1 Corinthians 1:22-24 “Jews demand miraculous 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 the wisdom of God.”
God wraps himself in human flesh and lives among the Jews for 33 years. He stills storms, heals the sick, raises the dead. But his own people don’t know him. They want a sign. Which sign? Pick a sign. I mean, really, was Jesus stingy with the miracles? But they can’t see him. They crucify him instead.
God paints his wisdom all across creation. He plants the wisdom of his laws in human hearts and consciences. He writes the wisdom of his grace down on thousands of pages of history, poetry, and prophecy spread across a millennium and a half. And when Paul brings God’s word to the Greeks, for all their intellect and research and deep thought, they don’t get it.
We still live in this world between those who demand magic and those who want nothing but cold logic, the materialist and the magician as C.S. Lewis once described them. One side or the other appeals to our own hearts and minds. One side or the other is campaigning for our own souls, creeping into our own thinking. Neither side wants, or respects, or appreciates the cross. It is foolishness to our world.
The idea that there is a God who became one of us–not just put on a human disguise, but permanently united his very being to these things he made called “humans;” who then took the blame for all of their sins, which they had committed against him; and then let them torture him to death on a cross to serve their sentence, to endure the punishment they had earned by all their sins–that is just the one thing that prevents some people from believing the Christian faith. They could go along with all the rules and morals, even the ones that seem to restrict their personal freedoms, if only Christianity didn’t ask them to believe this.
The translation above calls it a “stumbling block.” More literally, the Greek says it is the trigger in the trap, the little lever on which you put the cheese or peanut butter in your mousetrap. You know, a mousetrap is just a harmless little collection of wood and wires until that trigger is disturbed. But touch the trigger, and “Snap!” the mouse is dead. Christ crucified, God in the flesh on a cross, is the thing that gets so many people to say, “Okay, that’s it. I was with you up to here. That’s just too much to ask a reasonable person to believe. I’m sorry, but I’m done.” It’s the trigger that springs the spiritual trap, and the soul is dead.
But that’s the Christ we preach, Paul says, Christ crucified–not super role model Jesus, or motivational speaker Jesus, or really wise advice Jesus, but the one who dies for us on a cross. Why? To those God has called to faith, Christ crucified is the power of God. It is the power that gives faith, the power that converts. Like Paul writes to the Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.”
This power of the cross is not the power of carefully reasoned logic. It is not an argument or case so indisputable, so airtight, that you are forced to agree. The gospel is not merely a mathematical principle, a proven formula that works every time your run the numbers. There is something warmer and dearer and friendlier working here.
The power of the cross is not brute force. It is not God taking your arm and twisting it behind your back, wrenching it higher and higher until you cry uncle. “Okay, Okay, I believe, I believe already. Let me go.”
“This is love,” the Apostle John writes in his first letter, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” That’s the cross, and the hidden power behind the cross. Dying on a cross is God at his weakest, weaker than anyone could ever have imagined possible. Still, “the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” What human achievement has ever accomplished as much?
The whole world’s debt to God has been settled, millions of hearts have been changed, the history of nations and empires has been altered–all because 2000 years ago God did something “foolish,” and he hid his loving power on a cross.