There is something supremely scandalous about the cross to the religionist and the intellectual unyielded to God's saving grace. To both - the cross is foolishness. Today's post aims to reflect on the significance of the foolishness of the cross found in 1 Corinthians 1:18
Reflecting on the first part of 1 Corinthians 1:18
When the Apostle Paul speaks of the cross of Christ in the Gospel as "foolishness" in 1 Corinthians 1:18, he uses the Greek word "moros", from whence we derive our English word "moronic". In the first century, this word referred to someone that was "empty headed" and "without sense". To the unbelieving mind - the salvation wrought by Jesus through the cross bore a stigma. What was it? Why did the Gospel back then in the first century offend? Why does it cause great controversy among 21st century religionists and skeptics today?
For starters, the cross abolishes all efforts of self-congratulation and posturing. Self-confidence is rendered null and void. At the cross, all efforts to know God by religious ritual or intellectual ascent are shown inadequate. Certainly knowing God and loving God with the totality of one's mind and heart is to be the end point of life - however that endpoint must begin at the cross. The law revealed on Mount Sinai demands us to do these things; however only the grace of Mount Calvary can deliver the power and desire to love and know God.
When Paul considers the two main groups to whom he preached (the Greco-Roman Gentiles and the Jews), he recognized their respective rejections of the cross. In 1 Corinthians 1:22 we read of the Jews "asking for a sign". The way of ritual, miracle and outward form appealed to many of those emeshed in Judaism. When Jesus ministered for instance among the Jews of that day, the Jewish leaders said to Him in Matthew 12:38 "Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." In that same verse Paul then mentions those Greeks who "search for wisdom". The Greco-Roman mind loved to engage in philosophical inquiry and intellectual elitism. Paul's preaching to the Athenian philosophers at Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-34 illustrates how most of them felt about the Gospel. Both groups, apart from the grace of God, detested Jesus, His cross and resurrection.
The first mindset of "demanding a sign" could be likened to today's moralist or the pluralist who wants a god through ritual, moral living, mysticism or through multiple ways other than the cross. Other expressions of the "demanding a sign mindset" conceives of a Christianity that is more about entertainment than with the eternal welfare of souls needing Christ Jesus crucified, risen and ascended.
In his book "Christless Christianity", theologian Michael Horton talks about how if the Devil wanted to plan the most diabolical scheme, he would have every city in America be clean, every citizen be law-abiding and every church full to capacity. Citizens would say "yes sir" and "yes mam" and children would be the epitome of good behavior. Preachers would be nice and there would be no crime. According to Horton, the Devil would be more than glad to tolerate such a scenario - providing that there be no mention nor preaching of the cross.
The second mindset mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:22 of "searching for wisdom" corresponds to the arrogant intellectual elite who conceives of attaining ultimate meaning through reason alone without God - and most certainly without the cross. Athiest Richard Dawkins for instance has been noted as saying: "It's a horrible idea that God, this paragon of wisdom and knowledge,power, couldn't think of a better way to forgive us our since sins than to come down to Earth in his alter ego as his son and have himself hideously tortured and executed so that he could forgive himself." Such observations reminds us that unbelieving mankind's war with God and His sole means of redemption through faith alone in Christ alone carries on unabated.
Reflecting on the second part of 1 Corinthians 1:18
The first-half of 1 Corinthians 1:18 presents how the cross is utter foolishness to the person who has never believed. Such an attitude is bleak and blunt and appears to be the only sentiment one could have towards the cross - that is - until we come to the contrastive little word "but" in the second part. The word "but" is important, for it means that regardless of what may be said against the cross, God's word in the cross renders such protests as absurd. Saving grace delivered by the Holy Spirit's shedding of light on the cross exposes the love that was otherwise hidden in its sillouette to unbelieving eyes. In contrast to the hopelessness of those perishing, Paul points to the cross as the power of God and thus hope for those who are being saved.
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