Some people at Corinth thought that the gospel message should be proclaimed with words of human wisdom. However, Paul declared that although he was commanded to preach the gospel, it was not to be “with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” More particularly he noted that “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” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18).
The message of the cross needs to be understood. Also needing to be understood are reasons why some people considered the message of the cross to be either foolishness or a stumbling block while others considered it to be the power and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
All four Gospel writers describe historical events related to Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection (Matthew 27:32–28:20, Mark 15:21–16:20, Luke 23:26–24:53, John 19:16–21:25). However, these authors do not provide background information regarding the origin of crucifixions, how such was characterized by ancient cultures, the painful experience of being crucified, nor the processes used in crucifying people. These matters seem to have been considered unimportant to Gospel writers in conveying the message of the cross to their contemporary audiences.
The Roman Cross
Modern audiences, however, may benefit from realizing that crucifixion was used by Romans for executing non-Roman criminals and wayward slaves. Neither Roman citizens nor good people were crucified. Romans hung people on crosses hoping to intimidate them and motivate them to obey their authority.
While the Old Testament does mention hangings (Deuteronomy 21:22-23; 2 Samuel 21:4-9; Esther 7:9-10), those were by impaling dead bodies on poles. During New Testament times, live people were placed on crosses to die. Death on the cross was considered very shameful and humiliating (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 12:2).
Christ and the Cross
Many admitted that Jesus was indeed the Son of God (Matthew 8:29; 14:33; 27:40, 43; Mark 3:11; 15:39; Luke 4:41; 22:70; John 9:35-38; 10:36; 11:27; 19:7; 20:31). As such, he was considered without fault, perfect, i.e., sinless (Luke 23:4, 14; John 18:38; 19:4, 6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:10; 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).
On the other hand, some people reasoned that since Jesus was indeed crucified, that was in itself evidence that He was not the person that He was claimed to be. Some discredited Jesus’ claim to deity because they thought that if He is God and if God is all powerful then He could have overcome the forces that crucified him.
People sought signs that would prove to them that Jesus was the Son of God (Mark 8:11-12; Luke 11:16; John 2:18; 6:30; Matthew 27:40, 42; Mark 15 29-32; 1 Corinthians 1:22). But Jesus refused, declaring that no sign would be given except the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:38-40; 16:1-4; Luke 11:29-30).
As Jonah was passive in going into the belly of the whale, so also Jesus was passive in being put into the heart of the earth. By refusing to do signs to prove His deity, Jesus was demonstrating that performance of signs was inconsistent with the message of the cross. Hence, for Jews crucifixion was a stumbling block and for Greeks, it was foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 5:11).
The Message of the Cross
Just what is the message of the cross, and why is it to be considered the wisdom and power of God? The message of the cross can be stated in many different ways. Briefly, the message of the cross is that Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3; see also Romans 5:6, 8; 6:6). By dying on the cross, Jesus fulfilled the angel’s statement to Joseph before Jesus was born that He would “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Everyone sins (Romans 3:10, 23) and because sin separates people from God (Isaiah 59:2), people need to be reconciled to God. Reconciliation is impossible without the shedding of blood because life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). Under the Law of Moses, blood sacrifices were from animal life. However, those sacrifices could not take away sins although they were annual reminders of sin (Hebrews 10:3-4). Therefore, “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28).
A message portrayed by the cross is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 2:13-16; Colossians 1:19-20). When Christ died on the cross He not only reconciled man to God but also reconciled Jew and Gentile to each other by abolishing the Law of Moses (Ephesians 2:13-16; Colossians 2:14).
If the Law had not needed to be abolished, then Christ died in vain (Galatians 2:21). The good news of the cross is that it is the power of God unto salvation for both Jew and Gentile (Romans 1:16).
A message indicated by the cross is that God loved us enough to send His son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10; see also John 3:16; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2).
Jesus’ death on the cross redeemed us from our sins (1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:9). Therefore, we should live for him.
As Jesus loved us and denied himself on the cross for us, so we are required to love one another (John 13:34; Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 1 John 3:23; 4:11-12) and deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him (Matthew 10:38; Mark 8:34; Luke 14:27).
“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if one died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
 To propitiate means to appease, atone, placate, or satisfy the wrath of another by making an offering. Propitiation results in reconciliation.