Billy Graham - Are You Offended By The Cross?
I want us to turn tonight to the fifth chapter of the book of Galatians. "And I brethren, if I preach works, if I preach legalism, why do I suffer persecution? Then is the offense of the cross ceased". Now we're living at a moment in history in which many people are afraid. We read the headlines, black and screaming. We listen to the television news and we wonder when the third world war might break out at any time. And we're proud of our service men overseas and the heroism that they have shown to the whole world in various parts of the world. But, you know, I had the privilege of being a friend of John Steinbeck, the great writer. You remember, he wrote Grapes of Wrath, which made him very famous. And one day John gave me a copy of a letter that he had received from Adlai Stevenson, who was then running for the presidency of the United States.
Adlai Stevenson wrote to him these words, "There is a nervous restlessness, a hunger, a thirst, a yearning for something unknown, perhaps it's morality. Then there is the violence, cruelty and hypocrisy, systematic of a people which has too much. It seems to me that this is how America is in this condition. Having too many things, they spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul. If I wanted to destroy our nation," said Mr. Stevenson, "I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy, and sick. Mainly I'm troubled by the cynical immorality of my country. I do not think it can survive on this basis. And unless some catastrophe strikes us, we're lost, but by our very attitude, we're drawing catastrophe to ourselves. What we've beaten in nature, we cannot conquer in ourselves".
Now I made one mistake in that. John Steinbeck wrote this letter to Adlai Stevenson and he gave me a copy of it. But the thing that touched me was what we've beaten in nature. We've gone to the moon, not then, but later, but he knew some of the scientific technology breakthroughs that were taking place in those days, but he said we cannot conquer in ourselves. So the whole world tonight is searching for an answer. One European leader is quoted in the papers saying, "If the devil should offer a panacea for the troubles of the world, I would gladly follow the devil". We're getting desperate.
Emil Brunner once called the cross of Christ "the scandal of Christianity". And it is, because the answer to all of our problems are found at the foot of the cross. If we would only the repent of our sins and come to the cross, there we would have an answer to our personal problems, our corporate problems, our national problems, our international problems. But you see, we have to remember that eight hundred years before Christ was crucified.
Isaiah, the prophet wrote, "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed Him not. The expression, the offense of the cross," sounds very strange to our modern ears, because you see, we look on the steeples of our churches, whether it's Catholic or Protestant. And we see the cross. It's embossed on our Bibles, it's an ornament around our necks. It's an emblem of art and poets, and this is fine, but it has become sentimental with a certain romantic interest in the cross. But what it really stands for is an offense. It was a place where Jesus was despised and rejected of men. It becomes a stumbling block. It becomes a scandal to men and women. Isaiah, with prophetic vision, says, "There is no beauty that we should desire him".
Paul, living after Christ, found that the cross provoked the scorn and aroused the antagonism of men and women everywhere. Now, why is the cross an offense? Have you ever thought about that? Why is it an offense? First, it's an offense because it condemns the evils of the world. You see Herod, King Herod did not like the cross because he was living in adultery and the cross condemned his immorality. And if you come to Christ, you have to give up that kind of life. You have to change your way of life. So, you see Herod the King did not like the cross. The cross pointed to him and said, "Herod, you have to give up that woman that you're living with in sin". And then Pilate, the governor, did not like the cross because he was swayed by the crowd. He was a coward. He was afraid to stand up for what he knew to be right. The cross condemned him.
A month ago, our leading metropolitan newspaper poll, the supposed social, political, and cultural leaders among its 1 million readers. And here was the question it asked. If you would choose from all of history... You think about this a moment. If you could choose from all of history who you would invite to the best ever dinner that you would ever serve, who would you choose? Do you know that not one single prominent leader included Jesus Christ? Among those they did include was Pontius Pilate, Helen of Troy, Socrates. Why did they not include Jesus Christ, the Lord of history, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? The one who died for sin, who rose from the dead? Why didn't they include him? Do you know why, I believe? The offense of the cross. The answer in the Bible is clear because of the offense of the cross. The cross condemns my sinful way of life. And I don't like it.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness unto him. Neither can he know them, because they're spiritually discerned". You see, we are natural people, you that are outside of Christ. If you don't really know Christ, you might be in the church, but you really don't know Christ. You're called natural people, whose minds have been blinded by the devil; whose life is controlled by the passions and greed and lust of this world. And the cross points a finger at you and condemns you, not you personally, but your sins, condemns your sins because Christ loves you. He will forgive you. He will cleanse you. He will change you. He died for you, but it condemns your sins and your way of life.
And the Bible also talks about the carnal mind. It says the carnal mind in Romans 8, the carnal mind, the natural mind is at enmity against God for it is not subject to the law of God. Neither can it be. In other words, our minds are controlled by something other than the Spirit of God. They're controlled by the thinking of this world. We have fleshly minds and the cross condemns them and the cross says it's wrong. And the cross said, you must turn. You must change your way of thinking. You must repent of your sins. And we don't like to do that. And then Judas, the cross condemned his greed because he sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver.
And how many people here tonight are greedy? We think of rich people as greedy, but that's not exactly true. The rich can be greedy, so can the poor person, a poor person can be greedy too. Greed touches every phase of life. It touches all races and all classes and all economic statuses in the country and in the world because we can be greedy. We want what the other person has, or we want to be like the other person. And we think, "Oh, if we could only make money, if we could only make more money, we would be happy," but materialism does not offer happiness. And then there was the crowd. The cross condemned the crowd because the crowd was indifferent. It says sitting down, they watched him. He was dying on the cross, suffering and bleeding, dying, and the cross condemned that indifference.
And there are many of you here tonight that are here out of curiosity, but you're just indifferent. You couldn't care less. Your soul, which is going to live forever, doesn't bother you, You have a responsibility for that soul and that spirit that will be living a thousand years from now. And the decision that you make tonight may determine where it'll be a hundred years from now, but you're indifferent to it. You don't care. Someday, you will care, but it'll be too late. You need to come to Christ tonight and make sure that you're ready to meet God. The cross condemns all dishonesty and lust and greed and immorality. And we don't like to be disturbed in our sins. And so that's the reason the cross becomes an offense.
When Paul came before Governor Felix, the burning message of the cross condemned Felix so much so that he trembled. And he said, "When I have a more convenient season, I will call for you". But he never called. And this is an indication that... Some of you will say tonight, there'll be another time. I'll have a chance. When I get older, when I get things straightened out with my wife, when I'm living better, when I'm in a better position, I'll come to Christ. Sometime, but not now. I can't pay the price now, but maybe when I get older, I can. There may never be another convenience season. You can only come when the Holy Spirit is speaking and drawing. And the Holy Spirit is speaking and drawing here tonight in this arena in answer to the prayers of thousands of people throughout the country.
Yes, it can make you tremble, the preaching of the cross and your knuckles will turn white on the seat in front of you when the invitation is given, but you won't come because you feel that you have to do something to get ready. There's a new book by Professor Donald Peele. He says old age is not the religious stage of life. We usually think of old people getting religion, but that's not true. Like the old grandmother who was reading her Bible and the little granddaughter was asked by a friend said, "What's your grandmother doing"? And the little granddaughter said, "Well, she's studying for her finals". And many of us think of it that way. When I get older, when things get a little bit different, I get a little more mature. I'll give my life to Christ. But he said that old age is not the religious stage of life.
If there's any such development phase that happens with children of the seven to nine years bracket. He said if there's a religious age in our lives it's between seven and nine. But I notice in nearly every crusade we hold that the age of the people that come forward to receive Christ is between 18 and 22. That seems to be the age of commitment. That's the age when we are making a commitment about vocation, about marriage, about life's values. And it's the age that we make our commitment about religion. And then it decreases till you get to be about 50 and only a small handful in any crusade, beyond 50 ever come to Christ. Why? Because you have hardened your heart. And the scripture says you can so harden your heart that when the Holy Spirit speaks, you cannot hear any longer. Your conscience is dead. It needs to be re-sensitized. And when you come to Christ, your conscience can be re-sensitized.
Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, contended that if you don't reach a child by the time he's seven, you may never reach him. You better come to Christ now, no matter what your age is, if Christ is speaking to you tonight, come and you that are watching by television, pick up your telephone and call the number that's on the screen. There's a counselor waiting to talk to you that will help you to make your commitment to Christ now, while there's time. There will never be a more convenient season than right now. Now the one that succeeded Felix was named Festus and Paul preached to Festus the gospel and Festa said, "Paul, you're, you're mad. Something's happened to your brain. You've learned too much".
And how many of us say almost the same thing to those that come to us and ask us to come to Christ? You're a fanatic. Agrippa said, King Agrippa said, after hearing Paul, "Almost thou persuadest me to become a Christian". Last night. Cliff used that song at the end, "Almost". Almost in the kingdom, almost persuaded, but the scripture teaches us that it's the preaching of the cross that we come to Christ. We cannot argue anybody into the kingdom. We cannot talk anybody into the kingdom. I cannot use clever words and great arguments to get you into the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit does it when the cross of Christ is presented.
And so the cross has come down through all the centuries, passing its unfaltering judgment upon the vanities, prides, hates and greeds and self-indulgent pleasures and lusts of men and women. And it says, "You're wrong. You're a sinner". And we don't like it. It becomes a conscience to the world. The scripture says, men love darkness because their deeds are evil. The cross throws light on their evil deeds and they don't like that. Then there's a second reason. I believe why the cross is an offense. The cross is an offense because blood was shed there. Now in Leviticus, the 17th chapter, it says for the life of the flesh is in the blood and I've given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your sins, for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for sin.
Now people make fun of the cross and they make fun of Christ and Christianity and Christians because we talk about blood. But the Bible is filled with the topic of blood from Genesis to Revelation. I took my major in college in anthropology, and I wrote my final thesis on the subject of blood sacrifice the world over. And we never found a tribe and we never found a people anywhere in the world that did not at some time practice blood sacrifice.
Now, where did they get that? They practice it today in many parts of the world. Blood sacrifice is offered to the god or the gods. Why? Because God said from the very beginning, when He slew those animals and blood was shed so that He could clothe Adam and Eve after they'd sinned and they were naked before God, He was teaching that the only approach to Him was by blood. And when Cain and Abel came along, He accepted Abel's sacrifice. He rejected Cain’s. Cain brought a vegetable offering. Abel brought a blood sacrifice and God accepted Abel's and rejected Cain's and Cain became very angry and very jealous and he slew his brother because blood was the way we approach God.
Now, what does blood mean? Why did God choose something as ugly and as revolting as blood? Blood means life. When the blood goes, the life goes. Christ offered His life upon the cross by the shedding of his blood. And the Bible teaches that it is the blood of propitiation. That's the mercy seat. It's the meeting place between God and man. It's the covering of our sins. It is at the cross of Christ that we're received as liberated children of God into God's everlasting kingdom. You can only come by the way of the cross, where the blood was shed. It's the blood of propitiation or covering. It is also the blood of redemption. Revelation 5:9, "And they sang a new song saying, 'Thou art worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof; for Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by the blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation.'"
Think in that day when we stand before God. And then thirdly, it's the blood of remission or forgiveness. The ninth chapter of Hebrews, "And almost all things are by the law purged with blood and without the shedding of blood, there's no forgiveness". You can't be forgiven of your sins without the shedding of blood. And then it's the blood of reconciliation, Ephesians 2:13, "But now in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes we're far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ". It reconciles us to God. You see the scripture says God is at enmity with us. That means God is at war with us. We can be reconciled. We can meet around the peace table. And the blood brings us together. It's the same between me and my neighbor or between me and a family member. Maybe there's been trouble between us, but faith in Jesus Christ can bring us together because faith in Christ is reconciling. He's the Prince of peace.
And then it is also the blood of justification. Romans 5:9, "Justified by his blood we are saved from wrath through Him". Think of it, saved from wrath. Now God is a God of wrath and His wrath is going to be poured out upon this world and upon you, if you're outside of Christ, but the blood can stop the wrath of God. The blood that He shed on that cross brings justification and justification means just as if you had never sinned. Can you imagine such a thing? Just as though you'd never sinned. As white as a lily in your heart before God. Never committing a sin. Suppose I'd been perfect from the day I was born till the day I died. That's exactly what it means. Justification, just as though I had never sinned. And then it's the blood of peace.
Colossians 1:20, "We have peace through the blood of His cross". Wouldn't it be wonderful if the world would come and bow at the foot of the cross now, and we could have peace in our world? And it's also by the blood that we come boldly to God. "Having therefore brethren boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Christ". You see the high priest could only come to God once a year. We can come at any moment of the day as believers boldly into the presence of God, because of the blood that was shed on that cross. It's also the blood of cleansing.
"If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, continues to cleanse us". Yes, I commit sin. Some sins I know about, some I don't know about. The things of this world rub off on me and I need continually daily cleansing. And I'm promised that the blood is available every day to cleanse me from sins of commission or omission. Do you know Christ? Have you accepted him? And then thirdly, the cross of Christ is an offense because it demands a new lifestyle under the Lordship of Christ. Yes, when you come to Christ, there's got to be a change in the way you live.
Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me". That means deny my own selfish ambitions and desires and lust and greed and take up the cross. What does that mean? That means that you're willing to go and die with Christ. He's going to the cross. It means that you're willing to go back to your classroom. You're willing to go back to your neighborhood, back to your business, back to your place of work and tell your friends that you are following Christ. You take your stand with Christ, even though it may be unpopular, even though they may laugh and sneer and make fun of you, you stand up for Christ and you are never ashamed of him. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, it is the power of God unto salvation". You're never ashamed of Him.
You know, many chafe at the restraint of a life like Christ. We refuse to give up what we know His cross condemns. It is evident that many want the Christ of the cross who will not accept the cross of the Christ. We want the blessing of Christianity without sharing the toils and sacrifices that are involved and crucifixion can be painful. It is neither popular, nor pleasant for the old self to die, but that is the road to the Christ life and the Spirit directed life. No more I, but Christ liveth in me.
And then lastly, the cross is sometimes an offence because it is the only way of salvation and it offers no alternative. It demands from every man and every woman. Your first duty is to get right with God. I can preach to you ritualism, works, ordinances and the offense of the cross will cease. The offense of the cross arises chiefly from the fact that the cross condemns every other way of salvation. There's no other road, no other place that you can find forgiveness of your sin, permanent peace, and find that certain something that you've been looking for for a long time to put your life together. But you don't have total assurance of your relationship with Christ. You cannot say I'm sure, I'm certain, I know, but you'd like to be able to say that. you want to get rid of those doubts.
I'm going to ask you to come tonight and make sure by receiving Christ in a new way, or recommitment of your life to Christ, I'm going to ask you to do what we've seen many hundreds of people do this week if you've already heard. I'm going to ask you to get up out of your seat and come and stand in front of this platform. And after you've come, I'm going to say a word to you and have a prayer with you and say yes to Christ. We're going to wait on you right now. Don't you let another minute go by before you make this commitment and decision for Him and make sure before you go home. Just get up and come. As all of us are in an attitude of prayer, praying for those whom God is speaking to tonight. Quickly, you come.
You that are watching by television can see that scores of people are coming here in Oklahoma City to make their commitment to Christ, to find the peace and assurance and the joy that Christ promises and the certainty of eternal life. You can make that commitment where you are. Pick up the phone and call the number on your screen. If it's busy, keep calling. There'll be people there all evening. May God help you to make that commitment tonight and be sure and go to church next Sunday.