Singer/songwriter Andy Squyres recently posted his observations on the biblical phrase Jesus Christ and him crucified. To his surprise several of his Instagram followers pushed back against the phrase. Somehow, it threw them off. It shouldn’t surprise us: the wisdom of the cross has frustrated the worldly-wise 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 running from Thessalonica, through Berea and Athens, and ending in Corinth. It’s useful to read Acts 17 to see what Paul had experienced before coming to Corinth: persecution in the first two towns, followed by Paul’s famous speech in Athens at Mars Hill. Theologians love the speech. They go on and on about it as a rhetorical masterpiece. But the strange thing is: nothing much happened in Athens. Look at Acts 17:32-34. “A few people became believers.” And then Paul leaves the most influential city in Greece and heads for the most sinful city in Greece—where there’s a huge response to his preaching. Plus, Paul receives divine encouragement for God in a dream, and he stays in Corinth for 18 months doing effective ministry.
The phrase Jesus Christ and him crucified explains the difference between Athens ministry and Corinthian ministry. Look at the first five verses in chapter 2 of 1 Corinthians. Paul is talking 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 the idea of a crucified savior was incomprehensible to Hebrews and a laughing stock to Gentiles.
Here’s the power in what Paul was trying to say: Jesus Christ and him crucified represents both God’s power and God’s wisdom. Power? Jesus got himself killed! Wisdom? The idea (as a philosophical concept) is a joke. Robert Farrar Capon calls this “the left handedness of God.” He cautions us against any theological system that guarantees winning in this life. Every one of us would rather choose the right-handed assurance of theology over the left-handed mystery of faith. The world wants a strong right arm; the world wants a magic formula, guaranteed to produce success. God offers the opposite. Even Christians fall into this trap: we want to rush ahead to the resurrection, the “proof” that God is bigger that the bad guys.
In Corinth Paul takes him message to the least-influential people in Corinth—all the uneducated and down-and-outers. Christians (especially rich, powerful, well-to-do Christians like those of us in the U.S.) must learn to embrace the “left handedness of God:” a wisdom that leads them first into the valley of the shadow of death before they emerge victorious. The gospel tells us Good Friday comes first, Easter Sunday second. As a young Christian all I wanted was a Christian faith that promised us the DJ Khaled mantra: win-win-win. I wanted a Christianity that made my life easier in every way, from simple things like always getting a great parking space to the assurance health and wealth. Bt Paul knew better.
The testimony of saints from every century caution us against a too-easy faith, the kind “faith” that actually calls for less trust in Jesus and more confidence in our own smarts and theological reasoning. Teachers like Capon and Henri Nouwen caution us against embracing a power religion and ignoring the suffering. “Many people suffer because of the false supposition on which they have based their lives. That supposition is that there should be no fear or loneliness, no confusion or doubt. But these sufferings can only be dealt with creatively when they are understood as wounds integral to our human condition” wrote Nouwen. He also said, ″It also is becoming obvious that those who avoid the painful encounter with the unseen are doomed to live a [prideful], boring, and superficial life.”
A mature view of Christianity understands the possibility that we, too, have our crosses to bear. Perhaps it’s time modern Christians embrace those parts of the gospel that we’ve been avoiding: “For to you has been granted, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:29)