************ Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 1, 2005
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
1 Corinthians 1:18
"The Foolishness of the Cross"
A disciple of Jesus, congregation, has to accept the cross of Jesus. We can't sanitize the cross and make it into something clean and sterile. We can't whitewash it and take off the blood and the suffering. We can't pad it and make it into something comfortable and non-threatening. As Paul put it, "I preach Christ crucified."
The twentieth century has forgotten how cruel and hideous crucifixion really was. We have perhaps unwisely and sometimes unconsciously glamorized the cross. Jewelry and steeple alike are often ornamental and attractive but carry nothing of the real story of the crucifixion. It was the most painful method of public death in the first century. The victim was placed on a wooden cross. Nails, undoubtedly wooden, were driven into the wrists and ankles of the victim, and then the crosspiece was lifted and jarred into the upright, tearing the flesh of the crucified and racking his body with excruciating pain. Historians remind us that even the soldiers could not get used to the horrible sight, and often took strong drink to numb their senses.
Jesus endured 6 hours of such anguish, just for us so that we might be forgiven of all our sin! That's the message of the cross. "I preach Christ crucified."
George MacLeod wrote a poem that helps put the cross into perspective:
Topic: Cross of Christ
I simply argue that the cross be raised again
at the center of the market place
as well as on the steeple of the church,
I am recovering the claim that
Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral
between two candles:
But on a cross between two thieves;
on a town garbage heap;
At a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan
that they had to write His title
in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek...
At the kind of place where cynics talk smut,
and thieves curse and soldiers gamble.
Because that is where He died,
and that is what He died about.
And that is where Christ's men ought to be,
and what church people ought to shout.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday we want to spend some time looking at the cross of Christ. Paul tells us this morning that the message of the cross means either salvation, strength and wisdom or damnation, weakness and foolishness to those who hear it.
I Salvation or Damnation
A "I preach Christ crucified." First, this message of the cross means salvation "to us who are being saved." That's the message that is found throughout the New Testament. Think of the Philippian jailer. After an earthquake the prison doors flew open and he was scared his prisoners had escaped. He drew his sword and was about to kill himself. After Paul stopped him he asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). They preached "Christ crucified" to the jailer.
For those who believe, the message of the cross means salvation. These people are on the way to glory (2:7). They can look forward to being clothed with the imperishable and with immortality (15:53). In fact, what awaits us who believe the message of the cross is so glorious, so awesome, so wonderful, that
(1 Cor 2:9) "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" ...Paul tells us about the time he was caught up to paradise, what he also calls the third heaven. At that time "he heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell" (2 Cor 12:4).
B Second, the message of the cross also means damnation. It means damnation "to those who are perishing."
This message too is found throughout the Bible. Paul reminds us that those who reject the message of the cross "are coming to nothing" (2:6). They will not "inherit the kingdom of God" (6:10). Hebrews says that those who reject the message of the cross have "only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (Heb 10:26). Anyone "who has trampled the Son of God under foot ... deserves to be punished" (Heb 10:29). We are reminded that "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:31).
Perhaps the best description of what happens to the unbelieving is found in a famous sermon preached by Jonathan Edwards. In very vivid terms he spoke of hell and hell's misery and how awful it is:
That world of misery, that cake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything to take hold of, there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.
II Strength or Weakness
A "I preach Christ crucified." This message of the cross also means either strength or weakness to those who hear it. Paul says that "to us who are being saved ... the message of the cross ... is the power of God." And, Paul can speak of "Christ the power of God" (vs 24).
Why does the message of the cross mean power? Because it is able to do what nothing else is able to do: it is able to save and cleanse and redeem; it makes holy; it makes righteous; it makes eternally blessed.
Think of the time Peter and John were called before the Sanhedrin. In his defense Peter preached about Christ and said,
(Acts 4:12) Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."Only the power of the cross, of "Christ crucified," can save souls.
B For those who don't believe, the message of the cross shouts weakness. What can look weaker and more helpless than someone hanging upon a cross? How can such a One be our Savior? "Impossible!" says the world.
We are reminded that God often uses what is weak to accomplish His purposes and to carry out His decrees. As Paul puts it in the verses following our Scripture reading:
(1 Cor 1:27-29) 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. (28) He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, (29) so that no one may boast before him.The Old and New Testaments are filled with instances of this sort of thing. God used sick, weakly, scheming Jacob rather than strong, healthy Esau to carry on the covenant. God used Tamar the adulteress, Rahab the prostitute, Ruth the Moabitess, and Bathsheba another adulteress in the family tree of Jesus. God used Gideon and 300 men rather than Gideon and 30,000 men to defeat the Midianites. And, God used a virgin from Nazareth in the conception and birth of His only Son.
God does this deliberately so it is obvious to all that salvation is not by human might, human reason, or human effort but only by the power of God, by "Christ crucified." That way no one may boast about themselves but only about the Lord and what He has done (vs 29,31).
III Wisdom or Foolishness
A "I preach Christ crucified." Finally, this message of the cross also means either wisdom or foolishness to those who hear it. In our text Paul says "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing." Paul mentions both Jews and Gentiles. To the Jews the message of the cross was a contradiction: upon the Messiah could rest only divine blessing, whereas on a crucified man could rest only divine curse; so how could the Messiah be crucified? To the Gentiles the message of the cross was also folly: how could anyone accept as Lord and Savior a man who could not save himself from as ghastly a death as crucifixion?
But to those who are being saved the message of the cross is the "wisdom of God" (vs 24). For God in His wisdom is able to accomplish what is now being done – the saving of many souls (Gen 50:20). Again, it isn't human wisdom, human philosophy, or human scholarship that is able to do this. Rather, souls are saved only by the cross of Jesus, by "Christ crucified."
B In the eyes of the world it isn't only the message of the cross but also the message from the Savior of the cross that is foolishness.
The city of Corinth was a center for the worship of Aphrodite. Her temple was staffed by 1,000 female prostitutes. Everyone in Corinth enjoyed this kind of worship. Was it foolishness or wisdom that warned the Christians not to indulge (1 Cor 6:18f)?
Everyone knows that in disputes you go to court and sue. Was it foolishness or wisdom that warned Christians to settle disputes among themselves (1 Cor 6:1f)?
It is normal to divide into camps, to have divisions and tensions, to form parties of like-minded brethren. Was it foolishness or wisdom that urged love and unity (1 Cor 1:10f; 3:1f)?
In Corinth you could marry anyone you set your heart upon and could divorce when you find someone better. Was it foolishness or wisdom that urged Christians to marry only believers (2 Cor 6:14f) and to stay married to that person (1 Cor 7:10f)?
Many in Corinth were stingy and miserly and gave only begrudgingly to the less fortunate. Was it foolishness or wisdom that urged Christians to be generous (2 Cor 8:1f)?
It is a rough world out there, a dog eat dog society; you have to look after yourself; and, if necessary, you have to trample over the weak. Was it foolishness or wisdom that urged Christians to do what is best for weaker brothers and sisters (1 Cor 8:1f)?
In all of these things the wisdom of the world is directly opposed to the wisdom from the cross. What is wisdom to one is foolishness to the other.
"I preach Christ crucified." On this Lord's Supper Sunday, what do you think, how do you think, of this message of the cross?
In the final analysis it depends upon the grace of God. If God has called you, chosen you, elected you as one of His children (vs 26-31), you recognize the cross for what it is: salvation, strength, and wisdom. If so, then you as a believing member of the church, are welcome to take the Lord's Supper.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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