THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE CROSS
We’ve travelled a while through a series I called “Things Jesus did not say.” As westerners – at least some of us who read this are – our worldview is different from the ancient Hebrew worldview which the Bible represents. When we understand what Jesus said from His perspective, many of the things He said which made no sense to us before, have come to mean something to us now. Then I asked myself, “Where now?”
A short while ago I was browsing on YouTube and came across a beautiful song with simple but powerful words called “The power of the cross”. I got to thinking about the title. What is it about the cross of Jesus that is so powerful? After all, He was just a man who was crucified – or was He? Paul wrote this in his letter to the Corinthian church over two thousand years ago:
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 Cor. 1: 18)
In the Gentile and Jewish world of his day, Paul was up against huge opposition to his message.
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 Cor. 1: 22-24)
Throughout His private life with His disciples, Jesus referred to His approaching death on more than one occasion. He informed them that He was to die at the hands of the Jewish leaders.
From this time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matt. 16: 21)
Apart from His time with His disciples in the upper room when they celebrated the last Passover together, Jesus told them nothing about the reason for His death. He indicated that He was to be the fulfilment of Passover when a lamb was killed for a family, and its blood painted on the doorposts of their houses to protect the family from the angel of death. That He would be killed, yes, but why? No.
He promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to take His place, and that He would be within them. It would be left to Him to lead them into all truth and to teach them everything they needed to know about Him, including the ramifications of His death. God chose the great Jewish rabbi, Paul, a man who had a powerful legal mind and a thorough grasp of the Scriptures, to understand and explain the meaning of the cross for all who came after him.
Paul had studied under Gamaliel, one of the significant rabbis of his day, but one whose yoke led Paul into deep bondage to legalism and produced a fanatical persecutor of those who believed in Jesus. It was only through a personal encounter with the risen Christ that Paul recognised Him as his Messiah and his understanding of the cross was transformed from foolishness to power. He knew the way the Jews thought. He was one of them. He had also dismissed the crucified Jesus as nonsense until his eyes were opened on the Damascus road.
It was the power of the very cross he despised that had changed him from a vicious religious fanatic to a passionate lover of Jesus and preacher of the cross. From that moment on, his stance was:
I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power. (1 Cor. 2: 3-5)
There it is again; what to humans was foolishness was really God’s power.
The Jews rejected Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God because they demanded signs, yet they dismissed as foolishness the greatest of all signs – God’s love demonstrated by His presence among them and His sacrifice for them. They were too blind to see in Jesus the fulfilment of all the prophetic signs in the very Scriptures they claimed to know and hold to.
How ironical that they had Him killed because they refused to believe that He was their Messiah, and yet His death, the very death they had engineered, was the greatest of all the signs that He was who He said He was, and that He had to die and rise again according to their Scriptures.
The Greeks dismissed the cross of Jesus as foolishness because it did not fit with their human “wisdom”. They had no understanding of sin because sin was not an issue in their religious beliefs. In fact, the very way they worshipped their idol gods was through the celebration of every fleshly lust. That God was holy and demanded payment for sin did not suit their lifestyle of indulgence. They wanted something to tickle their minds, not change their lives.
In our world nothing has changed. People still follow false religions and reject Jesus because he is too “nice” and His gift of forgiveness and salvation too easy. People either want to indulge their fleshly appetites without conscience or restriction or they slavishly follow the demands of their legalistic gods because it satisfies their need to “save” themselves.
The real foolishness lies, not in believing in Jesus, but in rejecting Him. If He said He would be crucified and raised again on the third day, and it happened, why would we not believe everything else He said? Why would we throw away the opportunity to get rid of our guilt, our fear and all our hangups and insecurities and live lives of peace and purpose because we don’t want to trust the most trustworthy person who ever walked this earth?
To me, that is sheer foolishness!
My second book, Learning to be a Disciple – The Way of the Master (Copyright © 2015, Partridge Publishing), companion volume to Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart, has been released in paperback and digital format on www.amazon.com.
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