1 Cor 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (ESV)
Why do you suppose Paul calls Jesus on a cross a stumbling block and folly? In religious circles, of human effort and fallen Adam wisdom, it is often explained as “His morality is impossible for us to live up to” or something like that. From within the good-bad paradigm, a hiding in the bushes wisdom says Jesus had way to perfect behavior (morality) for any “normal human” to attain His perfection. Add a huge dose of law (or grace) teaching and you have the forbidden fruit feast of hyperbolic impossibilities. Let me say that more plainly. If you are listening to the wisdom of religion and legal categories, you are forced into an understanding which insists that behavior is a test and retribution is balance. You do good, you get good. There is some truth in the sowing and reaping aspects of behavior, but religion puts God in the hot seat of retribution. So doing good gets you good FROM God and doing bad gets you bad FROM God. Sadly that isn’t even remotely who God is.
1 Cor 1:22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom (ESV)
The Greek wisdom was based on Aristotle and Plato and their cosmology. Remember Greek mythology from High School? It wasn’t mythology to them. Even the brightest and smartest saw a great divide between man and the g.o.d.s. The enlightenment of mankind was the desired progression of a man. Knowledge would bring wisdom and wisdom would elevate the depraved human from “bad” to “good.” Whatever g.o.d. was, he (or it) was ultimate “good” and we represented “bad.” So “learning more” and “contemplation” and “good works” would transport the “bad” human to a better status. Eventually you might even attain a level of enlightenment that made you like the divine. Sound familiar to anyone? Does that sound a bit like western “Christianity?” So the “wisdom” of a dead God was no wisdom at all. Hanging out with the “sinners” was the opposite of Greek wisdom.
For the Jews their beliefs were very much centered around nationalism. The “great nation of Israel” would rise again. Any competition for world dominance would be met with skepticism. Any challenge to the g.o.d. of Abraham had to be backed up with “power.” Yeah, like miracles and parting red seas and stuff like that. They needed signs. They needed wonders. Jesus healed us because He loves us but you can also see how miracles would be a way of presenting His case to the Jews? Jesus brings signs because these people expected signs. But…and this is a big but…He did not bring the world-dominating power of wiping out entire races of people. Instead He absolutely stood for uncompromising peace and love and kindness and forgiveness and inclusion and acceptance. Wow was that a stumbling block for a nationalistic Jew bent on exclusion to the point of genocide. Jesus dead on a cross was the opposite of an expected messiah for the Jews.
So the “stumbling block” and “folly” of the cross was because Jesus didn’t fit their paradigms. I might argue that He still doesn’t today for so many.
To get past the stumbling block of Jesus we don’t focus on behavior as a divine discriminate and eternal destination determinate. We focus on the eternal nature of God Himself. God is way outside of the good-bad. The good-bad is our fallen-Adam poison, not His. We have to learn to think differently. We have to let God transform us by the renewing of our minds. It is freedom. In His freedom we can actually begin to “see” what His love looks like. Then our paradigm shifts to His. Confusing? OK what if we give ourselves permission to ask the questions? What if we can see that God is restorative and not retributive?
To get there we have to accept that maybe we don’t have it figured out. Maybe we don’t have His wisdom and we need His saving work. May I suggest that when we are stuck in the legal categories of the forbidden fruit, God isn’t. Our insistence on punishment and legal payments is our fallen nature problem. Selfishness and offenses are the driving force behind the cosmology of the good-bad. When we project our dysfunction on an omnipotent version of us, with our very sustenance from the feast of forbidden fruit…voila…angry God. To the safety of the bushes we run. Sadly some point fingers from behind the leaves. This is why “God is Love” is still such a stumbling block. We have to meet Him to “know” Him. Then the head knowledge is filtered through a loving God lens. Oh yeah, that’s Jesus! No more stumbling block because He is real to us. He becomes our savior.
When we see the true nature of God through the lens of Jesus and His life and His teaching and His death and His resurrection…then we can “see” God for who He is. Then we can leave our legal categories and our need for a divine power demonstration. We embrace a loving God on a cross as His expression of power. We reject our fallen-human wisdom to embrace His love for us. We see Jesus on the cross as the ultimate enlightenment.
God is in the business of restoring us all. His restoration is not legal. That would be wisdom from fallen fruit. He is restoring us to our original intended created adopted state. He is removing the lies of the fallen nature and revealing His children. He isn’t making us clean so He can stand to look at us. How utterly ridiculous. He is making us clean so we can be clean. He is getting rid of our anger and hatred. His is removing our offenses and arrogance. He is extracting our selfishness and awakening our heart to love. It is not an issue of “in or out.” We are all in. Will we let Him “save us” from our fallen nature? Will we let the love of God transform us from judgment seeking exclusionist to Jesus-like inclusionists? Will we let Him work in us and through us so we can come to agree with who we already are? His death is proof of His love. His life is proof of our acceptance and forgiveness and inclusion.
OK, with that discussion as a backdrop, read this passage in context:
1 Cor 1:18 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. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (ESV)
Now with our restorative perspective of God, what do you see? God will “destroy the wisdom of the wise.” I hope so. I am counting on it. In my wisdom “I need payback” and “I need fairness” and “I need retribution” and “I need my offender blasted into kingdom come.” Right? In His wisdom, they are His kids and my brothers and sisters. They are His children and my siblings. They need to be loved just like I need to be loved. Can you see it?
Here is the Mirror Bible translation of the same passage:
1 Cor 1:18-25 To their own loss the message of the cross seems foolish to some; but to us who discover our salvation there, it is the dynamic of God. Isaiah wrote: I will confuse the wisdom of the “so-called” wise and prove their experts wrong! (Isa 29: 14) God’s wisdom (revealed in the success of the cross) puts the rest out of business! (when it comes to real answers to the dilemma of mankind) they have all closed shop; the philosophers, the academics, the smooth-talkers, the lot! By suspicious scrutiny the sense-ruled world surveys the works of God in creation and still do not recognize or acknowledge him; in sharp contrast to this, the foolishness of the message we proclaim brings God’s work of redeeming his image in us into faith’s focus. (What we preach cancels every basis for boasting in personal contribution, which seems folly to the DIY systems of this world.) The Jews crave signs (to confirm their doubts) while the Greeks revel in philosophical debate! (Both groups are addicted to the same soul realm.) The crucified Christ is the message we publicly proclaim, to the disgust of the Jews while the Greeks think we are wacky! The dynamic of God’s wisdom is the fact that both Jew and Greek are equally included and defined in Christ. It seems so foolish that God should die man’s death on the cross; it seems so weak of God to suffer such insult; yet man’s wisest schemes and most powerful display of genius cannot even begin to comprehend or compete with God in his weakest moment on the cross. (Mirror Bible)
I believe Jesus is still a stumbling block for many “Christians” out there today. In our fallen human wisdom we are still looking for an Earthly King, a powerful conqueror, an enlightenment from above, a total destruction of everything we don’t agree with…aren’t we? What if the cross was exactly that and we missed it? What if the cross is the finished work of God. What if the revelation of the Father in the Son was the enlightenment we were looking for? What if Jesus on a tree was the domination and defeat of every enemy that threatened us with the lies of our orphaned state? What if the wisdom of the cross destroys the lies of human self-effort structures? What if our adoption in Jesus as demonstrated by God’s love on the cross is our ultimate weapon against any voice of accusation? What if getting past the stumbling block is our first step into salvation from all the stuff that opposes the nature of a good good God? Maybe when we stop tripping over the truth of Jesus and the completed reconciliation of the entire cosmos, we can fall into the arms of our adoption and come home to our Abba.