By Gregg Bing
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)
The cross is almost universally recognized as a symbol of Christianity, yet few people understand its true significance. When Paul speaks of the “message of the cross,” he is not concerned with the cross as an object or symbol, nor is he concerned with merely the historical facts of Christ’s crucifixion.
The Greek word for “message” is logos, which is most often translated “word.” A “word” is used to express or convey a thought, idea, or concept. For example, the Lord Jesus Christ is referred to as the Word in John, chapter 1, because He is the expression of God. We read in John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him,” or led Him forth so He could be seen. Jesus told His disciples: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
The “message” or “word” of the cross refers to the meaning or significance of Christ’s death on Calvary. While the figure of a cross might symbolize Christianity to the world, most people have never trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior. They are perishing, which means they are spiritually lost, separated from God because of their sins. To them, the message of the cross is foolishness; it makes no sense, has no real meaning. Whereas, to those who have placed their faith in Christ and His finished work on Calvary, the message of the cross is the power of God to save them from their sins.
What is the “message of the cross”? In 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, Paul addresses three key aspects of the cross which we need to consider if we are to understand its true meaning.
“But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Paul’s opening words are: “We preach Christ crucified.” The first area of consideration is Christ …
The Person on the Cross
When Jesus entered the area of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” They answered Him, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matt. 16:13-14)
Most people today would respond much like the Jews of Jesus’ day. They might acknowledge Jesus as a great teacher, a religious leader, even a prophet of God, but, in their minds, He was still just a man! As we contemplate the Person on the cross, it is vital that we understand Jesus was so much more than this; He was, as Simon Peter boldly declared, “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).
Jesus is the Christ, Israel’s promised Messiah, anointed by God to sit upon the throne of His father, David (Luke 1:31-33). What the Jews did not seem to understand was that the Christ, who was prophesied throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, is also the very God of glory. The week before He was crucified, Jesus asked the Pharisees a question which proved this very point.
“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He? They said to Him, The Son of David. He said to them, How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son? And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.” (Matt. 22:41-46)
The Scriptures clearly teach the deity of Jesus Christ. There are many declarations of this fact throughout the Scriptures (Tit. 2:13, Heb. 1:8-11). There are hundreds of Old Testament prophecies which were fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Matt. 8:17, Luke 24:44, John 19:36). On two separate occasions, the Father testified of Jesus, saying, “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17, 17:5). Jesus Himself asserted His deity on numerous occasions (John 8:58, 10:30, 14:9). He also demonstrated He was God through His wisdom and knowledge, even at twelve years of age (Luke 2:46-47, John 2:23-25). The many miracles, wonders, and signs Jesus performed were clearly things that only God had the power to do: calming the winds and sea with His command, healing all manner of sickness and infirmity, feeding 5000 families with a young boy’s lunch, even raising the dead, including Lazarus, a man who had been dead four days. Jesus’ perfect, sinless life (Heb. 4:15) is amazing proof that He was truly Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Jesus’ unique birth, being born of the virgin Mary, also confirms He was “the Son of God” (Luke 1:34-35). His birth is often referred to as the incarnation because Jesus, the eternal Word of God, “became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Why is the deity of Jesus so important? Why is this truth such a vital part of the message of the cross? The answer can found by considering Jesus’ purpose for coming into the world.
Jesus did not come just to be a great Teacher, though He was the greatest teacher who ever lived. Jesus did not come just to help people by healing their diseases and casting out demons, though He certainly did so. Jesus did not come just to provide a great example of how to live, though His life, in many respects, provides a wonderful example of how we should live (Phil. 2:5-8). God the Son took upon Himself a body of flesh and became a Man so He could die; specifically, so He could die for our sins.
All of us have sinned, therefore we fall short of the glory of a holy and righteous God (Rom. 3:23). In His just judgment, God declares the payment that must be made for our sins is death (Rom. 6:23a), for “without shedding of blood there is no remission (forgiveness)” of sins (Heb. 9:22). The Old Testament sacrifices pictured God’s requirements for an acceptable substitute for sin: an animal (lamb, goat, ram, bull) that was “without blemish” (Exo. 12:5, Lev. 1:3). Yet those animal sacrifices could only cover sins temporarily; they could never take away sins completely (Heb. 10:1-4). A better sacrifice was needed, but the offering had to be “without blemish” or sinless. Only God is sinless, so only God was qualified to offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of men. But God is a Spirit and has no blood to shed. This is why God the Son “became flesh;” so He could shed His blood and die on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. John the Baptist declared Him to be, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Peter described the wonderful work the Lord Jesus accomplished on the cross for us with these words:
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18)
Christ was willing to suffer the death of the cross because it was the only way He could “bring us to God.” He has “reconciled us to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20).
If Jesus was just a man, like you or I, His death on the cross would have had no power to reconcile us to God. The message of the cross is not a religion; it is not a creed or a doctrinal statement; it is not a philosophy or a system of works. The message of the cross begins with the Person who died on that cross, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Next month: we consider a second aspect of the meaning of the cross: “The Price of the Cross.”
(Continued Next Month)