By Rick Booye
For 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 1:18
When Paul says “The Message of the Cross” he is using a shorthand phrase referring to the body of knowledge of reality that starts with understanding just who Jesus Christ is and what He really did. It is the Gospel.
“Gospel” means “good news.” It is the news of something that has happened; something that God has done in time and space, in history and geography. You and I did not do it. God did. Single-handedly. Christ’s entire earthly life and ministry (often referred to simply as “The Cross”) is an objective historical fact that has changed the metaphysical structure and destiny of the universe and everything and everyone in it. Jesus Christ is now Lord of creation and has changed reality in both the spiritual and material dimensions. This is a fact whether people understand it or not. Announcing this news is preaching the gospel. It is not as simple as it sometimes sounds. There are five stunning facts that we affirm when we tell people about the gospel. Time and space here allow us to meditate on only the first if these five. It all starts with the incarnation.
God has become, and remains to this day and forever, a human being. This is tangible, material incarnation (John 1:1-5, 14; Col 2:8-9; Phil 2:5-11; Heb 1:1-3). The more we think about this the more astounding it becomes. It is literally stunning—the Creator God entering his own creation, becoming a permanent resident in the material realm! And Jesus of Nazareth was not just acting or appearing human as the Gnostics believed. He was real flesh and blood, with a true human soul/ spirit, including all the limitations and weaknesses that are part of life in this age. After his death and resurrection he retained risen, spiritual/ material human form. It boggles the mind. No wonder the church took five hundred years to even describe (They never actually explained it.) what they understood by the dual nature of Christ. We still wrestle with this mystery. There is no other message in history that even comes close to this.
The incarnation tells us at least two things: First, Reality is about God before it is about us. Which means that materialism (the notion that physical matter is all that really exists) is not true. Yes, Jesus was born in the natural way, but he was not conceived in the natural way. It is clear that he pre-existed. God precedes the material world. Matter is here because it came from His Mind. The material universe is the product of the invisible, spirit realm. This is an arresting assertion in our era. Society simply does not see it this way. Most people assume that God is a concept that was born in the mind of humanity. We inherited this idea from two 19th century thinkers, Ludwig Feuerbach (early 19th century) and Sigmund Freud (late 19th century), both of whom were basically materialists. Their philosophy is the foundation for almost all of what we learn in public school about origins, religion and ultimate reality. But Feuerbach and Freud were simply wrong. They were the products of their age, the modern enlightenment “Age of Reason,” which rejected the non-physical realm entirely. The truth is that Reality starts with God—not with us.
Second, the incarnation tells us that Redemption has an anchor in time and space. This means that all the neo-spiritualities are mistaken. Many people in our world consider themselves “spiritual” but adamantly reject any “doctrine” or “organized religion.” They opt instead for one of the many off-brand, homegrown, disorganized paths to enlightenment that present themselves to our world. Central to the doctrines (for they certainly are doctrines and dogmas) of these groups is that historical data is not important. What is important is personal, mystical, transcendental enlightenment. Ancient Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism taught this. What mattered was “the teaching” or “the mystical apprehension.” Whether anything happened in the material world was, well … immaterial. One reaches enlightenment by direct contact of some sort, not connected to any historical or geographical reality in the material realm. These spiritualities essentially deny the physical.
The gospel makes more sense than this. It interfaces deeply with the material creation, human history and reality as we currently experience it. God has intervened and is currently at large in our world. Furthermore, He is renovating the entire material and spiritual universe in Christ. This gives meaning to all of life, including its joys and griefs. People who grasp the wisdom of the incarnation will live lives that are so heavenly minded they will be of tremendous earthly good.
Take the time to meditate on the incarnation. Christians these days tend to emphasize the things they should do rather than what God has done. But too much emphasis on us – our activity, effectiveness, busyness and productivity – produces Pharisaism. The church is full of people who sign off on the incarnation, but who believe that physical life is useless and meaningless. They waste some of their best days in guilt for not being more “spiritual.” The incarnation anchors God’s grace in our material world in a way that sets us free to live fully in this age while profoundly looking forward to the next.