This month at Ikthus East we are remembering the Passion of Christ; that is, the fact that Jesus suffered and died on the cross of Calvary to save us from our sins. This morning one of our pastors at Ikthus East preached on the Message of the Cross. His first point surprised me: The Message of the Cross is Pointless!
At first, the statement struck me as misleading. Upon deeper reflection, I realized it was faithful to what the New Testament taught. The message of the cross is indeed pointless or foolish to the worldly mind.
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
Why is the Cross of Christ pointless to many people? Because they can’t see how it solves the problems we encounter in our daily lives.
Generally speaking, the solution to a problem is either political (i.e., power or force) or intellectual (e.g., management, technology). That is, you bend circumstances to your will through brute force, or you shape circumstances to your will through the application of effective techniques.
The first method is crude and often unsound. Many times, we are up against forces far stronger than our puny strength can handle. And even if momentarily we succeed, how long can we sustain the strength needed to keep our enemies down?
Pitting force against force is actually a simplistic idea. People who subscribe to this paradigm are enamored with the idea of accumulating, maintaining, and increasing political power and financial capital. They seek to vanquish their problem by overpowering it with superior force. In extreme cases, they cheat at the polls and assassinate their opponents.
The second method is at its core similar to the first, in that its seeks to get rid of the problem, but in more subtle and indirect ways – ways that require the application of intelligence. If meeting a problem head-on won’t defeat it, then we must probe deeper: Find its weakness and concentrate on that. One does not have to be stronger than his opponent to defeat him. Or maybe one can simply sidestep the problem, make it irrelevant so that it won’t be a problem anymore. If talking to the uncaring sales clerk is a dead end, maybe one can try talking to the supervisor or the manager, since the goal is to exchange the defective product you bought for a functional one, and not to win an argument!
The second method abounds with tips and how-to’s. It studies patterns of success and failure in order to discover what causes success and failure. And then it distills its findings and presents these in the form of easy-to-understand-and-apply tips or techniques.
Incidentally, many churches today have more or less adopted this managerial mind-set. The trend of how-to sermons is proof of this. Doctrinal sermons are taking a backseat to how-to-succeed inspirational messages sprinkled with Bible verses. This should not come as a surprise. People are interested in how the Bible can solve the problems they face in daily life – problems related to money, relationships, work, and physical and mental health. In other words, they want to know how they can live a successful, happy and comfortable life. Sadly, many churches cater to what people want, at the expense of providing soul-maturing spiritual meat, because they too want to be “successful.”
However, the message of the cross goes against this mindset. The cross sounds foolish to the worldly mind because it does nothing to achieve all those things we’ve mentioned that human beings crave: success, happiness, health, meaningful relationships, and the like. In fact, the cross represents the opposite of all the foregoing: The cross represents defeat, sorrow, death, separation and resignation! It is, to the worldly mind, a non-solution.
The irony is: It is in embracing the foolishness of the cross that human beings can find ultimate fulfillment, the satisfaction of their deepest longings, cravings, and desires. For the cross is the solution to greatest problem of all, the one problem that prevents human beings from experiencing life that is truly life: The problem of sin and holiness. In other words, the problem of how sinful human beings can be reconciled to a perfectly holy God.
All this pursuit of happiness, success, health, meaning, significance, and the like, is at bottom an unwitting pursuit of God. This is the paradox of our existence: In running away from God, we prove that we we were made for him. We run after this and that, only to discover that that which we desperately desire, in its truest and deepest essence, can be found only in him.
And this is where the cross comes in, the cross that negates the power and wisdom of this world. For no power of man can force God to bestow on man what he desires according to man’s terms. No wisdom of man can manipulate God into giving him what he wants.
But God gives us all that we need and truly desire through the cross alone: unconditional love, complete forgiveness, peace that transcends all understanding, ultimate significance, unbreakable intimacy, heavenly joy, and everlasting life! And he does this freely and voluntarily. Not because we deserve it or have earned it, but simply by grace. That’s what the cross means. By grace God gave his one and only Son to pay for the sins we could not pay for in order for us to have the everlasting life and joy in and with God we could never earn or deserve.
This is what the Bible calls Salvation. Left to ourselves, it is simply out of reach. Human power and wisdom can acquire wealth, win friends and influence people, improve emotional health and even prolong life! But no amount of human wisdom or power can do what the cross of Christ alone can: Cleanse and save one’s soul and reconcile it to God.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Be reconciled to God: Embrace the foolishness of the cross!