackle it. I don’t hear my pride saying, “I will do this by myself” until I find out the hard way that I cannot and need God.

The offense of the Cross is that we must go to God with empty hands. We prefer a little toil and sweat, measuring the value of many things by what it cost us to get them. But Calvary costs us nothing — yet it cost God everything. He paid our price, took our penalty, then freely offers eternal life to us without price. As today’s devotional says, in this commercial age there is something suspicious and offensive about that.

If anyone preaches salvation by good works (and almost everyone does), it appeals to many eager hearts. Yet God says no matter how hard we try, we fall short of His glory. This is why —

The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

I’m now hesitating before sharing that food story to some people, yet must not let possible rejection hold me back. Everyone should know that our God is an awesome God and totally able to anticipate our needs. This is good news, regardless of the reaction!

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