“But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jew and Greeks, Christ the power of God and Christ the wisdom of God” 1 Corinthians 1:23-25
In the passage quoted above, Paul both describes and defends his ministry to the believers in Corinth. Such a description and defense was called forth because as Paul states elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, the fledgling believers in Corinth were still thinking about their new-found faith in a very immature and indeed a worldly way (see 1 Corinthians 3:1). Theirs was a world in which human power and human wisdom were held in high regard. Therefore, it was a world in which the message about Jesus saving the world by death on a cross sounded pathetic and absurd. In other words, the world of the Corinthians was no different to our world.
Paul’s response to the Corinthians and their world was firstly to acknowledge that the gospel about Christ crucified is a hard gospel for the world to accept. How could anyone accomplish so great a salvation by dying in such a shameful way? Surely a successful and influential life was a far better alternative? And how could such a shameful and weak death possibly be seen as wisdom? Surely the teaching of key life skills to a new generation would be more effective? To the world obsessed with its own view of power and wisdom, such a gospel is indeed a stumbling block.
But Paul’s response does not end with the recognition of the difficulty that those who preach the true gospel face in such a world. He goes on to remind the Corinthians and us that this gospel of Christ crucified, though it may not conform to the world’s understanding of power and wisdom, is indeed a manifestation of the power and wisdom of God. And the reason is quite simple. It is because the gospel is about Christ and it is in Christ crucified that the true power of God and the true wisdom of God are at work in the world. What exactly does Paul mean by this striking statement?
First, by describing Christ crucified as the power of God, Paul is asserting that the death of Jesus accomplishes God’s saving purposes in the world. For power is only true power if it actually brings a solution to the real problem and the real problem that we and the world face is the guilt of sin and the alienation from each other and from God (now and in the future) that such sin brings. Behind all this world’s ills lies the problem of human sin in its various and terrible manifestations. And because the world is caught up in the problem, the world cannot solve the problem. Sin is like a deadly and contagious virus that can only be dealt with from without through the application of a powerful and effective cure. That cure is what Jesus came to effect and that cure for sin, death and judgement is precisely what His own death in our place accomplishes. As the late Dr John Stott reminded us in his brilliant book The Cross of Christ, Jesus’ death has real power. First, it wipes out the penalty of sin and breaks the power of sin in the life of the believer. Second, it deals once and for all with the righteous wrath of God justifying those who trust in Christ and reconciling them to God as their Heavenly Father. Third, it defeats the devil and removes forever his right to accuse. Trust in Christ crucified thus brings a total change in the lives of those who believe and in this way the world is changed one person at a time.
Second, by describing Christ crucified as the wisdom of God, Paul is asserting that the death of Jesus accomplishes God’s saving purposes in the right way, indeed in the only way that they could be accomplished. In Gethsemane, Jesus Himself prayed that if possible the cup of God’s judgement should pass from Him. The fact that it did not, meant that there was no other way by which God’s saving work could be done. True Wisdom involves doing the right thing in the right way and that is exactly what Jesus did when He died for our sins. There was no other way in which we could be saved other than by Jesus the sinless Son of God becoming sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
In our world, as in Paul’s world, the message of Jesus’ death for sinners seems to be pathetic and absurd. Based on human wisdom and human power it is a message which we would never preach. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds believers what they know from their own experience of God’s grace in their lives. A message that seems so weak and foolish is in fact the wisdom and the power of God, a message which changes the world one person at a time.
Written by Mervyn Eloff. Original article can be found here.