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The Sunday Sermon – 1st Corinthians 1:18-24


The Message of the Cross
1st Corinthians 1:18-24

We noticed earlier that the unifying factor for these Corinthian Christians is the love of God in Christ, demonstrated for us at Calvary’s Cross. Now Paul goes again to that central focus of the Christian Gospel, and he says, 1 Cor. 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

You will see from this verse that the Cross of Christ not only unites believers, but it is the great divide! It separates time, into the Old Covenant and the New. It separates mankind! In this passage Paul describes two typical reactions to the message of the Cross of Christ. Here we have this great divide in one verse – verse 18! There are those who are saved, and there are those who are perishing! Basically, that is the great divide of mankind. There are others, such as colour, religion, race, politics, culture, economic factors etc. But as far as God is concerned there are only two types of people in this world!-

Those who Reject the Message!
Paul here uses the illustration of the two great races of his day, to show a number of reasons why people reject the message of the Gospel. (He ignores the Romans, who, while they were great warriors, statesmen and engineers, were not recognised as a race of men with an intellectual or cultural heritage)
The Jews Reject the Message! The first group of people whom Paul says have rejected the Gospel are the Jews. There seems to be two reasons for this.

Firstly, it is because of the stumbling block of the Cross! To the Jew, a man hanging on a tree was offensive! The scriptures had proclaimed, in Deut. 21:22-23 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. For a Jew, the fact that Jesus was crucified was proof that he could not ever have been the Messiah, for the Messiah would not have died such a shameful death! They never thought of a suffering Messiah, despite what Isaiah says in chapter 53! Of course, we know why that had to be the case, for he BORE OUR SHAME! The shame that He took at the Cross was not HIS SHAME it was OUR SHAME! It was our sin! It was our condemnation! It was our disgrace! But the Jews could not accept that, and it became a stumbling block to them!

Secondly, it is because the Jews seek for signs! They wanted something spectacular! They had no confidence in a Saviour who was meek and lowly, and who would promise them a life of humble service and a glorious hope in the world to come! They wanted some great sign of His Messiahship, not someone who would lay down his life for others! I wonder how many seek for something spectacular today? I am deeply suspicious of ‘spectaculars!’

The Greeks Reject the Message! Because their idea of God is that He is unfeeling and transcendent! V23.
The Gospel is foolishness to the Greeks, because their idea of God rejects the notion that God can feel for the plight of man! They would argue, ‘How could God feel joy, or grief, or anger? God, said the Greeks is apatheia! (apathy) God is incapable of feeling, and does not involve himself in human affairs! So argued the Greeks. But the Christian Gospel argued that God was incarnate! He became MAN! John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. To the Greek, that was just foolishness! Remember that, for we shall return to that in a moment when we seek to apply this to modern day thinking!
Because they sought after human wisdom! V22. They didn’t want a simple message; Christ has died, so sinners may live! They wanted clever words; they wanted rhetoric and oratory! They wanted cunning arguments; they wanted men who would spend hours discussing little minor points of philosophy! The Christian preacher, with his simple, straightforward message was an object of ridicule to these great thinkers!

But what of today? There still are those who, for very similar reasons, reject the message of the Gospel! Recognise…

Their plight! They are perishing! What does that mean? It means that we are lost!

We are lost in this life! We are aging, decaying, dying! It means that we are people without purpose and without hope! And we are lost in the life to come!
1 Cor. 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
Col. 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
2 Peter 1:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
We are lost in the life to come! To be perishing eternally speaks of the unending duration of eternity without Christ! Ever perishing, but never perished! This is something that we need to acknowledge and to make plain to all. Without Christ we are indeed perishing! And we shall perish! If we are not perishing, then why did Jesus have to die? Remember that He said,
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
These people, Christ rejecters, are perishing in their sins!

Their posture! To these people, the message of salvation is foolishness. They say that it is too simple! Many people today consider themselves to be too intellectual to believe in a crucified Saviour. They are full of the wisdom of this world! But look what Paul says about the wisdom of this world in verse 21: 1 Cor. 1:20-21 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
Sometimes people will argue that the Gospel is not culturally relevant! They will say, why do I want to go into a church and sing hymns and listen to a sermon; some pathetic creature preaching at me for half an hour? It’s not part of my culture! Some Christians get worried about that sort of argument and they say, “Well, we have to make the church ‘culturally relevant’ or we will never see people saved!” Now I do not believe that for a moment! When has the church EVER been culturally relevant? At the reformation? In the medieval ages? In the early church days? Consider Paul at Athens! The Greeks were a people of great culture! Drama and Tragedy! Philosophy. Dialogue and debate. Greek Myths. But when Paul went to Mars Hill, and HE PREACHED A SERMON ON JESUS AND THE RESURRECTION! It was totally opposed to the prevailing Greek culture, and they scoffed at Paul and laughed at his message. But some were saved! Paul later reminded us that the preaching of the Gospel is above human culture! Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
They may even argue that the message of the Cross of Christ is not legalistic enough! Cf v22. There are some who don’t want a Gospel of free grace! What they want is a list of rules, a set of dos and don’ts, and a code to live by. That is legalism, just as the Jews wanted. Do this and you are a Christian, don’t do that, live by this set of rules, and you will perhaps get to heaven. But that is not the Gospel!

Those who Accept the Message.
What of those who do not reject the Gospel?

Their situation! They are BEING SAVED. Now this AV reads like this: 1 Cor. 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. However, the Greek here does not indicate that the word ‘saved’ is the best translation. The word would perhaps be better rendered ‘being saved.’ Now there is a reason that I want you to be aware of this. When the Bible speaks of our salvation, using the word saved it always does so in the three separate tenses.

We are SAVED! It speaks of a day in our experience when we accepted Christ. A day when our eternal destiny was settled forever. A day when the Holy Spirit regenerated us and came to dwell within us. On that day we were saved. It is a once for all experience of salvation. On that day we are delivered from death and sin and hell. 2 Cor. 2:15 Ephesians. 2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) Ephesians. 2:8 2 Tim. 1:9.
We are BEING SAVED! There is also a continuous experience of salvation. It is happening right now! It is a description of the Lord’s work every day in the life of the believer. He guides us, gives us his love, joy, peace, makes us every day more like the Lord and equips us to serve Him! Philip. 2:12-13 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Cf Romans 6:14 2 Cor. 3:18 Galatians 2:20 Philip. 1:19 2 Thes. 2:13
We WILL BE SAVED! There is a day coming when our redemption will be complete! That day will be the great day of resurrection, when the Lord will return, and the dead in Christ shall rise, and we shall be changed to like Him! At present we are saved from the POWER of sin, and we are saved from the PENALTY of sin, but then we shall be free from the PRESENCE of sin! So Paul could say, Romans 13:11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (Romans 8:21-23 1 Cor. 15:42-44 1 Tim. 1:5 2 Peter 3:10-13 )

Their salvation! ‘The POWER OF GOD’ There is no other message that can change lives like the message of the Gospel! The preaching of this glorious message is the very POWER of GOD itself! I wonder do we even realise what great power we have in the message of the Cross?

The Nature of the Message.
What is the message of the Cross? V23-24
It is a startling message (the message of a Crucified Messiah! Christ Crucified!) It is a provocative message! (It makes men react!) It is a Saving Message! (It is for those whom God has called, regardless of race or predisposition!) It is a powerful message! It is a wise message!

Throughout this passage the Gospel is seen not only as the unifying factor among Christians, but also as the dividing line among humans. We are divided. There are the saved, and the lost!

From → Sermon Notes

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