At this time of year we give special remembrance to the sufferings of Jesus Christ. The question that confronts us is this: What effect does that remembrance have upon you? Does it have a lasting and true effect? Is it the effect that is spoken of in the Word of God in Galatians 6:14? There we read: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”
Do you glory? Do you boast? Do you exalt in one thing only, the cross of your Lord Jesus Christ? Is the world crucified to you by the cross and you to the world?
Looking around us at the world we see that the remembrance of the man of Galilee leaves very little effect upon this world. There are many who observe Good Friday and Resurrection or Easter Sunday. Banks will be closed on Good Friday afternoon. Businesses will close early. On Sunday there will be the nonsense of Easter brunches, Easter eggs, and Easter bunnies. But what effect will the remembrance of the suffering and the resurrection of Jesus Christ have upon them? Very little, other than considering the fact that they get out of the office a little earlier on Good Friday or that the Easter candy baskets will be on sale on Monday. Little lasting effect is found. Men and women, to some degree at least, hear of the message of Christ crucified and risen and yet return to life “as normal.”
What about you? The apostle in Galatians 6:14 shows us that he was indeed an intense and focused man. He could say, “This one thing I do,… I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13, 14). His life was not a confused arrangement of various things tugging at him. His life was not a blur, so that he could not focus upon one thing or answer the question: Why are you living and what are you doing? He was not simply meandering through life enamored by this and then by that. But his life was Christ and Him crucified. All he wanted to know was that one thing, and his life was ordered around that eternal and blessed truth. He boasted in the cross of Calvary. Is that true of you?
Paul makes this personal confession in Galatians 6 in contrast to the false teachers who were threatening the Galatian Christians. Those false teachers were converted Jews, supposedly converted, who were telling the Gentiles in Galatia that Christ is indeed the Savior but that those Gentiles needed to be circumcised if they were to be fully saved. Paul warns the Galatians that the motives of these converted Jews were false and not pure. They are not simply good teachers with bad teaching, or well-meaning teachers with false views. But Paul says that they wish to make a fair show in the flesh. When they want you to submit to circumcision, they are not acting out of sincere motives, but they are trying to get the favor of their Jewish brethren and to avoid persecution from their Jewish brethren. They want to make a fair show of you. They want to parade you Gentiles before the other Jews and say to them, “Now see, we compel the Gentiles to be circumcised, so don’t persecute us because you think that we have forsaken the law of Moses. Please, brethren, have a better opinion of us. We constrained the converted Gentiles to be circumcised.” They wanted, says Paul, to avoid the reproach of the cross, because the cross proclaimed that it alone is the way of salvation and all the Old Testament ceremonies cannot save one soul. Their object, then, in compelling others to be circumcised was to boast before their Jewish brethren.
In contrast to that, Paul says, I do not make my boast in such things. I do not boast of my power over you, nor do I use you as an opportunity to boast in myself. But I glory in the cross of my Savior. I boast in that cross alone.
Is that your confession? Do you take these words upon your lips? Can you sincerely before God and the church say, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”?
It is very natural, of course, for men to boast. In every human heart there lies pride and the boasting in oneself. That pride in boasting may take on different forms. But there is none in whom the words of the Pharisee are not to be found: “I thank thee that I am not as other men are.” We imagine ourselves always to be better. Paul lived in an age of boasting. We forget that when we see man’s glorying in himself today to such an extent that we think that men never had anything to boast about before our age. But our age is not unique in the fact that it boasts about itself.
In Paul’s day the Greeks boasted. They boasted of their learning, of their wisdom, of their philosophy. They could say that the world’s greatest thinkers-Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle-came from Greece. The Romans boasted. They boasted about their law, their government, their kingdom, their order, their conquest. And the Jews boasted. All others were Gentiles, but they were the chosen people. They were heaven’s favorites, they said. They were a cut above everyone else. All around Paul in the ancient world men and women were boasting in something.
Men and women boast today. And their boast comes up to heaven as an accursed thing. Men will boast in their intellect. Men will glory in their learning. Men will parade their medical and scientific knowledge, their enlightenment. They will boast in their wealth-in how much they have and how much they are going to get. They will pride themselves in their power and accomplishment, in their skills and their beauty, in their shape, in their athletic skills. Man boasts before God.
But the apostle Paul would not boast in any such thing. “God forbid that I should boast, that I should glory.” He would not take his place alongside such idle boasting, such contemptuous boasting before God. God forbid, he says. I will not, I could not glory or boast in anything save the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why? The answer to that question was not that Paul had nothing to boast in, that is, that he was a man of few accomplishments. If he wanted to boast in himself, his list could be very long-as long as anyone else’s-and, perhaps, longer. In Philippians 3 he speaks of it: the fact that he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. When he lived in that proud delusion that salvation was by the works of a man, and that he lived a spotless and immaculate life, no Pharisee ever went at it like Paul went at it. He was trained at the feet of Gamaliel. He was the most promising prodigy in the Jewish system. And he could also have boasted of all of his work in suffering as an apostle-of all the times that he had been beaten and put into prison, stoned and shipwrecked. He could have boasted of his knowledge of all the vision that God had given to him of the marvelous ways of salvation. Yet, Paul says, I will not, I could not, boast in any of these things. I boast only in the cross of Christ. There is one thing that has captivated my heart. There is one thing that I prize above all else. There is one thing that I glory in. And compared to this one thing, everything else is loss and dung. I boast in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Paul boasted in that cross because the cross was redemption. It was vicarious sin-bearing. He believed that in the cross he had been cleansed. His sins had been forgiven. He had been purchased and brought to God. Paul gloried in the cross because the cross was the way of salvation, the only way of salvation. He knew that the men of his day would look upon that cross and, apart from God’s renewing grace, would say concerning the cross: foolishness. But Paul? Paul, knowing that he had been saved by that cross, knowing the love of God who gave Himself for us, found that he could boast in nothing other than in that cross. Because he saw there the display of the power and the wisdom of God. He saw there the love of God in giving His Son to die for him. In the cross was all of his glory and boasting.
Do you boast in the cross for the same reason? Is that why you glory in the cross? Do you trust in yourself? Do you boast in your health or wealth; your youth, your looks, your success, your strength? Then you are vain and you are foolish and you boast in that which is your shame.
There is only one thing of which we may boast. There is only one thing which we exalt to highest heaven, and that is the cross of Jesus Christ, where the Son of God died for me.
The apostle Paul goes on to say that that cross had brought about a marvelous change in his life. “By which (that is, by the cross) the world is crucified to me and I to the world.” A change has been brought about irreversibly. A profound change. A change in the relationship between Paul and the world. They died to each other. Ever since he had seen that cross he had looked upon the world as crucified. He saw the world as hung up upon a cross as a piece of rotten, stinking flesh. It had no charm for him at all. He did not court the world’s favor. He did not live for the world’s love and esteem. How much appeal would a corpse, hanging upon a tree, rotting skin, birds pecking it, smelling, giving the signs of death-how much attraction could such be for you? Would you want to embrace such a thing? Would you want to snuggle up to it and kiss it?
That is how the world appears to me, says Paul. That is how the world looks upon me, too. It is because of the cross. Because I find my salvation in the cross, the world is crucified to me. By the “world” he is not referring to the world in the material sense. He is referring to the world in the service of sin, the world that stands in its powers and talents under the service of sin, the world of the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, of greed and covetousness, jealousy and conceit, lusts and pleasures, drunkenness or orgies. Understand that of ourselves there would be a natural affinity for that world. Of ourselves, our flesh would seek that world. We would want that world. But Paul says, on account of the cross of Calvary, by the power of the crucified Son of God who loved me, I now hold this world in contempt as something that is repulsive.
And he goes on to say, “by which the world is crucified to me.”
He saw the world in its pomp and glory as vanity. He saw the world with its goals as a soap bubble. The world’s pleasures-all that was of the world of sin-at one time he lived for it. Now he regarded it as a corpse nailed to a tree. He did not look to it for approval. He did not judge his figure by Cosmopolitan magazine. He did not get his vocabulary from the television. He did not reach out for its goals. He did not admire it. He did not court its smiles. Nor did he dread its frown. He did not fear its look. The world was not his idol. He did not live for this world. He did not place it on the throne as god. Is that true of you?
But Paul goes on to say, “I am crucified.” That is the way the world looks at me, now, too. The world holds me in contempt. The world makes me a laughingstock for the sake of Jesus Christ. They call me a lunatic, a leader of a cult. They hate me and they fear me. The Jewish brethren who studied with him under Gamaliel regarded him as apostate, as one who had dishonored the Jewish tradition. The world, the philosophers, the great thinkers of the world would look upon Paul as a madman. They held him in scorn. This was because of the cross.
Paul held to the cross as the only way of salvation. Paul declared that there was no other way to the presence of God except through Jesus Christ crucified and risen. He is the only hope for sinners, the only avenue of escape from judgment to come.
What does the world think of you? What is the consensus of the people of the world concerning you? If a poll were taken of the unbelieving world, and the question were asked: What do you think of this one who calls himself by the name of Christ? what would the world think of you? Do you boast in the cross? Do you live out of the power of the cross? Then the answer is: The world will have nothing but contempt and scorn for you.
Nevertheless, Paul says, I glory in that cross. Do not ask me to boast in any other thing. I will glory in the cross of Jesus Christ as my full and free redemption. I will boast exclusively in the cross. Is that true for you?
What do you boast in? Do you boast in your looks? Do you boast in your skill? Do you boast of your hard work? Do you glory in your money? Is the Pharisee’s prayer heard in your heart as you look upon other people: I am not as other men are; I am better? Do you commend yourself? Do you boast in man, his learning? Is your idol to be found in sports? Is your idol to be found in the gratifications of your own flesh? Do you live in order to serve yourself? If your boast is anything other than in the cross of Jesus Christ, then you are a fool. Only the cross. Let the world say about us what it wants. Let them parade before us all of its pomp and pride. Let the world give the Christian a cold shoulder. Let the world pour out upon the Christian contempt. It does not matter. The cross of Jesus Christ is my life.
Paul says, I now walk in this world. But I am not of this world. I am apprehended by the cross of Calvary for eternal glory. Paul says, God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. He takes his stand. Never, no never will I boast in anything save the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, what about you? Is the world crucified to you by the cross so that the wicked world no longer has an appeal to you? And are you crucified to the world by the cross so that the world of unbelief looks upon you with contempt and scorn as you stand in Jesus Christ? Then you will never be put to shame. Then, by the grace of God, you have been saved by that cross. God will never leave you. Yours is the victory right now, and the victory finally and completely in the day of days. Yours will be glory, a glory which was obtained for you only through the cross.
Let us pray.
Our Father, we thank Thee for Thy precious and holy Word. We thank Thee for the amazing gift of Thy grace, the Savior who was crucified. We pray that through His crucifixion we may be dead to this world and the world may be dead to us and that we may live unto Him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.