Golgotha, the place of crucifixion is probably a small hill just outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem. According to Christian tradition, it was within the area now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But some biblical scholars doubt that this is the correct location.
“For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
(1 Cor. 1:22-24)
The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, described three different reactions people had during the First century to the preaching of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was once crucified. Almost 2,000 years have passed since that message was first preached by Christ’s disciples; and yet, the reactions people give to that same message are still very much the same.
THE JEWISH REACTION
Who were the Jews? They were God’s chosen nation under the Old Covenant. To them God gave privileges that God never gave to other nations. In Rom. 9:4,5, Paul outlined the glorious privileges of the Jews. We read, “to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever”. But what was the Jewish reaction to the preaching of a crucified Messiah?
Notably, the Jews accepted much of God’s revelation in the Old Testament. They regarded the Scriptures of the Old Testament as authoritative. Many of them believed the biblical teaching of creation, the existence of the unseen spiritual world of reality. The Jews also held to the biblical standard of morality summarized in the Ten Commandments. They cherished the hope of a coming Messiah as promised by God in the Old Testament. However, the message of a crucified Messiah was utterly offensive to them. It was to them a stumbling block.
For two reasons:
First, the message of a crucified Messiah seems to contradict Old Testament revelation.
What does the Old Testament teach about those who are hanged upon a tree? In Deut. 21:22,23, we read, “And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day ( for he who is hanged is accursed of God).”
Therefore, to every Jew who knows a little about the Old Testament, Jesus, who died crucified upon a tree, was accursed of God. Therefore, He could not be the long-promised Messiah.
Second, the message of a crucified Messiah seems to contradict Jewish expectations.
What was it that the Jews sought after?
“Signs” (1 Cor. 1:22). What then is a “sign”? A sign is a display of miraculous power that would validate the identity of the long-promised Messiah. God promised in the Old Testament that the Messiah would perform miraculous signs. Therefore, any one who claims to be the Messiah must be able to perform signs.
Now, did Jesus perform signs? Yes! The gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, testify to this fact. Jesus healed the sick, and the blind, and the lame. He even raised the dead, fed 5,000 men by miraculously multiplying a few pieces of bread and fish, walked on the sea, commanded the winds and the waves and they obeyed Him.
But the more Jesus performed signs, the more the Jews demanded signs. For them, the fact that Jesus died upon a cross in apparent weakness, was the ultimate argument against His claims of being the Messiah. Thus, when Jesus was hanging upon the cross, the people challenged Him to come down from it in order to prove that He was indeed the Messiah. We read in Mt. 27:39-42, “And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If you are the Son of God [the Messiah], come down from the cross. In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him, and saying, “He saved others, He cannot save Himself, He is the King of Israel; let Him come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him”.
Many today still react in that same way to the same message. For them, Christ could not be the Messiah for He was a failure. He died on a cross and failed in His mission.
THE GENTILE REACTION
The Greeks were representatives of the Gentiles or non-Jewish people (1 Cor. 1:22-24). They are accurately described in the biblical text that heads this paper as those who “search for wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:22).
The Greeks are known in history to have a great passion for knowledge and wisdom. Thus, the greatest philosophers the world has ever known were Greeks. Men like Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Epicurus, and a host of others, were Greeks. Even today, their writings are still read and studied in universities.
Unlike the Jews, the Greeks did not regard the Scriptures as authoritative. But they believed in man’s rational faculties as the ultimate determiner of truth. Thus, they concocted their beliefs by observation, reflection, logical analysis and synthesis. Simply put, they are the modern day rationalists who do not believe in the infallibility and absolute authority of the Bible.
What was the Gentile reaction to the preaching of a Messiah who died upon a cross? To them it was “foolishness” (1Cor. 1:23). The Greek word used by Paul is where the English word “moron” comes from. In other words, for the Greeks the message of a crucified Messiah was moronic. It was fit only for morons. It was to them utterly illogical, stupid, and irrelevant.
Many people today still react that way to the message of a Messiah who died upon a cross. They get excited if you talk to them about politics, or sports, or business, and a host of other issues. But if you talk to them about Jesus’ death upon the cross, it is to them but foolishness.
THE CALLED’S REACTION
Who are the called ones? In 1 Cor. 1:24, it is declared that they come from the Jewish and Gentile circles. Do they refer to all the Jews and the Gentiles or Greeks who have heard the message of a crucified Messiah? That could not be possible as many of the Jews and Gentiles who heard that message reacted negatively. So, who then are “the called”? They must refer to those who have received God’s special and effective call by the Holy Spirit that accompanies the preaching of the gospel. As the Holy Spirit, through Paul in writing to the believers at Thessalonica, said, “for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5).
Now how do the called view the message of Christ crucified? Unlike the Jews, they do not regard it as a stumbling block. And unlike the Greeks, they do not regard it as foolishness. But to them, it is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1Cor. 1:24).
But, why did Jesus die upon the cross? Not because He was a helpless victim of human cruelty. He had power even to raise the dead and to command the winds and the waves. Certainly, He had power to come down from that cross and destroy His enemies.
The Bible is clear that He died in order to bear the wrath, the curse, the punishment of God for the sins of those whom He came to save! In Gal. 3:13and 14, we read, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ – in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
This is what the Jews failed to grasp. Was Jesus accursed of God when He was hanged on that cross? Yes! But He was under God’s curse not for His sins, for He had none, but for the sins of those whom He came to save.
Therefore, what would have been easier for Jesus: to come down from that cross and destroy His enemies or to stay on that cross and bear the curse and wrath of God for the sins of those whom He came to save? Dear reader, if you know anything of the wrath of God, then you know it would have been infinitely easier for Jesus to come down from that cross!
This explains Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane. He, knowing that soon God’s wrath and curse for the sins of those whom He came to save would burst upon His head, Jesus said to His disciples, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:38. Then Jesus pleaded with God the Father three times, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me, yet not my will, but as Thou wilt” (Mt. 26:39). Jesus was so agonized to face God’s wrath and punishment for the sins of those whom He came to save, that in that garden, “His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” (Lk. 22:44).
So do you see in what sense Jesus is the power of God? Jesus’ crucifixion was not a display of weakness. It was a display of infinite power! For there on that cross He bore the frightening, terrifying wrath and curse of God for the sins of those whom He came to save. He bore their eternal torments on that cross. Therefore, make no mistake. The cross is not a display of weakness but of infinite power.
But what about Christ as the wisdom of God? Well, the Bible clearly teaches that God is not only a God of mercy. He is also a God of justice. Justice is as much an attribute of God as mercy. Therefore, how can the eternally just and holy God mercifully forgive hell-deserving sinners without sacrificing His justice and holiness? The crucified Messiah is the solution of the “Divine dilemma”! God punished sins in the Person of His Son thereby satisfying His justice so that He can freely pardon repentant and believing sinners.
Paul, under the infallible guidance of the Spirit, deals with this in Rom. 3:21f. He refers to Christ’s death on the cross as “for the demonstration, I say, of His [God’s] righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
My dear reader, what is your response to the message of the crucified Messiah – the Lord Jesus Christ? Is it to you a stumbling block? Is it foolishness? If it is, then there is nothing new about your reaction. And what you need is not a new gospel. What you need is the Holy Spirit to open your blind eyes to behold the glory of the message of a crucified Messiah preached by the Apostles and taught in the Scriptures. Gaze upon that cross in your mind’s eye until you see that indeed Christ is “ the power of God and the wisdom of God”.
If you are one who by reading through this paper has just seen that indeed Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God”, then call upon the risen Christ who now is exalted in the heaven to save you. For it is written that “whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:13)
If you have already seen the glory of the crucified Messiah, then never try to modify the gospel to suit the liking of men. The gospel will always be “a stumbling block” and “foolishness”. But not to those whom God calls into saving union with His Son – the Lord Jesus Christ. Preach that gospel clearly and uncompromisingly. And pray that many might see that indeed Christ is “ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”