…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.
1 Corinthians 1:23-24
It is impossible to explain to people who do not believe why the gospel is precious to Christians. To the Jew – the legalist in this setting – with his belief that you get what you work for, that we earn our opportunities, that to expect and hope for grace is illogical nonsense, that the best thing you can do in life is to accept your failures and try to work past them, and with his blindness and pride as to his true standing before Holy God, to the legalist the idea that we might be forgiven and reclaimed despite our failures is a stumbling block. It seems to get in the way of human responsibility and discourage personal achievements.
The problem with the legalist’s position is not the emphasis on responsibility but that it ignores how serious our problem with sin is. That I cannot work my way past my failures for despite what else I achieve, the failures remain on the record, and the words of the Scripture are true, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But even the most ardent legalist, the most moral citizen must admit to the darkness that is in his heart, that there is a tendency within each of us to sin. If we took the finest and most moral people of all history and put them into a paradise for eternity because of their morality, eventually they would turn on one another and paradise would become hell.
Our only hope is for our hearts to be changed, for our minds to be remade new, for our past to be forgiven, and for the Spirit of God and the spirit of love to change us from the inside out – which is precisely what the gospel of Christ preaches.
But to the Greeks – the wise and worldly in this case – the entire story seemed a fable. It made no sense to them that a man of humble birth from Palestine should die for the sins of the world, so they tossed the entire thing out as inane and placed their emphasis on the nobility of humanity and the genius of the human mind and capacity for abstract thought. They saw no beauty in Christ so as to desire Him, but instead they sought the beauty of nature and worshipped the thing that was a witness to the existence of God. They were actually only slightly different from the legalists in that they turned to some more noble thought based on human achievements.
But they turned away from the compelling story of Jesus of Nazareth, that His existence pre-dated His birth, that He was the one true and perfect Man, the Son of Man, and also the Son of God, come into the world to save us from our sins. The resurrection and the witness of the Spirit gave evidence to the mind and conviction to the heart. The Spirit turned believers from skepticism and pride to repentance, faith, and worship.
And the Spirit does the same today. Christ is the power of God – the power to forgive, to regenerate hearts, to cleanse consciences, to heal hurts, to give new hope, to transform our lives from the inside out. Christ is the wisdom of God – that in His death was our sin problem truly dealt with and our lives lifted up from the ash heap of millennia of human failure to being included in the eternal family of God.
To the unbelievers the cross does not make sense. To believers, however, it is the most precious doctrine in the world – the Son of God crucified for our sins that we might have His life within us. Faith makes the difference in these two perspectives. We see the crucifixion not only in terms of its effect on the world in general, but it becomes personal, precious, and endears Christ to our hearts. “Jesus died that I might live,” is the precious personal realization of believers.
Lord, thank You for the cross, for the act of sacrifice and for the truth proclaimed to us that we can share with others. Amen.