Enemies of the Cross and How to Respond to Them

In the Minneapolis Star Tribune on December 12, 2005, Paul Garwood reported the following:

CAIRO – In a tape that surfaced Sunday, Osama bin Laden’s deputy urged all Muslims to take up arms, saying a refusal to join the fight against “the Cross and Zionism” was a “malignant illness” that would lead to the defeat of militant Islam. Egyptian-born Ayman Al-Zawahri said the global Islamic community had “no hope for victory” until all Muslims signed on to the Al-Qaida-led jihad.

The most important word theologically, politically, and personally in that paragraph is the word “Cross.” In this context it is a word to be wept over. The apostle Paul said in his day, “Many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). Tears are not the only proper response to militant Islam, but tears are right when a group of people declare themselves enemies of the cross.

The tears are not for fear that we will be hurt. They are for sadness that Christ’s sacrifice and God’s love are so dishonored, and that so many enemies of the cross will perish. The Bible says, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). It is a huge sadness when God shows his love for people and in return they despise it. That is what God did on the cross: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us [on the cross]” (Romans 5:8). To hate the cross is to hate the demonstration of the love of God, because the cross is the greatest display of God’s love that ever was or ever will be.

The cross was the climax of Christ’s obedience. It is as though all his obedience was summed up in those final hours of final testing. No obedience compared to the obedience of staying on the cross in fulfillment of his Father’s will. The apostle Paul said, “[Christ] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). It was the Father’s will that Christ die for sinners. Christ obeyed. That’s why Paul calls the cross, astonishingly, a sweet aroma to God: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).

Most precious to broken-hearted sinners is what the cross achieved in canceling all our shortcomings and opening the way to God. Paul said in Colossians 2:14 that in the death of Christ God was “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” And when all our failures were nailed to the cross, the way was open to God himself. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

The cross is our life and our joy and our only hope of fellowship with God. Therefore it is a great sadness when militant Islam calls all Muslims everywhere to fight the cross. But it is not new. Acts 9:1 said that Paul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” and Jesus said that “the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). It is breathtaking to read the transcripts of Al-Qaida tapes giving thanks to God for the successes of their killing.

My greatest longing in response to this enmity is that Christians walk in the way of the cross. Yes, militant Islam is big and threatening. It may even be the true Quranic Islam. There are alarmists whose whole tone seems to awaken political and even militant responses from Christians. My concern is that as the church we distance ourselves from this kind of response and focus on the truth that we will never spread the Christian faith by the sword. Some Muslims may kill to spread their faith. Some Christians have. But it is not the way of Christ. It is not the way of the cross.

Let us heed what Peter said, “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21). Militant Islam may call the Muslim world to arms against the cross. But the followers of the cross will never take up arms to proclaim or defend Christ. We will die to make him known. But we will not kill to make him known. And even if there be but a remnant of Christ-followers left, the Lamb himself will stand forth at the end and win.

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