In our culture, being a Christian is a shameful thing. Actually believing the words on the pages of the Bible the way they were written and submitting to and teaching them is…weird. It is not a popular trend to acknowledge God as Creator and Savior, and it is not the majority who would believe the cross itself in what it really was. This makes Christianity a shameful belief. It doesn’t help that there are a myriad of pseudo-Christian flavors plaguing this generation, with a reputation for corny, shallow beliefs and the songs to match, designed for the emotionally unstable who need a crutch. “Weak ” and “shallow” describe this common form of Christianity well. One good example is the Charismatic movement, which was accurately described by one individual as “the professional wrestling of Christianity”.
But moving right along, from the unsaved world’s point of view, believing the cross is a strange thing. How odd to believe in a crucified Jew, and that He was raised from the dead. It doesn’t have intellectual significance or special super-natural signs. It’s just…silly.
But I want to remind us today that this is by design. The cross in and of itself was designed to appear a foolish thing to the world. It is repulsive to those who acknowledge only what their mind can comprehend. It isn’t accepted by those who put faith in their intellect, faith in what makes sense to them. In summary, it is foolishness.
Why is this? Why has God designed the cross of Jesus to be void of human wisdom? Why doesn’t it ‘make sense’ to the unbeliever? Don’t we want to win people here?
Simple: it was designed to be a shame not to those who believe, but to those who don’t believe. We must know that it is God’s wisdom seen in the cross, not man’s. God cannot be accessed by human intellect. Truth cannot be obtained by human cognition or brain-power. Given that, God has designed to shame those trusting in their own ability by saving not them, but the weak, the foolish of this world by a seemingly ridiculous message. Further, those saved ‘foolish’ people now become ambassadors of their ‘foolish’ message. The world’s wisdom, knowledge and reason we now see benefit it none, as they contribute nothing to their salvation.
Perhaps we might find it tempting, when explaining the gospel, to adjust it to make sense. We are, after all, trying to win this person, and we don’t want to come across as strange to him or her, thus losing credibility in their eyes. So, we capitalize on certain aspects of the gospel to make it less embarrassing. We attempt to make the gospel more palatable by implementing reason and try to make the gospel fit for our audience.
However, when we try to make the message of the cross acceptable by means of our cleverness of speech, we actually make the cross void, empty, and useless. We have just compromised the very power of the message, and replaced it with our own. The cross itself is the wisdom of God – it doesn’t need our help. You should expect it to come across odd; expect to be seen as strange - but don’t tamper with the message. It’s not yours anyway. You, as a Christian have been entrusted with the gospel to simply preach it, not manipulate results. Let God do His work with His word, and don’t replace it with yours.
This is what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 1:17ff. When Paul preached the gospel to the Corinthians, he purposefully left out his own “cleverness of speech” in order to fully expose the cross. Why? Because it was and is by this foolish message that God has chosen to save his children. Verses 23 and 24 of the same chapter read “but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Once you tamper with the gospel to make it more appealing, you have done two things: 1) compromised the power of the message, and 2) exchanged the target audience of the message. If you preach something that makes sense to the world, they’ll hear that. However, they won’t be saved by it. Further, don’t forget that, as Paul said, it is those who are the called who will believe this message and are saved by it. This is the only message by which they will be saved. They are your target audience – preach their message so that they might be saved . (I am obviously not saying that those who will be saved own the gospel, but merely associating it with them in that it is only by the gospel that they are saved.) You don’t know who the called are. Your job is simply to preach and let God be concerned with who believe and those who don’t. Your faithfulness to the Word of God will result in the hardening of some. You can’t help that. Their death sentence is their intellect, because it excludes them from believing in the foolish message of the gospel, which is also the only message that rescues sinners from eternal judgment. This is not a trite thing, and I do not want to come across as heartless. But this is reality. The unloving, cold, heartless, and downright hateful thing to do would be to not explain the actual gospel to them, remembering that you have no idea as to whether or not God will use it to save them or harden them. This is not an arrogant in-your-face approach, as that itself compromises the gospel by introducing pride. You want you to get out of the way and simply be a mouthpiece for the Word of God. The example we have of this is Christ Himself, Who was gentle, humble in heart, giving rest to those who came to Him – not a burden. And, it was for the sake of those whom would receive that rest that He aggressively attacked the Jewish religious leaders, refuting them and their teaching as publicly as they had asserted themselves and their teaching (Matthew 23).
So I challenge you, fellow Christian; do you understand the gospel well enough to teach it clearly so that the gospel, and only the gospel, may be the content of your evangelism? Are you tempted to assist the gospel, making mention of only certain parts of it, leaving the more ‘embarrassing’ and ‘strange’ aspects out for later? If you do so, I ask this: what are you really preaching? Is it the gospel anymore? Be faithful, knowing that it is not your message you have been entrusted with. Follow Paul’s example in Acts 20:26-27, and do not “shrink from declaring…the whole purpose of God ”.