For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-24)
St Paul acknowledges that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ does little to convince some that He is the Messiah or God’s Son. Christ is crucified as a criminal by the Roman Empire. When we call to mind Paul’s defense of civil authority, we can understand why Paul thinks Christ’s crucifixion does not help people believe in Him:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4)
If civil authority receives its power from God, then the Roman government’s execution of Jesus is a sign that God disapproved of Jesus and His messianic claims. But then, there is Christ’s resurrection which reveals that Christ in fact is God’s chosen Messiah and Son, and that the actions of the Roman government and Jewish leaders was in fact opposed to God’s will. What becomes clear is that God was choosing an unusual way to accomplish His will and was showing that the normal way of looking at things, cannot apply when God is working His will.
The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ turns everything in the world up-side-down – at least by worldly standards, but by heavenly standards reveals that mystery is the way in which God reveals Himself to us. Now we have to look again at the crucifixion, as well as all the Old Testament scriptures, for we come to know that they contain God’s mystery which was hidden from us but now God has revealed in His Son’s crucifixion.
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory for evermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:25-27)
The mystery of God revealed in Christ has been expressed in many ways. Orthodox scholar Olivier Clement wrote:
The living God is no longer the Emperor of the world but crucified love. (THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 9)
God is imminent and very present in our world. He rules not only from a distant heaven, but also enthroned upon the cross. On the cross the mystery of God as love is revealed to us. St Irenaeus of Lyons expresses it this way, speaking of Christ:
… for it was necessary for Him, becoming visible, to make manifest His <form of the cross> <in> everything, that He might demonstrate, by His visible form [on the cross], His activity which is on the <in>visible level… (ON THE APOSTOLIC PREACHING, p 62)
Christ dying on the cross is not the kind of God either Jews or Greeks were looking for (and probably also some Christians today who want a conquering warrior God, not a humble God dying on a cross). Christ’s death on the cross in fact reveals something which was previously invisible to humanity for it makes visible to us God’s love. The crucifixion is an unexpected and surprising revelation of God’s love for us, what God is willing to suffer for us, of God’s own nature, and how close God is to us mortals as we struggle in this world. God empties Himself, leaves heaven in order to descend not just to earth but to hell itself to save His human creatures. Christ’s call to repentance is a call for us to change our way of thinking about God and to open our eyes to what the God of love is revealing to us: not more commandments, but salvation.