The Folly Of The Cross
Everything about Christianity looks weak and foolish in the eyes of the world.
The message of the cross, we who believe it, and preach it appear foolish but it is we who are being saved.
The Folly Of The Cross1 Corithians 1:18-2:5
December 31, 2017
No one wants to look like an idiot. I remember going to Sydney Uni library to get some books for an essay I was working on. When I went to the toilet in the library, I didn’t realize that a strip of clean toilet paper, about a meter long, hung from the back of my jeans like a tail. I must have walked round Sydney Uni library and the cafeteria for about two hours. Eventually a secretary kindly came up to me and said “I don’t know if you realize, but your have toilet paper flapping around behind you.” I felt so embarrassed.
If you are normal, you have a natural aversion to looking foolish. That is why we laugh at jokes that we don’t get. We don’t want to look foolish, and this is a problem for us Christians.
In today’s passage, the Apostle Paul says that everything about Christianity looks foolish and weak. And it’s going to be no different in 2018.
The message of the cross looks foolish. We who believe in the cross seem foolish. Those who preached the cross appear foolish. The reason for all this is so that the only thing we are left to boast in is the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1) The Foolish Message of the Cross (1 Cor 1:18-30)
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. (1 Cor 1:18)
The message of the cross is that Jesus the Son of God was crucified in our place, taking full responsibility for our rebellion against God.
In verse 18, have two groups who hear the same message, and yet draw the opposition conclusion. To one group, the message of the cross is brilliant. It transferred us from death to life. It brought us forgiveness of sins, deep joy, and wonderful assurance. But to the other group, at best it’s either irrelevant and boring, or at worst it’s crude, crazy, or a cruel form of child abuse.
These two groups are heading in opposite directions. One group is heading for hell, and the other is heading for heaven.
At one level, there is nothing new in all this. The message of the cross has always been viewed as foolish by those who are perishing. We have an ancient example of a piece graffiti from Rome, dating back to the second century AD.
You can see it has a man hanging on a cross. He has his hands stretched out. Next to him, another man is looking on with one hand raised up. The caption, when translated, reads “Alexamenos worshipping God”. That would be great, except that the man on the cross has the head of a jackass. Christianity has never been cool, and it never will be. So let’s get over it.
According to one Roman Caecilius, Christians put forward a sick delusion, a senseless and crazy superstition: they worship one who has been crucified.
When Mount Vesuvius erupted near Pompeii, Caecilius returned to save his family. A wall fell on him in his house, and he died.
The message of the cross says that you can’t save yourself. God must take your place at the cross to pay for your sins. And this is exactly what he did.
This is not a popular view. The 1.57 billion muslims on this earth—23% of the world population—don’t even believe Jesus died on a cross.
[…] they [the Jews] said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”—But they killed him not, nor crucified him […] (Qur’an 4:157-158)
No cross means that it’s every person for themselves: “Each man shall reap the fruits of his own deeds.” (Qur’an 6:164)
The message of the cross is foolish in the eyes of the world. This is why I guess the bible has to often tell us, “Do not be ashamed of the gospel!”
For the average man, the cross is unnecessary, because “I’m ok”. My son James was in an Uber on Christmas eve. He asked the driver what he thought about Christmas. The driver said, “As long as you speak right, do right, think right, you will be ok?” James said, “How do you know you have done enough?” The driver then said, “Look at that!” He had a 5 star Uber rating. The man was hoping to find approval on the last day by his customer service, according to his Uber star rating. No need of the cross for that man!
There is not a culture on earth where the message of the cross doesn’t grate. It might jar for different reasons, but it does jar. There is no natural fit of the cross into any culture. Different cultures value different things.
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:22-23)
Jews were impressed by miracles and acts of power. And yet Paul speaks of a Christ who comes into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, to be arrested, beaten, stripped naked, and nailed to a cross. That is not all that impressive.
Greeks were impressed by big brains and high IQs. They loved clever words and confident speakers. And Paul speaks of a salvation this so simple: “You sin, and he dies; he dies, and you live.” Really? Is that it? Salvation is more than that, but it’s never more profound than that.
There has never been a time when, or a nation, a culture, or family where, it felt right and natural to preach the crucified Lord.
Our modern world values tolerance and inclusion, but Jesus talks of being the only way, and that faith in his death alone can bring forgiveness of our sins.
If the gospel were a shop, it would be ‘The Reject Shop’. If the gospel were an actor, it would be Danny Devito, not Brad Pitt. If the gospel were a football team, it would be Newcastle not Melbourne.
Paul invites the world to parade its intelligence. 1 Corinthians 1:20:
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?
Give me your biggest, your brightest, and your most beautiful, and I will show them up.
The wisdom of the world is impressive. It can put a man on the moon, but it can’t put a man in the new creation. It can transplant your heart, but it can’t change your heart. It can build skyscrapers that reach the heavens, but it doesn’t know how to get you to heaven.
Steve Jobs did incredible work with Apple. He was an artistic and scientific genius. But he tragically could not stop the power of death from taking him. 1 Corinthians 1:19:
For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
We are impressed with those who split atoms. God is concerned about splitting hearts with the message of the cross. What the world values, God doesn’t. When Einstein comes before the living God, God won’t be saying, “E=MC2: nice one, Albert!” Or when Usain Bolt meets God, God won’t be saying, “Man were you fast!” When God meets the model Kate Moss, he won’t be saying, “Nice legs”. When God meets atheists like Richard Dawkins, he is not going say, “You’re so smart, you almost persuaded me that I don’t exist.”
While Christianity involves thinking, you can’t just think your way to the cross. The message of the cross is viewed as a mystery. It is revealed, not reasoned. It is received by those who are chosen and called, not by those who are clever.
You may be the smartest person in the world, but you can’t work out a secret. You need someone to tell you. Secrets are revealed. You might be the smartest person in the world, but this fact does not mean you can work out by thinking what was on my wardrobe floor when I was growing up. Anyone want to hazard a guess? You can be a professor and never guess it. But a six year old can know it. How? Because I told him the secret.
And why did God do it this way? He did it this way so that the only person we can boast in is God himself. We cannot boast in our brains, beauty, or brawn.
By the way, my wardrobe floor was littered with shotgun cartridges and .22 rifle bullets.
The message of the cross is missed by the wisdom of the world. 1 Corinthians 1:25:
For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
Let me put this way: it’s not theologically correct, but here we go. God on his dumbest day is smarter than all the humans who ever walked this earth put together. God on his weakest day is stronger than the combined strength of all the armies on the earth from the beginning to the end of human history. Now God doesn’t have dumb or weak days, but you get my drift.
The message of the cross outsmarted the Greeks and over powered the Jews. The cross alone is wise enough to turn us guilty sinners to forgiven saints. Nothing else can do that. The cross alone is powerful enough to deflect God’s anger away from us. Nothing else can do that. Paul’s point is that we have nothing to boast in except in Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31:
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
In Christ Jesus and him crucified, we are set right with God, set apart for God, and set free by God. Who would have thought that a naked Jew hung out to die on a tree could do all that? But that is only for those who are being saved. For others, it is foolishness and stupidity.
John Piper says,“The wisdom of God has ordained a way for the love of God to deliver us from the wrath of God, without compromising the justice of God.”
(2) The Foolish Christian (1 Cor 1:26-29)
The cross is unimpressive and so are we. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29:
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
Here is God’s sense of humour at our expense. God is saying, “When I called you to myself and revealed my cross, what were you like? Ordinary, average, and nothing special. Take a long look at yourselves. Not many of you cut it in the big time.
Put up your hand if the following is true for you. Has any one graced the cover of major magazine? Who has represented their country in the Olympics? Has anyone made a major discovery that changed the world? What about top 100 richest people in the BRW report—did anyone make that? Anyone here been invited to Harry and Meaghan’s wedding? Anyone here win an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, or TV Logie? Anyone had a hit single? Yes, Kayla Bonicci co-wrote Jessica Mauboy’s last two hits. It’s taken MBM 26 years.
God gets a kick out of it. Are you in on the joke? God’s sense of humour is very humbling. He has chosen the nobodies to show up the stupid value system of the world. When I became a Christian, I was 20 years old, a uni drop out, unemployed, and couldn’t get a girlfriend.
It’s not that there are not any famous, brilliant, beautiful, or strong Christians. For example, our staff are very impressive. Dave is the Hulk, Dan a US basketballer, Maggie is Wonder woman, Bruce Winters could be US president, and Brandon is Superman.
We want famous Christians to give their testimony. We once had Martin Pakula speak at MBM, and he came first in the state in the HSC. Brad Thorn who played for Australia in Rugby League and for the New Zealand All Blacks in Rugby Union has given his testimony.
But we are mostly a church of nobodies. Our resumes’ read, “I have nothing to offer.”
The message of the cross is foolish. The Christians who are called are foolish. And the ones who preach the message are foolish. It’s a trifecta!
(3) The Foolish Preacher of the Cross
Paul won’t exempt himself. When he came to them to preach the message of the cross, it wasn’t with the wit of a stand up comedian or a slick spiel of a political Obama. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
Paul says, “I came in weakness, fear and much trembling. I was not wise, nor impressive. But this is what I did have: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
On Christmas Day, some of our deaf brothers and sisters were teaching me how to sign. Notice the sign for Jesus: middle finger pointing to the wounds of Jesus hands.
Growing up Jesus was called, ‘Il bumbien’, ‘the baby’. But the deaf community got it so right. Jesus is the crucified one. They went straight to the cross for their signt.
I want to say three things in conclusion.
First, we are going to miss Dave Jensen a real lot, but how we go in 2018 will test who our trust is in. Friends, there are no great preachers, there is just a great savior, with a great message for great sinners. It’s just as powerful in your mouth, as it was in Paul’s mouth, or is in Dave’s mouth. I want you to know, Paul got scared, I get scared, Dave gets scared, and you get scared. But don’t be ashamed of the message of the cross. In Rev 21:8, the first sin listed is cowardice. Let’s not fall into that.
Second, isn’t this foolish message the reason we baulked at becoming a Christians? What held me back was what my friends and family would think. Isn’t this the reason some of you are holding out on Jesus? I tell you now, it’s not worth it.
Third, I know that Jesus’ death on the cross does not seem all that powerful. But you will know without a doubt that it is powerful when on the last day you see one line of humans who are being saved, and another line for those who are perishing. The only reason you will be on one line and not the other is because you trusted in the message of the cross of Jesus Christ. At that time we then will all truly know how wise and powerful this foolish message of the cross is.
As I end 2017, I come before you with nothing to offer. I come before you in need of forgiveness. I come before you as a nobody. I come before you wanting a fresh start. I come before you wanting to say how deeply sorry I am.
I come before, Jesus Christ, trusting that you took all my sins and all my punishment on the cross. I have nothing to boast of except that you have given me everything. I come before confessing you, Jesus, as my ruler and savior.
I confess my fear, and I commit that in 2018, I will not be ashamed of this message of the cross.
In Jesus’ name, and in his great power, Amen.