Dr. J. N. Manokaran A Civil Engineer by profession. God called him and his family to be missional leader in Haryana as cross cultural missionaries for eleven years. Since, 1997 they returned back to Tamil Nadu to help missionaries and pastors to build their capacities by teaching, training and writing.
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (I Corinthians 1:22-25)
Signs, miracles, and wonders were demanded and sought by the Jews. In other words, Jews were unable to believe until they see signs and wonders. (John 4:48) For children of Israel who were slaves in Egypt God did miracles through Moses (Exodus 4:1-9) to heal sickness and handle snakes. The sign was given so that the Israelites could trust the servant of God, Moses. Israelites believed by seeing those miracles. (Exodus 4:30 and 31) However, when Lord Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry did signs, miracles and wonders, the Israelites did not believe him, instead crucified him.
The world of Greeks was pursuit of wisdom: Natural wisdom, philosophy, reason, logic, oratory, rhetoric.All human wisdom cannot find god. The search for God by humanity seems endless tunnel. But God by His grace has manifested Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross and his subsequent resurrection defies human logic and explanation. Human knowledge and wisdom is not competent enough to know God. Hence, there is need for revelation of truth and the proclamation of truth.
Apparently cross signifies punishment, suffering, depravation, defeat and death but the truth is it reveals forgiveness, glory, kingdom, victory and life are latent or mystery. Human mind fails to see beyond the physical cross. But Paul states that his duty is to proclaim the mystery of the cross. So convincing human mind of the mystery of the gospel is primary duty of Christians.“For the message of cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18)
1. Symbol of Punishment or Forgiveness
Death penalty by nailing to the cross was the Roman system of capital punishment. And Jesus tried under Roman law was awarded death penalty through cross. The physical cross can signify only punishment meted out a deserving criminal. But Bible emphatically teaches us that the death of Jesus Christ was vicarious. He died on behalf of sinners. It was punishment due to human being borne by Him. So cross which is a symbol of punishment is transformed as vehicle of forgiveness and reconciliation. “He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us, he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 3:13,14)
Jews were looking for a dramatic sign of Lord Jesus Christ coming down from the cross. (Matthew 27:40) For Greeks, the death of Son of God on the cross was incomprehensible. However, for those who believe, cross is the basis for forgiveness of sins.
2. Symbol of Suffering or Glory
The cross was a place where a person had to endure immense physical pain, emotional pain and mental agony. Jesus was losing blood and was tortured by his own creation. Dehydration made him to cry for water. The weight of the body was tearing his flesh apart. The taunts of the Pharisees and Sadducees were giving him mental and spiritual agony. The disappearance of his disciples gave him emotional pain. Above all the burden of sin of the whole world was upon him, the spiritual alienation from Father and pain came heavily on him.
The suffering and ignoble death in the physical realm was transformed to the glory that was bestowed upon him later. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11) So when Christ rose from the dead declared that all authority in heaven and earth was with Him. (Matt 28:18)
For Jews, pain and suffering is not a symbol of God’s favour. Greeks did not know the reason or solution for the problem of suffering as they speculated many theories. Suffering and pain has purpose and meaning in the context of Fallen humanity and imperfect world, in which God’s glory is expressed and exemplified.
3. Symbol of depravation or hope of kingdom
Jesus Christ on the cross was deprived of everything. Even his clothes were divided among the soldiers. (Matthew 27:35)Human dignity, honour, respect, love and relationship with Father was deprived for the sake of salvation of humanity. While the religious leaders or intellectuals or Roman officials or disciples could not understand Lord Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords; a robber who was undergoing punishment on the cross along with Him recognized Christ as King. So he pleaded, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) Christ the king deprived Himself of all to make us Kings and Priests in His Kingdom. We are citizens of heaven. (Philippians 3:20)
The sign seeking Jews could not see the invisible Kingdom. Human wisdom of Greeks could not give the status of a King to a convicted criminal who died in penury. However, for the believers, cross is the way to Heaven that created through his body. (Hebrews 10:20)
4. Symbol of Defeat or Victory
The coming of Messiah was the time for celebration. Many who were anticipating the Messiah expected him to come with power and pomp. The Jewish people of contemporary times of Lord Jesus taught that the Messiah would be like King David who would defeat the Romans and restore the Kingdom to Jews. But when Jesus Christ came, he took a stable as his birth place. His death was defeat to the Jewish idea of Messiah and defeat to all who followed him. But the Bible says, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col 2:15). It was not defeat of Jesus Christ, but the defeat of the Satan and his army.
The sign seeking Jews could not perceive or discern the spiritual truth of defeat of Sin, Death and Satan. The Greeks wondered how death could bring salvation and succor? However, for the believers, the cross is the place of eternal victory over Satan and his schemes.
5. Symbol of Death or Life
The death on the cross was not the end. It was not a history of another personality whose life ended with the tomb or memorial or museum. It was with death Lord Jesus defeated death and made a new living way for His followers. “Therefore, brother, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body.” (Hebrews 10: 19,20)
The Jews expected Messiah to live forever, without seeing death. They did not understand the Scripture. Greeks wondered how death could bring life. Lord Jesus told the Greeks: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) In death of Lord Jesus Christ is eternal life is gift to all who believe.
Challenge to Communicate
The challenge to Christians is to explain the truth about the cross, which is divine wisdom to seekers of truth. Revealed Truth is not for debate or discussion but for proclamation. Even today, there are sign seekers and wisdom seekers instead of truth receivers. The seekers cannot have preconditions or preconceptions or presumptions and paradigms while seeking truth. They have to seek truth with open mind. Christians should continue to declare, proclaim and share the truth which is precious beyond signs and wisdom.