by Mike Ratliff
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19 ESV)
I grew up in a Christian family. Not only was my immediate family all Christians, all of my extended family were as well. My Grandfather Ratliff was an evangelist who traveled all over Oklahoma, even before it became a state in 1907, preaching brush arbor “revivals” when there was no church building in town large enough for the crowds who came from all around to hear him. In any case, the environment in which I grew up was one in which I could not conceive of people hating the Gospel or being offended because of the Cross. Even after the Supreme Court ruled that Public Schools could no longer host “religious” things or focus on Christianity in any way, the Elementary school I attended still allowed a Gideon representative to come in every month or so to show a slide show to us that presented the Gospel. No one complained. Perhaps I grew up somewhat sheltered from the world’s hatred of God’s truth and that my concepts of these things were naïve, however, that is no longer the case.
One thing that has carried over from the “church” environment in which I grew up is that the way the Gospel is presented and understood by much of the visible Church. It is assumed that if people are hostile to it then things must be somehow changed to remove the offense. Accommodation of those who hate the genuine Gospel seems to have priority so the leadership in these churches makes sure they offend no one. Is this proper? Is this the focus Christians must have, which is to remain together, but cause no offense? Martin Luther stated, “When the cross is abolished, and the rage of tyrants and heretics ceases on the one side, and all things are in peace, this is a sure token that the pure doctrine of God’s Word is taken away.” In other words, the world’s hatred is sometimes a sign that we are being faithful to Scripture, provided the world detests us due to the message we preach, not because we are obnoxious. On the other hand, if the world loves our message and us then it surely means that we are not being true to the offense of the cross.
The offense of the cross is something we must accept and make us wary, but we must carry on, remaining faithful to the call. Why? What did it cost our Lord to become the Lamb of God? Our Lord Jesus Christ left Heaven to become incarnate as a man, to become one of us, albeit without sin. We sometimes take this lightly, but if we can get our minds around the utter shame our Lord endured in order to redeem us then perhaps we can also, in the fullness of God, grasp the depth of love He has for us.
The love of Christ in its sweetness, its fulness, its greatness, its faithfulness, passeth all human comprehension. Where shall language be found which shall describe His matchless, His unparalleled love towards the children of men? It is so vast and boundless that, as the swallow but skimmeth the water, and diveth not into its depths, so all descriptive words but touch the surface, while depths immeasurable lie beneath. Well might the poet say,
“O love, thou fathomless abyss!”
for this love of Christ is indeed measureless and fathomless; none can attain unto it. Before we can have any right idea of the love of Jesus, we must understand His previous glory in its height of majesty, and His incarnation upon the earth in all its depths of shame. But who can tell us the majesty of Christ? When He was enthroned in the highest heavens He was very God of very God; by Him were the heavens made, and all the hosts thereof. His own almighty arm upheld the spheres; the praises of cherubim and seraphim perpetually surrounded Him; the full chorus of the hallelujahs of the universe unceasingly flowed to the foot of his throne: He reigned supreme above all His creatures, God over all, blessed for ever. Who can tell His height of glory then? And who, on the other hand, can tell how low He descended? To be a man was something, to be a man of sorrows was far more; to bleed, and die, and suffer, these were much for Him who was the Son of God; but to suffer such unparalleled agony-to endure a death of shame and desertion by His Father, this is a depth of condescending love which the most inspired mind must utterly fail to fathom. Herein is love! and truly it is love that “passeth knowledge.” O let this love fill our hearts with adoring gratitude, and lead us to practical manifestations of its power. – C.H. Spurgeon
I have, as I am sure you have as well, witnessed how some in the “Post-Modern” form of the visible Church call our Lord things such as “Dude!” or “home boy,” et cetera. They may not mean any harm, but they are also bringing lower a conception of our Lord that is blasphemous. Look what He did for us! Look what it cost Him! How can we do any less than worship, adore, and serve Him with our all? His love for us is beyond our comprehension my brethren and we must not take it for granted.
The merits of our great Redeemer are as sweet savour to the Most High. Whether we speak of the active or passive righteousness of Christ, there is an equal fragrance. There was a sweet savour in His active life by which He honoured the law of God, and made every precept to glitter like a precious jewel in the pure setting of His own person. Such, too, was His passive obedience, when He endured with unmurmuring submission, hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, and at length sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane, gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked out the hair, and was fastened to the cruel wood, that He might suffer the wrath of God in our behalf. These two things are sweet before the Most High; and for the sake of His doing and His dying, His substitutionary sufferings and His vicarious obedience, the Lord our God accepts us. What a preciousness must there be in Him to overcome our want of preciousness! What a sweet savour to put away our ill savour! What a cleansing power in His blood to take away sin such as ours! and what glory in His righteousness to make such unacceptable creatures to be accepted in the Beloved! Mark, believer, how sure and unchanging must be our acceptance, since it is in Him! Take care that you never doubt your acceptance in Jesus. You cannot be accepted without Christ; but, when you have received His merit, you cannot be unaccepted. Notwithstanding all your doubts, and fears, and sins, Jehovah’s gracious eye never looks upon you in anger; though He sees sin in you, in yourself, yet when He looks at you through Christ, He sees no sin. You are always accepted in Christ, are always blessed and dear to the Father’s heart. Therefore lift up a song, and as you see the smoking incense of the merit of the Saviour coming up, this evening, before the sapphire throne, let the incense of your praise go up also. – C.H. Spurgeon
My brethren, is the offense of the cross something we must put away so as not to offend? Look at what our salvation cost our Lord! He endured shame beyond measure yet it was all a sweet savor in the nostrils of the Father, a sweet sacrifice in order to redeem a people for Himself. Professing Christians who lock up the real Gospel and preach to draw people to themselves by appealing to the flesh are preaching a totally unacceptable substitute. The genuine Gospel offends the natural man. It is meant to! It must! Then how can anyone be drawn to believe?
Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me– not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. (John 6:43-46 ESV)
This is a small section of some ‘hard preaching’ by our Lord to people who sought Him, but they were not being drawn to Him by God. No, they were being drawn to Him in the hope that He would feed them, heal them, and have their felt needs met. Our Lord went to the Cross in order to purchase a people for Himself. His death paid the price for their sins. God the Father then draws them to the Son in belief and repentance. No one else is able to come to Christ for those not drawn are offended by the Cross and cannot conceive of giving up their fleshly passions. On the other hand, the regenerate are New Creations who have been taught the truth by God. They no longer see the Cross as offensive. As they mature in Christ, they learn to deny themselves, take up their crosses daily and follow Jesus. They renew their minds by living in the Word of God and obeying it. All of this in response to what our Lord did because He loved His people with a love that surpasses all knowledge.
Soli Deo Gloria!