Sunday, June 23, 2013

Christ Crucified: A Counter-Cultural Concept

In 1 Cor 1:22 Paul summarizes what the people of his day were basically looking for in the realm of religion and philosophy. According to Paul, the Jews as a whole were into miraculous signs. They wanted God to do something spectacular, like what God had done to Pharaoh at the time of the exodus. They wanted God to act to save his people from the oppression of their enemies, and they understood that this required the exercise of powerful miracles. The Greeks, on the other hand, were into philosophy. They were lovers of wisdom. They had their schools of philosophy and rhetoric. They had their centers of learning and science.

But countering the Jewish desire for power and the Greek desire for wisdom, God deliberately did something incredible from the cultural perspective of both Jews and Greeks: God came into the world in human form as the Christ, only to be nailed to a cross. At the heart of the gospel stands Christ crucified. And this is the message that Paul and the apostles proclaimed: God incarnate was nailed to a Roman cross.

As an idea, this was literally incredible to most Jews and Greeks. To the Jews who wanted miraculous signs of God’s power to save, a crucified messiah was no better than a dead dog. A crucified messiah is both useless as well as scandalous. So scandalous in fact that the majority of the Jews of Paul’s day simply could not accept the idea. The idea of a crucified messiah was a stumbling block to them (1 Cor 1:23). And to the Greeks who were into wisdom, the story of a god (who is supposed to be the one true God) dying on a cross was pure foolishness (1 Cor 1:23). Do you Christians really believe that stuff? Do you really believe that the one true God came into the world in order to be crucified? What an absurd philosophy!

But to those whom God has called, to those whose eyes God has opened to understand the truth, whether Jewish or Greek, or whatever nationality, Christ crucified is indeed God’s power and wisdom (1 Cor 1:24). The Jews were looking for power; the Greeks for wisdom. But they were looking for these things in all the wrong places. The cross is where they should have been looking, for Christ crucified is the answer. In Christ crucified, we have God’s power and God’s wisdom on display.

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