“The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All”
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.'”
“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:1-5)
Paul’s words proclaim the paradox of the cross; “foolishness to those who are perishing,” but for those being saved, “it is the power of God” . Human wisdom has never been able to understand what God is doing in the world. In the logic of human wisdom the cross seems embarrassing and tragic. The cross represents the ultimate in human weakness; it expresses failure, oppression, utter defeat. In a world where the cross was seen as the most horrid and barbaric form of punishment imaginable, the gospel about a crucified Savior seemed to be utter madness. Both Jews and Greeks considered the cross absurd.
Yet, in the crucifixion of his Son, God has surpassed human wisdom and acted powerfully to save us from sin and death. Indeed, through the cross God has turned human wisdom on its head. The meaning of the cross has been transformed by the person who is stretched out upon it and by the God who “destroys the wisdom of the wise.” Now the cross expresses a life given for others, service instead of exploitation, hope in the midst of suffering, and ultimate victory over the greatest evils, the powers of sin and death.
The Jews believed that if God were to visit this world with salvation, it would be in power. They were looking for a Messiah who would perform great works of liberation for them. This fed their appetite for the sensational and miraculous. They insisted upon “signs”. There were many false messiahs during Paul’s lifetime, all of them promising to perform great wonders. Jesus had consistently been asked during his life to produce a sign. But the primary sign that Jesus produced was the sign of the cross. For the Jews, the cross of Jesus was a “stumbling block”. It spoke of weakness, not power; of defeat, not victory; of humiliation, not conquest. A crucified Messiah sounded like a contradiction in terms. It was inconceivable that the Messiah could suffer such a disgraceful and humiliating death.
The Gentile Greeks, on the other hand, sought to know God through reasoned argument. They could not conceive of a man having wisdom yet not having sufficient wit to save himself from so ghastly a death. That God would manifest himself in human flesh and claim to save the world in such a savage and naive way was silliness. They followed those who used silver tongued speech and persuasive rhetoric. Looking for logic and reason, they found the message of the cross to be utter foolishness.
It seemed that the Christian message had little chance of success among the Jews or the Greeks. Yet, Paul proclaimed that the cross is the power and wisdom of God. In the cross God was outsmarting the world and replacing its prideful arrogance and illusions. In surrendering himself to weakness and folly, God establishes his true wisdom and demonstrates his mighty authority. Here was truth that could not be argued with reason or imposed with power. It had to be revealed, as the apostles proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, and as the Spirit gave insight that enabled people to understand the saving message of the cross.
Why would God choose to manifest himself in weakness, defeat, and humiliation?
Crucified and glorious Lord, help me to embrace the mystery of your cross as the center of my life. Though it seems foolish in the eyes of the world, I proclaim you as my crucified Savior and I rejoice in the power you display in weakness.