1 Corinthians:18-25 (NRSV)
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
I just don’t know how such a smart person can believe in God!
That is a statement I had made to me a few years ago by a colleague of mine in the department of education. He and I had many a conversation about many things – we were great mates, but he just could not accept the idea that God had come to earth as a human being, been willing to act as a servant, be arrested, beaten, spat on and eventually killed in a most torturous way on the cross… and don’t even get me started in the idea of the resurrection…
In todays world, we are bombarded with the message that we don’t need God, that Christianity is some outdated religion which has been surpassed by modern science. We are told that the biblical accounts couldn’t be true – Jesus couldn’t have performed miracles – that just doesn’t happen. But Paul in our reading from the first letter to the Corinthians draws our attention to the greatest stumbling block for people not just now, but for the last two thousand years. The cross.
It makes no sense for a burgeoning faith group such as the one Paul was a member of, which is seeking to grow in numbers - to point to the cross. Why would you point people to this symbol of shame and death? It seems foolishness – even now to point to the cross. Indeed many priests, ministers and pastors have stopped pointing to the cross as the central core of the Christian faith, and focus instead on the good life and teachings of Jesus… lest they be seen to be foolish by the world…
The thing is though, without the cross, the rest of the Jesus story fades into insignificance. Without the cross Jesus is just another nice guy who said some nice things 2000 years ago. When we look to the cross however, in the shame and in the humiliation of it, we see the glory of God.
You see It is not a symbol of shame for Christians, but a symbol of Christ’s victory over death. It is a symbol of sin defeated. During Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, we go through a period of preparation – a preparation for the cross, and the resurrection. We take time to reflect on our own lives and our relationship with God, so that we can better follow our Lord and saviour. It is a time of repentance and renewal as we rededicate ourselves to Christ. It is a time to defeat the complacency we sometimes develop in our spiritual lives through disciplined prayer and reading of the scriptures as we prepare for the cross of Good Friday and the resurrection of Easter Sunday.
But why is the cross so important?
Sin. That word has a bit of baggage nowadays doesn’t it? It has been dragged around by the media, and used by the lunatic fringe to justify hate and violence. The truth is that sin is simply anything we do that is in opposition to the will of God. To use Jesus’ summary of the commandments – whenever we fail to love God, or love our neighbour we sin.
Now you’re probably thinking “yes yes Daryl we know all about sin… “ but bear with me. Because it is important – Sin separates us from God. Sin stops us living to our full potential, it stains us and removes us from relationship with the one who created us.
We were created in the image of God, to be in relationship with God – yet because sin is so pervasive and has corrupted the world so much – we have no way to reconcile ourselves to the glorious, perfect creator and sustainer of the universe. Even if all of humanity were to repent, and somehow manage to stop sinning from this day forward the corruption that has already taken place would mean that we would still remain separated from God - And without reconciliation with God we suffer the wages of sin – death.
That is where Jesus comes on the scene. God himself, recognising that we are incapable of defeating sin, recognising that having committed even one sin we have created an eternal gulf between us and Him. He chose to come to earth as one of us. He chose to live as one of us, to be tempted as we are, to be as frail and weak as we are. God chose to live as one of us so that he could mend the bridge – so that as a human being he could live a sinless life, and as a human being he could offer himself on behalf of the rest of us as a sacrifice, a ransom to set us free from the bondage of sin, to reconcile us to God, so that we need not suffer the eternal consequence.
By Jesus – the perfect sinless human dying on the cross - he suffered the consequence of sin without ever having earned it. He took the consequence for us so that we would not have to suffer it. But how you might ask can one man take the consequence of sin for billions of people – well Jesus wasn’t just a man was he? Jesus is the Eternal Word of God through whom all things came into existence, he is the beginning and end – he is eternal – and so his offering of himself is also eternal.
As the creator of all and therefore being above all, Jesus’ death is sufficient to repay the debt of all. Leaving no debt left for humanity, He then demonstrated his complete destruction and defeat of death through raising again His body on the third day. His resurrection on the third day which he foreshadowed in our Gospel reading shows also that the corruption of humanity that accompanied death was defeated, as He rose in an uncorrupted body.
That brothers and sisters is why the cross matters. That is why we must always point to the cross of Christ as our victory – because through the cross God has reconciled all who would place their faith in Jesus.
We sometimes get caught up focussing on the life of Jesus, because we don’t want to talk about the cross. The life of Jesus is incredibly important – the manner of his birth, his teaching, and his miracles all point us to his identity as God among us. His life of love and compassion sets the model for us to follow as we seek to serve God and our neighbours. But we must never forget that the cross is the key – we must not allow the world to stop us talking about this foolish cross of Christ, rather we must cling to it.
I am a fool for Christ. Are you?