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  • Some suggest that the church is hopelessly outdated and irrelevant, that it was beneficial in old times, but its best action would be to close its doors forever.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,

The Power of the Cross: Wrath Removed (Part Two)

Romans 3:21-26

God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus (3:25-26 CSB).

Next, we see God’s solution for both judicial situations. God the Father acted in both of them. It is important to remember the importance of God the Father in regard to the cross. We have a Trinitarian salvation. At the same time, we must have God’s perspective about the cross. It is the story of his glory. Salvation does not originate in human scheming to bribe God to obtain some kind of blessing. The Father is the author of the plan of salvation. God the Father himself provided the sacrifice of atonement or propitiation, which is at the heart of the message of the cross. We’ll talk about the meaning of “propitiation” shortly. But first we want to realize that God the Father presented Christ as a propitiation (atoning sacrifice, CSB).

Some have wrongly thought that the message of the cross is some sort of heavenly bribery, as if Jesus the Son of God died on the cross to persuade or make the Father to love us. But no, Christ died because the Father loved us (John 3:16; Romans 8:32).

The meaning of what the Father sent his one and only Son to do: God presented Christ as the propitiation for our sins.  To propitiate means to satisfy or pacify wrath, and so to turn it away from those who deserve it. There are four elements in propitiation (John Owen):

  • An offence to be taken away – our sin
  • A person offended whose wrath needs to be satisfied or pacified – God
  • An offending party who is guilty of the offense – us
  • A sacrifice or some means of making satisfaction for the offense – Christ’s death on the cross

The propitiation occurred through the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross. The significance of the blood is that Christ’s life was poured out in death. This answers the great problem of Romans 6:23. He received the wages that were due us. As we saw previously in this series, the blood emphasizes the need of a sacrifice to take away sin and establish a covenant with God. Christ’s better and final sacrifice of himself is the fulfillment of all the types and shadows of the law. He did what they were unable to do.

So then, we come to the result of the propitiation, and here we see the power of the cross. God’s justice is vindicated. He is proved to be righteous: that he might be just. Before God could forgive us, his justice and holiness had to be satisfied and honored. Therefore, God the Father presented or displayed his Son publicly as the propitiation through faith in his blood.

  • This was the deliberate action of God (Acts 2:23). The cross of Christ was not an accident; Jesus was not a martyr. God displayed his Son as the propitiation to carry out and accomplish his plan of salvation for his people.
  • The cross happened in history. On a real day on a hill called Golgotha outside Jerusalem, Jesus was crucified and died the cursed death of the cross. There were real nails, real wood, real thorns and real blood. But the worst of Christ’s suffering and agony was the real and full stroke of justice that he received, God’s infinite wrath received and satisfied by a perfect and infinite sacrifice, Christ himself. This is the power of the cross.
  • This act of justice was observed by people. God demonstrated his justice. All history can see that God honors his justice.
  • God did this to demonstrate his justice “at the present time”. Now God’s justice is vindicated; now we have forgiveness and righteousness. The believers before the cross looked forward to this time, but we look back and can say, “Praise the Lord! God’s justice is satisfied! Our bill is paid in full!”

God declares righteous those who believe in Jesus. This happens through faith in his blood. God is both just and the justifier. God sent his Son into the world to save sinners (John 3:17). However, this propitiation is only for those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22, 26). Those who do not believe in Christ are still under God’s wrath (John 3:36). Those who try to be right with God by their own good works or by observing the law are also still condemned (Romans 3:28; Galatians 1:6-9; 2:16).

Do you understand the power of the cross of Christ? We can be right with God because of what the Lord Jesus did on the cross, if we change our minds and trust in him. Too many people won’t change their minds. They’re still in love with their rebellion against God, or still trying to earn their righteousness by being spiritual or religious. But the only way of salvation is through faith in the finished work of Christ. Are you trusting in Christ alone?

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Six)

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you (63:3 NIV).

Why is God’s love better than life? First of all, because it is the love of the Almighty, Eternal, Sovereign, Holy, Wise God. It is love that is sacrificial, shown by giving his Son to save people from our sins to eternal glory. God reveals various aspects of his wonderful love to us in the Bible.

  • God’s love saves his people from disaster. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! (Psalm 57:2-3 ESV; cf. Psalms 31:7-8; 32:10; 94:18) God’s love is experienced at a time of crisis.
  • God’s love counteracts God’s wrath. Who is a God like you, forgiving iniquity and passing over rebellion for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not hold on to his anger forever because he delights in faithful love (Micah 7:18 CSB; cf. Isaiah 54:8; Lamentations 3:31-33). This kind of redeeming love is revealed especially at the cross of Christ, Romans 3:24-26.
  • God’s love sustains life. Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am weak; heal me, Lord, for my bones are shaking; my whole being is shaken with terror. And you, Lord—how long? Turn, Lord! Rescue me; save me because of your faithful love. (Psalm 6:2-4; cf. Psalm 119:88, 149, 159). God’s love restores and refreshes us internally and externally. How I know this by personal experience!
  • God’s love is enduring, persistent, and eternal. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:10 NIV; cf. Jeremiah 31:3; Psalms 118; 136). In the words of an old hymn, “When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
  • God’s love is a reason that we can bring our requests to him. Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions (Psalm 51:1 NASB; cf. Numbers 14:17-19; Psalms 25:7; 44:26; 109:21, 26; 115:1). The Spirit of God encourages us to find a warm welcome at the throne of grace, Hebrews 4:16.
  • God’s love has a prominent place in the life of his people. With your faithful love, you will lead the people you have redeemed; you will guide them to your holy dwelling with your strength (Exodus 15:13 CSB; cf. Psalms 13:5; 17:7; 26:1-3; 33:18; 36:7; 40:10; 48:9; 89:1; 90:14; 92:1-4; 101:1; 107:43; 143:8; Isaiah 63:7). This point is worthy of a study of its own, because it provides a model of how God’s unfailing love ought to affect our worship in a community of believers.
  • God’s love is abundant. For his faithful love to us is great; the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever. Hallelujah! (Psalm 117:2 NIV; cf. Nehemiah 9:17; 13:22; Psalms 86:13; 103:8; 106:7, 45; Joel 2:13). Read through each of the scriptures cited and see how amazing God’s love is for us!

When we realize the nature of God’s unfailing love, then we will declare that his love is better than life!

Grace and peace, David

Sing a New Song


Psalm 98

As we journey through life, the followers of Jesus encounter a variety of experiences. All affect us in various ways from great joy to dismal grief. I do not know where your emotions are on this spectrum today, but we need to praise God when the circumstances call for songs of joy. We read in James 5:13: Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise (ESV). Today, let’s think about overflowing praise when God brings joy to our hearts.

Psalm Ninety-eight begins with a call to sing a new song to the Lord. Our God loves beauty and art. He has given us creative abilities so that we might reflect his glory as Creator. Music is a gift to gladden his heart and ours. We can say things with music that stay with people longer than with plain, spoken words. We express our emotions in artistic ways as we sing. Our big group gatherings provide opportunities to unite our voices with joyful praise. Or if you’re alone, put on some Christian music and bravely sing along.

We ought to sing to the Lord because he has done wonderful deeds (NLT). These deeds focus on the victory (NLT, HCSB) he has won. The mention of the Lord’s victory causes the psalmist to break out into exuberant praise. He senses God’s power and holiness in this victory, a victory that comes from his promise to love and be faithful to Israel (NLT) and that extends to all the ends of the earth (ESV, HCSB). Notice this is an exclamation of faith, a faith based on God’s ultimate purpose in Christ (Luke 24:44-47; Ephesians 3:11).

Next, the psalmist calls on everyone to join him in song (98:4-6). Yes, he wants them to sing and to shout (NIV, HCSB, NLT)! God’s victory is a very suitable occasion for all his people to shout and sing. Does your big group have sufficient freedom in the Spirit to be enthusiastic, high-spirited, and even boisterous? Please allow the Holy Scriptures to transform your experience of praise. Get out the musical instruments and shout for joy!

As the psalmist concludes his song, he senses that he needs a larger choir. For this reason, he calls on all nature to join in. He wants rivers to clap their hands and hills to shout for joy. Why can he call upon the inanimate creation to join in? God’s purpose includes the liberation of creation from its bondage when God reveals the freedom and glory of his sons and daughters when Christ returns (Romans 8:18-21). The Judge will come to set things right, and our songs will resound.

We need to shout and sing today. God has already won the victory at the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:15). His final victory is drawing near. So, unleash your voices. Sing a new song, shout, and clap your hands! Sing this psalm. Do you say you don’t know the tune? Then sing a happy paraphrase of Psalm 98 that Isaac Watts made years ago and was put to music by Lowell Mason. I’m sure you know it. Its name is “Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come!”

Grace and peace and joy, David

Our Great Priest (Part One)

DSCN0646Hebrews 10:21

In human history only a few people have been called “the Great”. For example, there was Alexander the Great, who conquered a large portion of the world by the time he was thirty-three. Or think of Charles the Great, often called Charlemagne, who formed a strong empire in medieval Europe in the midst of the fractured states of his time. However, as one studies these great people, he finds out that that their greatness lasted only a short time, and their heirs could not hold their empires together or lost the vision of the “great one”.

In our text, the Holy Spirit wants us to see one who is truly great—our Lord Jesus Christ. And in particular in this verse, he glorifies Christ by calling him the great priest over the house of God. So then, as we think about what God is telling us here, we should think about what is meant by “a great priest” and the sphere of his ministry, “over the house of God”, and then the practical importance of this doctrine to us.

We must stay focused on the Spirit’s purpose. He is telling us who Jesus is in order that we will live as we ought to. So note carefully the Spirit’s method. He first reminds us of two important possessions of every believer—confidence to enter the Most Holy Place and our Great Priest—and then he sets forth a number of ways that we ought to live, since these things are so. Therefore, if we are to live as we ought, we need a clear understanding of what it means to have Jesus as our great high priest. This is important, because it is at this point that many fail. They begin with Christ, but then they promptly forget him as they seek to follow him.

For example, there are some who say, “You must go to Jesus for justification, but then Jesus will take you by the hand back to Moses for sanctification.” That is nonsense. If the law of Moses cannot justify, what makes someone think it can sanctify?

Why is Jesus called a great priest? Our Lord is called a great priest because of his dignity as the eternal Son of God. His greatness flows in part from his divine being and glory (Hebrews 1:2-3a). His greatness as God demands that he should be worshipped as Son of God (Hebrews 1:5-9). When you worship, do you approach the Lord Jesus as the glorious Son of God?

Our Lord is called a great priest because of the unique worth of the sacrifice he offered. His sacrifice is identified as “by the blood of Jesus” or by his own blood” (Hebrews 9:12). Compare also the statements made in 9:14, 25-26; 10:10.  His sacrifice is praised on account of its efficacy (the power to produce effects or results). What did Jesus accomplish on the cross? Consider Hebrews 9:12, 14, 26b; 10:10, 14). Think about shopping for a car. You might talk with a salesperson, who discusses the car and a possible purchase price. But all that talk is mere information. In order to purchase the car at that price, the sales manager or officer of the establishment must agree to the price. Then the contract is effective. Jesus was not a mere salesman. As great priest he put the contract, the new covenant, into effect by the offering of himself. This happened by his sacrifice, Jesus turned God’s wrath away from us (Rm 3:25). By his death, Jesus reconciled us to God (Romans 5:10) Any counselor can tell you how exceedingly difficult it is to restore a marriage, because the husband and the wife become alienated from each other. Most marriage problems can be easily solved, if, and this is a big if, their estranged attitudes can be brought back together. Jesus has actually brought God and believers together. “The greatness of Christ’s priesthood will never appear so fully, as when the whole virtue of his sacrifice shall be seen, when all the heirs that his blood has bought shall appear together, and all the glory and the possessors thereof” (Works of Traill, Vol. 3, p. 247; cf. Revelation 5:9-11).

Our Lord is called a great priest because of the supreme glory to which he has been exalted. Consider the contrast with the priests of the law covenant. They were always restless and active; their work was never done, because they offered a sacrifice unable to satisfy God. But Christ’s work is completed in one, supreme offering of himself. And since his sacrifice is complete, perfect, and acceptable and satisfying to God, he is able to sit in God’s presence. 1:3b; 8:1 Christ now waits for the time appointed by the Father for the final subjection of his already defeated enemies (10:13).

Our Lord is called a great priest because of the power and efficacy of his office.

  • He is able to help his people (2:14-18).
  • He continually intercedes for his people on the basis of his finished work, and this guarantees the ultimate salvation of his people (7:18-25).
  • He has a better covenant, of which he is the mediator, for his people (8:6; 9:15).
  • He will bring full salvation to his people (9:27-28).

Follower of Jesus, mediate on these truths, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Pray that he would give you a fresh sense of the greatness of your Redeemer and Lord.

Grace and peace, David