He was just another New York City drunk. Found in a Bowery flophouse naked and with a deep gash in his throat, he was taken to the hospital where he languished for three days, unable to eat. He had lived to drink, and now he had died by the drink.
A friend found him in the morgue, amidst a crowd of other unidentified corpses, and claimed all the man’s worldly possessions: a ragged and filthy coat with 38 cents in one pocket and a scrap of paper in the other. On the paper were five words: “Dear friends and gentle hearts.” The words seemed an anomaly from the man who carried them, but then most did not know that the derelict was none other than Steven Foster, author of more than 200 songs, many of which became part of our country’s culture and heritage — songs like “Camp Town Races,” “Oh! Susanna,” “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair,” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”
But at age 38, Foster was now dead, his life seemingly wasted. It seems so senseless — why someone who had so much should die with so little. And in our more judgmental moments, it also makes us think that maybe he wasn’t such a hero after all. Maybe his contribution to society was not so important. Maybe his life was not worth following.
Another man died also. Not in destitution, but in humility. But His death was premature too. He had been a hero to many. Many people came from long distances to hear how He crafted words together. He was popular. He died unpopular — but not forgotten. You’ve heard of Him, I know. His name is Jesus. But just as it is easy for us to ridicule and despise a fallen hero, so it was easy in Jesus’ day to criticize and despise a crucified Savior. And the thought of the day among many echoed the mocking words of the thief on the cross: “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”
It seemed ludicrous to think that One who came claiming so much — to be God, to be the fulfillment of the OT prophecies, and to be the Savior of the world, to be King — should die the most humiliating kind of death, with absolutely no possessions, and with a group of followers who had left Him. God? Savior? King? No way!
And frankly, the thoughts have not changed too much over 2000 years. Several years ago, just three days after delighting in the worship of Resurrection morning, I overheard a receptionist in an office say to her co-worker, “I get tired of all this ‘God is alive’ talk…” That is, who wants a God who died? Who wants a Savior who suffered the most humiliating kind of death imaginable? Or even better, who wants God? Few apparently.
A Savior dying on a cross seems ludicrous. Yet the beauty of the cross is that it is through Christ’s humiliating death on the cross that God’s power and wisdom are revealed — and men’s lives are changed. We need the cross!
And that is Paul’s point in the later half of 1 Corinthians 1 —
“…but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24; NASB)
The cross is central to the gospel. Apart from the humiliating, painful death of Christ on the cross, there is no gospel — there is no good news for mankind — and there is no transformation for mankind either. The cross means suffering and pain. It is shameful and hated. And it is the only means of hope for man. Theologian Handley Moule said it well: “There is no situation so chaotic that God cannot from that situation create something that is surpassingly good. He did it at the creation. He did it as the cross. He is doing it today.” Our hope and confidence for today — and for the future — is rooted in the power and wisdom of God that is rooted in the cross.