One of the most important subdivisions of theology is Christology, which is the study of the person and work of Christ. Within that field of study, when we want to get at the aspect that is most crucial, the aspect that we may call the “crux” of the matter of Jesus’ person and work, we go immediately to the cross. The words crucial and crux both have their root in the Latin word for “cross,” crux, and they have come into the English language with their current meanings because the concept of the cross is at the very center and core of biblical Christianity. In a very real sense, the cross crystallizes the essence of the ministry of Jesus.
This was the view of the apostle Paul. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul made an astonishing statement about the importance of the cross to the entirety of the Christian faith: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). Paul was a man who had the equivalent of two Ph.D.s in theology by the time he was 21 years of age, a man who wrote with great insight on the whole scope of theology. Nevertheless, he said that the focal point of his teaching, preaching, and ministry among the Corinthians was simply “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
When the apostle made that statement, he obviously was engaged in the literary art of hyperbole. The Greek prefix hyper is the source of our word super, and it indicates a degree of emphasis. Hyper takes a root word and makes it emphatic. In this case, the root word comes from the Greek verb “to throw.” So hyperbole is literally a “super throwing”; it is a form of emphasis that uses intentional exaggeration. This is a common device in communication. Sometimes, when a child disobeys, a parent may say in exasperation, “I’ve told you ten thousand times not to do that.” The parent doesn’t mean literally ten thousand times, and no one who overhears the parent understands him or her to mean literally ten thousand times. Everybody understands that a statement like that is an exaggeration—an exaggeration born not out of deceitfulness or falsehood, but out of an intent to bring emphasis.
That’s what Paul was doing when he told the Corinthians he had determined to know nothing except Christ crucified. Clearly Paul was determined to know all kinds of things besides the person and work of Jesus. He wanted to teach the Corinthians about the deep things of the character and nature of God the Father. He planned to instruct them about the person and work of the Holy Spirit, about Christian ethics, and about many other things that go beyond the immediate scope of Christ’s work on the cross. So why, then, did he say this? The answer is obvious. Paul was saying that in all of his teaching, in all of his preaching, in all of his missionary activity, the central point of importance was the cross. In effect, this teacher was saying to his students, “You might forget other things that I teach you, but don’t ever forget the cross, because it was on the cross, through the cross, and by the cross that our Savior performed His work of redemption and gathered His people for eternity.
This excerpt is from R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross. Download the digital audiobook free through April 30, 2014.