2017-11-05 The Message of the Cross

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          November 5, 2017

“The Message of the Cross”
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Over the last two weeks, in unusually focused way, we have heard the Gospel.  We heard Jesus’ lips call to repent and to believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15).  We also heard that we receive the Gospel by faith.  These are good things to know and to recall.  Today we continue in a similar vein as we consider the message of the Cross.  It is a message unrivaled in importance.  Let us pay utmost attention to it as we hear this portion of God’s Word in this place—a portion from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

The message of the Cross, simply stated, is Christ crucified.  Jesus Christ, God incarnate, died upon the Cross as the penal substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.  This elicits two reactions—reactions noted in 1 Corinthians 1:18.  The message, or word (Greek logos [logoV]) is folly to the perishing.  For many a Jew at the time of this letter (ca. 55-57 A. D.), the message of Jesus’ resurrection represented a stumbling block (or offense, or scandal, Greek skandalon, skandalon).  They, in the main, expected a different sort of Savior.  They expected to see Someone who worked signs, or miracles to a purpose (Greek semeion [shmeion]), to their hoped end of vanquishing the hated Roman oppressors—with thumping of the Jewish ruling elite thrown in to boot.  They saw in Jesus a Man Who, though working signs, did not come in the expected pomp and pageantry—and He certainly did not wipe Rome from the planet.  Hence, many Jews of Paul’s day simply could not accept the message of the Cross.  For them, the hinge of redemption did not swing on a God Who poured out His life on a Cross.

To the Greeks (or, by extension, the Gentiles, or non-Jewish peoples), the Gospel was utter folly (Greek moria, mwria).  Corinth, being a leading Greek city on the Aegean seacoast, lived with a Greco-Roman worldview.  Some embraced the Olympic pantheon and, thus, displayed their textbook polytheistic view.  Others embraced the supremacy of rational thought to the exclusion of any supernatural being.  Almost all thought persuasive speech, or rhetoric, the acme of human accomplishment.[1]  The notion of God’s intervention in history, as asserted by orthodox Christians, to the Greek mind was nonsensical in the extreme.

True, the message of the Cross is folly to the perishing.  Yet to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  Those being saved include both Jew who trusts in Jesus as Lord and Savior and non-Jew who trusts thus in Jesus—in short, everyone, no matter the tribe, people, and language, who trust on Jesus as Lord and Savior.  As noted last week, power is an explosive display of strength—and God certainly exhibits that.  He does this to an end, namely, our salvation in Christ.  This power from our powerful God delivers us from sin—its penalty at conversion, its power over time by the secret work of the Spirit, and its presence when either Jesus returns to us or we go to Him one by one.  This is power indeed—and power graciously exerted on our behalf.

These estimations of the word of the Cross—folly to the perishing and power of God to the redeemed—is the pleasure of God.  This corollary now follows: Saving knowledge of God is unattainable by human arts or attainments.  God, in both Isaiah’s and Paul’s Spirit-led messages (Isaiah 29:14, 1 Corinthians 1:19), tells us that He destroys the wisdom of the wise and thwarts the discernment of the discerning.  Hence, Paul asks through the Spirit, where are the able ones by worldly standards?  Where is the wise one?  Where is the scholar?  Where is the debater of this age?  These folks, applauded by the world for their skills and underlying knowledge, cannot know God by their arts.  God made foolish the wisdom of the world.  The world loves its wisdom and despises ours, but God despises the world’s wisdom and honors His.

We can know God in a saving way, however, through the content and activity of preaching.  Again, the world considers the message of the cross folly; much of the foregoing has amplified this claim.  The world also considers the mode of preaching, to some degree, folly.  Much of what passes for preaching in most pulpit week by week—including this one—hardly can be considered homiletical gems or specimens of rhetorical excellence.  Much of it suffers from less than perfect arrangement, grammar, syntax, pitch, pace, punch, and pause—to name but a few.  Yet God, for reasons goodly to Him, crowns such imperfect labors, from imperfect souls, with ministerial success.  By the folly of preaching God both edifies the believer and moves to unbeliever to repent and believe the Gospel—to his utter joy and, perhaps, amazement.  God orders the case thus—as we shall note in greater detail next week, God willing—in order that God may have His glory and that we are not to presume to usurp it from Him.

If those dominated by the world system consider the message of the Cross scandalous and nonsensical, then what do they substitute for it?  I offer not an exhaustive list, but merely a representative one.  Some look for ultimate meaning, identification, and rescue in material things and acquisitions.  Others seek the same in esteem from others and influence over them.  Still others base their value of their lives upon their promotion of their personal attainments amid other forms of self-aggrandizement.  Again, these representative idols do not exhaust the possibilities, but they do reveal much of what our culture values.

None of these things, however valuable they may appear to the world in its world’s wisdom, will relieve our fundamental need.  Nor will they avail to rescue us on the day when God visits us.  The message of the Cross, which is Christ crucified—and raised, and ascended, and seated at God’s right hand, and soon coming—is our sure, sole hope.  Therefore, let us glory in Christ’s cross, and let us rest is His atoning work—accomplished there—as sufficient and to spare for our everlasting salvation.

AMEN.

[1] Aristotle (384 B.C.-322 B.C,) in his book On Rhetoric, defined rhetoric as the available means of persuasion in a given situation.  He also noted that the ideal situation was the good man speaking well.

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