It is hard to argue with Christmas. It intertwines a story about a baby with the challenges of a poor young couple, and an unwed mother. Perfect. Oh, and we get presents, too. What is there not to LOVE about that?
Easter, on the other hand, is pretty offensive. It is about death and an unjust execution of what many believe was simply a religious nut with delusions of grandeur. Not much to love in that story, is there? The offense of the story goes deeper, much deeper than that, though. The Easter story, the account found in the Bible, strikes some pretty strong blows to our normal, human sensibilities.
First, “…the word of the cross is foolishness…” (1st Corinthians 1:18). Yes, the Bible actually says that, and like everything else in the Bible, it is completely true. It is foolish to mankind. Think about it for a minute. A man, proclaiming to be God, proclaiming victory, is killed by those he came for. Furthermore, he said that was the way it had to be! Victory through defeat, glory through humiliation, blessing through being cursed, and life through death; nope, that can never be right! That makes zero sense to any thinking person. It didn’t in that day either.
Paul writes, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness…” (1st Corinthians 1:22-23). The Jewish people had always looked for the Messiah. He was to be “The One”, the One who would fulfill all of God’s promises made in the Old Testament, free them from their oppressors, and restore their glory as a nation. In “ask[ing] for signs” they were evaluating Jesus’ claims to Messiahship. Ultimately they rejected Him. To them He was religiously unclean and nationally was a traitor. He claimed to be God, He claimed to have authority over The Law, and worst of all, He told them they could never be good enough to earn God’s blessing. Foolishness!
The Greeks, they were in constant search of wisdom. Their pursuit was based on making sense of the world around them. To work out the intricacies of the meaning of life and form a worldview that made sense. To them, Jesus was weak and foolish. He proclaimed servant-hood, humility, mercy, and dying to self. Foolishness!
The demand to believe such notions truly is offensive, right?!
Secondly, Paul writes, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ…namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself…we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2nd Corinthians 5:18-20).
We all know, at least intuitively, that broken relationships are not the fault of one person. The majority of the blame might rest on the shoulders of one person, but ultimately both parties have some level of culpability as well as responsibility if reconciliation is to take place. The message of the cross, the story of Easter, says in our relationship with God, the fault rests exclusively on us. We are wrong. We have violated the relationship. It is our fault. Nothing puts us further at odds with someone than to have them place blame on us. The Bible most clearly states that we are the enemies of God (Romans 5:10) and that it is our fault (Romans 3:10-18).
The message of the cross also tells us that we must be reconciled with God. He is the Judge (1st Peter 1:17) and that one day we must all stand before Him (2 Corinthians 5:10). That is why Paul begs his readers to be reconciled to God (2nd Corinthians 5:20). There are few things in life more annoying and offensive than to be told we must fix a broken relationship that we don’t care about with someone we have no regard for; especially if I am told it is my entire fault.
Lastly, Paul writes, “…He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14).
This takes us right back to the complaint of those Jewish leaders who had Jesus killed. We can’t make it on our own goodness. The message of the cross is that we are guilty and can only be made right with God by having our sins forgiven. The only way to be made alive spiritually is to recognize we are sinners, humble ourselves to admit it, and seek forgiveness from God through Christ on the cross. The Bible gives us no option of self-help, so second chance, no opportunity to be rehabilitated, and we certainly can’t take a mulligan! The best we can ever do will never be good enough. No participation trophies in the sport of life. That message undermines and attacks everything within the American way and in the human spirit. There are few accusations more offensive to people than the one that says you aren’t good enough and you can’t achieve your dreams, but that is the message of the cross. Good enough will never get us to heaven.
The foolishness of God though is indeed wiser than man’s. We know that humanity is full of evil and that even the BEST of us still falls short. The most moral among us still possess the capacity for living out what is indeed truly evil. God took it upon Himself to step into humanity and provide what it could never get on its own and do so without being asked, knowing full well that His offer would be rejected by many. We also see that as foolish. Some would see shades of co-dependency. The Bible says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Humble yourself, get past the arrogance of the human spirit, and submit yourself to the message of the cross, for that is the only way the issue of eternity, the meaning of life, to be worked out.