The ‘stupidity’ of the cross


The message of the cross of Jesus Christ has never been a popular one. In the ancient world, as the early church was just starting to pick up steam, the idea of God on a cross was particularly offensive and laughable to many. Last week I wrote about the Greek word “skandalon,” a word that the Apostle Paul used to describe the Jewish reaction to his preaching about the cross. It was a scandalous idea to most Jewish minds that the Messiah would suffer in such a way. In the same letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul describes the Gentile reaction to the cross as mostly being one of rejection as well. To Gentile minds, the message of the cross was foolish, even stupid.

The Greek philosopher Plato taught that physical matter is evil. For this lifetime, we are bound and shackled to a physical existence, and we long to escape into the non-corporeal spiritual dimension. As Paul travelled around the Mediterranean, he was running into a sneering and sophisticated intelligentsia who by definition would reject the idea of a god becoming a physical human being. Why would a god want to be imprisoned in a physical body? With that mindset, it was preposterous to suggest that God suffered an ignominious and degrading death on a Roman cross. How quaint! How gullible! How stupid to believe such a thing!

The word Paul uses to describe their allergic reaction to the gospel is “moria,” (yes, like Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”). The New International Version translates this word as “foolishness” throughout I Corinthians 1:18-25. In classical Greek, the word meant a serious lack of judgment or a deficiency in a critical way. We might say of someone that they are not the sharpest knife in the drawer. That is the idea that the word conveys. Indeed, we get the derogatory name “moron” from the Greek word. It is an absurdity, a silliness, a mental slowness. The word was also used to describe medicines that didn’t work, or seasoning that didn’t add any flavor to food, or the energy level of a hibernating animal.

Trendy Greek-thinkers thought the idea of the cross was for superstitious people who didn’t know any better. I have run into a lot of people who believe the same. Why would I need a God on a cross? Do you really believe that if there is a God, he would stoop so low as to allow humankind to do that to him? The spirit behind a scoffing skepticism is alive and well.

As Paul wrote to people near the epicenter of where Greek philosophy shook the intellectual world, he made a case against the wisdom of the world. If such “wisdom” led someone further away from God and not towards God, then how could it be wisdom? How wise can the wisdom of the world be if it leads to a bad end? He quotes Isaiah 29:14 in response to them: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent, I will frustrate.” What they have rejected as foolish, insipid, stupid or absurd, God has made as the way of salvation. God is “pleased” to reveal himself through the foolishness of the cross to those who believe.

Paul uses a different word to describe the cross than they use. He says that to those who are being saved, the cross is the “dunamis” of God. Translated, that word means power. We get the word “dynamite” from the word Paul uses to describe the cross. Think of dynamite blasting a hole through the base of the Rocky Mountains in order to dig a tunnel through them. That is power! That is what the cross is to the Christian believer. We have put our faith in the saving action of Jesus on the cross, and like dynamite, that has blasted through the things that have held us back from fully engaging with God. As the preachers in the early church shared more about the cross, more people listened. God would do that for them? No one had ever heard of a self-sacrificing God like that.

As we are getting closer to Easter, I invite you to think again about the cross of Jesus Christ. How do you react to the message of the cross? Is it absurd, foolish, laughable? Or do you find power in the cross? Is the cross an idea that you are willing to give your life to? Is that a message you will speak out loud to people, even if they think you are a “moron” for doing so?

For myself, if I have a forced choice of the wisdom of human beings or the foolishness of God, I’ll choose the foolishness of God every time. I’ll choose the cross of Jesus over Plato, and it isn’t even close.

Derek Russell is pastor of the Hillsboro Global Methodist Church. He loves Jesus, family, dogs and football.

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