Jesus Christ and him crucified
Singer-songwriter Andy Squyres recently posted his observations on the biblical phrase Jesus Christ and him crucified. To her surprise, several of her Instagram followers pushed back on the expression. Somehow it threw them. It should come as no surprise: the wisdom of the cross has frustrated the wise men of the world for centuries.
Jesus Christ and him crucified
The Apostle Paul gave us this phrase in 1 Corinthians 2 as he remembered what it was like to come to Corinth for the first time. There was a highway that started in Thessalonica, passed through Berea and Athens, and ended in Corinth. It is helpful to read Acts 17 to see what Paul experienced before coming to Corinth: persecution in the first two cities, followed by Paul’s famous speech in Athens at Mars Hill. Theologians love discourse. They talk about it again and again as a masterpiece of rhetoric. But what is strange is that not much happened in Athens. Look at Acts 17:32-34. “Some people have become believers.” And then Paul leaves the most influential city in Greece and goes to the most sinful city in Greece – where there is a huge response to his preaching. Additionally, Paul receives divine encouragement for God in a dream, and he remains in Corinth for 18 months to minister effectively.
The phrase Jesus Christ and him crucified explains the difference between the ministry of Athens and the Corinthian ministry. Look at the first five verses of chapter 2 of 1 Corinthians. Paul talks about a complete reset of his gospel tactics. No flowery speeches. No great rhetoric. Just Jesus, and him crucified, followed by signs and wonders. Add to this passage what he says in the first chapter of his letter (1:22-23). Paul tells us that the idea of a crucified savior was incomprehensible to the Hebrews and a laughing stock to the Gentiles.
Here is the power in what Paul was trying to say: Jesus Christ and him crucified represent both the power of God and the wisdom of God. Power? Jesus was killed! Wisdom? The idea (as a philosophical concept) is a joke. Robert Farrar Capon calls this “the awkwardness of God”. He warns us against any theological system that guarantees victory in this life. Each of us would rather choose the assurance of right-handed theology than the mystery of left-handed faith. The world wants a strong right arm; the world wants a magic formula, guarantee of success. God proposes the opposite. Even Christians fall into this trap: we want to rush towards the resurrection, the “proof” that God is greater than the wicked.
In Corinth, Paul brings his message to the less influential people in Corinth – all the uneducated and marginalized. Christians (especially rich, powerful, and affluent Christians like those of us in the United States) must learn to embrace the “left hand of God”: a wisdom that leads them first into the valley of shadow of death before emerging from it. victorious. The Gospel tells us that Good Friday comes first, Easter Sunday second. As a young Christian, all I wanted was a Christian faith that promised us DJ Khaled’s mantra: win-win-win. I wanted a Christianity that made my life easier in every way, from simple things like always having a good parking space to ensuring health and wealth. Bt Paul knew better.
The testimony of saints throughout the ages warns us against too easy faith, the kind “faith” that actually calls for less trust in Jesus and more trust in our own intelligence and theological reasoning. Teachers like Capon and Henri Nouwen warn us against embracing a religion of power and ignoring suffering. “Many people suffer because of the false assumptions on which they have based their lives. This assumption is that there should be no fear or loneliness, confusion or doubt. But these sufferings can only be dealt with creatively when they are understood as wounds that are an integral part of our human condition,” writes Nouwen. He also said: “It is also becoming evident that those who avoid the painful encounter with the invisible are doomed to live a [prideful]boring and superficial life.
A mature view of Christianity includes the possibility that we, too, have our crosses to bear. Perhaps it is time for modern Christians to embrace those parts of the gospel that we have shunned: “For it is granted unto you, for Christ’s sake, not only to believe on him, but to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:29)