“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The greatest event in all of human history, second to none, was the two-fold event of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we would have no hope of any kind. It is no wonder then, that for Paul, like all the writers of the New Testament, the cross of Christ represented salvation itself. In his letter to the believers in Corinth, he recalled how he had preached Christ’s death: “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
Paul took great joy in proclaiming this message. He understood the secret of the cross. Earlier he wrote, “We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). What makes this so amazing is that Paul did not always hold this position. He had once been opposed to Christ and His message. To put it plainly, Paul had been an insolent, self-righteous, religious bigot. He sought to destroy anyone who believed the message of the cross. However, all this changed one day as he journeyed to Damascus. The Bible tells us that on that journey he came into direct contact with the crucified and resurrected Jesus (see Acts 9:1-18 for the full story). This encounter forever changed Paul’s life and thinking. He was converted. The one who had sought to destroy the message of the cross and all associated with it, now sought to proclaim its message!
What did all this mean for Paul? For him, it was the beginning of a lifetime of suffering on behalf of the crucified and resurrected Jesus. However, like the other apostles, he rejoiced, “that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Paul saw profound meaning in his own sufferings (see 2 Corinthians 6:4-5; 11:23-28). His own trials connected him to Christ who had suffered on the cross and who had been resurrected. He wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (3:10). He also understood that the suffering of Jesus on the cross is played out in the lives of all God’s people. In Philippians, he also wrote, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (1:29).
It is an ironic message, indeed. The gospel – the good news of eternal life and spiritual glory – is based on suffering and shame. However, the message of Jesus’ shameful death should inspire us to ever greater love for Him and His Church. We should desire nothing more than to preach, both by words and deeds, Jesus Christ and Him crucified. As the writer of Hebrews told believers of his day, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2).