The Foolishness of the Cross
The Foolishness of the Cross
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 T Holy Cross Day
What will lift mankind out of it’s suffering? What will reverse death? What has power in this world to combat suffering and death?
How you answer these questions ultimately depends on your worldview. Do you believe in God? What God do you believe in? Do you believe in man, and man’s ability to solve his own problems? What is mankind’s relationship with God? With each other? How does God show His power? How do we show ours?
The world is utilitarian in its belief. It’s extremely practical – and if a situation doesn’t serve my benefit or pleasure, then it should be discarded. Thus, the world will always think Christians are wasting their time – boasting in the work of a crucified Savior, rejoicing in sufferings, believing that God uses all things to the good of those who love Him. The world looks at such things and thinks – “how foolish!” What sort of fool embraces pain, and believes that God uses bad situations for our benefit, and not our punishment?
Now of course, this “foolish” view of the Christian faith describes how many perceive our beliefs today. There are some who think that teaching Christian morals and Bible Stories impedes humanity’s scientific and philosophical progress. Friedrich Nietzsche infamously wrote “God is dead” to describe religion’s hindrance to humanistic philosophies. Karl Marx remarked that religion was the “opium of the people”, that the only reason religion was still around was because there was societal oppression – get rid of the oppression, and there’d be no need for religion anymore. Peter Singer, an Australian ethicist who is extremely influential in areas of modern ethics and philosophy, accuses Jesus of the sin of ‘speciesism’, meaning Jesus values humans more than animals. Also, Singer cannot understand Christianity’s value and insistence on grace because he believes ethical behavior is purely based on rewards and punishments. Ultimately, these “big thinkers” teach us to rely on ourselves and our developments to alleviate our suffering, because if there even is a God, He can’t be trusted with our sufferings. In one way or another, they have influenced the way WE think, talk, pray, and act today. Their utilitarian, humanist pragmatism which searches for utopia in this life apart from God is in the air we breathe.
Even though Paul wrote his letter close to 2,000 years prior, the same philosophical war was afoot for him. A similar worldview existed in Paul’s time when Paul wrote his first epistle to the Corinthian Church. Paul mentions these opposing worldviews to the Gospel were utilized by the Jews and Greeks. Ultimately these groups sought to find God – either through wisdom and philosophical thinking with the likes of Aristotle and Plato, or by seeking signs of God and His existence on earth with verifiable experiential evidence.
The Jews demanded to be shown signs that Jesus was the Christ. The signs they sought weren’t bad in and of themselves – Christ Himself gave signs that He was the Messiah – He healed the blind, the deaf, the lame. He even granted resurrection! The sin comes when we start demanding signs WE want, like Herod demanded of Jesus on Good Friday when He wanted to see Jesus work a miracle for him. Or when they mocked Jesus on the cross saying “if you are the Son of God, come down off that cross!” They didn’t seek GOD’S signs, they sought to bend God to their will.
The Greeks sought God through wisdom. And wisdom in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. The Proverbs are chalk full of great bits of Godly wisdom. The sin comes when we seek the wisdom apart from God’s design. The sin comes when wisdom replaces faith, when we seek wisdom and sage truisms because we don’t actually trust God to do His thing. We’d rather trust the wisdom that bears fruit from OUR actions. For example, Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This speaks well to educating children – how they will be shaped by the things they learn. However, in churchly things, we shouldn’t trust the mere outward actions of what we do. If you want your children to go to church when they grow older, the outward actions of taking them to church, confirmation, and that whole gamut will only get you so far. Rather, when YOU yourselves trust in the Lord’s instruction, pray to God for your children, are willing to accept your God given responsibility to instruct your children in godly things with the honor, respect, and dignity it deserves – that’s much more important. That creates faith, because your faith outside of these church walls is really what’s teaching them.
Ultimately, the sin of the Jews, Greeks, the “big thinkers” of our day, and us, is that our utilitarianist philosophies are more attractive and practical to us than the theology of the cross.
What does one say? What can a Christian say to a world that’s at odds with God? What’s our place? What’s our message?
This is precisely why Paul was writing to the Corinthian Church. In what should a Christian be grounded? With all these conflicting messages between the world and the church and all the anxiety we may feel in our hearts and minds about these wars, where can one find refuge? Where does the true power of God show forth? The answer to these questions is Paul’s overall theme to the Corinthian church. It’s in verse 18 of our text: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The cross looks foolish, and powerless to a utilitarian world. They can’t look at THAT (point to cross) and call it good, powerful, or wise. They can’t look at the crosses and burdens WE bear and call them good. They think, “who could believe in the God described in Numbers 21? When HIS people were suffering from snake bites, even though God had the ability, He didn’t take away the snakes that caused the Israelites’ suffering! How can He be ‘good’?”
In our foolishness, we want God to fix everything – to create a utopia for us NOW. To grant us an easy life, a life free of suffering and pain. But let’s be honest, what would happen to our dependence upon God for everything in this life if we never experienced lack? Hardship? Pain? If there was nothing to suffer, to whom would we turn in our trials and tribulations? We’d turn away from God and towards ourselves. Because we’d hate the crosses He lays at our feet.
However, God uses their perceived foolishness to shame the wise. And on the last day, they shall see the cross for the power it has. They’ll be judged in their unbelief, because they relied on their own endeavors to achieve their eternal goals. They will one day be shown who’s the fool.
True wisdom and power are shown in the sign of the cross. For just as the bronze serpent was lifted up in the wilderness for healing, so was Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, lifted high upon a cross, that whoever should behold Him with the eyes of faith may have eternal life. The cross is the POWER of salvation to all who believe! That’s why He wants us to LOOK upon Him. That’s why He wants our faith to grasp His cross. That’s why He allows our sufferings to happen and evil to pervade our existence, because if He took it away, we’d be delivered over to an even greater evil – a life that doesn’t depend on Him – both now and forever.
But through the power and work of the cross, our enemies are rent asunder. Worldly wisdom and narcissistic sign-seeking meets its true foolishness in the wisdom of the cross. The merciful work of God the Father is seen in that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to purchase a sinful world through His own Holy precious blood. For through His work on the cross, Jesus grants us not freedom from our own crosses, but freedom to bear our crosses. He grants strength and healing to bear them underneath His own life-giving yoke. For His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
He gives us our crosses that we may be reliant on HIS cross. For though we think we may be able to conquer our great enemies of death and suffering, the more we try, the further we dig our holes. For a reliance on our own doings cannot solve anything.
Only by finding refuge in the cross can our greatest enemies and sufferings be conquered. It may not look like the way of peace and utopia that mankind ultimately seeks, but by the power of God, it is. Because here, He seeks to come to us and give us the only relief from our sufferings. Here, He gives the forgiveness of sins, and the power to live a new life not defined by me, or you – but defined by God who loves us because He died for us.
So, the Jews demand signs, Greeks look for wisdom, modern philosophy strives for utopia, but we preach Christ crucified. Because this – though it looks foolish – is the greatest treasure man could have. Our whole existence revolves around this wooden beam, and this God-man. We’d be foolish to not embrace THIS cross, and thus, embrace our OWN. Because this is the power of God to save you and save the world. To God alone be glory forever and ever.