This is one of those occasions where I prefer the King James translation. The ESV uses word of the cross instead of preaching, and chooses folly over foolishness. The meaning is unchanged. For those of us that have been Christians for many years, or perhaps in church our whole lives, we worship at the foot of the cross. We sing hymns about the cross, decorate our churches with images of the cross; we glory in the crucified savoir. Paul reminds us to never loose sight of the fact that to the world, to the unsaved, to those hearing the gospel for the first time – it sounds foolish.
Think about it. Visit a friend in the hospital and tell him/her that the only chance for eternal life is believing that a political prisoner was executed by the state 2,000 years ago. Try to put yourself in that place. It sounds extraordinary, incredible… ridiculous. Our hope for life is found in the death of Jesus. He was also buried and then resurrected, but by this time you’ve probably lost your audience. Paul goes on to explain that this was God’s plan. The plan of salvation is beyond the wisdom of this age. God’s love surpasses human understanding, and the death, burial and resurrection defies logic and reason as we know it. The Bible is clear that most people will not believe it (Matt 7:13-14). God has confounded man’s wisdom.
Once you see it you may not be able to unsee it. The cross, the gospel, God’s plan of salvation – it’s a great mystery. Paul comes right out and says so. It is unreasonable. Jesus attracted a huge following, but among that crowd were those only seeking to be healed or to be fed, some were merely curious, and the enemies of Jesus followed him around also looking for something he said or did so they could accuse him. Jesus reminded his followers that he was hated by the world and not to be surprised when they were hated.
To enter God’s kingdom takes a child-like faith. Children believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. They don’t know Elmo is a puppet. Each child believes their dad is the strongest man is the world, and perhaps can pull quarters out of their ears. And in the same way, the same way, the children of God believe Jesus died on a cross, rose from the dead, ascending into heaven AND that he is coming back some day to take us to heaven also. To the world that’s just as ridiculous as the the Tooth Fairy. But… to those of us that are being saved, it is the power of God.