Is the Jesus we preach the same Jesus that Paul preached? Easter 2023: Worldviews #11

Is the Jesus we preach the same Jesus that Paul preached? Easter 2023: Worldviews #11 April 5, 2023

I would like to make the claim that the Jesus that is presented this weekend in some (I am grieved to think that perhaps I should say “many”) of our churches does not seem to correspond with the Jesus that Paul preached.

In fact, the Jesus preached in these churches seems to have more in common with what Paul’s opponents in Corinth wanted him to preach.

In my last post, I addressed the modern church phenomena surrounding our Easter (oh, I almost forgot again, it is “Resurrection Sunday” not Easter) and how pastors, and especially the staff, are overworked and highly stressed. Even in smaller churches, Easter Resurrection Sunday is a time of great stress.

The preaching pastor is especially in the spotlight. They are called upon to “deliver.” After all, our relatives, friends, and even our colleagues may all come and they need to hear the Gospel so that they may be saved.

I noted in that post that I had two things to address regarding this phenomenon.

My first point was that “people are not very likely to become a Christian because your pastor and the staff put on a good show! . . . The fact is that your kids, neighbors, co-workers, friends, and Aunt Martha are far more likely to come to faith in Christ because:

  • They respect you
  • They admire you
  • They envy you
  • They see Jesus working in your life and they want to know more

This means that instead of putting pressure and stress on our pastors and the staff, perhaps we should look at ourselves first.”

In this post, I would like to add a second observation. Namely, our efforts to make Jesus and the Gospel “look good”—though understandable—may actually undermine the very message of the Gospel. In fact, it seems to have more in common with Paul’s opponents in Corinth than with what Paul preached.

NB: As I noted in a previous post, my wife and I have really enjoyed the Jesus series “the Chosen.”[1] In one of the episodes, Jesus is preparing to give His big sermon (the Sermon on the Mount).[2] As He prepares, His mother and many of the women who were following Him[3] were preparing a sash to improve Jesus’ appearance. Jesus tries to refuse the offer, which He graciously accepts, by telling them that He is not concerned with how He looks.

The Gospel is either “foolishness” or “a stumbling block”

For Paul, the Gospel was: “we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness” (1 Cor 1:23). The death and resurrection of Jesus were central to Paul’s preaching and it is the key to understanding Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians. (That Jesus’ death and resurrection form the heart of the message of 1st Corinthians is evident from the fact that references to the cross and the resurrection frame the whole letter (see 1:17-28 and 15:1-58)).

Take your pick: Jews or Gentiles (the word “Gentile” was a Jewish way of referring to “everyone else”)—which basically includes everyone in the Roman world—and Paul’s gospel was not going to be attractive.

And Paul knew it. And he didn’t care. In fact, he claimed that to dress up the Gospel in order to make it or himself look good was to undermine the very message of the Gospel that he preached.

To the Jews: Jesus was a cursed Messiah

The problem is that for the Jews Jesus’s death by crucifixion placed Him under the curse of Deut 21:22-23. Hence, the resurrection is a “stumbling block” (1 Cor 1:23) to the Jews because a cursed Messiah is no messiah at all.

To the Romans: Jesus was an outcast who died as an enemy of Rome

Things do not get any better when Paul takes the message of the cross to the rest of the Roman world. Among everyone else in the Roman world, the message of the cross was “foolishness” (1 Cor 1:18, 21, 23). After all, Paul was preaching about a Jewish man who died by crucifixion—a death that was reserved for the worst offenders.

In other words, the Christians were preaching that their Lord was some outcast from Galilee who died the most despicable form of death at the hands of Rome. If we are keeping score it is Rome 1 Jesus 0.

There is something far more significant to understand with regard to Jesus’ crucifixion. Namely, it is fundamentally opposed to the Roman system and its emphasis on noble birth, power, wealth, status, and public office.

In other words, the Christians were preaching that their Lord was some low-life who died the most despicable form of death at the hands of the world’s true power: Rome.

Of course, we have only scratched the surface when it comes to understanding how truly foolish –if not despicable and down-right offensive—the notion of a crucified yet risen King would have sounded in the Roman world.

NB: Vinnie and I address this on the Determinetruth Podcast in our introductory episode on 1 Corinthians (Oct 24, 2022) as well as our overview of 1 Corinthians 1-4 (Nov 7, 2022)

What does this mean for our dressing up the pastor, the church, and the Gospel?

Well, I am not saying that it is all wrong and we need to dress like paupers and meet in shanties.

After all, the Gospel still is the “power of God” (1 Cor 1:18) and it indeed is able “to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21).

At the same time, it does call into question the way many of our churches go overboard to reach the lost by making the Gospel look appealing.

Yes, the resurrected Lord is the God of Heaven who has defeated death in order that we might have life.

But He was risen because they crucified Him. And they crucified Him because He calls everyone to “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15). And then He said that “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34).


As usual, I have more to say. But I will close with the hope that your Resurrection Sunday is blessed and that your Aunt Martha indeed finds Jesus!


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[1] You can watch “The Chosen” by downloading their app.

[2] I am trying to watch the series, not from the critical “I am a NT professor” eyes, but just as a follower of Jesus and by allowing the creators to use their own artistic license and to appreciate the way they are telling the story. My NT prof eyes want to shout, He probably didn’t deliver the sermon on one occasion. Instead, Matthew simply compiled the teachings of Jesus into one sermon. But I have no problem with the way they presented it.

[3] I really appreciate the fact that they include female disciples of Jesus. This is one of the reasons why He was attracting the attention of the religious elite in Jerusalem.

About Rob Dalrymple
Rob Dalrymple is married to his wife Toni and is the father of four fabulous children, and two grandchildren. He has been teaching and pastoring for over 33 years at colleges, seminaries, and the local church. He has a PhD in biblical interpretation. He is the author of four books (including Follow the Lamb: A Guide to Reading, Understanding, and Applying the Book of Revelation & Understanding the New Testament and the End Times: Why it Matters) as well as numerous articles and other publications. He is currently completing a commentary on the book of Revelation titled, “Revelation: a Love story” (Cascade Books, pending 2024). You can read more about the author here.

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