It is an amazing truth that the people of our culture are curiously drawn to public scandal.
He did what?
She said what?
We’re drawn to learn all the juicy details.
Did he really take steroids?
What kind of relationship were they involved in any way?
Did he plan to sell his government position?
Did the company executives cook the books to deceive investors?
People involved in scandals are in the headlines almost every day from all walks of life. Famous people, politicians from both sides of the aisle, athletes, movie stars, TV stars, Wall Street tycoons – the scandals go on and on.
Perhaps the scandals that draw the greatest scrutiny are religious scandals. The public revelation of hypocrisy by those who publicly profess faith, love, and loyalty to God yet experience great moral failure – pastors, church leaders, religious leaders. Scripture says, There, but for the grace of God, go I (restated 1 Cor.15:8-10). Another place in Scripture says,
“Let he who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12).
Scandal is defined as
1. A public disclosure of immorality or failure.
2. A widely publicized incident of allegations of wrongdoing, disgrace, or moral outrage.
3. An action or circumstance which now threatens to destroy the reputation, power, or position of a person.
From a biblical standpoint, the word scandalum can mean to cause ruin, slip or stumble. Scandal is
4. An occasion of misfortune or the collapse of power coming through an individual’s sin.
5. An obstacle on the path over which someone stumbles
6. A sin that leads to an explosion of disaster.
Most of the time in the New Testament, a scandal is an issue, which blocks the human relationship to God. An obstacle in coming to faith, or the cause of a person going astray from the faith. It either hinders faith or detaches the person from intimacy with God. Today I want to talk with you about the scandal of God.
What if God was involved in a scandal? The apostle Paul in I Corinthians 1 says God is involved in scandal, the foolish scandal of a crucified God. What a paradox! The foolish scandal of the cross of the Lord, Jesus Christ. It is the ultimate paradox – the death of God, the death of the eternal King, the Messiah. The Old Testament says,
“Cursed is the one who hangs on the tree” (Deut. 21:23).
No wonder the message of the Gospel of Jesus is such an obstacle, such a scandal for Jewish understanding of a relationship with God. And yet, here it is boldly proclaimed – not only in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians but throughout the New Testament. The cross of Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God and the power of God.
Let’s explore the idea of wisdom. When we think of wisdom, we might have an image of a wily old veteran or a wise old sage who knows all the tricks of the trade. He or she knows their way around the block. The classic Greeks defined wisdom as being fully and preeminently experienced to the point that the individual is adept in a specific skill. Wisdom is the mastery and superiority of learning, yet it is acknowledged as a gift of divine grace.
Wisdom is a superior insight into the reality of life in this world that leads to a mastery of practical living. In fact, Socrates, the great philosopher, said: “Autonomous wisdom is no wisdom at all.” In other words, if wisdom, knowledge, and intellect are not applied directly to pragmatic life, it is no wisdom at all.
Stoics believed that wisdom imparts individuals with the knowledge of the system of the cosmos. Therefore, wisdom empowers a person to live in harmony with the cosmos. It combines theory and practice. Therefore, wisdom is actualized knowledge, utilized knowledge.
Gnostics believe wisdom is knowledge enabling a person’s soul to journey away from entrapment in this physical realm back to the purity of spiritual essence. They believe that human wisdom is the path to eternal salvation.
For all people, wisdom leads to self-confidence, success, and mastery of the world. The human utilization of wisdom leads to personal gain. Wisdom is a means to power. The application of knowledge gives strength, intellectual prowess, and maybe even arrogance. Wisdom is a means to triumph, to conquer people and situations making them work for you. Wisdom is a means to success, prosperity, and wealth. Wisdom is a means to independence and self-reliance.
Perhaps the most telling verse in this passage of Paul in I Corinthians 1 says, “…the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” So if one imposes a vision of wisdom onto an erroneous understanding of Jesus, we might speak of a
Success Jesus, like a rabbit’s foot or a lucky charm.
Nice Jesus who teaches us kindness, patience, civility, politeness, and good manners.
Moral-police Jesus who teaches us a new ethic and shows us proper moral boundaries in order to hold the evil in us in check. It’s about like trying to hold a buffalo in a pasture with a weak fence.
Miracle Jesus, as if He is our personal genie at our command available to grant our personal whims so life is never hard.
Is that really the Jesus whom God has shown us in the New Testament story of His life, death, and resurrection? How can we know God? The New Testament’s central revelation of God is, in Paul’s words this:
“We preach Jesus Christ crucified,
the wisdom of God
and the power of God to all who believe.”
A crucified God is a foolish scandal. Someone who is eternally alive and infinitely powerful being put to death on a wooden cross. It is the story of the perfect Son of God going to the cross to carry the burden, the responsibility, and the punishment of all people’s failures for all history, for all eternity. He takes the sins of the world – my sins – on Himself.
The cross is the
• climactic revelation of God in history.
• climactic revelation of God in the created order in eternity.
The cross has a red river of life that flows to all who believe.
The cross reveals the
• Truth of the cosmos and our human lives.
• The darkness of the heart of human sin and failure – a failure so perverse and pervasive and profound that God had to die to overcome it.
• Our broken lives and shattered relationships so estranged that God alone can heal, forgive, and reconcile. God died on the cross to absorb into His heart our evil and the punishment we deserve. The heart of God bled to wash away our sins and make us pure.
• Unconditional love. God demonstrates His greatest glory and power by stooping low to embrace us in our broken failure and offer us unconditional love.
Why is the cross important? Because it fulfills the promise of God, which invites us to trust His promise of forgiveness. The cross is a
• Place of a new beginning as the Spirit of Jesus is poured into us to raise us to hope again.
• A foolish scandal.
• The wisdom of God.
• The power of God.
Think of it; who but God could
• Overcome His foes by letting them do what they want?
• Establish His eternal power and win victory by submitting to the enemy?
• Kill death for all time by dying Himself?
• Use His last breath to forgive His executioners and release a river of grace available to all people of all time?
• Reign as King and Lord of the cosmos with the cross as His throne?
We cannot come to know God through our obedience nor our righteousness. We cannot come to know God through our intellect, power, wisdom, nor our effort. God reveals Himself and meets us where we are, as we are – at the cross.
The death of God is the moment of God’s total self-giving in love. Jesus breathes His last with labored breath and seals His unconditional love for you forever. God invites you and me to believe in His action for us on the cross. This is the essence of the Gospel.
Jesus Christ was crucified in our place on the cross. It is a foolish scandal. The cross is the death of God but also the end of me. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in this physical body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave Himself for me.” In the cross, God says you’re forgiven.
Years ago I visited with a Jewish couple in a former parish. I listened to the man of the family tell his spiritual journey, which was a traditional Orthodox Jewish profession of faith. He was a sincere man and worshiped regularly.
After listening, I asked if I could share what I believe to be true about God. I went on to share the Good News of Jesus, the brokenness of our human nature, our sinful hearts, and how the Son of God was born of a virgin, eventually dying on the cross. The perfect God, giving His life in sacrifice for rebels. It was a gift of unmerited favor, unconditional love, and forgiveness for all disobedient people who believe and repent in Jesus’ name. Then God raised Him from the dead and promised to pour His Spirit within the heart of every believer.
At the end of it, the man said, “That’s absurd! Why would a perfect holy God do that? I can never believe that understanding of God.”
It is a foolish scandal, an obstacle to faith, a stumbling block, for the message of the cross is the message of God’s forgiving love and acceptance. It is absurd and illogical. It is a mystery we cannot fully understand, a foolish scandal. But it is God’s promise for those of us who believe it is the power of God’s love and the wisdom of God.
In I John 4:10 it says, “In this is love not that we love God but that he loved us and gave his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” In love, Jesus takes the punishment we deserve, and by faith, we take the shadow of the cross as our safe place. It is the place where God comes to meet us. The cross is God’s power embracing us in our weakness. The cross is the place of grace in Jesus’ name.
Whoever you are and whatever you’ve done, Jesus comes to you where you are, as you are, to tell you again, My child, I forgive you. I died on the cross to love you. I reconcile you to my heart, and I ask you to trust me and rise up to walk with me. A love like that is always scandalous. Amen.
Pastor Lee Laaveg