Christianity: A stone of stumbling?

After all our discussion about Christianity being a remover of stones, we must also explain that the gospel itself is a stone of stumbling. How could Christianity be both a remover of stones and a stone of stumbling? To understand the dual nature of the gospel we need to turn back to the Bible to see how it explains this matter. The apostle Peter writes (emphasis added),

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word... (1 Peter 2:6-8 ESV).

In these few sentences Peter references two Old Testament passages (Isaiah 8:14-15 and Isaiah 28:16) that refer to a coming person. The passages describe two different reactions people will have toward him.

First, the stone (that is, Christ) will be viewed as “a chosen cornerstone and precious”. The meaning here is not difficult. For those who believe in Christ, he becomes to them as the most precious and valuable of all things—he becomes to them life itself. Paul elaborates on this and says this reaction came about “...through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10 KJV). Furthermore, believers find in Christ the very wisdom of God and the Savior of the world (1 Corinthians 1:24). Christ becomes then the cornerstone—that is, the rock that all of life’s structure is built upon and around. The web site explains the meaning of cornerstone and writes, “In relation to architecture, a cornerstone is traditionally the first stone laid for a structure, with all other stones laid in reference. A cornerstone marks the geographical location by orienting a building in a specific direction.” There is probably no better metaphor or illustration that could be devised to illustrate Christ as the bedrock influence and foundation in believer’s lives.

The second view people have of Christ is that of “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”. Jesus becomes a stumbling block when the person of Christ is distasteful to an individual’s thinking and the gospel appears to be foolishness. In fact, Peter indicates correctly that Christ is to some people an offense—just as described through the Old Testament passages. This offensive perspective leads people to disobey the word—that is, to disobey the gospel. The result is that of a person stumbling over Christ—a metaphorical tripping over “a stone of stumbling”.

In reality, this two-view perspective of Christ as a cornerstone and Christ as a stone of offense precisely describes the two criminals that were crucified alongside of Christ as we discussed earlier (Luke 23:39-43). One man viewed Christ as the Savior, the other viewed Christ as simply another man hanging on a cross who made claims the criminal found ludicrous, if not repulsive. In fact, the criminal found such disdain in Christ that, as he was being crucified, he intentionally insulted Christ and “railed” on him, as translated in a number of translations. Today, there is no shortage of people who verbally insult or rail on Christ. Why would this be? Because they find in Christ an offense which leads them to disobey the gospel.

Mathew Henry, the renowned biblical commentator explains the situation, and writes,

Men in general disallow and reject Jesus Christ; they slight him, dislike him, oppose and refuse him, as scripture and experience declare (Isaiah 53:3). However Christ may be disallowed by an ungrateful world, yet he is chosen of God, and precious in his account. He is chosen and fixed upon to be the Lord of the universe, the head of the church, the Savior of his people, and the Judge of the world. He is precious in the excellency of his nature, the dignity of his office, and the gloriousness of his services. Those who expect mercy from this gracious Redeemer must come to him, which is our act, though done by God's grace—an act of the soul, not of the body—a real endeavor, not a fruitless wish (Mathew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible Italics added).

But exactly why do people come to view Christ as an offense? Peter simply states people “stumble because they disobey the word”—simple enough and fully accurate. Nevertheless, allow me to elaborate briefly and suggest a list of eight primary reasons why people are offended by Jesus Christ as described in the Scriptures (emphasis added throughout).

1. People love sin
The most forthright reason people find offense in Christ is because people are sinners. To be more direct, people love sin—we all do. Our love for sin causes us to disdain anyone who speaks against or points out our sin. In fact, God recognizes sin as man’s greatest predicament and calls it what it is—sin. The Bible textually explains the detrimental effects of sin and clearly states both the short term and eternal consequences of our sin. Christ came into the world and sacrificed his life and died for the seriousness of sin. Why do people find offense in Christ? Because of Christ’s aversion and hatred for sin. The Bible makes the unambiguous claim that Christ will one day judge the world because of sin—for many such an idea is offensive (emphasis added).

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (John 3:19-20 ESV).

When a person chooses darkness over light, Christ becomes to them a stumblingblock.

2. People disdain accountability
A lack of personal accountability is identified as a leading cause for misconduct in society today. In an article in Forbes Magazine, Kathy Caprino tersely states the issue when writing, “...if we look around us today, we see signs that true accountability seems to be a dying trait. In both young and older professionals alike, accountability is clearly waning”. The matter may be growing increasingly more prevalent in the public square, but privately, in regards to sin, human beings have always attempted to avoid accountability.

In fact, our desire to avoid accountability for our sins prevents people from coming to God the same way that a child avoids a parent when he has been naughty. The account of Adam and Eve’s actions after sinning is a perpetual indicator and display of human conduct. And we, like they, hide from accountability and find disdain and offense for accountability. Nevertheless, in the end, regardless of our feelings towards final accountability, we will all give an account as the New Testament states: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV).

But until that day, people will continue to find offense in Christ who claims to be the presiding judge on the great day of accountability and judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). Such words are offensive to some.

3. People sometimes prefer human wisdom and philosophy
I have mentioned numerous times that everyone must choose a source of authority to base personal beliefs and a lens to view and interpret the world. Technically speaking, at the highest level, a person has only two real choices—the biblical scriptures or human wisdom. Even the various religions must be considered as human wisdom seeing they are produced as a result of human ingenuity. Consider the Bible’s explanation of human thought contrasted with God’s thoughts.

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25 ESV).

If an individual chooses human wisdom and philosophy over the gospel, the message of Christ becomes foolishness to the hearer. Consider Paul’s description of the situation when he says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV).

Unfortunately, people more often choose human wisdom making the gospel an offense and stumblingblock.

4. People are often unwilling to repent
Repentance simply means to turn from the direction headed to take a new course. Repentance is simply the recognition of living in a manner and direction that is opposed to the will and desires of God as expressed in the Bible. Sometimes Christians make the slightly inaccurate statement that salvation is free, but that is not altogether a clear statement. While forgiveness of sins and receiving the gift of eternal life is a free gift, there are nonetheless requirements. Those requirements are the acknowledgment of our sins, believing in Christ’s substitutionary death and subsequent resurrection, and personal repentance. No one can be reconciled to God and not repent of his or her sins. Christ simply stated it in this manner: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3 ESV).

When an individual is unwilling to repent, Jesus Christ becomes a stumblingblock.

5. People hear the gospel but do not believe what they hear
The gospel is a stumbling block to people who hear the gospel message without faith.

In fact, what God intends for all to hear for everyone’s good can become the opposite—an offense. Why is this the case? Why would hearing the gospel result in an offense? Simply stated, when the gospel is heard by anyone where faith does not accompany the hearing, the gospel has no effect. The author of Hebrews instructs us on this matter, and writes, “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it” (Hebrews 4:2 ESV Italics added).

Here we have the delineation of a believer and an unbeliever of the gospel—faith. Both hear the same words and the same message. Yet, when faith is not present in the heart that hears the gospel, the gospel becomes ineffective and sometimes an offense.

6. People choose self-merit
As I have already stated, the natural inclination of the human heart is to believe an individual's moral goodness gains him or her acceptance in God’s sight. And that, in the end, the final determination concerning eternal life will be based upon how much good a person accomplished, or better said, how much bad was avoided—that is, in comparison to other people. Blantantly said, this is not the biblical explanation of the matter. Here, in one short sentence is the biblical perspective: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20 ESV).

In the end, when a person believes his moral goodness and avoidance of grosser sins earns him eternal life, his beliefs oppose the words of God and the gospel becomes a stumbling block.

7. People are swayed by competing religions
Surprisingly, competing religions and their incorrect thinking about God misdirect more people than secularist’s views and persuasions. There are far more religious people in the world than atheists and the gospel causes grave offense among the various religions. Why does the gospel cause offense among religions?

The first reason is due to the broad array of religions whose basic beliefs contradict the Bible. All religions espouse their particular views and hold to established doctrines, practices, and ethos that, generally said, make their beliefs a systematic faith among its adherents. Unfortunately, the various religious factions (and they are many) cannot all be correct when they diametrically oppose each other. Christianity maintains there is one God, one mediator, one faith, and one means by which people can come to God. There are no other gods or avenues to God. Paul clarifies this all too important matter by writing,

For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8:5-6 ESV).

Secondly, there is the issue of exclusivity. By exclusivity I am referring to the belief that any belief about God that does not view the him through the lens of the Hebrew Scriptures, both Old and New, is false in its presentation of the truth about God. Moreover, any religion that espouses coming to God except through Jesus Christ misdirects people away from God. Christianity alone (though some aberrant theology and beliefs about Christianity exists and is increasing) provides, exclusively, the information about God so necessary to all people. Consider just two passages that unreservedly make this claim:

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:4-5 ESV).

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV).

In order to combat this disdain for exclusivity, over a number of decades a collective effort to rectify this offense has been ongoing. Syncretism is the concerted effort to meld together all religions into a unified whole. Syncretism does not strip individual faiths of their core doctrines and beliefs, but rather, celebrates the varied views and diverse beliefs among religious groups. Syncretism holds that all religions are equal in their claims and equally share the same access to God. In other words, syncretism teaches that all religious beliefs are equal and lead to the same God. The old adage that “all roads lead to Rome” applies here. Syncretism maintains that the faith tradition a person subscribes to is of little consequence. What is of primary value, according to syncratic views, is that an individual is spiritually minded, an upright and moral person, a good citizen, and that he or she faithfully clings to the tradition he is part of. This has become the predominate view of much of the society in which we live.

For secularists, syncretism is a positive aspect of social culture as it allows religion to be a positive contributor to the societal masses. Of course, in the end, secularists consider all religion to be little more than fanciful thinking and the foolishness of human ingenuity. Secularists consider the god a person chooses to have no concrete impact outside of positive social and moral contribution.

To summarize, syncretism is just one attempt to remove one of the gospel’s offenses—its exclusivity. Nevertheless, the entirety of the Scriptures, the New Testament claims about Christ, and God’s acceptance of persons to come to him for forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life, lay squarely on the basis of the acceptance of the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No other means is available.

8. People avoid the shame of the cross
A final reason people are offended by Christianity and the gospel is due to the shame that is associated with, and, even built into the gospel. Because of this public shame many people are offended and subsequently refuse to obey the gospel.

In fact, God appears to have intentionally made the gospel, more specifically, the cross of Jesus Christ, to be offensive. Consider several passages that give evidence for this perspective (italics added throughout).

“As it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33 ESV). This passage is clearly a declaration by God that the gospel would be a stone of stumbling and an offense to people who refuse to believe. Paul goes on to explain that this offense results in the gospel appearing to be foolishness to those who do not believe and refuse to obey, saying, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:18 KJV).

Yet, remarkably, for those who believe the gospel, the offense is removed—the shame is dissipated. Paul says, “...but unto us which are saved it [the gospel] is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 KJV). Paul continues and makes the point that God intentionally chose preaching to be the means of proclaiming the gospel—and, the preaching would be viewed by some as foolishness, to others who believe, it would be the saving message: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1:21 KJV).

The offense of foolishness becomes a stumbling block because people do not want the shame of foolishness. This offense of foolishness actually separates the two groups—those who believe (accepting the public shame) and those who reject the gospel (because the public shame is offensive). But Paul leads all believers when he writes how the public shame and offense tuns to salvation when a person believes: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith” (Romans 1:16-17 KJV Italics added).

Jesus concludes and summarizes the matter of offense and shame, believing and not believing, and says: “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:23 ESV).

Let’s get continue on to our final remarks on how God removes the stones in our path by quenching our thirst.

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