Summary: Paul, Pt. 4
THE PARADOX OF THE CROSS (1 CORINTHIANS 1:18-31)
The cross took a major political beating since 2004. In May, 2004, the ACLU gave Los Angeles County two weeks to eliminate the 1957-designed seal that appears on most official county property: walls, documents, uniforms, vehicles and even business cards – all because of a cross. After four months of debate, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors caved in and stripped a tiny miniature gold cross from the Los Angeles County seal to avoid a lawsuit. By a 3-2 partisan vote, the three Democrats on the board voted in favor of removing the cross while the two Republicans voted retain it. (Los Angeles Times 9/15/04 “Officials Vote to Replace County Seal”)
In June the same year, more than 700 people packed a board meeting in Redlands, the city 50 miles east of Los Angeles, to decry the removal of the cross. Thousands more wrote or called supervisors to complain, but the board refused to budge. It will cost the county an estimated $800,000 to replace the seal. Redlands city attorney, Dan McHugh, said, “The city council has a budget crunch, it could run up to 50 to 60 thousand dollars in costs so the city council made the decision that the manager ought to continue removing the cross. It was just not worth the money or the effort.”
In a sense, the cross receives the same treatment as Jesus, who was spit in the face, struck with fists and slapped (Matt 26:67), then flogged (Matt 27:26), struck on the head (Matt 27:30), mocked (Matt 27:29), blasphemed (Matt 27:39) and
insulted (Matt 27:44).
What is the message of the cross? Why is it so offensive and reviled? How is the cross a threat?
The Cross of Christ is the Wisdom Left Untried
18 For 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. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 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? 21 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. (1 Cor 1:18-21)
An atheist was sitting under a tree one day thinking. “God,” he said, “you know I don’t believe in you, but if you exist, you must be stupid. Look at this huge oak tree. It has little teeny acorns on it. And look at this huge pumpkin growing on this weak, puny little vine. Now, if I had been you, I would have put the acorn on the little vine, and the pumpkin on the huge, strong oak tree.”
While the man was reflecting on his great wisdom and wishing that he had a mirror to see how wise he looked, an acorn fell on his head. “Thank God it wasn’t a pumpkin,” he cried out.
The wisdom of man is laughable. The hippies say all we need is love. The pacifists say all we need is peace, not war. The romanticists say all we need is one another. The fortune tellers say all we need is luck and the progressives say all we need is change.
Paul states man’s real need is the cross because his greatest need is salvation. However, the cross is foolishness to those who are not merely “perishing,” but those destined for “total destruction” (apollumi) in Greek (v 18). He labels the cross for what unbelievers call it – foolishness, or moria from moros. The cross is a comedy to unbelievers - a trick and a joke. In the eyes of the world, there is no greater fool than a Christian and no greater foolishness than the cross. Critics consider Christianity a crutch for losers and failures. Besides “those perishing,” those destroyed in the Bible include the body (Matt 5:29), one’s life (Matt 10:39), wicked people (Matt 21:41), evil spirits (Mark 1:23-24), the unrepentant (Luke 13:3), the sinful (Rom 2:12). Interestingly, the targets of God’s destruction are people, not things or animals.
Christians, on the other hand, vouch that the cross is more than just a piece of wood or jewelry. It is the power (dunamis) of God to save, forgive and change lives. Three words have the same connotation as “power” in Greek. One is “strong,” another is “mighty” and the most popular is “power/dynamite,” the popular word for describing “the power of God” (Rom 1:16, 2 Tim 1:9, Matt 22:29, Mark 12:24, Luke 5:17, Rom 1:16, 1 Cor 1:24, 2 Cor 6:7, 2 Tim 1:8). The power of God is more than just the regular word for “strong” or “mighty,” words describing physical attributes.