The Offense of the Cross
Albert Schweitzer was born in Germany in 1875. By the age of 21 he had become a brilliant organist, an international authority on organs and organ construction, and an expert on the life of Johann Sebastian Bach. Schweitzer’s future looked settled, secure and comfortable. But at age 30 he decided to go back to school to study medicine and devote the rest of his life to serving humanity.
Schweitzer supported himself in medical school by giving organ concerts all over Europe. In 1913, at the age of 38, he finished medical school and went to French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon). He served as a doctor to the impoverished people of that area, and his first examination room was an old abandoned chicken coop.
Over the years Schweitzer built a large hospital complex where he treated thousands of Africans a year, free of charge. Whenever he began to run out of money, he returned to Europe and performed organ recitals until he had raised the funds he needed. In 1952, Schweitzer won the Nobel Peace Prize and—true to form—he used the entire $33,000 he received to expand his hospital and to establish a treatment center for people who suffered from leprosy.
Albert Schweitzer stands out in modern history as a prime example of a real mensch—a helper of the helpless, a strengthener of the weak, a friend of the needy, a loving healer. By human standards he certainly would seem to have earned God’s approval and with it an eternal reward. Yet we might ask, Is Albert Schweitzer in heaven today?”
Most evangelicals would answer by asking another question: “What did Schweitzer think of Jesus Christ?” Schweitzer wrote a book titled Quest for the Historical Jesus. In his book he concluded that Jesus may never have existed, and that if Jesus ever did exist, He was certainly not the person the gospel records describe Him to be.
In light of this, we would be forced to conclude that, unless Albert Schweitzer changed his position about the Savior later in life, he is not in heaven today. That is our only option because of Jesus’ own words: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
If you seriously proclaim this position that, apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, both Jews and Gentiles are eternally lost and separated from God, many will take offense. But then Jesus’ words in Luke 6:22-23 are for you.
Jesus began with, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake.” World history tells us that persecution is nothing new. Even today we see it in Bosnia, India and many other places. Did Jesus ever promise a special blessing to every persecuted person in the world? No! He promised a special blessing to those who were persecuted for the right reason—”for the Son of Man’s sake.”
If you are suffering, you might ask, “How can I tell if I’m suffering because of Jesus or because of something in or about myself?” If the only way you can bring the persecution to an end is to deny or compromise the clear truth of the Bible, you are suffering because of Jesus. When you refuse to compromise God’s truths and are forced to pay a price for your stand, you should rejoice, because great is your reward in heaven (v. 23).
There is a big difference, however, between being personally offensive and generating the offense of the cross. It’s clear from the Bible that God wants us Christians to be non-offensive on the interpersonal level (read Colossians 4:6 and 1 Peter 3:15b). Yet no matter how kind and gracious we may be on the interpersonal level, if our message is the message of the cross, it will offend some.
The reason is that the message of the cross rankles an unbeliever. The message of the cross declares that we humans are totally helpless to deal with sin by our own effort; that no matter how nice, educated, powerful or philanthropic we are, we are all eternally lost apart from a personal reliance on the blood of Christ as payment for our sin. Telling people that they cannot solve their sin problem for themselves offends their pride. This is exactly the problem that God’s Old Testament prophets ran into (Luke 6: 23). Comprehending the “offense of the cross,” we can understand why people persecute us when we try to tell them the truth of the gospel. Yet the offense of the cross is non-negotiable. There is no way for us to escape it if we are to remain faithful to God’s Word.
Nowhere are Christians forced to live out those verses from Luke 6 more than in the area of Jewish evangelism. As 1 Corinthians 1:23 declares, “…we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block.…”
In this sense, Jews for Jesus is—and must always be—an offensive organization. We understand that if we ever deny the offense of the cross—no matter how much other good we may do—God will move the power of the Spirit to some other location where the message of the cross is not compromised. God has not called us to be masochists. God has called us to be true to His Word. And where we are, we won’t have to go looking for persecution. It will find us, and a lot of it usually does! But that’s OK. We take comfort in Jesus’ promise. Great will be our reward in heaven if we will just stand firm for God’s truth here on earth.
We deeply appreciate the support in prayer that so many of our fellow Christians show us. In the meantime, our attitude is well summed up by this motto: “Work for the Lord—the pay may not be great, but the retirement benefits are out of this world!” May God give each of us that kind of eternal perspective on the issues of this life.
Lon Solomon is pastor of McLean Bible Church in McLean, Virginia and a member of the U.S. Board of Directors of Jews for Jesus.