The Pope said the cross was a failure, humanly speaking, and many people are upset. I agree with him, and think there’s quite a bit to be learned from this situation.
In what way was the cross a failure, if any?
Last week we talked about the fact that the Pope had come to America. He spoke many times while he was here and he got some flack for quite a few of the things he said. However, I think on one of the points that he’s been criticized, he’s being criticized unfairly. I want us to look at that today because I think there are a lot of good points for us to learn from this whole situation. Here is a quote from Pope Francis, “God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus, and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.”
Quite a few people have just been open arms at the Pope calling the cross of failure, calling his life, humanly speaking, ending in failure. I think this is a very unfair and uncharitable criticism of the Pope. Now you might be thinking, “Wait a second, weren’t you totally criticizing Roman Catholicism last week?” Well, yes I was, for positions they’ve taken officially in writing that contradict scripture. That’s what we did last week. We looked at the official position of the Roman Catholic church and we looked at scripture. There is a large divide there on gospel matters and so many other things that we didn’t get into. However, we have to apply the same standard to other people that we apply to ourselves.
We can’t just harp on someone and take something they say out of context to try and make a point when there are many other good points to be made about Roman Catholicism. This just simply isn’t one of them, because what the Pope said here, understood in context, is correct. Humanly speaking, the cross did end in failure. Think about that for a minute.
In what way was the cross a failure, humanly speaking (That’s an important qualifier that he included)? Well, I think this is exactly what Paul is getting at at 1 Corinthians 1:18 where he says, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”
In verse 22, he says, “For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” Now some people who have criticized the statement from the Pope have been told of this statement. They say, “Well, foolishness is not the same thing as failure.” Well, I think the reason people think it’s foolishness is because they think it’s a failure. Why are you putting all of your hope in a failure? That is foolishness?
While the Jews and the Gentile comparison here is very specific for a reason we’ll look at in a minute, I think this is the case still today. Us talking about the cross comes across as just foolishness. “Why are you putting your trust in something that happened thousands of years ago?” “Why are you putting your faith and basing your life on [as, Bill Nye has recently said] documents that were written thousands of years ago?” That seems like foolishness. We have to remember that there is a very large and important spiritual component to sharing the gospel. I know that generally should go without saying.
But on a podcast about apologetics where we present arguments and information and lines of reasoning, we need to remember that someone can intellectually come to understand the gospel; They can know it inside and out. They can know it better than someone who is a Christian. But, until God through his Holy Spirit moves in that person’s life and grants them the faith to come to believe what they know in their head and place their trust in Christ, that person is not saved.
Being saved is more than theological knowledge. It is a regeneration and that is largely — almost entirely — spiritual. Yes, truth is required. The Holy Spirit works on truth which is why as Paul says in this passage, “God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to spread the gospel.” He also goes on about that in Romans too, but we have to remember that we are totally responsible for our part of this equation.
As Paul says here, we need to use the foolishness of the cross. We need to preach about a crucified Christ, but we also need to understand that, without God doing his part in this person’s life, assuming he’s called them like Paul says in verse 24 (“to those who are called.”), this is going to be a stumbling block. The gospel rightly preached is generally going to be repulsive to people who God has not drawn to himself, but we still need to accurately present it. We also need to understand exactly what the Pope was getting at that humanly speaking, the cross did end in failure (For clarification, I’m not quoting him as an authority)
This is actually one of the great arguments for the resurrection that to a Jew, trying to tell them that their messiah got killed and then rose again, would have no place in their culture. The Jews had no concept of the isolated resurrection of one individual like that. They thought the resurrection would be everyone at the end of time when the messiah ultimately came back, but a messiah that came and got himself killed? They’re not going to rally around that guy. That’s a stumbling block to the Jews. It’s also a stumbling block because as Paul points out in Galatians: anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse. Well, that was Jesus too. All the more reason that it’s a stumbling block.
To the Gentile, saying that this guy died and rose again, that’s foolishness just like it is in our culture today. We need to understand that when we present the gospel, if in some way someone isn’t a little repulsed, it doesn’t offend them in some way, it doesn’t seem foolish, we may not have done it correctly. Now let me back track a little there and provide some context to what I just said so I’m not misunderstood.
Our goal is never to offend. The way we share the gospel should not be offensive, but the gospel is a stumbling block. It is foolish. It does offend the pride of men, and we need to remember that. We are ultimately telling someone that they are not in charge of their destiny.
They will one day bow their knee to a sovereign creator who cares what they do with their life, who has a standard that they have not met. That will offend people, but the way we share it should be out of love.
I think of that passage in Philippians about Jesus who didn’t regard equality with God as something to be grasped but humbled himself taking on the form of a man. He came to earth in that way. Well, if God can condescend like that for us, how much more should we be willing to condescend and be very intentional about how kind and lovingly we share the gospel with other people? Well, we should certainly give that as much energy and effort as we can.
To sum up today, we need to remember that the cross does seem like foolishness and it does seem like a failure to the word. It might be foolishness because they don’t think it even happened. It seems like a failure because well, maybe they think Jesus died on a cross but they don’t think he rose again. We need to remember that.
We also need to remember when we argue and criticize other positions, we need to do it fairly and in an intellectually honest way and in a charitable way. If you rip the Pope’s statement out of its context and say “the failure of the cross, Jesus life ended in failure”, you could make him sound like a heretic on this statement, and he’s not in this case. There are plenty of other things to talk about, but this is not one of them. We loose credibility when we hone in one something that someone said, take it out of context to try and make a point. It’s also not befitting for a Christian to argue or criticize that way.
The third thing to remember is that God will be the one to cause the growth, God will be the one to move the person. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3, “I planted, Apollos watered but God caused it to grow. Neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God causes the growth.” God does the thing that no one else could do and God alone gets the glory for that thing, for that drawing of people to himself. The plan of salvation, the reason we share the gospel, should primarily be about God. It should not be about people.
People are very important. God, in Jesus, came to save people. However, salvation is primarily about God getting the glory. As Paul says in Ephesians, He saves us “to to the praise of his glorious name.” Our motivation in sharing the gospel should be to see more people come to give glory to God. Now that’s not at the exclusion of God caring about sinners, that’s not at the exclusion of us caring about people and where they spend eternity, but our primary motivation should be acting in such a way that gives glory to God and causes others to come to do the same thing. It is because of that that they are saved from hell.
I hope those thoughts have been helpful. When we think about things this way, it should give us more compassion for the unsaved world to realize that without God opening their eyes spiritually speaking, the cross does seem like a failure. We need to do our best with what God has called us to in the area where we’re planted to present the gospel and the evidences for Christianity in the most compelling way. As Paul says in another place: “to tear down any argument raised up against the gospel of Christ” and with the understanding that the foolishness of God is wiser than all of human wisdom. I see you next week for Unapologetic.