The apostle Paul writes: “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.” (I Cor. 1:18). As we enter this Holy Week, we retrace the events leading to the heart of the gospel – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
At the core of all this is the cross. Our modern image of the cross is somewhat removed from its origin. We have crafted jewelry of gold and silver in its shape, or have furnishings that adorn our homes or sanctuaries made of brass. This tends to remove its basic purpose from our understanding. In his work The Crucified God, Jurgen Moltmann wrote: “We have made the bitterness of the cross, the revelation of God in the cross of Jesus Christ, tolerable to ourselves by learning to understand it as a theological necessity for the process of salvation. As a result the cross loses its arbitrary and incomprehensible character.”
It is easy to forget that the cross was a crude instrument of sadistic, deadly execution, so obscene that no ancient writer would describe the cruel procedure. Of the writings of the time, the gospels give the most detailed account of the punishment of crucifixion. The Jews of the day would see Jesus on the cross as a scandal. Anyone who hangs on a tree would be cursed by God, and so Jesus on the cross could not be the Messiah. The Roman culture saw crucifixion as the extreme punishment for a criminal, reserved for traitors, murderers, thieves, and runaway slaves, and usually only carried out on the lower class of people. The religions of the Roman world would see a crucified god as utter nonsense. The two words do not go together, crucified and god.
Paul speaks of the centrality of the message of the cross, and that the message somehow breaks through preconceived beliefs about God and salvation. How does something that seems so foolish to believe become the core of our faith? The cross is not a message about suffering but about the suffering Christ “who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) This message reaches to those who are in despair, who are hurting, who are themselves suffering. It grasps those who are searching, trying to make sense of their lives, of their world, because nothing else seems to make sense to them.
It is impossible to escape the suffering Christ of the cross because of his love, his grace. The suffering Christ of the cross becomes the sacrificial Lamb of God who “was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) The apostle Paul narrowed his preaching to this core message – Christ crucified. Even though the message was viewed in human terms as folly and scandalous, in terms of faith it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Unbelievers dismiss the message as madness. Those being saved embrace the message of love and grace. They are drawn to Jesus’ call to come after him and take up their cross daily and follow him. The cross in Jesus time meant only one thing – death. Kyle Idleman in his book Not a Fan reveals this: “In my closet where I get on my knees each morning and surrender to Jesus I have three words spray-painted on the wall. I die daily.” It is where the shadow of the cross of Christ falls over our daily lives. When we release power and control of our lives to God is when we find true life.
The cross calls us to death, death to self, to our lusts, desires, pride, and guilt, death to the reign of sin in our thinking and behavior. The cross calls us to this death daily, so that we might live daily. Why do this? Because Jesus loves us, and the cross is the documentation of his love for us. Brennan Manning writes: “Good Friday reminds us that we are not going to be helped by God’s power, only by God’s laying aside his power for love of us. Power forces us to change. Only love can move us to change. Power affects our behavior, love affects the heart. And nothing on earth so moves the heart as suffering love.”
So as we journey to the cross, may its message bring us from death to new life. That is not foolish at all.
Rev. Andrew Wade is pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Logan and a member of the Logan Ministerial Association.