Wineskins Archive

December 10, 2013

The Foolishness of Believing (Apr 2012)

Filed under: — @ 10:48 am and

By Rex Butts

When I think of Jesus and his cross, a lot of things usually come to mind. Foolishness is typically not one of them. But lately I have been thinking a little more of how foolish the idea of following Jesus appears to be (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:22-25).

As Christians, we believe in a person who was condemned by the state and put to death as prescribed by the law. Say all we want about the collusion between Jewish and Roman authorities, about the fulfillment of divine prophecy, it does not change the fact that we have put our faith in a crucified person.

Indeed it would all sound very foolish if it were not for the resurrection of Jesus. It is his resurrection that turns the crucifixion into God’s crowning moment of victory. That is why the two cannot be separated, as though we can speak of the crucifixion of Jesus without his resurrection.

In between the crucifixion and resurrection was his burial. Together, all three become this event we call The Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3-5). This gospel is the story of Israel brought to completion in Jesus Christ, as one recent book has sought to remind us.[1] It tells us that the same God who created humanity, who led Israel from the clutches of Egypt, has now brought this story to completion to say that now, as it was in the beginning, God reigns once again.

This sounds like good news. And it is! Yet if this is the case, then why should it be regarded as foolishness to some?

Well it might help to know that even though the language of “good news” or “gospel” has been part of the Christian vocabulary from the moment this Jesus movement began to emerge, we are not the only ones to speak of good news. There were plenty of other kings associating the idea of good news with themselves and apparently long before there was Jesus.

In the ancient world kings would parade through the streets shouting “Greetings…We are conquerors” as a pronouncement of salvation for the people. Making such pronouncements was to announce the gospel.[2] This was also a common practice in the Roman empire during the life of Jesus and the emergence of the Jesus movement. So for scripture to declare the Easter story as gospel, that which is saving us, it is also to say that Caesar neither brings good news nor is able to save us.

As we well know, such a claim was an unwelcome idea in the first century. For those who came to believe the good news about Jesus, it meant becoming a part the small but rapidly growing number of people who lived as this Jesus movement. But this was not just to come sit passively for a worship gathering and perhaps join a small group if it fits into the busy schedule. Becoming a part of this Jesus movement meant becoming a part of its peculiar way of life, shaped by the cross of Jesus, and its particular claim, that Jesus was Lord. This of course, put one at odds with Roman culture and especially with Caesar.

The result was everything from ridicule to persecution. Yet this Jesus movement continued to spread. In fact, N.T. Wright regards the growth of this movement as the “single most striking thing” about early Christianity since in one hundred years it spread from nothing to something so large that a man name of Aristides regarded Christians as a fourth human race.[3]

This all prompts the question of why the early Jesus movement expanded so rapidly. It is well known that during the emergence of this movement, that Greek was spoken throughout the empire and that there was good roads which made for easier traveling. These factors certainly helped but we cannot forget that being a follower of Jesus was anything but easy.

As simple as it may sound, the best reason we have to account for such growth seems to be the mere fact that these Jesus followers believed the good news told about him.[4] They believed in a person condemned by the state and put to death as prescribed by law but whom they believed God had raised. In hindsight, they believed that the crucifixion was all part of God’s plan to begin with. As a result, the fact that they believed became a matter of unyielding conviction that propelled the movement forward.

That Jesus movement emerged as a people who could neither be silenced nor tamed. Their belief became their passion, there one, all consuming passion.

And us?

It is Easter season again which means a lot of things. Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, Easter Sunday dinner reservations, etc… Somewhere in all of that, we will gather with our churches to worship and profess our faith in this crucified and resurrected Jesus. Maybe it will be a sunrise service or perhaps it will be at our traditional gathering time.

Yet somewhere in all of that, there seems to be a growing awareness once again that we have been called to something much bigger and much more riskier than church as we too often know it. Call it traditionalism, a domesticated Christianity, or whatever else we can name it as. What we know is that it is not what Jesus called us for, not when we hear this Jesus whom we believe was crucified, buried, and resurrected, calling us to follow along with him.

So how can we move beyond what seems to have become anemic in many ways and instead rediscover the ancient movement whose passion is the good news about Jesus Christ? The answer has and always will be to believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Erwin McManus reminds us, “…Jesus’ death wasn’t to free us from dying, but to free us from the fear of death. Jesus came to liberate us so that we could die up front and then live. Jesus Christ wants to take us to places where only dead men and women can go.”

If we believe in the crucified and resurrected Jesus, we are free live out its claim no matter how foolish it may appear to be and no matter how unbiblical it might be regarded as from some of our fellow Christians who appear more steeped in traditionalism than the ancient tradition.

So I have lately been thinking about the foolishness of believing in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ. The more I think about it and what it means, the more foolish it sounds. After all, there always seems to be enough voices of reason saying, “don’t do anything foolish”, including my own. But when it comes to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, it appears we have been called to foolishness.

So let’s be fools for Christ, for the Lord knows … we wouldn’t be the first.


1. See Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 50-51.

2 Andrew J. Spallek, “The Origin and Meaning of Euangeliops in the Pauline Corpus” Concordia Theological Quarterly 57 (July 1993): 178; the phrase

“Greetings…We are conquerors” is of Chairē…nikōmen</i> which Spallek cites in his article.

3 N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 359.

4 Ibid, 360, Wright draws the connection between belief and mission when he writes, “Why then did early Christianity spread? Because early Christians believed that what they had found to be true was true for the whole world. The impetus to mission sprang from the very heart of early Christian conviction…”

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