“It requires a considerable effort of the imagination to enter into the first-century world of the Roman Empire so as to understand the degree of offensiveness attached to crucifixion as a method of execution.” So writes Fleming Rutledge in her work The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. However, she doesn’t stop there! Here’s more – ”To the humanism of antiquity, the crucified Christ [was] an embarrassment. Crucifixion…was regarded as the most degrading kind of punishment. Thus Roman humanism always felt the ‘religion’ of the cross to be unaesthetic, unrespectable, and perverse…It was regarded as an offense against good manners to speak of this hideous death for slaves in the presence of respectable people.” (This is Rutledge quoting theologian Jurgen Moltmann.) If you will humor me, I have but one more. “If Jesus’ demise is construed merely as a death – even as a painful, tortured death – the crucial point will be lost. Crucifixion was specially designed to be the ultimate insult to personal dignity, the last word in humiliating and dehumanizing treatment. Degradation was the whole point.”

People living in first-century Corinth would not have looked at Jesus’ death on the cross the way we do. The unbeliever would have ridiculed and mocked the believer for loving and following a God who was killed in this manner (and would probably have embraced any number of myths refuting the resurrection). The believer, by embracing Christ’s death, was admitting to following a God who died in a very ungodly and degrading way. Indeed, it would have taken a lot more guts to sing, “The wonderful cross” back then than it takes to sing it today. The reality is that there was nothing wonderful about death on a cross and no one in their “right mind” followed a God who suffered this way.

Perhaps this background and context add flavor and color to 1 Corinthians 23-25? It’s there that Paul writes, “But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

So, as we dive into a week of devotionals on the centrality of the cross, keep in mind that it was also a scandalous sign in the world to which Paul wrote and these believers lived.

Scott Smith
Connections & Growth Pastor

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