Jesus May Be Mocked, But He is Always Worthy of Praise

When Jesus was crucified, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, it certainly appeared foolish. Here Jesus is seen as a common criminal, a failure, and powerless. In Mark we read these words of how he is mocked at the crucifixion:

And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

Mark 15:16-20

That is our savior. Paul won’t waiver from this painful sight–the Messiah dying on the cross. It seems foolish. But it is our savior. It is love in action.

I thought I’d share a hymn that puts these two concepts together. Each stanza begins with what appears foolish: birth in a manger, a wandering existence with no home, his beating, and finally his crucifixion. But coupled with these scenes is the fact that such humble events do not diminish our Lord. Each stanza asks, “Who is this?” And the answer is always, regardless of circumstance, “our God.” We still praise him. Jesus Christ is the Son of God in these times and judging by the world’s standards, or by the world’s wisdom, does not fully comprehend his real power and glory.

Who Is This, So Weak and Helpless?

Who is this, so weak and helpless,
Child of lowly Hebrew maid,
Rudely in a stable sheltered,
Coldly in a manger laid?
’Tis the Lord of all creation,
Who this wondrous path has trod;
He is Lord from everlasting,
And to everlasting God.

Who is this, a Man of Sorrows,
Walking sadly life’s hard way,
Homeless, weary, sighing, weeping
Over sin and Satan’s sway?
’Tis our God, our glorious Savior,
Who above the starry sky
Is for us a place preparing,
Where no tear can dim the eye.

Who is this? Behold him shedding
Drops of blood upon the ground!
Who is this, despised, rejected,
Mocked, insulted, beaten, bound?
’Tis our God, Who gifts and graces
On His church is pouring down;
Who shall smite in holy vengeance
All His foes beneath His throne.

Who is this that hangs there dying
While the rude world scoffs and scorns,
Numbered with the malefactors,
Torn with nails, and crowned with thorns?
’Tis our God Who lives forever
’Mid the shining ones on high,
In the glorious golden city,
Reigning everlastingly.

You can also listen to the song here, in a rendition from Indelible Grace, sung by Sandra McCracken (although the video was not made by them):

The Cross is Not a Metaphor

When we move from one culture to another, we often change our illustrations to best fit our audience. For example, if you use a baseball metaphor in the United States, it may not work so well if you are in England. (I guess you need to hope you can easily translate it into a cricket metaphor.)

We have no issue changing these illustrations because it isn’t changing the true content of the message, just its packaging. We even are happy to change if it helps us avoid miscommunication, or worse, offending someone.

But this does not apply to the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul knows this will offend and trouble some of his audience, but he will not change his message. He may change his metaphors and other examples, but the crucifixion isn’t a metaphor. The cross is not merely an illustration of God’s love. It is not just a story, a parable or fable where what is important is only the lesson we can learn. The cross is a true event in our history that changed everything.

When Paul is addressing Jews and Greeks there is no substitute for the cross of Christ. Even though it is a stumbling block, he can’t avoid this central event. He won’t avoid the cross, because “to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks,” Christ, and him crucified, is the wisdom of God. He’s our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption.

N.T. Wright on the Foolishness of the Cross

What was so foolish about the cross?

“The Christian good news is all about God dying on a rubbish-heap at the wrong end of the Empire. It’s all about God babbling nonsense to a room full of philosophers. It’s all about the true God confronting the world of posturing, power and prestige, and overthrowing it in order to set up his own kingdom, a kingdom in which the weak and the foolish find themselves just as welcome as the strong and the wise, if not more so”.

N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians.

Committed to Preaching an Offensive Gospel

Paul writes in chapter one about how the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the cross in particular, may be offensive. To some we see it for what it is, the heart of the good news. Others see it as folly, weakness, or a stumbling block to belief.

At times people may desire to overcome the offensiveness of the crucifixion and make the message more appealing to the world. We may even do so with the best of intentions, so that more people may hear the message. But Paul is committed to the message of the cross of Jesus Christ and he will not sugar coat it. He knows that it is a hindrance to Jews and the idea of worshiping an executed criminal is simply absurd to the Greeks. But he can not gloss over the crucifixion.

In our attempts in today’s world to make the message of Jesus Christ more “relevant” or sensitive to our modern culture, we cannot lose sight of what we preach. God is pleased to save those who believe through a foolish message. We ought not water it down for in so doing we will lose its fullness. The cross of Christ may offend. A gospel of grace–as wonderful and freeing as it is for believers–is not always accepted as good news. But we must trust in God’s wisdom and in his message, not concerning ourselves with whether we appear as fools to this world.

Paul, a very educated and eloquent man, did not seek to sidestep that which he knew would cause problems for his readers and listeners with lofty speech and convincing rhetoric. I’m sure he could’ve concocted a message that would be far more appealing. But Paul had no desire to merely entertain. No he decided to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Memorizing the Message of Christ Crucified

Each week with our memory verse we have the chance to really focus in on one small portion of Scripture. That one or two verse segment may contain some core truth found in this letter. It may help us remember helpful background, like the first week’s memory verse during which we memorized the key players in 1 Corinthians (from whom, to whom). These short lines also help us recall the larger points and arguments that Paul makes. For instance, this week the verses are 1 Corinthians 1:22-23:

Jews demand signs and Greek seek wisdom,
But we preach Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles…

These verses lift up the centrality of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death on the cross. They also reminds us that God coming to die for us was not what people were looking for and it seemed utterly foolish to the world. But these verses also can remind us of the surrounding passage. These lines fall in the center of a larger message Paul is writing that begins with the cross (v. 16), returns to the cross here in verses 22-23 and then ends again with Paul preaching Jesus Christ crucified (2:1-2). If we can memorize the center or crux or Paul’s argument, then we are better able to recall this whole section from 1:17-2:2.

Again here are some visuals to help you out. First a letter sized graphic. Second is something I made for those of who you use your smartphones all day long. Make it your lock screen and every time you glance at your phone, you’re given the chance to repeat the memory verses.

Memory Verse 1 Cor 1.22-23

Small sized for your iPhone

More on foolishness of the cross

I want to continue with the passage from 1 Corinthians–the one about the foolishness of the cross. I’ve been trying to get a grasp on just how difficult this would be to accept for Paul’s hearers. Having read three gospels already in our Year in the Bible plan, you see how much the Jews wanted a political messiah. How could they overthrow Rome with a crucified Christ? Jesus had shown great power. How could he waste it all by submitting to the cross?

But imagine you’re a Greek or Gentile. You have many gods and perhaps you are hearing about a new one from Paul. But you hear that this God is glorified in weakness. How does that make sense to you? Does Zeus deserve recognition because he is thought to be strong or weak? Who among the gods is praised for dying, humility, service, or crucifixion? Especially being crucified would make it hard, for Christ died the death of a criminal. What is deserving of worship in an executed criminal?

But so it is. Christ crucified. Failure to Jewish political pursuits. Ridiculous to Greek notions of the divine. Our God is not like the rest for he came to serve us, love us, die for us, and in his death he is glorified.

Story So Far, Week 9

Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dalí, 1951.

God has a special claim among his people of the first born. Then in Numbers 3 he makes an arrangement that I’m sure the tribes were happy about. Instead of having to give over their own firstborns, all the tribes will be represented by the Levites. They will consecrated to the Lord in the place of the children of the rest of Israel.

But this is not the only stand in we see in God’s story. Jesus is arrested and accused of crimes he did not commit. He alone in history is the true innocent one. Yet, in Luke 23, when the people call for someone to be pardoned they cry out for Barabbas. They cry out, “Crucify” to the innocent, and demand release for the guilty.

We can see ourselves in this story, taking the place of Barabbas. We are the guilty ones who deserve the punishment standing beside the innocent Jesus. But we receive the pardon because of Christ’s sacrifice. It is as though God says, “Take my own firstborn instead of these people who deserve the consequences of their sin.” Christ suffers the punishment that we deserve and stands in on behalf of God’s people. Because of this substitution sinners are forgiven and are reconciled to God.

Having completed such a work in Christ, we now press on to read in Acts, and we will see what God will do to care for and grow his church once Jesus has left the people. It is a church made possible only because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, who stands in on our behalf.