“The Cross”, a Dirty Word

“Hey buddy! Get crucified!

Dr Gary ShogrenYou go down town to the park where there are always people begging for money; selling something; preaching some message. So you circulate around to see what new doctrines are in the air.
Over there is a new guy, talking earnestly to a small group. You pick up a few words of his discourse: “Now you must understand that the heart of my message is” …and he rips out what you could have sworn was a dirty word!
You do a double-take, and draw closer. Sure enough, it happens again: “The truth is that the power for living, being right with God, and eternal life comes only one way, through &#)#*%^@” – and he utters a filthy word.
You might even shout back: “Hey buddy – there are kids running around here, there are ladies present; can’t you talk about something more pleasant than that word?”
My point is that, that is how it would have seemed in 1st century city like Corinth or Philippi, if you had run into a man who calls himself Paul the apostle.
And his dirty word? It’s one of the first vocabulary words my students learn in Greek 1, this because it is used so often in the New Testament:

It is σταυρος/stauros.

In Latin, crux.

In English:


easter-jesus-cross300x150In the Roman empire crosses took various shapes – X, T (which looks like the letter tau in Greek), and the traditional cross. It was probably the latter on which Jesus was crucified.
But let’s go back to that public obscenity. It is revealing to study what a society regards as obscene language. In English our “dirty words” usually have to do with sex, sexual organs, or toilet words. But in ancient Rome one of the very worst obscenities was “I in malam maximam crucem” = “Get really badly crucified!!” It was a shocking profanity.
And oh, there was a gesture that went along with it! If someone cut you off in his chariot, you might make the sign of the letter tauright back at him. It looks like our “time-out” sign; and it would mean, “Hey buddy! Get crucified!
So, let’s say, you are at a fancy Roman banquet, and someone has had too much wine to drink. He starts to tell everyone that joke that starts, Okay, so, two guys are on their way to get crucified, and one guy turns to the other and says… Does your hostess say “Oh, let’s talk about something more pleasant?” No! She probably exiles him from her table, forever!
Now, imagine preaching a message that involves an good strong four-letter word – that was Paul’s mission. He said it himself – his message could be summed up as “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2).

Crucifixion was for slaves and rebels, for example like Spartacus.

Roman citizens had as one of their rights that they could not be crucified. The philosopher and statesman Cicero (1st century BC) said – “Let the very name of the cross be far away not only from the body of the Roman citizen, but even from his thoughts, his eyes, his ears.” This law explains the tradition that Peter was crucified upside-down, but Paul was killed more humanely, by beheading.
Paul dealt with this every day of his mission. As he said in 1 Cor. 1:22-23 – “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles…” He was not exaggerating about how troublesome his gospel language sounded.
How was the, uh, ehem, “cross” a stumbling block for the Jews, something that naturally made them trip? They look forward to a powerful Messiah. Jerusalem was overrun by Gentiles, and they wanted to see some sign that God was on their side. One rabbi disagreed from another, but all agreed that the last person who could be the Messiah was a crucified criminal; that’s why they objected to the sign over his cross – “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” – equal to “Christ crucified”.
And the cross is “foolishness” or “folly” for Gentiles (non-Jews). A religion about a crucified man was a religion for moron slaves who didn’t have the sense to come in out of the rain.
There was a man in the 2nd century AD who was a famous enemy of the gospel. Cornelius Fronto – wrote anti-Christian propaganda (and I paraphrase) – “Their ceremonies center on a man put to death for his crime and on the fatal wood of the cross. Just to recall this out loud is to assign to these abandoned wretches sanctuaries which are appropriate to them and the kind of worship they deserve.”
It’s human nature to prefer a nicer, more polite religion. One in which you fill out a few forms, wear special hats, pledge allegiance to a few ethical ideas, and derive maximum serenity from minimum exertion. It is highly improbable that anyone would invent a cross-religion. But God did an end-run around human common sense, since “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Cor. 1:21).
Since the 2nd century, the cross has been the most common symbol of Christianity and the most proof that God cares for us and sent us salvation in his crucified Son. Today, one of the most popular names in Greece is Stavros: imagine naming your baby boy “Cross”, unless you have found out that the cross really means for the human race!
“We preach Christ crucified” said Paul (1 Cor. 1:23), because we “who are called, both Jews and Greeks,” see the truth, that “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:24). And we have seen firsthand, that this message of the cross is what led directly to a miraculous, radical change of direction in our lives.
But if you look at certain TV evangelists or pop preachers, and ask them, how can I get my life transformed? I want to be a new person? Way too many miss the cross completely; it’s almost like it’s a dirty word for them!
Here’s an example I chose at random from one of America’s most popular preachers. It’s from a book called Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential. What steps are these?

  • Make a difference in somebody’s life.
  • The greater the struggle, the greater the reward.
  • Live one day at a time.
  • Follow your heart.
  • No matter how many times you get knocked down, keep getting back up.
  • Learn to trust God’s timing.

I guess there’s nothing wrong here, exactly, it’s common-sense wisdom for our day. But it’s not God’s wisdom. This mimics Christianity, but it is not Christianity. For our faith is not a list of pointers, not an ethic, not a Golden Rule, not a liturgy, but a man undergoing capital punishment, execution on the, well, you-know-what. This should be a reprimand to those whose lives are centered on the latest theory of who is the antichrist; or on living 1% more in accordance with the Torah; or trying to be more-Reformed-than-thou (say I, a Reformed person); or promoting one version of the Bible as the only acceptable one. If the cross doesn’t reside at the focus, then we are missing the whole point.
If you share the gospel sooner or later you have to focus on Jesus Christ crucified for us – if that element isn’t present, and even if it isn’t predominant, then whatever we’re saying, it’s not the gospel. And it will not change anyone’s life.
“So Paul,” someone will ask, “Are you saying that of all the events in this world’s history, the one big event that actually changes people’s assumptions and behavior and emotional reactions and motivations, that it could possibly be the execution of Jesus in a remote place and time?
That this is the big move, this is God’s plan to reconcile people to him and transform them?”
And Paul would answer – “Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.”
May that be our answer too.

 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:8-11)

Hengel, Martin, Cruxifixion in the ancient world and the folly of the message of the cross, SCM, London, 1977.
Stott, John, The cross of Christ, IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 1986.
Let’s do the Christian life, in Christ’s way.
[The reader might also enjoy a short book of mine in pdf form – How to Live the Christian Life.]

You are encouraged to comment on this post at Dr Shogren’s blog.
Copyright Gary Shogren.
Gary has a PhD in New Testament Exegesis. He serves as Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

The Farewell Discourse (Part Two)

Study Series: The Gospel of John

Larger Context: The Farewell Discourse (14:1-16:33) (Part Two)

This Study:
The Revelation of His Promise (14:12-31

Jesus The Prophet of God (John 14:12-31)

Murray McLellan

The Revelation of His Promise (14:12-31)

Greater Works

V. 12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.

The key to understanding this verse is the clause “because I am going to the Father.” That tells us that Jesus is referring to “greatness” as it pertains to the unfolding plan of God for Salvation. The works that the disciples perform after the resurrection are greater than those done by Jesus before his death insofar as the former belong to an age of clarity and power introduced by Jesus’ sacrifice and exaltation (Carson, 496). (See also John 16:7- 11).

Both Jesus’ words and deeds were somewhat veiled during the days of His flesh – even His closest followers grasped only a part of what He was saying. (i.e. Matthew 11:7-15 and the greatness of John the Baptist)

Some believe the greater works is referring to miracles, and that the disciples, in light of Jesus leaving them, would think that not only would they be deprived of the advantage of His superior powers, but also that their own, which were entirely dependent on Him, would be withdrawn also. This view sees the Lord assuring them in the most emphatic manner, by a repetition of affirmation, ‘Amen, amen, I say unto you,’ that His miraculous power would continue to be exercised through them. Following the Spirit being poured out at Pentecost, we find them, like Him, instantaneously healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead.” (See Heb. 2:4) However, these works would be the same as our Lord’s, not greater. It seems to me, more consistent to understand the passage as referring to the greater light of the New Covenant era.

Acts 2:40-41 records that Peter preached and 3000 were saved. Three-thousand dead were raised to spiritual life which is eternal. Does this not even surpass the greatness of Lazarus coming out of the tomb to physical and temporary life? (See Jesus’ priorities of spiritual and eternal versus physical in Luke 10:19-20. After all, Jesus’ main work was not miracles but revealing the Father; bringing the knowledge of the Father. In fact, the Greek reads greater than these he will do; perhaps implying greater things than these he will do. It does not say greater works or miracles.)

Prayer in Jesus’ Name

Another great comfort for His disciples is that they will have a direct line to heaven! In fact prayer will be absolutely essential for the spreading of the gospel. It is, to use the terms of Piper, a war-time walkie-talkie for the war and advance of the kingdom. Prayer is a condition for doing the great works mentioned in v. 12.

V. 13-14 And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

What comfort to disciples who had left all to follow Jesus! Though Jesus would not be with them bodily, the gap would close each time they prayed.

Notice, He does not say that He will grant their every prayer and wish. He says that He will given them what they ask in His name. He certainly is not talking about merely tacking that phrase to the end of our prayers.

What does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name? A.W. Pink writes:

First, it means that we pray in His person, that is, as standing in His place, as fully identified with Him, asking by virtue of our very union with Himself. When we truly ask in the name of Christ, He is the real petitioner.

Second, it means, therefore, that we plead before God the merits of His blessed Son. When men use another’s name as the authority of their approach or the ground of their appeal, the one of whom the request is made looks beyond him who presented the petition to the one for whose sake he grants the request. So, in all reverence we may say, when we truly ask in the name of Christ, the Father looks past us, and sees the Son as the real suppliant.

Third, it means that we pray only for that which is according to His perfections and what will be for His glory. When we do anything in another’s name, it is for him we do it. When we take possession of a property in the name of some society, it is not for any private advantage, but for the society’s good. When an officer collects taxes in the name of the government, it is not in order to fill his own pockets. Yet how constantly do we overlook this principle as an obvious condition of acceptable prayer! To pray in Christ’s name is to seek what He seeks, to promote what He has at heart!” You cannot manipulate the exalted Christ or use Him for selfish ends.

We see then that the petition must be in keeping with who Christ is. We can only rightly ask God for that which will magnify His Son. To ask in the name of Christ is, therefore, to set aside our own will, and bow to the perfect will of God. (See 1 John 3:22).

The name of the Lord is all that He is. Truly praying in Jesus’ name is more than merely mentioning His name at the end of our prayers. It is not some magical incantation. It is praying for that which is consistent with His character, and for that which will bring Him glory. The goal of prayer is the glorification of God.

Notice that Jesus says that He will do it. He has such authority.

Keep My Commandments

V. 15 If you love Me, keep My commandments.

…My commandments …. the law of Christ! (See Matt. 28:18-20; Heb. 7:12). Real love for Christ is demonstrated by an active, eager, joyful obedience to His commandments.

Jesus Promises Another Helper

V. 16-18 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.

Jesus has told His disciples to not be troubled and provides good reason to be comforted. First He is going to prepare and secure their place in the Father’s house. Secondly, He will come again and take them there Himself. Now, He tells them that in the “in between time” another Comforter will be given to them. This One is the Spirit of truth – indicating He communicates and bears witness to the truth (Jesus). Christ had been their teacher; but from here on in, the Holy Spirit would take His place (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit does not work independently of the written Word, but through and by means of it.

The world is built on lies. It is suspicious of what it cannot see. (1 Cor. 2:14)

This indwelling talk is simply a way to communicate intimate fellowship with the God of the universe. 1 Kings 8:27, Ezekiel 37:27, Zechariah 2:10, Ephsians 3:17, Revelation 21:3

A comforter is one who stands alongside of one in need, to strengthen. The believer has two Comforters, Helpers or Strengtheners: the Holy Spirit on earth, and Christ at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, for the same Greek word here rendered “Comforter” is translated “Advocate” in 1 John 2:l,—an “advocate” is one who aids, pleads the cause of his client. Christ “makes intercession” for us on High (Heb. 7:25), the Holy Spirit within us (Rom. 8:26)! In some versions it is translated “counselor” which is not bad provided you think in terms of legal counsel.

The Spirit was “with” them in the person of Jesus Christ, but would be in them – with the coming of the new age – the age of the Spirit – the New Covenant.

V. 19-22 “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?”

Even in His resurrection, Jesus did not appear to the world. Jesus uses language of intimacy – such as is used of the Father and Son. Jesus’ disciples love Him and thus obey Him, mirroring the oneness between Jesus and His heavenly Father.

It is through the written Word that the incarnate Word “manifests” Himself to the heart!

Judas likely cannot figure out how the world will not see, since he believes the kingdom must come in undeniable and irresistible splendor. (Of course, a select reading of O.T. passages would lead to that conclusion – if you don’t take into account the suffering passages. What a great hermeneutical lesson – the need to take into account all that the Scripture unfolds and reveals!)

V. 23-24 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.

It is love that motivates obedience. “Abiding” speaks of fellowship all through John’s writings. Not only is our fellowship with the Father and His Son (1 John 1:3), but to the one who truly heeds the Word, they will come and have fellowship with him. This is the reward of loving obedience.

V. 25-28 “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.

As Jesus came in the Father’s name and was the Father’s emissary, so the Spirit will come in Jesus’ name as His emissary.

With a careful reading we see this promise is for the disciples alone. It becomes very clear as you read the book of Acts, especially chapter 2, that this promise does not extend to all of believers. It is dangerous to try to extend this to our reading of the Scriptures and the Spirit’s work of applying it. One of the main tasks of the Spirit then, was to remind the disciples of Jesus’ teaching, and help them grasp its significance and meaning (i.e. John 2:19-22; 12:16; 20:9).

“He shall teach you all things.”

Here is another instance where the words of Scripture are not to be taken in their absolute sense. If the apostles were to be taught all things without any qualification, they would be omniscient. Nor did Christ mean that the Holy Spirit would teach them all that it was possible for finite creatures to know: He would not make known to them the secrets of the future. Rather would He teach them all that it was necessary for them to know for their spiritual well-being, and this, particularly, in connection with what Christ had taught them, either fully or in germ form. He would make clear to them that which, as yet, was mysterious in their Master’s sayings.

(See John 2:22; 12:16)

Peace is one of the fundamental characteristics of the messianic kingdom anticipated in the Old Testament (Num. 6:26; Psalm 29:11; Isa. 9:6-7; 52:7; 54:13; 57:19; Ezek. 37:26; Hag. 2:9) and fulfilled in the New (Acts 10:36; Rom. 1:7; 5:1; 14:17). We have peace in our hearts because we have peace with God (Phil. 4:7; contrast Isa. 48:22 with Isa. 26:3). Thus, Paul could have peace even while in a jail at Philippi; the kind of peace that Jesus had as He faced the cross – because of His relationship of trust with His Father (i.e. John 19:10-11).

How are we to understand the statement Jesus makes about the Father being greater than he is?

Throughout this discourse and in the prayer which follows in chapter 17, the Lord Jesus is presented as the Father’s Servant, from whom He had received a commission, for whose glory He acted, and under whose authority He spoke. In becoming incarnate and tabernacling among men, He had greatly humiliated Himself, and chose to descend into shame and suffering. He was now the Son of man who had nowhere to lay His head. He who was rich had for our sakes become poor. He was the Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.

In view of this, Christ was now contrasting His situation with that of the Father in the glories of heaven. The Father was seated upon the throne of highest majesty; the brightness of His glory was uneclipsed; He was surrounded by hosts of holy beings, who worshipped Him with uninterrupted praise. Far different was it with His incarnate Son—despised and rejected of men, surrounded by enemies, soon to be nailed to a criminal’s cross. The contrast then was between His present state of humiliation and His coming state of exaltation to the Father! Therefore, those who really loved Him should have rejoiced at the news that He would go to the Father, because the Father was greater than He—greater both in official status and in surrounding circumstances. It was Christ owning His place as Servant, and magnifying the One who had sent Him.

Instead of looking at things selfishly and how they affect us, we should look at the way things affect the cause of Christ.

V. 29-31 “And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.

Jesus used a simple method to strengthen the faith of His own – He tells what would happen ahead of time. Fulfilled prophecy is one of the means to strengthen the faith of His disciples so they would trust Him more and more. Every detail of each prophecy came to pass just as He said.

As the sinless One there was nothing within to which the Devil could appeal. Christ was the Lamb “without blemish.” The dragon had sought to devour Him from his birth. Christ’s death on the cross would resolve the age-old conflict that had raged since Lucifer’s fall. Jesus was about to win the ultimate victory (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8).

In going to the cross as an obedient Son, Jesus manifested His great love for His Father. Many say they love God, but they do not pass the test of obedience. Three times already Jesus has stated that the test of love is obedience (John 14:15, 21, 23).

~ Murray

About Murray McLellan
Murray is the lead church planter and Bible teacher at Grace Fellowship Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife Cheryl have labored in the Gospel for many years despite the many discouragements along the way. Our brother is associated with “InDepth Studies”, the Acts 29 network of church planters, and more recently the uniquely Canadian C2C church planting network. In new covenant circles Murray is a long time contributor to new covenant thought and discussion.