For Christians, this is the most important weekend of the year. On Good Friday, we remember Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. Then on Easter Sunday, we celebrate the historically reliable fact that Jesus rose again, appeared to many, and is alive today in heaven.
With all this talk of the cross, we can forget just how offensive the cross really is. In the Western world, the cross is more of a household knicknack than a torture device. Apart from a church or cemetery, you’re likely to see crosses in jewelry, tattoos, and windshield decals.
For people of the first century, however, there was no such confusion. Everyone in the Roman Empire knew what a cross was, and had probably seen someone crucified. The Romans made sure to perform these executions publicly, as if to say, “this is what happens to those who defy Rome.” Apart from grim curiosity, you steered clear of crosses.
Jews have their star of David. Muslims have their crescent and star. Eastern religions favor the yin-yang. And then there are Christians. The only world religion that finds its identity in an execution device.
The Apostle Paul explains just how strange this was to Jews and Greeks of his time: “For 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…For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:18, 22-23; cf. 2:2).
The word “folly” (Gk. μωρία, vv. 18, 23) is the source for our word “moron” today. It speaks of something stupid, irrational, idiotic. God engages in a bit of sarcasm here. He says, “You call me foolish. Fine. I’m going to use this foolish message to show how empty your so-called wisdom is.”
From a human perspective, the preaching of the cross is “moronic.” But from spiritual perspective, it is beautiful beyond measure.
“Wait!” you reply. “Are you saying you’re going to put your faith in a savior who was stripped naked and publicly executed on a pole in the middle east two thousand years ago?!”
Yep. That’s exactly what I’m saying. I will gladly stake my eternity on Jesus Christ the Son of God who came to earth and died on a cross in my place, forgiving me of sin and then rising again. It may sound foolish, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1:25). Folly? Yes. And I invite you to join me.
For those of us in ministry, there’s another application here. When ministry does not produce the kind of immediate results we expect, we will be tempted to make the message more palatable.
Borrowing from the entrepreneurial playbook, we try a more market-driven, seeker-driven approach to ministry. Find what people want, then give it to them! Shorten the sermon. Sprinkle in videos. Focus on felt needs. Preach on practically relevant topics. Use pop culture references. Get a little edgy. People’s attention spans are short, so make the service more like a variety show. Build a playland for the kids. Avoid talk of God’s holiness, the reality of hell, or that Jesus is the only way. This is the type of advice many church growth experts propound today.
A few months back, I attended a workshop on “Reaching Generation Z.” While the speaker gave some very interesting demographic data, there was very little talk of the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17). He did, however, encourage us to visit Las Vegas to learn about their production values and special effects. The implication was that this is what will help draw sinners and save souls.
Most of us would never deliberately change the message. But subtly, we can shift the focus away from Christ to other things, and the folly of the cross has been lost. Inadvertently, we strip the gospel of its very essence.
Believe me, we are not the first generation to struggle with reaching our audience. There were some pretty effective artists and entertainers in Paul’s day. Paul could have resorted to their kind of methods to draw a crowd. But instead, he chose to preach a bloody cross.
God delights in using what is weak, because then he gets the glory. This Easter weekend, may we, like the Apostle Paul, preach Christ crucified and risen (1 Cor. 1:23; 15:3-4).