The Wisdom of the Cross

The Wisdom of the Cross

1 Corinthians 1: 18-31


Recently I saw on the news a story about Olivia Dunne.  Oliva is a young woman who attends Louisiana State University, and she is a talented gymnast, but what sets her apart is that she is also considered to be a TikTok social influencer.  That is, she has gathered nearly 10 million followers on the social network platform and with advertising and endorsements she has a seven-figure yearly income.  She is 20 years old, and already a millionaire.

Tik Tok allows people to create and post short videos. Many less than a minute long.   People dance, lips sync to songs, do whatever, and those who go viral can become rich.  Many want to watch and listen.  Many become rabid type fans of the influencers.  It is a weird world, but people want to follow people who have that charismatic X-factor.

Now let me ask you this: Should we consider the Apostle Paul a social influencer of his time?  Paul did not have TikTok although one might wonder what he would have done with it if he had. The Apostle Paul had to do things the hard way. He traveled on foot and by boat over 10,000 miles on his various missionary journeys.  He walked into unknown situations with people speaking different languages, and he told everyone he met about a Jewish man from Galilee who lived, was crucified, and came back from the dead and offers forgiveness and life to all who believe in his name.

Now at first, we might think that Paul must have seemed like a kook to the people.   Did you hear about that guy that just got off the boat.  He is down at the local hall talking about some guy named Jesus being the son of God.    In Athens (Acts 17) they called Paul “A Babbler.”  The Greek word really means a “seed picker.”  That is someone who acts like they know what they are saying, but in fact are clueless. A seed picker is an ignorant plagiarist.  They have collected a few lines and words of others, but their message is garbage. They have their self-styled PHD -Piled Higher and Deeper.  Somewhere in this world you have met this type.

Here is the point though.  Paul traveled through most of the Roman Empire and people did listen and many people began to believe.  Churches were formed. Fellowships were gathered.  By far not everyone pushed Paul away, and many came to realize that Paul was the real thing.  His depth of devotion, love, concern, truth, and integrity won over the hearts of many.  We are still reading and valuing his words today.  So, was Paul a social influencer? Was he that charismatic person who gathered a great following of people who came to hang onto his every word and action?

We may want to give Paul credit for the success he had in winning people to Christ.  He influenced society, but if this question was asked of Paul, I believe he would say, “No, it’s not about me.”  Paul did not think of himself as a person to be followed.  Rather Paul defined himself  as a laborer in the field.  He taught that it is God who gives the growth. (1 Cor 3:7)  Paul called himself a servant of Christ and a steward of God’s mysteries. (1 Cor. 4:1) Not a master, or an owner of truth.  It was not about what he possessed but what he was able to share.  Paul said that he came to Corinth “…in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.[1]  He did not arrive in the busy metropolis of Corinth according to his own strength but rather he says he came “…with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that [the Corinthian’s] faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” [2]

So, you see for Paul it is God who is the great influencer.  God is the one who truly is affecting and changing the hearts and the minds of people.    In first Corinthians Paul wants the people to see that their primary relationship is directly with God and what God has already done for them.  When you think about it if the story was just about Paul, and Paul’s influence then the message would have died with Paul and yet here we are still proclaiming life in the name of Christ.

The Corinthians would have been great TikTok followers.  Many of them would have been happy to latch on to one personality or another.   Paul on the other hand calls out.  “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?”  Basically what have they to offer, because God has not been at work through any of them, their philosophies, or even their religion.  Paul comments, “22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…” [3]

Now Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews because the cross was a Roman instrument of torture and death used to subjugate the nations under their rule.  The Jews did not put people to death on a cross.  Only Roman could order someone’s death.   If you were not a Roman citizen, then the cross was a common method of execution.   Also, according to Deuteronomy 21:23, anyone hung on a tree was considered cursed of God.  In the Jewish mind the concept of a messiah being crucified would have to been problematic.  The Messiah is supposed to rule, not die a horrible death at the hands of an occupying power.  The Messiah will be blessed by God, (God’s anointed) not cursed.   So, the Jews, Paul writes, seek signs.  They looked for proof that Jesus is who he says he is.   For them Jesus was not the Messiah, for one reason, precisely because of the way he died.

Now for the Greeks, their philosophies often taught that the object of life was to separate oneself from material life, which was evil, in order to acquire a higher spiritual substance of reason that was good. This was done through a carefully thought-out system of knowledge, or particular behavior.  The concept of dying on the cross might make reasonable sense, but the idea of a resurrection that sews the spirit and body back together once parted would be nonsense.  Once done with this evil life one would not take back a material form. That is a step backwards.  Therefore, the cross is foolishness to them.

God simply did not pick the most influential image or logic or religious system by which to make a difference in our world.  God did not invest his truth in wealth or the popular influencers of the day, but God chose the darkest place of despair to give life to all who will believe.  God chose the cross to lift up the light to the nations.  God chose the cross to bring healing to all who will look upon it and believe.  Influencers come and go, but the cross is still making a difference to all who will avail themselves to it.   Paul called the cross the power of God to those who are being saved.  This is where the true influence for Godly living rest -in Christ alone and what he has done for us.

You see there is a mystery and power in the cross.  Theologians call this thing that God did the act of atonement.  This is about how God brought sinful people and Godself together.  It is not so wrong to think of atonement as At-One-Ment. We speak of various theories of the atonement.  It is described in the Bible and in theology in different ways. In one way God is seen as the righteous judge who hates sin so much that a price had to be paid for all the wrongs that were committed.   In Jesus death he is seen as paying the penalty for our sins.   Jesus is said to have died for us, in our place.    His hands took the nails that were meant for you. Thus, while Jesus received death, we received life.  This idea follows through like a legal transaction.  If you get a fine for breaking the law, then you must pay it. Jesus paid it all.

Another view you may hear speaks about Jesus as a ransom for us.  This is based on verses such as Mark 10:45 – “the Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for the many”.   In this way of thinking Jesus liberates mankind from slavery to Satan and thus death by giving his own life as a ransom, so that you and we might be set free.  A trade is made.

Still others may look upon the cross as a place of ultimate confrontation between good and evil.  Out of a great love for us Jesus willingly suffered death, and was raised victorious over sin and the grave.  Even to the end Jesus was faithful and sinless, thus making right the age-old sin of Adam, and calling us to a higher faith.

Do was the cross an act of satisfaction for God, a substitution, a ransom for Satan, purely a powerful act of God’s love calling us to a higher faith? There are different concepts about what happened on the cross.  However, we put it, the story is the same God did something new at the cross that the world had never seen before.  God took that which was nothing and transformed it into something, which means something for everyone.  So that anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Does it take a person of great influence to gain this gift or give it to another.  No, Paul reminds the Corinthians,  “Consider your own call, brothers and sister: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.   He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”  That is Paul’s way of reminding the Corinthians and us that God chose you!

If you read farther down you get to see where Paul is going with this.  He writes in Chapter 3 “21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” Paul is trying to show them that as a congregation they are blessed, and they have been delivered into life through their faith.  Greatness is not a function of any individual but a function of God’s grace at work within them as a congregation.  You are nothing less than God’s work and presence within this world.

Compared to that who was Paul or any great or influential person of worldly fame? People come and go, but the word of God remains.  This is the wisdom of the cross, and measure of that which is truly influential.  This is God’s doing.

I remember when I was younger, one year I attended the Ohio State Fair.  We wondered around the grounds, rode some of the rides, visited the animals, saw the cow made out of butter, and watched a show put on by Bob Hope.  Bob Hope was a popular comedian back in the day, but I suspect I could ask most younger people who he was and they would be clueless.  Probably not too many young people would know George Burns either. Despite their fame and influence of former times their acts and names will not long persist in the memory of society.  Fame and influence are fleeting, but God’s work is not.   Whatever you have done or will do in truth and spirit will long persist in ways beyond what you may imagine.   This is the wisdom of the cross.  Small things become places of great growth and you are an everlasting testimony to Jesus life; for he lives in you.

Therefore, be not discouraged if your message is not gathering 10 million people to watch or earning you a seven-figure income.  Be not worried  if you are not that x factor person, for God’s power and work never was about fame and fortune.  Seek not what can be owned, but rather what can be shared and when you do, you shall see the power of God at work in our world today and you will be within god’s work.



[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), 1 Co 2:3.

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), 1 Co 2:4–5.

[3] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), 1 Co 1:22–23.