Friday, 21 July 2017

Ignore the Stumbling Blocks: Paul Did

Preaching By Faith

Preaching a crucified Jesus to be the Lord of glory was indeed a stumbling block.  Paul was right on point when he declared, 
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  [I Corinthians 1: 22-25]
When the Jews demanded signs, they wanted miraculous confirmation that the claimant was indeed the Messiah.  They were given plenty of such confirmations, but chose to  "explain" them away.  For them--when they heard the Gospel preached- by the church-all that was left was the horror and humiliation of a public crucifixion.  It was a stumbling block because they had believed that Messiah would deliver them powerfully from Gentile oppression--even as David had delivered them from the Philistines centuries before.   A crucified Messiah was a mockery, a blasphemy.

For the Gentiles, following a crucified saviour was similarly the acme of foolishness.  Why?  Because the "rite" of crucifixion was the archetype of degradation.  Sarah Ruden carefully re-situates crucifixion in its ancient Greco-Roman setting.

For maximum humiliation, and maximum edification of others, crucifixion was public.  Crosses with their victims  on them might stand beside roadsides or on hills.  The crucified were totally naked, without loinclothes.  Anyone could point and comment, and Greeks and Romans, with their intense interest in the phallus, no doubt did. . . .

The families and friends could do nothing but watch, hour after hour.  The victims died when they could no longer pull their shoulders back to keep their esophagus open and breathe.  They were never reprieved.  At most, they got a numbing drug or something to drink, or the leg breaking (a chop that might go straight through the shinbones) to prevent them from bracing themselves upward from the footstand and surviving no longer.  This was probably seldom an act of mercy, as opposed to a convenience; in Jesus' case, the officials who wanted his legs broken but found him to be already dead were wary of offending Jews, who could not have buried him on the Sabbath (John 19: 31-33).  "Forsaken" is the right word for the crucified.  [Sarah Ruden, Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined In His Own Time (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010), p. 43.]
Given this setting, we can now appreciate the significance of Paul's characterization of Christians (whether formerly Jews or  Gentiles) as people who are called [I Corinthians 1: 22-25].  It would take a divine act, a work of irresistible divine grace to enable a person to look upon a crucifixion victim and embrace him as his or her Lord, King and Saviour.  It is the Spirit of God Who enables the called to see in Christ the wisdom and mercy and grace of God Himself.

To preach Christ, and Him crucified was both a stumbling block and blind folly to the audience.  But amongst that audience, if there were those marked out by God for salvation ("those who are called"), they would hear and see it as God's power and wisdom.

How sad it is, then, that many in the contemporary church would bend over backwards in these man-pleasing days to make the Gospel message seem more palatable, more likely to be accepted.  Let's not dwell on those negatives.  Let's take lessons from successful marketers and salespeople.

Long ago such mistaken folk stopped believing in the wisdom and power of God.

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