Summary: Why the cross was foolishness to the Greeks and Weakness to the Jews--and sometimes to us too.
God’s Foolish Plan
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Love those old hymns, do you know this one?
In a prison far away, stood an old electric chair...
At the lethal injection, at the lethal injection where I first saw the light...
There’s room in the gas chamber for you...
You say that’s foolishness, and I say you’re right, the foolishness and embarrassment and offensiveness that 2000 years of idealizing the cross has almost washed out of the Gospel message.
When the Apostle Paul was on his missionary journeys the cross was not a sheik decorating item, nor an elegant piece of jewelry to hang around your neck... It was an instrument of torture and execution reserved for the most cruel offenders. Jews of that day refused even to speak of the cross in polite company.
Sharing the story of Jesus had a different feeling and received different reactions then. "I’d like to tell you about a friend of mine, a prisoner who was executed in the electric chair for you, and if you just believe in him you can be saved...
I don’t know about you, but I’m routing for electric chair pendants to replace WWJD bracelets as the next hot item in Christian fashion. Why? because I think it might do us some good to regain some of the controversy of the cross.
But you know in some ways the good news about Jesus is just as offensive today as it was back then.
Proposition: In our New Testament reading Paul notes two groups of people offended by the message of the cross back then and I think that in some form those groups exist today...
Transition: Or at least the reasons they were offended are still here with us. In fact I believe some of us here may have these same reservations about God’s chosen plan of salvation. So I think it would do us some good today to look at those two groups and see if there may be some reflection of them, and of the barriers between them and Christ, in us.
The first group is the Jews and the complaint that they have with God’s plan is that it is...
Paul notes in verse 22 of our text that the Jews who rejected Christ were looking for miraculous signs. Now this is not just any miraculous signs, Because Jesus certainly provided some, no what they were looking for were symbols of power, as a people who had continuously been beaten down on the world stage they were looking at the prophecies of Messiah and dreaming of a supernaturally powerful king... A conquering king who would subdue the world and make Israel dominant...
What they were not looking for was someone to die an embarrassing death on a cross of all things and then say He was doing it for them. This kind of Messiah, I can hear them say, we don’t need.
Consequently Paul says the message of the cross was a stumbling block to them. It was the epitome of weakness, murdered at the hands of the Roman oppressors.
Worse yet the message of the cross demanded they admit weakness on their own part, weakness in the area they considered themselves to be strongest. If Jesus supposedly died for their sins then that means they weren’t doing a good enough job on their own. And they believed they were, they were righteous in their own eyes, they were chosen, they were obedient to the law. Someone to pay for our sins, they thought, we don’t need.
ILLUSTRATION: The other day I got in big trouble with my four year old. I had committed the unthinkable offense of zipping her jacket. "Daddy, you weren’t supposed to zip it, I wanted to do it myself," she wailed. The Jews Paul refers to reacted to the message of the cross with that same spirit... "Died to save me? I wanted to do it myself"
They wanted a powerful, worthy savior and one who would acknowledge them as worthy too. But Paul says in verse 27 that God chose people who were powerless in themselves to shame those who were powerful.
Now we may not have the same problems with the shame of the cross that the Jews of Paul’s day did, but you know there is still something that rankles the human spirit about the need for a savior, about having to admit our moral bankruptcy, there’s something in us that longs for God to affirm that we’ve lived a good life worthy of his favor.
Some time ago I was called upon to counsel with someone who was had gotten some bad medical news and was perhaps facing the final chapter of his life. It soon became clear that his most urgent desire was to explain why his life wasn’t really as bad as it seems, I tried repeatedly to share the Good news that he didn’t have to be good enough for God, because through the cross Christ had become righteousness for him as Paul says in verse 30. But over and over again he kept coming back to his own illustration of God’s scales where he would weigh the good and bad of his life and determine if he merited eternity in heaven... what he needed me for was to assure him that he had enough good in him to make the final cut.