Theories will come and go. Today’s theory about psychology, or sociology, or science is very quickly superseded by another theory. We know perfectly well how passing all of that is. Yet, there is the Gospel, which endures, which is based on the very nature of God (who is reality himself) and which changes not. The world says, “Oh, all that is foolishness.”
Paul focused this foolishness of the Gospel in the cross because it is the cross that is the offense. You can talk in a general way about God loving us, and people are not offended by that. You can perhaps even talk about the death of an innocent man, Jesus, if you are talking about an example, perhaps of patient suffering, a stoical attitude in the midst of the difficulties of this world. But talk about the cross – the cross, where God in the person of his Son made man for our salvation, hung and bled, and was ridiculed, and died – and make that the center of your religion. A suffering, ridiculed, dying, despised Savior, broken in body–people do not want that. And yet, you see, that is the power of the gospel.
We lose some of the power of that image today. In Paul’s day, the cross was a symbol of utter shame. We do not have anything quite like it. Nobody wanted to think about it. People certainly did not want to mention it in public. Yet, Paul says, “The cross of Christ, that is my glory.” Why? Because, he says, “It is the power of God.” That is where the answers are found. That is where wisdom lies.
In the third section Paul talks about how God works. God not only demonstrated his wisdom at the cross in what Jesus Christ achieved there. God also demonstrates his wisdom by choosing to come through the foolish things and to the foolish people of this world, not the wise.
Paul was a versatile man. He was at home in three cultures. He had been raised in a Jewish home. He grew up in what we call Turkey – essentially a Greek environment. He was a citizen of the Roman Empire. So he knew the Greeks, the Jews, and the Romans. Everywhere he went, he preached the Gospel. He discovered, as he went about preaching the Gospel, that there was a difficulty where each one of these distinct cultures is concerned.
When Paul went to the Romans, he was going to a people who prided themselves on their strength. They were proud of their army because their army was the salvation, as they saw it, of the then-known world. When Paul came to the Romans preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified, what did the Romans think? They said, “Crucified? A Jewish preacher hanging on a cross? Why, if there was ever a picture of weakness, it is that. You have to be strong to get on in this world. Why, a crucified savior? What utter folly!”
When Paul came to the Jews, he found something else. The Jews were a very religious people. They had a long history filled with the great miracles done by God. Paul came and preached Christ to the Jews. What does he say? He said, “When the Jews hear the preaching, what they demand is a sign.” They want God to come down on Mt. Sinai again. They want the waters of the Red Sea to be divided. And here is Jesus. He did miracles, true. But, you see, the offense of Jesus was that he was a man. He acted normal. He sat down and ate. He got tired. The Jews said, “We don’t want that. It is foolishness to follow a Messiah like that.”
Then Paul went to the Greeks who were very proud of their wisdom. The Greeks really were the sophisticated people, those who indulged in and cherished sophos, the wisdom of the world. Even in the time of the Roman Empire when the Romans were in power, when Roman parents wanted their children to be taught, they got a Greek slave to teach them because the Greeks were considered to be wise. So Paul went to the Greeks and preached Christ crucified and raised from the dead. What do you think happened when he did that? They laughed at him. “The resurrection? You must be crazy. We have never heard of anything so stupid as that. A crucified Christ? You must be out of your mind.” That is exactly what they said; they said he was crazy.