The cross is such a fundamental part of what Christianity professes that it can become all too easy for us to pass it over without much thought. The cross? Of course it is vital. Of course we must preach it. Yet how often do we let the power and wisdom of the cross sink in and affect us in a practical way? Take another look at the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians.
Writing within 25 years of the actual events, Paul writes, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18). “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1:21). To the Jews, the cross is a stumbling block; to Greeks it is foolishness. But to those who are called, whether Jew or Greek, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1:24-25). He continues into chapter two with the same theme. It is a theme that runs consistently through Scripture: God chooses that which appears to be weak and makes it strong so that all may see that God is ultimately to be glorified.
But the cross? How does this manifest His wisdom and power? While there may be a number of ways to answer this question, please think about the following:
1. The cross shows God’s wisdom through a demonstration of the horror of sin on the one hand, and the power of His love on the other. The crucifixion of Jesus is the “show and tell” of what God thinks about sin. It is also the strongest demonstration of His love for a lost world (Rom 5:6-11). God abhors sins, and Jesus despised the shame associated with the cross, but it is due to sin that Jesus went to the cross. Hatred and love are equally demonstrated. What greater way to show both to a world that needs to understand both? Such a display shows the foolishness of mankind in taking part in sin, but also shows the extent to which God goes to show His love and bring us back to Him.
2. The cross shows God’s wisdom in that it demonstrates that the message really did come from Him. This point actually serves an apologetic purpose. Think about it. Who in the world would have dreamed up the idea of a Savior of the world dying on a cross? This is a not a message that the Jews would have concocted or accepted, for “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13). The idea that a few Jews just made the story up and were then able to sell it so successfully is beyond credulity. Further, this is not a message that Gentiles would have made up. To think that pagan Gentiles would dream up a story of a crucified Jewish Savior is ludicrous. Neither the Jewish culture nor the Greek culture of the time can explain the story of Jesus as the crucified King who can save the whole world from sin. This is a message that can find plausible explanation only in the wisdom of God.
3. The cross displays the wisdom and power of God because it is only the first part to the story. Implied in the idea of God’s power is the resurrection. Paul did not only preach a dead Jesus. He preached a Jesus who overcame death. He preached a Jesus who “became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1:30). “Christ and Him crucified” does not end at the cross itself, as if the cross, and the cross alone, did the job. God wanted to demonstrate His power in a way that could not be feasibly denied. Jesus didn’t just faint. He didn’t die in His sleep. He was violently executed in the worst and bloodiest manner. To be raised up after that would indeed be a great display of power. By the end of Paul’s epistle, the resurrection is exactly what he argues (ch. 15). God’s wisdom and power are vindicated through the death and resurrection of Jesus!
The cross is not made up by mere men. If men concocted the story of salvation we would undoubtedly see something very different from a Roman cross. We might see something akin to the pagan myths. Yet contrary to what we sometimes hear, the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is not the stuff that make up the myths. It is much simpler and based in actual time and space history. The wisdom of God displayed through the cross is a demonstration of God Himself breaking into history to deal directly with sin and evil, and to show His creation how much He desires for us to be in His fellowship.
By Doy Moyer