The CROSS that divides

Mark Barry | Apr 4th, 2012

My first experience of sharing the gospel at uni sticks with me to this day. I remember talking to this Buddhist guy about how awesome it was that God became a man and died on the cross for us. I thought I did an OK job. I even drew some pictures. But when I had finished, his response was pretty blunt:

'A God who gets nailed to a cross is a crap God.'

I remember the feeling like it was yesterday: being stunned, loss for words, wanting to crawl under a rock.

The CROSS of weakness + stupidity

But I shouldn’t have been shocked by his response, for the message of the cross is anything but neutral. It’s divisive! It polarises people. As 1 Corinthians 1:18 says:

‘the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’

‘Folly’ is such a polite, gentile English word. The original is much harsher. It really means ‘moronic’, as in idiotic, stupid, mentally challenged. To those who are perishing, the cross is the product of a warped, defective mind.

Likewise in verse 23, the cross is ‘a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’. Again ‘stumbling block’ is way too subtle. The word here really means ‘scandalous’. It’s not just a little obstacle or speed hump in the way of faith, it’s Uluru, it’s Everest. You can’t get around it.

To many Jewish people, the messiah was supposed to be God’s all-powerful, all-conquering representative on earth. So a crucified messiah was a complete contradiction in terms. And to the ancient Greeks, to be divine was to be detached from the world, unmovable and unfeeling. So again a suffering God was a complete contradiction in terms.

This early anti-Christian graffiti sums it up (image above). On the right there’s a picture of a crucified donkey and the Greek punchline underneath reads: "Alexamenos is worshipping his god." To those who don’t believe, this is the God we worship

The CROSS of wisdom + power 

A crucified God dying in our place sounds ridiculous to ancient Jewish people and Greeks, as well as to relativists, Muslims and Buddhists (and even some Christians) now. All you can do is ridicule this idea. Unless of course the cross is your salvation! As Paul writes at the end of verse 18, ‘to those who are being saved it is the power of God’ and verse 24, ‘Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God’.

The crucified Jesus truly reveals God’s wisdom to us, his character and his plans. Similarly, the crucified Jesus truly saves God’s people. The cross is the explosive power of God to save. (The original word is where we get our word ‘dynamite’ from.) So the crucified Jesus is the very heart of the gospel. As we see in verse 30:

‘He [God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.’

  • Real meaning in life – is only found in Jesus.
  • Right relationship with God – is only found in Jesus.
  • True spirituality and holiness – is only found in Jesus.
  • Genuine freedom – is only found in Jesus.

The CROSS we preach 

So like Paul before the Corinthians (see 2:1-5), we simply deliver the message like a humble postie, not trying to look smart or tampering with the mail or relying on our slick delivery technique. We simply preach Christ and him crucified, sounding stupid, looking like morons, because it is the very heart of the gospel: the very wisdom of God to reveal, the very power of God to save.

Sure it’s great to dialogue with Muslims and find common ground with Catholics, to make connections and engage our audience, but in the end if we’re not preaching the cross of Jesus as the only way to be saved, we might as well pack up and go home, because we’ve got nothing without the cross. Just empty words. In fact, without the cross we are nothing as Christians:

“Christless Christianity and crossless Christianity are not Christianity at all. Christ and his cross cannot be on the fringe of Christianity. Authentic Christianity has the cross of Jesus solidly and unequivocally at the centre.”[1]

[1] The Blueprint studies (Matthias Media)