Why Preach Christ Crucified?
1 Corinthians 1:18 – 31
Why Preach Christ Crucified?
A symbol of revulsion
Last week, a new book was published in Germany, but even before it hit the shelves, it was surrounded in controversy.
It actually wasn’t the first time that this book had been published, it’s quite an old book, but its publication had in fact been banned for decades.
We’re speaking, of course, of Mein Kampf, My Struggle, Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Manifesto, first published in 1925, banned in 1945, and last Friday, available once more, for sale in Germany.
Opinion is divided, over what’s been called a hate-filled relic of a dark part of Germany’s history. According to the New York Times, some have argued that this new edition, will “legitimize the rantings of a sociopath who led the country down the path of evil.”
Others though, see this publication as an important step towards shining a light on a significant part of Germany’s history.
One upon a time it was more or less compulsory reading in all German households,
The Reich even gave copies of it as wedding gifts to German couples.
Now though, experts say there is still some question over whether it’s legal to sell this new book in Germany, because the “dissemination of Nazi ideology” is still prohibited.
But what has the reprint of a 90 year old book got to do with us?
Well the revulsion with which , pretty much all the world views Nazi ideology,
The utter repugnance when we’re confronted with Hitler’s statements and behaviour, that is almost exactly equivalent, to the revulsion with which crucifixion was viewed in the first century.
We have a cross in our church logo,
There are crosses stuck up on the walls of these classrooms.
It’s easy for us to have a somewhat sanitised image of crucifixion, although a quick look through newspaper headlines from around the world in the last few months of 2015, when Christians were being brutalised and crucified by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, would probably relieve us of our slightly tidied up, mental picture.
Yet what does the Apostle Paul say in this section?
He says to speak of crucifixion is the mark of his ministry. His whole life is cross-shaped! See verse 23, but we preach Christ crucified
And further down, in chapter 2 verse 2, I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
But in Paul’s day, crucifixion was considered such an horrific means of torture and execution, that you wouldn’t even speak the word in polite company, in much the same way that I wouldn’t recommend buying a copy of Mein Kampf from Amazon.com and announcing to all your friends that you’re reading it.
You wouldn’t even mention the word.
Cicero, the Roman politician and philosopher, considered today one of the most influential writers of Roman history, Cicero stated, 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
Stick Hitler’s photo on your fridge when your friends come to visit, and you’d soon find out exactly what it was like in the first century, to mention the name of someone who had been crucified.
Clearly Paul has come to see that the crucifixion of Jesus in particular, stands for something very different than all the other deaths by this horrific means.
The message of the cross – foolishness or power? (v 18 – 25)
So who’s right?
Is the cross of Jesus a major embarrassment, a life cut down in its prime?
Something that should never be spoken of?
I read this week of a Christian musician, who’s given up his faith in Christ, having concluded that the cross was the ultimate embarrassment for a religious leader who lost control of the movement he was leading.
Is the message of the cross , foolishness, chapter 1 verse 18, Or is it something else?
If the cross of Christ is foolishness, why put it in our church logo?
Why would we want to speak with friends and family about what God has done in Christ for sinful people, like we were talking about last week, what’s the point of all that in the 21st century?
Does a crucified Jesus offer something, anything, that our friends and family, the people in our region, can’t find anywhere else?
Well if you have your Bible there, look up just a few lines at the earlier part of chapter 1 of this letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to Christians in the Greek city of Corinth.
It becomes pretty clear early on in the letter that the church has become divided, they’ve broken into factions.
We see later in the letter that the Christians there were each trying to prove that they were more spiritual than everyone else.
And the words that we often reflect on when we gather for communion, come out of a part of this letter, where the Corinthian Christians’ pride and selfishness, the delight they took in their achievements and positions, were leading to some going away from communion hungry, and some getting drunk!
If ever there was a letter in the Bible that was a warning to a church, about the dangers of uncritically absorbing the values and priorities of the world around it, One Corinthians is it!
And so Paul wants to remind these believers, that when he first shared the good news of Christianity with them, his message wasn’t just an echo of what the world around them was already saying, with a few Christian bits tacked on, it was a completely different kind of message:
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. 19For 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, even through to chapter 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 stay in verse 18, and then jump down to some of the later verses to help us understand what Paul is saying here.
You know all those optical illusions that people like to show us,
Is it an old lady or a young lady?
Is it a duck or a rabbit?
I’ve got one here for us, Rubin’s vase, Is it a vase, or two faces?
And the answer is, it’s both, isn’t it? And it all depends on, how you look at it!
And so I wanted to print the heading on your outline there, “The cross of Jesus is an illusion”, but I thought that might get me into trouble!
But Paul says, and I want us to hear, that it is like those optical illusions, both are true,
The message of the cross is foolishness, but it’s also the power of God.
The “message of the cross” is the good news of Jesus
Let’s first of all, get our definitions right.
There was a famous philosopher who once said, “Sometimes it's not enough to know what things mean, sometimes you have to know what things don't mean.” That famous philosopher, of course, was Bob Dylan!
But what does Paul mean when he speaks of the message of the cross? And 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 Jesus.
So when he says, a bit further down, chapter 2 verse 2, I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified
He doesn’t mean, I don’t ever talk about the resurrection,
He doesn’t mean, we don’t talk about discipleship, prayer, what the Christian life looks like.
And we can be sure of that without even having to look beyond 1 Corinthians!
We’re only up to chapter 1, and already he’s talked about the sanctification of Christian people,
He’s talked about waiting for Jesus’ return,
He’s talked about what relationships should be like within the church,
The resurrection of Jesus gets enormous attention, in chapter 15;, 58 verses.
Paul doesn’t mean some subset of the Christian message, just the bits to do with Jesus’ crucifixion.
For Paul, The message of the cross is really just a synonym for , “the gospel”, the good news of Jesus. But he uses this language, because, as we’ll see, the death of Jesus on the cross, is at the very heart of the gospel.
It’s the crucifixion of Jesus that achieves what can’t be accomplished any other way.
The message of Christ crucified divides the world in two
And this message, divides the world in 2.
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.
Now we know that Paul was Jewish,
He was a Pharisee, a religious scholar.
And people like Paul, they saw the world as divided into 2 groups of people.
For someone with his background, the world was made up of Jews, and non-Jews, Gentiles. And in Paul’s world, the dominant Gentile culture was Greek culture. Alexander the Great had marched across the known world in the 4th century BC, spreading the Greek culture and language. It’s why the New Testament was originally written in Greek.
If you weren’t from a Jewish background, your culture was probably Greek, and so Paul uses Greeks here, in verse 22 for example, as the leading example of Gentile, non-Jewish culture.
Now, of course there were others categories, other lenses through which people looked at the world;,
Slaves, and free,
Men, and women,
And it’s quite easy for us to find ourselves thinking of people in those sorts of categories, isn’t it?
Australian, , others,
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 simply human categories.
But here is the true dividing line between people,
The only category that has eternal consequences.
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 the message of Christ crucified is what divides people. Every person on earth will demonstrate their true identity, by what they think of the message of the cross.
I don’t know if you were ever into Superman comics, or maybe you’ve watched the movies, but from what I’ve seen of them, poor old Lois Lane, can never quite figure out that Superman is actually Clark Kent. She seems to have her suspicions at times, the 2 of them are never in the same place at the same time, that’s a bit of a give away! But she can never quite prove it conclusively!
If only there was some little test she could secretly administer, to 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 Jesus crucified.
I spoke last week about some of the laws around the world, that are being used to limit what Christian people are able to say, and numbers of you, spoke to me about your sense of alarm at some of what’s happening,
Because, as one commentator I read in the Huffington Post last week pointed out, under the new Extremism Prevention Orders in the UK, statements or beliefs can be declared illegal, simply because they’re unpopular.
Now, it would be hard to find anything less popular, than to say that people are perishing, and yet that’s what the Scriptures here tell us.
People who reject the message of Christ crucified as foolishness,
That is, people who say “I don’t need Jesus to die for me,
Jesus’ death didn’t accomplish anything that I can’t accomplish for myself”,
People who say, “I want nothing to do with a God who requires this kind of payment for sin and rebellion”,
Paul says, people who hold to that, are perishing.
And as Christians, we shouldn’t be surprised at this. If you oppose the means of reconciliation and forgiveness that God offers, there is no alternative.
Notice the present tense in Paul’s description, foolishness to those who are perishing
It’s an action that is in the process of occurring.
As people, in Paul’s day, and 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 preach Christ crucified?
Well, because of the terrible cost of rejecting the message of Jesus’ self-sacrifice.
It is unpopular, but people will perish eternally, if they are apart from God, and if they continue to reject, or consider foolishness, the one means, by which they can be brought near to God.
At our very first Sunday as a new church, back in February 2010, this is the passage we looked at together, because we wanted underline right from the very beginning, that we were convinced, that the message of Christ crucified, is the only means of reconciliation with God that is available to people who have lived apart from God.
We wanted to say, “this is the kind of church that we are.”
We want to be on about the one means of rescue.
This week marked 5 years since the South East Queensland floods in 2011. 30,000 homes went under water,
36 people died.
Numbers of people were rescued dramatically, including a toddler, whose photo in the arms of a helicopter rescue officer, became the human face of the flood disaster.
When that little girl and her mother first come face to face with the enormous Blackhawk helicopter, hovering nearby, ready to pluck them to safety, I’m sure her mum didn’t ask around to see if there were any other rescue options available.
“You know, a Blackhawk is nice, but it’s not really comfortable,
It’s not what I had in mind,
It’s not the way I’m accustomed to travelling,
Could you send a private helicopter with padded seats, and a baby capsule? Maybe a microwave so I can warm up her food?”
There is one means of rescue.
Nothing else can get us to God, but the self-sacrifice of God the Son.
Only Jesus had no sin of his own, separating him from God, and so he’s able to deal with our sin.
And like I said, it’s considered incredibly harsh, to speak of people perishing, apart from God. Some people will hate you for saying that. Paul knows that, probably better than any of us!
See verse 23, that message is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles
And yet the message of Christ crucified, is the story of the extreme lengths that God went to, in order for us to come to him.
And if we reject that, the questions remains, “What more could you possibly want?”
“I don’t want the rescue you’re offering, I want the private helicopter with the microwave!”
When you reject the incredibly , gracious, costly rescue that God offers, there’s no room to say that God is being harsh or unfair.
But people’s true identity, will be demonstrated by their attitude to the rescue that God offers through the message of Christ crucified.
The message of Christ crucified is foolishness to people who are perishing
Now, the fact that some will consider this message foolishness, might lead us to conclude that there’s something wrong with the message itself,
That if God had chosen a different, dare we say better means of reconciliation and forgiveness, it would be more widely accepted.
But notice verse 19, and the quotation from Isaiah chapter 29. The problem isn’t with the means that God has chosen. “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
Do you hear what Paul’s saying? God was wise enough, to make sure that human wisdom and intellect, would never be the pathway to knowing him.
God deliberately planned, that being smart enough, would never be the way to coming to him.
There was never going to be an IQ test at the pearly gates!
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 some, because it cuts right across the things that we value so highly:,
The triumph of humankind.
See that 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 has done, that saves people.
Now, 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.
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.
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 that they have any need for God, think that the message of a crucified saviour is foolishness.
I know, from speaking with you, that lots of your friends think that you’re crazy for believing what you do,
But you’re not alone,
And it is nothing new.
The oldest known picture of Jesus, isn’t some beautiful canvas hanging in a gallery somewhere,
It’s a piece of graffiti scratched into the wall of an ancient 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.”
It’s thought to have been 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,
It seeks its own advantage, all too easily, regardless of the cost to others.
And if you approach the message of the crucified saviour from that perspective, it really does look like utter foolishness.
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 Christ crucified 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
Paul speaks of Christ crucified, because it is in that message, that the power of God is experienced.
I saw a headline on a Christian website this week, “See the fullest demonstration of the power of God through signs in the heavens.”
And it struck me, because, well, Paul says something different, doesn’t he?
He understands that God’s power can be seen and experienced somewhere else.
We don’t need to look for signs in the heavens,
We don’t need to worry that if we were born at the wrong moment in human history, that we might miss the demonstration of God’s power.
Paul says, “no, the experience of God’s power, isn’t limited to some moment in history, that you’re either there or you miss out!”
I used to go down to the Body, Mind and Psychic expo every year with a team from church. We’d set up a stall, and we’d speak to people about all kinds of spiritual things.
But I’d also go and have a look at what other people were offering. And one time I spoke with the young woman set up next to us, telling people their future, from Tarot cards. She admitted to me quite openly, that she made up everything that she said to her paying customers, but telling people these things, she said, gave them power.
And that sense of wanting to connect with power, was a common theme, among the various philosophies and practices promoted at that event.
Paul says, the power of God himself, is available for people to experience today, anywhere, any time, through the message of Christ crucified.
Now, I think I expect Paul to say here, that the cross is the power of God.
It’s the cross where sin is defeated,
It’s the cross where our rebellion against God can be paid for,
It would make sense, I think, for Paul to say that that historical event, is where the power of God can be found.
But that’s not what he says, is it?
It’s not just that the cross is the power of God, but that the message of the cross, is the power of God.
So let’s bring this back to us.
God entrusts his power to us!
When we have conversations with our friends about faith in Jesus who died for us, we’re not just speaking a message about the demonstration of God’s power seen at the cross.
But we see here, that message itself,
The message of Christ crucified,
The message of the cross, that is, the power of God.
The message that has been entrusted to us, , is the power of God, because it 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 I hesitate to say that, because it sounds like, “How great are we?! We’ve got God’s power!”
But the whole point of this passage, is that it’s nothing to do with us.
There is no room for boasting, as verse 29 points out.
Just take a look at your own life, Paul says.
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.
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 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.
And 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,
Listen to the message of Christ crucified.
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 Christ crucified,
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 new Star Wars movie is out. I’m sure you’ve heard.
I’m know some of you have already seen it multiple times!
I see the kids in our street, waving their hands around like this, which looks , kinda weird! But I know what they’re doing. They’re imaging that they’re wielding a light sabre! That great George Lucas imagined weapon that gave the person holding it great power, and you could wield that power, you could use it!
Of course the original light sabres Star Wars were made out of old camera accessories and bits of aluminium sliding windows! There’s really no power to wield!
But when you speak the message of Christ crucified, you bring God’s power to bear on someone’s life.
You expose that person, to the power of God that can transform their life!
There’s no nice pulsating glow, like the light sabre, but this is how real power works.
And such is the power of God that he works through you and me, that he entrusts to us, that it can bring about in people, the ultimate change in identity.
We saw earlier that what someone thinks of the message of Christ crucified will show you their true identity;, Perishing or being saved,
Far from God, or in Christ, verse 29,
But also, hearing and responding to the message of Christ crucified, is the means by which someone moves from one of those groups to the other.
When God’s power is at work in someone, their identity changes.
When I marry couples, often the bride will ask about changing her name;, does it happen automatically?,
Does she have to do something?
And yes, she does have to do something. Getting married doesn’t automatically change the bride’s name, or her legal identity.
Queues at government offices.
Just to get a new identity.
Hear this message and respond in faith, and such is the power of God, your identity changes immediately.
And the words that you can speak, friends, are the words that have that power.
As I mentioned, there has been quite some criticism, over the decision to publish a new edition of Mein Kampf.
“Why make more accessible, such an inflammatory and inhuman ideology”, the critics argue.
But one of the scholars involved in writing the commentary included alongside the text, responded, saying "We are like a bomb disposal unit, the book is the artillery shell, and we’re removing the fuse”, so it can become useful for people
Paul would offer a similar explanation for how he treats the hated, reviled, method of torture and execution that was the Roman cross.
It’s not something that should be hated,
Not a topic to be avoided,
In fact, the message of a crucified Jesus, becomes a message that people need to hear.