Study Notes for I Corinthians 1: 18-25 (click here for Study Sheet)
In this letter to the Corinthians Paul makes no attempt to gild or romanticize the cross. The cross, he said, "is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." The idea of God taking on humanity so he could suffer and die makes no sense. Logic would say that God would command respect, obeisance, and unquestioning obedience. Logic would also say that God would use power to impress his creatures and that he could exercise his will capriciously. Further, it seems logical to suppose that God would require offerings, rituals, and prescribed forms of worship.
But the idea of God allowing himself to be humiliated in front of thousands of his creatures without defending himself or preventing his own death is inexplicable. The fact of God bleeding and dying in spiritual isolation is almost embarrassing. How can we worship a God whose legacy is a cross? How can we worship a God who displayed such weakness? The suffering and the blood are repulsive and messy and do not inspire pride.
People who don't know Jesus, Paul declares, find the message of the cross to be absolutely foolish. And the Corinthians, steeped in the Greek philosophy that dominated the Roman culture, were trained to scorn such a God. The body, they had believed, was inconsequential. Reality was the soul. The idea of God physically suffering and dying made no sense. The body was nothing, they had believed, and a God who allowed himself to be tortured could be no god.
But to we who are being saved the cross represents the power of God. God longed to call us to himself. He longed for us to accept his love and to allow him to be intimate with us. The only way he could ever demonstrate the deep and eternal quality of his love for us was to come and let us experience him. Shrouding his eternity in human flesh, Jesus became sin for us and destroyed sin's curse on the universe. Experiencing the weakness of human flesh, Jesus bequeathed to us the power of God.
The cross does not make sense. It is a miracle whenever a person accepts Jesus. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can reveal the reality of love and salvation.
We study anthropology and philosophy and theology. We try to understand eternity and death, justice and forgiveness, law and grace, and the natures of man and God. But the cross slices through the darkness of competing theories with the light of love. No discipline can explain love, forgiveness, or truth. When the Holy Spirit breaks through our rationalizing and our souls finally perceive love, we can never be the same again.
Our minds cannot understand or explain salvation or the fact that we are cherished. If salvation were something we could figure out, we would begin to manipulate it. It would become another mark of our intellectual prowess.
When Adam and Eve sinned, their oneness with God ended. Their souls died. And those dead souls are our heritage.
Truth and light and salvation are spiritual realities. It is a miracle when the Holy Spirit gets past our logic and breathes life back into our souls. Such a miracle can only happen when we desire to know truth.
The Jews, Paul said, demanded miracles. No miracles, no Messiah. They were passionate people, and they knew they were the chosen race. The body was important.to the Jews. They marked their chosen-ness by special diets and rituals. They kept track of their sins and offered sacrifices for them. They were careful to observe ritual purity and to observe the laws defining their behavior.
The Messiah, they knew, would come in human flesh. He would come as a king and conqueror, and they would finally ascend to their promised position of world leadership.
The Greeks, on the other hand, believed that anything of flesh was merely a shadow of a spiritual reality. Only the mind mattered. Philosophy, logic, and mathematics defined truth. The Greeks looked for someone with more cleverness. They would follow someone with wisdom.
But Jesus came, and although he was human and did miracles, he didn't fit the Jews' expectations. He was a "stumbling block." The scholarly Jews knew that if Jesus really were the Messiah, if he really brought redemption with his death, their way of life would end. Their rituals, their ceremonial days, and their favored status would end.
Although he was wise and intelligent, Jesus' wisdom defied the Greeks' logic. His parables and teachings did not make rational sense to them.
Jesus came and wakened people's spirits. He spoke truth that they recognized deeply and in ways they could not explain. To an awakened soul, the cross represents the power of God. No human cleverness can explain its reality. Sin tore the universe, and only its Creator could save it. What Jesus did involved a spiritual battle so overwhelming that he sweat blood. Jesus had to bleed and die.
Jesus redeemed not only our souls but also our minds and bodies. He showed us that we cannot separate ourselves into physical, mental and spiritual compartments. When we let him awaken our spiritually dead souls, his love makes us whole.
The message of the cross is a paradox. The foolishness and weakness of a bleeding, dying Savior is wiser than logic and more powerful than human strength. It is simple, but we can't comprehend its complexity. It is messy, but it cleans and purifies. It is insulting, but it restores us to being God's sons.
The message of the cross demands that we see our desperate condition, but it restores us to life and gives us eternity.
"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 the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." (verses 22-25)
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