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Scandal

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Date January 15, 2022

It was my privilege to grow up in a home with Christian parents. There were things I knew before I truly believed them. And so it was that I sat in the second year of my middle school, probably about nine years old, listening to my teacher tell a joke about hell as part of an RE lesson.

The discussion turned to matters of punishment and forgiveness. They knew I went to church, so I was a natural target. I cannot recall the way the discussion advanced, but I do remember the teacher’s incredulous summary of my contribution: ‘Do you really mean to say that if someone like Hitler were to trust Jesus, he would go to heaven?’

Yes, that’s what I meant.

My teacher led the class in a reasonably prolonged season of mockery. They could not believe that God could forgive such sinners in that way.

The same scenario has played out in various ways over the course of my life and labours. It played out in my own soul as part of my conversion, because it is one thing to say that this is so, and another thing to entrust oneself to a crucified Christ to make you right with God.

It played out distinctly in conversation with an older lady of some felt dignity who came to some of the meetings of the church. I lost track of the number of times she either stormed out, or walked away at the end in a huff. I might follow her up, or after a while she would come back, but she never got over it: in her view, it just wasn’t right that God should forgive bad people. In the background, sadly, was her own sense that she was not one of those bad people, and therefore she could not grasp why she should need forgiveness herself. She never stopped showing anger that God should forgive sinners.

To be truthful, it partly plays out every time the gospel is preached, every time someone responds, inwardly or outwardly, ‘I don’t want this!’ or ‘I don’t need this!’

This is part of the scandal of the cross. The cross is a scandal because of what is happening and what it offers and demands. There is something scandalous for many in the very purpose and intent of the cross: that in the death of God’s own Son, come in the flesh, he is providing atonement for sinners, for all and any sinners who entrust themselves to him.

That is the offence that keeps many from coming to Christ. They do not see themselves as sinners, and they are horrified that those whom they consider sinners should find forgiveness there. It doesn’t seem fair. Naturally speaking, that message will make people angry. It will leave them confused and troubled. It will upset and expose the hypocrites in the congregation. It will unsettle immature believers who perhaps have never fully grasped this aspect of the gospel. And some Christians will see the impact of this gospel on the unconverted, and will be unhappy to see the confusion, resistance and anger, and may accuse you of driving people away.

But it is the very message we must preach, and it is the reality upon which we must insist. By the preaching of this message, God will convict and convert his elect. In the crucified Christ, God has provided salvation for sinners, that whoever comes to him—whoever they are, however far they have gone in sin, however long they have gone in sin, however deep they have sunk in sin, however bad they may feel themselves to be, however good they might previously have imagined themselves to be—whoever comes to Jesus Christ and puts their faith in him, that one shall not perish, not now and not ever, but shall receive and enjoy life everlasting.

Let us not then be ashamed of the scandal of full atonement provided for the worst of sinners, of a Christ who receives all who come to him, of a gospel that is for sinners indeed, of a message that exposes the alleged strength and wisdom of the world, and of the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.

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