The Message of the Cross – 1 Corinthians 1:18-24

In writing to the Corinthian church Paul seems, at least in part, to be dealing with people who are putting too much stock in wisdom, and in doing so seem to be leaving behind some of the foundational truths of the faith.  In countering this, Paul focus’ on the cross and a crucified Lord.  For those of us in a more recent era, the cross is little more than a religious symbol and I suspect many of us give it little thought.  But in Paul’s day it was something entirely different.

Then, the cross was an instrument of execution reserved for the worst criminals.  It was shameful, horrible and cruel; not an object of veneration and worship.  To the first century Roman world, the cross was similar to the hangman’s noose of our recent past.  Not generally something you are going to have hanging around your neck or out in front of your religious ceremonies.  It is no wonder that the church at Corinth seems to be trying to make the message of Christ more palatable by minimizing the place of the cross.  I can see it being a challenge to entice people to worship a convicted and executed criminal.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV

What is the message of the cross?  Paul does not explicitly say here but I would include the following:

  • Jesus was God who took on human form and lived among us.
  • He died a criminal’s death on the cross, sacrificing himself on our behalf.
  • He returned to life, conquering death.
  • He is now at the right hand of the Father in heaven, making intercession for us.
  • All who have faith in Him and his sacrifice will share life with him through the remainder of eternity.

Paul acknowledges that the whole idea of a crucified messiah, a divine messiah at that, is foolish to the world in general  To those who are lost and perishing; it is an offensive idea.  But he also affirms its centrality at the heart of Christianity.  We are saved by the cross, or at least our faith in the one who died on it.

But why does God use the cross as an instrument of our salvation?  Could he not have found a way to offer salvation that did not include the scandal of a convicted and executed criminal?  It is not uncommon to hear believers today express the necessity of Jesus sacrificial death; that it was the only way we could experience forgiveness of our sins.  Without that perfect sacrifice, God would be unable to forgive us and welcome us into fellowship with himself.

But I think that presents a too small view of God, to limit him like that.  God is sovereign and can pretty much do whatever he pleases.  Rather than God being required to have a perfect sacrifice to forgive us, I believe that he choose to do that.  But why this way rather than one that was easier for people to accept?

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,  but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:21-24 NIV

From this passage, it appears that God intentionally choose a way to offer salvation to mankind that would be offensive to us; either a stumbling block to the religious, or foolishness to the intelligent.  But why?  Why not reveal himself in power and might and attract the masses in a dramatic demonstration?  I believe the answer lies at the end of the first sentence in the passage above.  He is looking for those who will believe, who will have faith.  He is not interested in those attracted to miracles or rational discourse.  He wants those who will demonstrate faith, trusting in the unseen.  And what better way to do that, than the cross with its crucified Messiah.

While the world may view the message of the cross as foolish and nonsensical, it is a demonstration of the wisdom and power of God.  Don’t be ashamed of the cross, rather rejoice in it and proclaim it to the world around you.

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5 years ago

The “message of the cross” is the ultimate and unique truth about who Jesus was and is. I agree with your assumptions of what Paul did not explicitly say, but could very well have implied or shared, but not recorded. Who Jesus is in relation to the Father and who Jesus is in relation to mankind, as revealed to us in scripture… maybe even summed up in John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Here the message of the cross is that the only way to a restored relationship with God is through his son.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul was also dealing with a people who were more focused on knowledge than on wisdom. As you noted, the “message of the cross” would appear as foolishness to the big thinkers or even the over thinkers who might pervert the message. That is why Paul went on to quote from Isaiah 29:14 “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

But to those God called he gave the capability to push through the irrational and accept by faith the preaching of Paul. However, even those believers Paul had to rebuke to dissuade them from being lead astray by others who were perverting the “message of the cross”. I think this helps to understand why or how Paul was motivated, in part, to share with the church was we see in 1 Corinthians.

Regarding 1 Corinthians 1:21-24…
The verse points out that the Jews were looking for a sign. Something akin (albeit on a much smaller scale) to us being in the bedroom and saying to God… “if you would only move this lamp, then I will believe.” How silly. And how dare we demand anything from God. And history shows that the many signs and wonders that God gave the Jews in the past were quickly forgotten. Maybe the Jews could understand it from the perspective of sin requiring a sacrifice or atonement be made. Jesus was that if you were looking for a conquerer who operated on a spiritual level, verses establishing a kingdom on earth per their expectations or previous beliefs. It’s not about what we believe, unless what we believe is what God’s truth is.

The verse also points out that the Greeks are looking for wisdom (knowledge). But again, on their terms as they define it rather than from God’s perspective and how he chose to deliver it. And with that, through the power of the Holy Spirit to change the hearts and minds of those that would believe by faith.

And as you said… it is God’s call to the Jews and to the Greeks (gentiles) by His choice that even presents them the opportunity to become believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Do I fully understand that? No. Does my opinion matter? No. Do I get to make the rules up even if I’m the smartest man in the room? No! For He is God and I am not. I trust that my full understanding and appreciation of God will not happen until I am with Him in heaven. And I’m ok with that because of faith and trust.

However, God does want us to participate in His spreading of the Gospel to prepare the hearts and minds of those who can and will be called. That is our privilege and assignment as believers.

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