The phrase ‘the offence of the cross’ is often invoked to motivate squirmish ministers or theological students not to stop preaching judgement — ‘Don’t remove the offence of the cross!’ The problem is that when Paul actually mentions it (in 1 Corinthians), what causes Jews to stumble and strikes Gentiles as foolish is not the coming judgement — Jews were looking forward to that after all — but the grace made available in the (shocking) news of the crucified Messiah.
Which is it then — judgement or grace?
I want to suggest that … it’s both! Of course, this is the classic preacher’s solution — have my cake and eat it too. But there’s a powerful way to draw together the threads. Taking my cue from Barth’s Church Dogmatics IV/1 (Section 59), I want to highlight the gospel revelation of Jesus as Judge (who is then judged in our place). The Gospels typically present Jesus not as deliberately and directly exercising a forensic, judicial role — handing down sentences, etc — but as simply being the Light and thus exposing our darkness. The way John formulates it is compelling (John 3.17-18):
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.
God’s grace in Jesus exposes our gracelessness (and thus condemns us). And in showing us we cannot contribute in any way to our salvation, it cuts the ground out from under any pride and self-sufficiency. Such is the offence of the cross.
What’s more, it actually calls for a thorough rework of our view of the coming judgement.
What would it look like, I wonder, to insist that it’s God’s grace (ironically? tragically?) that exposes and condemns our sin not just now but ultimately?