In his first letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul speaks of his determination to preach the crucified Christ. He says: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God”. (I Corinthians 1:22-24; TNIV)
First century Jews looked for signs because they were expecting their God to send a powerful leader like Moses or David to deliver them from the hands of the Romans. They wanted God to do what He did in the Exodus story. That is, to use powerful and splendid signs to overcome their enemies. Jesus, however, did the very opposite. He died on a Roman cross, which was a symbol of shame and humiliation. Indeed, it was the means by which the Romans showed their superiority and control over the people they had conquered.
First century Greeks looked for wisdom because they were zealous for all kinds of learning. It was simply beyond human reasoning to think that the saviour of the world would be a weak and defeated criminal on a Roman cross. For the ancient Greeks, it was not right for the alleged saviour of the world to be dishonoured in public and suffer disgrace. Yet this is the type of saviour Paul proclaimed in his Gospel.
The offence of the message of the crucified Christ is its bold and counter-cultural claim against the basic idolatry of humanity. Professor Gordon Fee helpfully summaries how that basic idolatry of humankind looks like: “God must function as the all-powerful or the all-wise, but always in terms of our best interests – power in our behalf, wisdom like ours! For both the ultimate idolatry is that of insisting that God conform to our own prior views as to how “the God who makes sense” ought to do things.” (Emphasis added)
We should not shy away from preaching the crucified Christ in our churches. As we reflect on the love of Christ during Easter, let us also remember that our way of life must model after Him. The Christian life is not about the pursuit of power and human wisdom. It is not about miraculous signs or a supreme philosophy that make us superior. Neither is it about an endless pursuit of blessings. Nor is it simply a matter of seeking peace and harmony. Instead, it is about following the Messiah, the Son of God — who humbled Himself, suffered and died on the cross, and was exalted to the highest place to the glory of God the Father (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). Deviating from proclaiming the crucified Christ and following His ways means that we slowly go down the path of fashioning God after our own image and hence the path of idolatry. But living out this basic truth means that authentic Christianity is preserved and that the church can truly bear witness to the Gospel.
(The above is an excerpt of an article I wrote in 2009. Click here for the article.)