1 Corinthians 1:21-25: The “Foolishness” of the Cross

Foolishness of the Cross (610x352)Paul’s words have an edge to them in today’s epistle reading.  He calls preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified as “a stumbling block” and “foolishness.”  

Yet, if you’ve been a Christian a while, the cross of Christ just seems logical.  For, over time, it’s easy to become comfortable with the whole saga of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, His torture and execution, by which He earned our salvation.

We also have a saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  And so, after a while, if we let it, the message of the cross can become just another soothing mantra, empty of meaning.  But, today, the Apostle sharply focuses on the cross, so we may unflinchingly ponder the astonishing depth of what it means that Jesus became the victim, so we might win the victory.

Scripture is clear that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).  After all, the world has a wisdom of its own–a “wisdom” that flies in the face of God’s wisdom.  And doesn’t life in our world confirm that?

All the time, we hear skeptics say that the Bible doesn’t make any sense.  They can’t figure out how God created the world in six days or why bad things happen to good people.  The world expects God to behave in a way that makes sense to us.

In other words, we put God into a box of our own making.  But God is bigger than human understanding.  His judgments are unsearchable and His ways are too deep to fathom.  No one can know the mind of the Lord or serve as His counselor (Romans 11:33-34), for He is the almighty Creator of heaven and earth.  Yet, misguided people still insist on measuring God by some human way of measurement.

That doesn’t work.  God is a lot bigger than that.  People keep insisting that they want things their way, but their way is not God’s way.  There’s a reason for that.  Their way leads to death while God’s way leads to life.

Just ask Eve and her husband, Adam.  In the garden, Satan claimed it would be better to know both good and evil instead of being stuck with only the good.  Eve bought that lie.  She thought the forbidden fruit looked tasty, and besides it was desirable to make one wise.  So, she and Adam went for the wisdom that made more sense to them instead of sticking with the wisdom of God, who had warned them that they would die when they ate of that fruit.  But Adam and Eve ate anyway.

And die they did: Adam and Eve and all their children after them.  All of mankind since the fall of Adam has been in a living state of death.  That’s what human wisdom will get you–a plot in a graveyard.

But God’s wisdom is different.  His route leads, not to death, but to life–life eternal.

But you wouldn’t know that, at least, at first.  For in His wisdom, God was willing to make Himself foolish so He could rescue a world hell-bent on destruction.

And so Jesus went on a fool’s errand.  God the Father set a plan in motion, which would lead His Son to empty Himself of His divine glory and majesty.  Jesus would lower Himself all the way to become a tiny embryo within the womb of His virgin mother.  His mother would have to cradle, cuddle, and coddle Him, just like any other newborn.  Jesus would need to eat and be diapered, just like any other human infant.

Foolishness–that is what it is: a crazy idea by any human standard.  But that wasn’t all.  Having set His divine power aside, the Lord of all life lowered Himself still further–all the way to death, even death on a cross.

But that wasn’t just an agonizing death; it was a shameful death.  For when you were nailed to a cross, you were the scum of the earth.  What an incalculable distance to leave behind heaven’s majesty and glory to become the scum of the earth.  But even more, Jesus took our sin into Himself.  That was Jesus’ greatest suffering.  That’s how far our Lord God went to rescue us in that reckless, foolish love of His.

Preaching the cross never went well among those who didn’t have the Spirit of God.  The Greeks called it stupidity.  The Jews considered it humiliating.  What a weak God He must be to allow others to manhandle and defile Him in that way!  They just couldn’t stomach it, this foolishness and weakness of God.  But “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

And, today, many still don’t get the cross.  It doesn’t have curb appeal.  That Lamb of God who died on the cross doesn’t sell well among today’s success seekers.  They’d rather sing about God being so awesome.  After all, won’t He give you a happy, fulfilling life if you just turn things over to Him?

The idea of a crucified God doesn’t fit well into our “can-do” world.  That’s why so many pastors and congregations have been backpedaling on the central message of Christ crucified.  Jesus as a hero or an example is a lot more attractive to practically minded folks.  We want to know what we can do to improve our own lot.  And the cross doesn’t make much sense to the Pharisee inside each of us.

And so that’s why we can learn so much from the blessed Apostle.  “For the Jews ask for miraculous signs and the Greeks seek wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:22).  Because the world does not seek the cross, we need to be intentional about preaching a crucified Christ, especially when you are dealing with those who are looking for everything but that!  Why?  Because through such a foolish and offensive message of Christ crucified, God calls sinners out of death and into life.

The crucified Lamb of God may not be trendy.   But that matters not, for “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”  In the weakness of His incarnation, the Son of God shouldered our humanity to ransom us from the tyranny of sin and death.  In the foolishness of His lowly, degrading death by crucifixion, Jesus Himself became the ransom.

At times, Lent may seem like a depressing season.  But that’s OK, for if you’re tempted to think that sin is no big deal, just look at Calvary.  If you begin to feel that God doesn’t care about sin, just look at the cross.  And don’t look at a bare and empty cross, but the cross on which hangs the body of our Redeemer, who is God in human flesh.  There, the enormity of sin comes into focus.  There, the pure and holy Lamb of God was made to be sin for us.

As the sin-bearer, Jesus bore the just penalty of our sin.  His sacred body and most-precious blood were placed in the balance scales of God’s eternal justice.  There, the full weight of the world’s guilt came down on Jesus.  He died that we might live.  At the cross, Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice, exchanging His righteousness for our guilt, His holiness for our shame, His purity for our filth.  He became sin for us, dying our death on that cross, at that place called Calvary.

It looked only like a tragedy that day as they nailed God’s Son to the cross.  But what was an earthly tragedy became an eternal triumph!  It was God’s express will and purpose that His own Son, the pure and holy Lamb of God, should suffer death on a cross.

That cross was the intersection of God’s love and His justice, the meeting place of His mercy and our sin.  Jesus exchanged His purity for the filth of our sin and traded His holiness for our shame.  By God’s express decree, we receive life in the place of death, purity to erase our filth, and holiness to cover our shame.

Because Jesus suffered, you need not fear any suffering that may come your way.  No matter how grievous the sorrow or heavy the load, no suffering of yours can drive a wedge between you and the gracious love of God.  Not even death or life, angels or demons, not the present or the future, hostile forces, or powers in the world above or in the world below can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, your Lord (Romans 8:38-39).  That’s because Jesus is the Lamb of God who suffered and died on the cross.  Nothing can touch you because you belong to Him.

When you were baptized, you were signed with a cross, to mark you as belonging to Christ the crucified.  Then and there, the Holy Spirit united you to Jesus’ death on the cross, burying you with Him into His death.  By the power of God’s Word within that water, all that Jesus earned for you by His bitter suffering and death was transferred to your account.  There, you not only died with Him, but you also were raised with Him to live again by faith in His own never-ending life (Romans 6:3-5).

So, what if some reject the Gospel because it offends them and they see us as fools?  So what!  God has not given us His ways to change them.  For if we were to go down that road, we would eventually lose the entire Gospel, even Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  Indeed, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

The cross isn’t just the emblem of your salvation; it’s the sign and seal of God’s redemption, the stamp of His approval.  The cross is the lasting mark that your sins are gone.  It shows that Jesus has broken Satan’s power.  He has crushed the tyranny of death, and the grave itself is powerless over you.

So, whatever may come, we preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  For this crucified Christ is our only hope, not only in this world, but also in the next.  Since Jesus has suffered for you on the cross, all His purity and holiness are now yours.  So, take heart!  Live in the One who died and, yet, still lives forevermore–Jesus Christ.  Amen.