The Scripture is clear that Jesus was crucified according to the plan of God. While humans thought it was their own idea, Acts 4:27-28 makes it clear that it was something God had planned long before. But why? Why did God the Son become incarnate so that he could be crucified? The foolishness of the cross is often overlooked in this discussion.
Theories of the Atonement
The sacrifice of atonement is described in Leviticus 16. This was an annual sacrifice that dealt with the sin of the community and made relationship with God possible. This sacrifice can be seen to be looking forward to what Jesus’ death on the cross did for us; dealing with our sin, and making a restored relationship with God possible.
But how did it accomplish this restoration? There have been a number of theories advanced over the 2000 years of church history concerning the atonement that Jesus made for us. Christus Victor sees the cross as Christ’s victory over Satan and the freeing of his prisoners. The Satisfaction theory of the Atonement sees Christ’s death as satisfying God’s offended honor and dignity. And the Penal Substitution theory sees Christ as being our substitute, paying the penalty for our sin.
A problem I have with all of these theories is the thought that God was forced to offer a perfect sacrifice to redeem me. He had to do it to defeat Satan, or to satisfy his honor, or to punish our sins. Or some combination of the three.
But God is not forced to do anything. He did not have to create us, especially knowing we would rebell and require such a sacrifice on his part. He is not forced to offer that sacrifice. That he choose to act in a certain way does not mean that it was required of him.
The Foolishness of the Cross
So why did he choose Jesus’ crucifixion? The theories mentioned above all have Scriptural backing, especially the Penal Substitution theory. I don’t mean to discount any of them. But I suspect there is another reason for the cross.
And that was that it was foolish. Or foolish at least according to human thought.
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.1 Corinthians 1:21-25 NIV
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.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
This passage tells us that God has intentionally chosen something that the world considers foolish; the foolishness of the cross. In order to save those who believe. But it tells us something else as well.
God chose a means for our salvation that would be foolish to us in our own wisdom. God is not looking for smart people, or perfect people, or beautiful people. He is looking for people of faith, people who will respond to him without the need of seeing or touching him. And how better to do that than with a shameful crucifixion.
Yes, Jesus died as a ransom for us, paying the penalty for our sins that we ourselves could not pay. But there was more to it than just that. The cross becomes a test. Will you believe it? Or do you find the foolishness of the cross to be offensive?
A Model of Discipleship
While it may not be a reason for the cross, Jesus’ crucifixion also serves as a model for discipleship. His death and resurrection paint a picture of the life of discipleship; dying to self and rising into a new life in the kingdom. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Paul calls on us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This picture, that we also see painted in baptism, is the model we are all called to follow.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV
If I am in Christ, then I have participated in his crucifixion and the old man is gone. I have also experienced his resurrection and have become a new creation.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galations 2:20 NIV
Paul here expresses the idea of dying to self by participating in Christ’s crucifixion and then living a new life of faith in Christ.
A Personal Example
And, finally, what Jesus did sets a personal example for me when I face challenging times as a disciple of Jesus. When I get discouraged I can look to what he went through and how he managed it. And then take comfort in knowing that he can, and will, help me through my challenges.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”Hebrews 12:1b-3 NIV
Why the crucifixion? Scripture tells us that Jesus dies as a ransom for our sin. And that in his death he make propitiation for our sin. But Paul also tells us that the message of the cross, while foolish to the world, is the power of God to bring salvation to those who believe. The foolishness of the cross, a crucified messiah, is God’s choice to bring salvation to a lost world.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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