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.