Summary: God has determined to save people in a way that appears foolish to the wisdom of man: through the message of the cross.
I’m trying to decide what picture to put on my gravestone. I was hoping you would help me decide. How about a picture of a noose to represent a hanging? How about a flame to represent a burning at the stake? How about a sword to represent a beheading? How about a stone to represent a stoning? How about an electric chair to represent an electrocution? How about a needle to represent a lethal injection? No? Totally inappropriate? Disturbing? How about a cross? Yes? A cross would be a good picture for my gravestone?
Did you know that there was a time when the image of a cross was as bad or worse than the other images I just mentioned? It’s no wonder Paul said, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (v. 19). The message of the cross says, “Put your trust in a crucified Christ and you will be saved.” What kind of stupidity is that? How can an executed man save me? He couldn’t even save Himself!
PROPOSITION: God has determined to save people in a way that appears foolish to the wisdom of man: through the message of the cross.
Crucifixion was a horrific form of capital punishment. The condemned man died an agonizingly slow death by suffocation. The only way the victim of the cross could breath was by pulling himself up on the nails in his hands or by pushing up on the nail through his feet. After hours of suffering, he would gradually become so exhausted that he no longer had the strength to breathe and would finally die.
At one point early in Julius Caesar’s political career, feelings ran so high against him that he thought it best to leave Rome. He sailed for the Aegean island of Rhodes, but en route pirates attacked the ship and Caesar was captured. The pirates demanded a ransom of 12,000 gold pieced, and Caesar’s staff was sent away to arrange the payment. Caesar spent almost 40 days with his captors, jokingly telling the pirates on several occasions that he would someday capture and crucify them to a man. The kidnapers were greatly amused, but when the ransom was paid and Caesar freed, the first thing he did was gather a fleet and pursue the pirates. They were captured and crucified . . . to a man! (Today in the Word, Nov. 23, 1992).
Such was the Romans’ attitude toward crucifixion. It was reserved for the worst of criminals, the lowest of the low, the scum of the land. It was a means of showing extreme contempt for the condemned. The suffering and humiliation of a Roman crucifixion were unequaled. Polite society simply didn’t discuss crucifixion. Cicero wrote, “Let the very mention of the cross be far removed not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears.” The idea that anybody who died on the cross was in any sense an exceptional, elevated, noble, or important person was absurd.
And in the face of all this, Paul came, and all he ever talked about was . . . the cross!
The message of the cross divides the human race into two groups: those who are perishing and those who are being saved: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
I. THOSE WHO ARE PERISHING BELIEVE THE MESSAGE OF THE CROSS IS FOOLISHNESS.
Newsweek religion editor Kenneth L. Woodward writes:
Clearly, the cross is what separates the Christ of Christianity from every other Jesus. In Judaism there is no precedent for a Messiah who dies, much less as a criminal as Jesus did. In Islam, the story of Jesus’ death is rejected as an affront to Allah himself. Hindus can accept only a Jesus who . . . escapes the degradation of death. The figure of the crucified Christ, says [one Buddhist authority], “is a very painful image for me. It does not contain joy or peace, and this does not do justice to Jesus.” There is, in short, no room in other religions for a Christ who experiences the full burden of mortal existence --- and hence there is no reason to believe in him as the divine Son whom the Father resurrected from the dead. . . . (Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion, p. 231).
A. The message of the cross has turned the wisdom of man into foolishness (vv. 19-21).
For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.