…Because Mount Barker Needs the Power of God
Corinthians 1:18 – 25
…Because Mount Barker Needs the Power of God
Who could delight in such a thing?
Just a few weeks before this church was launched, the world was shocked, by a terrible crime.
It wasn’t a violent crime.
It wasn’t a crime against children, of the kind that so often makes our blood boil,
It was, in fact, a fairly straight-forward theft.
The physical value, material value, of what was stolen, wasn’t really significant.
Part of a gate, 40 kilograms of iron, was stolen, one night.
And the world reacted with disgust
Politicians, prime ministers and presidents, spoke out against the heinousness of this crime.
Why the outcry?
Well, it was the Friday before Christmas, and in the early hours of the morning, a gang of thieves cut down and stole, the sign, that had for more than 50 years, stood over the gate to the Auschwitz extermination camp.
“Arbeit macht frei", it read, "Work sets you free.”
And that sign, was cut into 3 pieces, and carried away.
Police believing it had been stolen to order, for some depraved collector.
A quick glance at the newspaper headlines, from around the world, in the following days, gives a fairly clear picture of the universal horror, at the thought, that this symbol of unspeakable atrocity, might end up as somebody’s ornament.
How could a sign, under which a million people marched to their deaths, become a collector’s piece?
How could a symbol that represented some of the most repugnant acts ever committed by human beings, be someone’s trinket?
Well, our revulsion, at someone’s weird fascination with the murder and hate of the Nazi extermination camps, is exactly equivalent, to the revulsion with which crucifixion was viewed in its era.
Crucifixion had existed as a method of torture and execution for centuries before the time of Christ, although it was the Romans who we’d say really perfected the technique.
It was considered such a horrific way of killing someone, that as I mentioned recently, it was a word that couldn’t be spoken of in polite conversation, the word itself carrying the same offence as the rudest word that we could possibly imagine.
It was considered so degrading, so dehumanising, that the Roman Empire forbade its use against its own citizens, except in extreme circumstances, and even then, only with the emperor’s personal permission.
The Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero said The very word “cross” should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears
Talking up someone who had been crucified, carried the same level of offence, as today saying you’ve got Hitler’s photo stuck on your fridge.
And yet what does the Apostle Paul do, in this opening chapter of his letter to the Christians in Corinth?
He talks about the cross of Christ,
He talks on and on about the cross of Christ,
He talks about the fact, that all he talks about, is the cross of Christ.
Paul sees the message of Jesus crucified, in very different terms, to the prevailing view of his day.
The message of cross – foolishness or power? (v 18 – 25)
So who’s right?
1st Century Greco-Roman cultural sensibilities, or the Apostle Paul?
Is the cross of Jesus a major embarrassment, the colossal failure of an unsuccessful religious leader, or is it something worth boasting about?
Is the message of the cross foolishness, or is it something else?
Is it something that people in our region, need to hear?
People we know and care about, is this a message they need to hear, or is it something better swept under the carpet?
What can a message about a crucified saviour offer, that our friends and family can’t find anywhere else, in any other message,
Well if you have your Bible there, look up just a few lines at the earlier verses in chapter 1. Paul is trying to steer the Corinthian church back onto the right track, because they’ve become divided.
One of the ways their factions have become obvious is through their arguing over leaders.
We see later on in the letter, that the Christians in Corinth were trying to show how much more spiritual they were than everyone else.
They had absorbed, uncritically, the values and priorities of the world around them.
And so Paul wants to remind them, that he came to them, not with a message that was just an echo of what they’d hear in the world, a slight variation on whatever’s current and popular in society, Paul says, I came to preach a completely different kind of message: The message of the cross of Jesus is the means by which you encounter the power of God.
See there in verse 18, 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. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Verse 18 is really the key verse in the section. The rest of it, through to 2 verse 5, is really an explanation and illustration of what Paul says here: the message of the cross is foolishness to the world, but in reality, it’s the power of God.
So we’ll kind of jump, back and forth between verse 18, and Paul’s explanation and illustration from, as we think about an answer to our question, “Why does Mount Barker need to hear the gospel?”
The message of the cross – what is it?
First of all, let’s get our definitions right.
One of the great philosophers of our age once said “Sometimes it's not enough to know what things mean, sometimes you have to know what things don't mean.” That great philosopher, of course, was Bob Dylan!
But what does Paul mean when he speaks of the message of the cross? What doesn’t he mean?
Well he doesn’t mean that he speaks of the cross of Christ, in isolation from the life and ministry of Christ.
When he says in 2 verse 2 I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified
He doesn’t mean, we don’t talk about the resurrection,
He doesn’t mean, we don’t talk about discipleship, prayer, what the Christian life looks like.
The message of the cross is really just a synonym for “the gospel”, the good news of Jesus, but Paul uses this term, because he wants to highlight that the death of Jesus on the cross is the core of the gospel.
The message of the cross shows the world to be divided in two
Let’s see what he says about it.
Verse 18, 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.
Paul was a Jew,
He was learned,
He was a religious scholar, a Pharisee, if you’re familiar with that term, a group of religious purists,
In his former life, before he came to Christ, he saw the world as divided in 2.
For someone with Paul’s background, the world was made up of Jews, and non-Jews, Gentiles. And in Paul’s world, the Greeks were kind of the leading example of people who weren’t Jewish, hence the comparison between Jews and Greeks that we find here, verse 24 for example.
Of course there were other divisions that people saw in the world,
Slaves, and free,
Men, and women,
And it’s pretty easy for us to start viewing the world in those sorts of categories, isn’t it?
Working class, middle class.
And we don’t want to pretend for a moment that everyone is identical!, but those divisions are entirely artificial, aren’t they?,
They are entirely human constructs,
Here is the one true division between people,
The only division between people that matters to God,
The world is made up of, those who are perishing
And those who are being saved.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Jew or a Gentile, you’ll fit into one or the other of these 2 categories.
You can be rich, and be perishing, or rich, and being saved,
You can be poor, and be perishing, or poor, and being saved.
You know that joke, there are 3 kinds of people in the world, Those who can count,
And those who can’t!
Well there are 2 types of people in the world, and every single person shows their identity, shows which group they’re a part of, by what they think of the message of the cross.
If you’ve ever seen the Superman movies, or read the comics, you’ll know that Lois Lane can never quite figure out that Superman is actually Clark Kent. She has her suspicions, but if only there was some little test she could give, to conclusively prove his true identity!
Well Paul says, the true identity of every single person who’s ever lived, is demonstrated by their response to the message of the cross.
It would be hard to find anything less popular, or more controversial today, than to say that people are perishing, and yet that’s what the Scriptures tell us.
Those people who reject the message of the cross,
Who oppose the cross as God’s means of offering us reconciliation with himself are present tense, perishing.
It is an action that is in the process of occurring.
As people, in Paul’s day, as today, turn their backs on the message of the cross of Christ, they set themselves on a path to eternal death, and to separation from God and his blessing forever.
That in itself, should answer our question, shouldn’t it?
Why does Mount Barker need to hear the gospel, well, we’ll come to the power of God bit in a moment, but for now, isn’t the terrible cost of rejecting the gospel enough to make us sit up and take notice?
People in our region will perish eternally, if they are apart from God.
At our AGM on Monday night, we opened our time in the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, where he speaks about the reconciliation that God offers us, and in particular, the great lengths God went to, the high price that he paid for reconciliation;, sending his own Son to die in our place.
To reject the message of the cross, is to reject the only means of reconciliation with God, that is available to us.
There’s a story about a pastor who’s caught in a flood, and he goes up on the roof of his house, as the floodwaters rise, but he’s absolutely confident that God will save him,
And after while, some kids paddle past in a canoe, and they say, “Hey mister, climb in, we’ll rescue you”
And the pastor says, “No, it’s OK, God will save me!”
The floodwaters keep rising, and a while later, the police come past in a boat, “You sir, climb aboard, it’s going to be OK.”
And the pastor says, “No, thank you, I’ll wait here, God will save me!”
The waters rise, he’s perched right on top of the chimney now, water lapping at his feet, and finally a helicopter arrives overhead. The rescue guy comes down on a rope, but the pastor yells at him, over the noise of the rotors, “Don’t worry about me! God will save me!” And he refuses to clip into the harness.
Finally the floodwaters rise, and the pastor drowns. He gets to heaven and he says to God, “Why didn’t you save me?”
And God says, “I sent you a canoe, a rescue boat, and a helicopter, what more did you want?”
If people reject the one means of reconciliation and forgiveness, the one means of rescue that God offers, there is no other alternative.
There is no other means of rescue.
To reject the message of the cross, is to cut yourself off from God.
It’s why we need to be calling on people that we know,
People we come into contact with,
People who God brings across our paths, and into our lives,
We need to be calling on them to consider the message of the cross, and to respond to it.
We need to be calling on them again and again to consider the message of the cross and respond to it.
And like I said, it’s considered incredibly harsh, to speak of people perishing, apart from God, People will hate you for saying that, verse 23, that message is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles
And yet the cross is the message of the extraordinary lengths that God went to, in order for us to come to him,
And if we reject that, that same questions stands “What more could you possibly want?”
When you reject the unimaginably gracious rescue offer, how could you say God is being harsh or unfair?
The message of the cross is foolishness to people who are perishing
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but the problem isn’t with the message itself.
See verse 19, the quote from Isaiah, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
and verse 21 For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe
God was wise enough, verse 21, to make sure that human wisdom and intellect, would never be the pathway to knowing him.
Those words from Isaiah were written hundreds of years before Jesus.
God has always thought human wisdom was insufficient as a means of knowing, and reaching, and understanding God.
In fact worldly wisdom gets in the way of knowing God.
People will reject the message of the cross, not just because God’s chosen a different way,
But because our ways of thinking, our ways of doing things, will actually get in the way of us seeing and understanding God’s plans and purposes.
The message of the cross is foolishness to people, because it cuts right across the things that we value so highly:,
The triumph of man.
See the line-up of experts in verse 20?
The wise person,
The teacher of the law,
The philosopher of this age,
They’ll tell you what they think,
They’ll tell you what they know,
But it’s not what we know, that saves us,
It’s not what people can figure out, that saves them,
It’s what God does, that saves people.
Of course that’s not to say that we don’t think about our salvation,
That we don’t use the gifts that God has given us, to wrestle with our salvation.
Think about this exchange Winnie the Pooh and Piglet:
“Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything.”
That’s not the Christian experience!
Use your brain!,
Use your intellect!
Try and plumb the depths of what God has done for you in Christ,
Just don’t ever think that your understanding of that is what saves you.
Our salvation rests on what God has done, and on what God has made known about what God has done.
Of course, we don’t need the Apostle Paul to tell us, that people who are busy trying to find God on their own, or who don’t think they have any need for God, think that the message of a crucified saviour is foolishness.
I know many of you have had those exact conversations with your friends.
The oldest known picture of Jesus, isn’t some beautiful piece of artwork hanging in a gallery somewhere,
It’s a piece of graffiti scratched into the wall of a guard house in Rome. It’s a picture of a man with a donkey’s head being crucified. And another man, a Christian, is pictured bowing in worship.
Crudely scratched alongside are the words “Alexamenos”, that’s the man’s name, “Alexamenos worships his god”, presumably directed at some Christian soldier quartered in those barracks.
Human wisdom, the wisdom of our age, and of every age of human existence,
It’s wisdom that is stained by self-deceit,
It is so easily twisted by the desire for status and self-sufficiency,
I seeks its own advantage, regardless of the cost to others.
And if you approach the message of the crucified saviour from that perspective, it looks like utter foolishness.
See all those experts in verse 20, that’s the line-up from Q & A, isn’t it?
Tune in to ABC 1, 9:35 Monday nights, to hear from wise person, the teacher of the law, and the philosopher of this age, and yet the truth of God, revealed in the cross, so fails to live up to their intellectual criteria,
And so unequivocally cuts across the things they value, and hold dear, that they reject it out of hand.
And yet what the finest minds in the world, cannot achieve, cannot come up with;,
Relationship with God,
Peace with God,
What they are patently unable to offer people, You and I can extend to others, through something as simple a conversation, speaking the message of the cross.
See verse 21 again? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached, to save those who believe
The message of the cross is the power of God
How are people saved?
And Paul doesn’t just mean this kind of thing, standing in front of a crowd,
It’s passing on a message,
And Paul says, that’s what he and others like him are on about, we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God
It’s verse 18 again isn’t it? 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.
Paul speaks of the cross, because it is in that message, the power of God is experienced.
When I was at uni, these teams of enormous body-builders would come onto campus, These were Christian guys, and they said their mission was to demonstrate God’s power, by doing things like breaking bricks with their head,
And bending steel bars with their teeth!
This was their method of evangelism! Come and experience God’s power, as this bloke destroys something with his body.
And yet we can see here that the Apostle Paul has a completely different idea about God’s power,
And where it’s seen,
And how it can be experienced.
And the power of the Christian body-builder guy pales into insignificance, alongside this demonstration of power.
But notice it’s not just that the cross is the power of God.
That would be fair enough, but Paul is clear in verse 18, it is the message of the cross, that is the power of God.
We’re looking at this passage, because we want to work out, as a church,
How do we help our region,
People we know,
People we care about,
How do we help them experience the life-changing, and eternity-shaping power of God?
Well Paul’s not saying, “the message of the cross is a message about the demonstration of God’s power seen at the cross”, although that’s true. God did demonstrate his power at the cross, triumphing over his enemies.
But Paul’s point is that it’s the message of the cross, verse 18, that is the power of God.
The message that has been entrusted to us, is the power of God
The message of the cross that points back to the event of the cross, and calls on people to make a response to the cross, that is the power of God!
That is the means of people coming to salvation.
Which, if you think about it, it means that we wield, the power of God!
We have the power of God for the salvation of people, at our disposal.
Now at one level, I hesitate to say that, because it sounds like, “How great are we?! We’ve got God’s power!”
But the whole thrust of this passage, is that it’s nothing to do with us.
There is no room for boasting, as verse 29 points out.
If the Christians in Corinth took one look at their lives, they’d know they’ve got nothing to boast about.
Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
Their standing before God is not because of their human standing,
Not because of their human wisdom,
The fact that they’ve come to faith in Christ is evidence Paul says, that it’s not about how clever you are,
Or how powerful you are,
Or how wise you are.
The message of the cross is the power of God, because that message makes God known.
It makes known God’s means of salvation.
It explains to us how God defeated sin and evil, and therefore how we can be free from slavery to sin, and how we need not fear evil,
The message of the cross demonstrates how lives can be transformed.
Anyone who responds to the message of the cross in faith,
Anyone who is called,
Anyone who believes, sees in the message of the cross the ultimate demonstration of God’s power
Maybe you’re not a Christian, but you want to experience the power of God,
Well, listen to the message of the cross.
Listen to what it tells you, about where you stand now, and about what God promises you.
Listen to the free invitation it offers you, and experience the transforming power of God for yourself.
If you are a Christian,
When you talk to a friend about the cross of Christ.
When you explain to them, what you believe about Jesus, and his death in your place.
You’re not just giving information about God’s power.
That is God’s power.
That is how God acts in the world to save people.
The message of the cross is the centre of Christian ministry
And this is why the message of the cross is the centre of Christian ministry
This is what we’re on about, as individuals, and as a church.
And it’s also why, although it’s absolutely true, as we saw, what someone thinks of the message of the cross will show you their true identity;, Perishing or being saved,
Far from God, or in Christ, verse 28,
But also, hearing and responding to the message of the cross, is the means by which someone moves from one of those groups to the other.
Hearing and responding to the message of the cross is the means by which someone’s identity is changed.
My cousin changed his name a couple of weeks ago.
He kind of lives in Switzerland, in France, and in Adelaide, so changing his name, changing his identity, was a complicated process;
Queues at government offices.
All to change his identity.
Hear this message and respond in faith, and identity changes.
So you can see why Paul says at the beginning of chapter 2, I didn’t load my arsenal with every tool of worldly wisdom I could, all I did, was bring you a message of Christ crucified.
I didn’t get out my ministry Swiss Army Knife, with 20 different approaches,
And 5 essential laws of leadership,
And a stack of clever arguments,
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified
I had a teacher in school, who was a mad keen environmentalist. So much so, that we would time her with our stopwatches, to see how long it would take her to get out her hobby horse.
We weren’t very respectful in year 10!
But you know, we’d be studying the gold rush, and 95 percent of the lesson would be about the environmental impact of mining.
We’d study the federal election, and all we’d learn, was the amount of land-fill that How-to-Vote cards create.
She really seemed to have a one-track mind.
And yet Paul makes no apology for his one-track mind, does he?
If the message of the cross is the power of God, then no wonder that he says, I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified
If you’re new with us this morning, or if you’ve been around for a little while, and you’re trying to figure out what kind of church this is,
What we’re on about,
What are our ministry priorities,
Here’s your answer: Jesus Christ and him crucified
If you’re not a Christian, and you’re trying to work out, “I know that Christians believe lots of things about God, and life, and themselves, but what’s the one thing I have to come to grips with if I’m going to become a Christian.
It’s the place where our greatest need is both demonstrated, and met. Jesus Christ and him crucified
If you’re a member here, and you wonder what life at TMB is going to look like in the coming years,
As a new associate pastor joins the team,
As we plant more Sunday gatherings,
What is going to be the one non-negotiable that drives everything we do?
Here’s your answer: Jesus Christ and him crucified
What does Mount Barker need?
Mount Barker needs to experience the power of God.
People we care about, need to experience the life-transforming power of God.
People need to know the power of God that moves them from death to life.
And that power, is in the message of the cross,
The message of a God who comes and breaks into the world, dies in the place of sinful, rebellious humanity, to offer relationship and reconciliation.
More than anything else, that’s what Mount Barker needs from us.
American author E J Patten once wrote power without compassion, is the worst kind of evil there is.
I don’t think he was thinking of this kind of power, and yet, knowing the power that has been entrusted to us, what will our compassion for those who are perishing, drive us to?
What will our compassion for those who are perishing lead us to give up?
What will our compassion for those who are perishing lead us to sacrifice?
Mount Barker needs the power of God.