The Passion of the Christ:
The Scandal of the Cross of Jesus

(Galatians 5:11)

Paul Moser (

A brief review of the film: The torture: gruesome. The crucifixion: scandalous. The plot: haunting. The message: shocking. The effect: silence. Overall: unforgettable. May we be shaken, again and again, by the scandalous love of Jesus and His Father! May the cross of Jesus shock us out of selfish lethargy as we prodigals return to our waiting Father, in the love we have undeservedly received!

What exactly is the “scandal” of the cross? At heart, it’s the scandal of the One who was crucified. Jesus himself is the scandal, the scandal of his Father’s reconciling love. Jesus stands absolutely alone, among the leaders of the world’s religions, as the self-proclaimed atoning sacrifice from God for all human sin. He announces this unique role at the Last Supper (Mark 14:22-25), and the rest of the New Testament echoes this Good News constantly. This atoning (= reconciling) role sets Jesus apart, decisively, from Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Confucius, Krishna, Gautama the Buddha, Muhammad, the Dalai Lama, and every other religious leader. The crucified Jesus is a scandal to us and to religion as we know it, but the crucified Jesus is the only real Jesus. So, the real Jesus is, as always, the odd man out. He stands outside and knocks, with his cross and wounds of love, awaiting a receptive entry. Will we welcome the real, scandalous Jesus? Will we learn what He seeks to teach us, not with infomation, but through His life and death?

Lesson 1: Love's Motive

(I) The motive for the cross of Jesus is his Father’s holy, righteous love for us humans. In one of the most important passages in the Bible, the apostle Paul writes:

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement [= a propitiation], through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had passed over the sins committed beforehand. 26 He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be righteous and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).

Paul adds in the same vein: “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.... Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath [of God]! .... [W]hen we were enemies [of God], we were reconciled to Him through the death of his Son....” (Romans 5:8-10).

Lesson 1: The living God of love is also a God of righteous wrath (Rom. 1:18). Because He loves us and all other sinners, He has wrath toward sin. He seeks to reconcile us to (relationship with) Himself in a way that exceeds mere forgiveness and satisfies His holy standard of genuine, righteous love. Through the loving self-sacrifice of Jesus, God meets this standard for us, when we could not and would not, and He thereby welcomes us to Himself as our righteous loving Father. This is the heart of the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is God’s scandalous holy love. It should shock us and shake us to our core, again and again.

Lesson 2: Obedience

(II) The heart of the cross for Jesus – his “glory”– is his perfectly loving obedience to his Father on our behalf, and not just his physical suffering. We see this exemplified by Jesus in Gethsemane (John 12:23-28), and the apostle Paul identifies the role of Jesus’s obedience in Philippians 2. He refers to: “Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).

Romans 5:19 likewise points us to Jesus’s obedience: “just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus] the many will be made righteous.” Jesus can be and is our “Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7), our “sacrifice of atonement” (Rom. 3:25) in the eyes of his righteous Father, because he is perfectly obedient, fully righteous, in the eyes of his holy Father. He became “a curse for us” to save us from the law’s curse (Gal. 3:13). His perfectly obedient life toward God is an acceptable sacrifice to God for us.

Lesson 2: Given God’s righteousness and our sin, we desperately need a perfect atoning sacrifice, and only the perfectly obedient Jesus can and does provide it in his sacrificial love for us (John 15:13), at the command of his Father. Jesus alone, then, is the Savior of the world. He alone takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). God’s power of sacrificial love is made perfect in Jesus’s weakness on the cross (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9).

Lesson 3: Dying to Live in Love

(III) As sinners in need of new life, we must receive the undeserved gift of (a) God’s sacrifice for us in Jesus and thereby (b) God’s Holy Spirit sent by Jesus (Galatians 3:1-2). We receive this gift by faith, or trust, in God, which includes obedience to the Good News of Jesus (see Rom. 10:16-17; 2 Thess. 1:8; Heb. 5:9; Matt. 7:21). In saving faith, we are “crucified with Jesus” in our loving obedience to His Father. The theme of our cross-bearing with Jesus pervades the New Testament.

Mark 8: 34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." [See also Matthew 10:37-39; Luke 14:25-27.]

Galatians 2: 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" .... 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.... 6:14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Romans 6: 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.... 9The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.... 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Lesson 3: We receive the gift of life in the saving cross of Jesus and his Holy Spirit only as we live out the cross of self-sacrificial love toward God on behalf of others. Faith in God includes dying with Jesus as we respond to his Father’s love with obedient love as exemplified by Jesus in Gethsemane: Not what I will, Father, but what You will! As Jesus says, “a servant is not greater than his lord” (Jn. 13:16). The shocking love of his cross is exactly what we need, as an atoning gift and as a way of life. Praise Jesus, then, for the undeserved gift of everlasting Life in him!