The Message of the Cross

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the intelligence of the intelligent.Where is the one who is wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of what is preached. For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (CSB).

What is the message that the church is to be proclaiming in our time, at the end of the twentieth century? What task should we be seeking to fulfill?

  • Some suggest that the church should be involved in liberating oppressed peoples.
  • Some suggest that the church should seek to correct social “wrongs”: poverty, illiteracy, racism, etc.
  • Some suggest that the church should lead the fight to restore morality. On the other hand, some having seen the failure of this, suggest an alternative escapism.
  • Some suggest that the church should be content with fulfilling ceremonial functions: birth, marriage, death, etc.
  • Some suggest that the church is hopelessly outdated and irrelevant, that it was beneficial in old times, but its best action would be to close its doors forever.

Obviously, if we listen to the opinions of people, we will be running in many directions and acting according to the latest fad. However, as followers of Christ, we have an absolute standard, the Holy Scriptures. What does the Bible, God’s word, teach about our message? It plainly says that the church’s message is the message of the cross.

The message of the cross is a message that the world considers foolishness. The world logically (though incorrectly) rejects it as foolish due to their basic assumptions. It may be terrifying to think about this, but people eventually will make their actions conform to their assumptions.

People of the world have a human-centered view of truth (1:20a, 22b). They assume that humans must verify anything and everything by the standards of human wisdom for it to be considered “true”, if they care to pretend that anything can be true. Humanity becomes its own measuring stick. They also presume that humans can solve all of humanity’s problems by our own wisdom and ability. This results in a very closed system. Mankind does not need God. Anything miraculous or supernatural is impossible by their starting assumptions of a uniformity of natural causes in a closed system. So they have an experiential view of truth (1:22a). Compare Matthew 12:38-39; Mark 8:11-12; John 6:30.

People of the world refuse to receive the knowledge of the truth (Romans 1:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). They suppress the facts that show mankind’s increasing failures. They aggressively suppress anything that teaches responsibility and accountability to God. The worldly-wise person can never really applaud the true Christian. If they do, either one or both has strayed from their basic principles.

The message of the cross is the message of salvation (1:18, 21).

The world does not mind hearing a mild message of reformation or restoration. (“Yes, we agree we should wash our hands and not shake hands. We need social distancing.”) Most people will admit that they and their society have a few problems. Many people go for counseling. They’ll listen to non-judgmental advice. Most people will admit that some changes need to be made in how their lives or their society has been operating.

But to worldly-minded, the message of salvation is intolerable.

  • It is intolerable because it exposes the depth of the human problem (1:18) The cross confronts a person with what they are, and not just what he or she does. By nature we have a sinful heart that produces sinful actions. The cross of Christ confronts a person with the necessity of God rescuing them. The problem is so critical that no one but God is able to solve it. This “insults” human pride.
  • It is intolerable because it speaks of guilt and blameworthiness. The worldly person wants to be seen as a victim, not as a guilty rebel against God. The worldly person does not want to acknowledge that he or she must answer to the Creator. So then, do not try to make God’s message pleasing to rebels against him.

The message of the cross is the message of Christ crucified (1:23)

Consider a striking contrast. If Christians would preach a certain type of Jesus, the world would be content to accept its message. They do not mind “Jesus the social worker” or “Jesus the mild morality teacher” or “Jesus the anti-establishment leader”. A false “Jesus” is readily accepted (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:4).

Back in the 1960s, Francis Shaeffer wrote, “Increasingly over the last few years the word ‘Jesus,’ separated from the content of the Scriptures, has become the enemy of the Jesus of history, the Jesus who died and rose and who is coming again and who is the eternal Son of God. So let us take care” (Schaeffer, Escape From Reason, p. 79).

But people reject the Christ who really lived among us (1:23b).

  • He is a stumbling block to the Jews. He didn’t measure up to what their ideas of what the Messiah should be. “How could someone who died the cursed death on a tree be God’s Messiah?”
  • He is foolishness to the Gentiles. “How could a man dying on a cross do anything for me?”

When we proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ and his saving work, then and only then do we proclaim God’s message.

  • Let us focus on Christ’s person. He is the Savior we humans need. He is able to rescue us from our sinful condition. He (not religion) has power to save. A sinner needs the Savior himself. The reality of what the Savior is explains what he is able to do. The question is not “What good can the death of a man 2,000 years ago do for me?” Instead, the question is “Who died on that cross?” And the answer is “he who is both eternal Son of God and perfect man.” His deity gives power to his work, and his manhood makes him an acceptable substitute.
  • Let us focus on Christ’s saving work. He became a curse for us (Galatians 3:10-13). He turned aside God’s wrath from us by satisfying it (Romans 3:23-26). He reconciled us to God (Romans 5:6-11).

In the proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified, we can see the greatness of God’s wisdom. Human wisdom deals only with the surface aspects of humanity’s problems. This is like useless repairs of potholes when the road needs a new base. But in Christ we can see how God in his wisdom provided a Deliverer who could truly fix the human problem at its core.

The way of salvation is to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior (1:21b). Why should you continue on your way? It is the way of destruction (1:18a,19). It is a way that cannot succeed (1:25). Turn from your sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will experience God’s power for salvation.

Grace and peace,