The Cross: Stumbling Block, Foolishness... Or the Power and Wisdom of God (1 Corinthians Sermon 5)
August 26, 2018 | Andrew Davis
The Gospel as the Power of God
I. The Ridicule of the Worldly Wisdom
I'd like to ask that you turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 1. We continue to make our way through this incredible book. Three times in these first two chapters, it is made plain that the cross is foolishness to those on the outside. We saw it last week in verse 18 of chapter 1. "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." And in this text, this morning, verse 23-24, "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the Power of God and the wisdom of God." In the next chapter in chapter 2, verse 14, it says, "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."
Since the very beginning of Christianity, the church has had to endure the mockery of the unbelieving world concerning our message. This goes even before the time of the apostles. It goes to the very circumstances of our Lord's crucifixion, when the Romans wrapped Jesus up with a purple robe and wove together a crown of thorns, and smashed it on his head and then knelt down in front of him, the Roman soldiers, and praised Him and worshipped him as King. They were mocking him. They did not know who He was. And when He was up on the cross, the citizenship there, the Jewish citizenship of Jerusalem came by and mocked Him the leaders mocked Him and "He saved others… but he can’t save himself…Let Him come down now from the cross and we will believe in Him." They mocked him that very day.
And in that song we sang earlier, "Ashamed, I hear my own mocking voice cry out among the scoffers." We also were of the same disposition. We're no better than those people. The world has this kind of mocking reaction to Christ and to the things of God. And we see that in every generation, also when the best and the brightest of that generation lead out in mocking Christianity, and it's very intimidating. The intelligentsia, the cultured elite in every generation, have generally mocked Christianity and Christians and the world's laughter can be very painful to endure and it can actually throw us back a bit. To be back on our heels, "Could we be wrong, could Christianity be wrong. Is it actually worthy of scorn? Am I weird? Is there something wrong with me that I'm a Christian?" The mocking has been going on a long time. In the ancient catacombs of Rome, there is found a mocking cartoon done by some unbeliever, of a man on a cross with a donkey's head. And someone else bowing down and worshipping. Felix worships his God, mocking the idea of God on the cross.
The Scoffing of Voltaire
Ancient, it's been around a long time. And in every generation, the brilliant ones use satire and mockery to lay low Christianity. I mentioned Voltaire last week, the French philosopher, skeptic writer, moralist lived during the last half of the 1700s in around the time of Ben Franklin, the American Revolution around that time. He had nothing but scorn and mockery for the established church there in France. He was speaking of the second coming of Christ, He said, "Why had not Christ kept His promise to come in a cloud with power and great glory, to establish the kingdom of God before that generation should pass away? What had detained him? Was the fog too thick?" I can just hear the laughter. People just laughing and mocking.
The Scoffing of Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson same thing. He was talking about the Trinity, he said, "There's nothing I can do for an idea I can't conceptualize. Ridicule is the only weapon that can be used against unintelligible propositions like the trinity, ideas must be distinct before reason can act on them, and no man ever had a distinct idea of the Trinity. It is the mere abracadabra of the charlatans calling themselves the priests of Jesus." Thomas Jefferson. Best and the brightest.
The Scoffing of Mark Twain
Mark Twain a century later was obsessed with the Bible and with mocking it. It was like almost his central life work. Mark Twain said, "If Christ had really been God, he could have proved it since nothing's impossible with God. When God wants to prove that the sun and the moon may be depended upon to do their daily work, day and night, he has no difficulty about it. It's only when He apparently wants to prove a future life beyond the grave to us that His invention fails and He comes up against a problem that is beyond the reach of His alleged omnipotence. He can't seem to convince the world that we can live after death, that Christ rose from the dead." Well he couldn't convince Mark Twain anyway.
The Scoffing of Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison inventor of the light bulb and a thousand other patentable inventions. Brilliant practical scientist, had no patience for Christianity, he said "Nature is what we know. We do not know the gods of religions. And nature is not kind or merciful or loving. If God made me the fabled God of the three qualities mercy, kindness, and love. He also made the fish I catch and eat, and where do his mercy, kindness and love for that fish come in? No, nature made us, nature did it all. Not the gods of the religions, I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul, I am an aggregate of cells as for instance New York City is an aggregate of individuals. Will New York City go to Heaven? No all this talk of existence beyond the grave is wrong. It is born in the imagination of men."
The Scoffing of Steve Jobs
Even in our generation, Steve Jobs, who recently died… He was the CEO of Apple and inventor of the iPhones and iPads that have shaped the experience of people all over the world in our generation, one of the most influential people in the world. He was raised in a church-going Lutheran family. But in 1968 when he was 13 years old, he saw a photograph in an issue of Life Magazine, a cover photograph of a pair of starving children in Africa, in Biafra. And he was understandably deeply troubled by this photo and went to his Lutheran pastor for an explanation. And in that conversation with the pastor, Jobs held up a finger, and he said to the pastor, "Did God know I would hold up this finger before I did? The pastor rightly said, "Yes, God knows everything."
Then Jobs produced the Life magazine photo, "Well, does God know about this? And did he... And does He know what's going to happen to these children? Well the pastor at this point simply said, "Steve, I know you don't understand, but yes, God knows about this." But the pastor at that time gave no biblical explanation of the problem of evil, or how the cross of Christ is God's answer to the problem of evil, he just said, it's beyond your ability to understand. And so this young brilliant searching soul, Steve Jobs, announced he could never have anything to do with worshipping such a god, and he never went back to church again. Now, Jobs pursued spirituality, Buddhism, gurus, hallucinogenic drugs, right to the end of his life, there was a guru by his bedside. He didn't mock Jesus, he sought to live after a moralistic Jesus that he could understand, not the one of the Bible.
I could multiply stories of amazingly brilliant men and women who reject biblical Christianity. You know what I'm talking about. Late night talk show hosts, make a living mocking Christianity and Christians. It's on the internet, it's everywhere. It's especially hard on the college campus. I remember shortly after I came to Christ at MIT, I took a Bible class at MIT. I mean, you might say, "What were you thinking? What did you expect?" But me and some of my friends from crew, from Campus Crusade for Christ thought we would go ahead and take it. We ended up calling it blasphemy and heresy 101. I actually went on to take blasphemy and heresy 102 as well. There were two Bible classes, two consecutive semesters. You were like, "What, did you hope the second class would be better than the first?" I don't know, I think I was hoping to evangelize the professor. But the college campus can be very intimidating.
Some time ago, I came across a quote by a Princeton Philosophy professor. Guy named Richard Rorty, openly declared to Christian parents of evangelical kids, his commitment to mock their faith and to change their kids. "We try to arrange things, so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists, will leave college with views more like our own. But we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. So we're going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly, worthy of mockery rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist in our Liberal Arts education. Liberal means free, a free exchange of ideas. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours. I think those students are actually lucky to find themselves under the benevolent dictatorship of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents." But please send us the tuition money. So for us Christians it can be very distressing to find the cultured elite, the best and the brightest, mocking Christianity. In every generation, it is the case.
The Scoffing of the Athenians
Now, the Apostle Paul had to face that mockery in his day, and he's writing out of that context here to the Corinthians. He endured it in Acts 17 before he came to Corinth he was in Athens, and he preached there on Mars Hill. A select group of Epicureans and stoic philosophers assembled there to hear him preach the gospel. And so he made the case, he preached Christ and him crucified and resurrected. And they mocked him at the beginning, they said, "What is this babbler trying to say?" And they mocked him at the end, some of them sneered but others did say "We'd like to hear you again on this topic." But that's the kind of mockery. Now Paul addresses this mockery, this foolishness that the world sees of Christianity of the cross here in the text we're looking at today, look again, at verses 22-25, "The Jews demand a miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified. A stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the Power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength."
II. We Preach Christ Crucified (verse 23)
What is the “Message of the Cross”?
Let's begin in the middle of verse 23, "We preach Christ crucified." So here we're asking back in verse 18. What is the message of the cross? The testimony about God. What is he talking about here? Paul says, "We preach Christ crucified." Well this is the center of the gospel, which God ordained for the salvation of the world and it centers on the person of Christ, we preach Christ. What does that mean? Well, Christ, the word means Anointed One, the Messiah. It's the Greek word for the anointed one, and Paul said Jews demand miraculous signs. Judaism is a supernatural religion. It's a religion birthed in the supernatural, in the interference so to speak of God into this world miraculously.
It's a religion-based not just on miracles, but also on miraculous predictions of the future. Miraculous prophecies and the Christ, the coming Son of David was a prophesied figure, a miraculously predicted figure. So we preach that this predicted figure, Christ has come, that God has fulfilled centuries of prophecies in this person of Christ, we preach Christ. Moses, the founder of the national religion of the Jews was a miraculous figure himself.
He had been predicted 400 years before that to Abraham in Genesis 15, that Abraham's descendants would be strangers in a country not their own, they would be enslaved and mistreated 400 years. "But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions." Genesis 15. So Moses had been predicted though not specifically by name, that there would be a deliverer, someone had to lead them out. And so Moses was predicted and when he came, he did signs, and wonders, miraculous signs and wonders to establish his credibility and so that the people would follow him. He was a miraculous, a wonder working figure. His staff turned into a serpent, he put his hand in his cloak and it came out leprous then he put it back in and it was healed again. But even more he predicted, and then God used him to perform 10 miraculous plagues on Egypt, and then he led them through the Red Sea. He was a wonder working leader, a miraculous leader. He fed them with manna from heaven, and with water that came out of a rock. These were miracles. Now, the next great leader in Jewish history was King David, and David had it in his heart to build a permanent residence for the Ark of the Covenant. It had been in a tent. He wanted to build a temple.
God basically said "You're not going to build a house for me, I'm going to build a house for you." And then he made what's known as the Davidic covenant, a promise to David, 1 Chronicles 17:11-14, "I will raise up your offspring to succeed you… I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever." the Son of David, the descendant of David. And that's who the Jews were waiting for, and when the Jews were expelled out of the Promised Land because of their sins and their idolatries, the prophets had warned that it would happen. But then the time came, there was the diaspora, the spreading of the Jews all around that region of the world and their desire, their interest in the Messiah, the Christ intensified. They wanted the Christ to come, they were expecting the Christ to come. So in Jesus's day, especially under the total domination of the Roman Empire. The Jews were eager for the Christ to come. You see this again and again, like in John's Gospel, the Samaritan woman remember her? And she said toward the end of that interaction with Jesus, "I know that Messiah called Christ is coming and when He comes, He will explain everything to us."
A few chapters later, in John's gospel in John 7:27 they said, "When the Christ comes no one will know where he is from." Well, whether that's true or not, they're expecting the Christ to come. In that same chapter, and it says of the crowd, "Many in the crowd put their faith in him." Because of his miracles, they said "when the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?" So you see they're expecting, they're waiting for the Christ to come. So he was a figure of prophecy, and Paul says "We preach Christ. We preached that the one that the Jews had been waiting for centuries, has now come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. At the right time, God fulfilled these predictions, these prophecies by sending His son. The very first thing we learn about Jesus in the New Testament is amazingly in a genealogy. Study the genealogies, it's how the New Testament begins. The best genealogy to memorize, and you say Pastor, "Why would I memorize a genealogy?" I'm not saying it's the first thing you should memorize, but the best genealogy to memorize is Matthew 1:1 cause it's really short.
"A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, son of Abraham," says it all. So the first thing said about Jesus in the New Testament is he is the fulfillment of the prediction, the long-awaited Jesus has come now, the Messiah has come. He is the Son of David. Now, Jesus was more however, than just the Son of David, and that's what the Jews could not accept, they were not ready for it. But Mary understood, the virgin Mary, when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would give birth to the Son of David, He told her more than that though. Gabriel said "The Holy Spirit will come upon you. And the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born of you will be called the Son of God." Wow, that's a lot for a teenage girl to ponder. It says that Mary treasured these things up in her heart and pondered them, but he was the Son of David. Yes, fully human, but he was also the Son of God, fully God.
Now, in the course of time, when he was about 30 years old, he began his public ministry and the Holy Spirit came on him and empowered him to do miraculous signs and wonders, a river of them. And as a matter of fact, no one in the history of the Bible, or in the history of the Church has ever done anywhere near as many miracles as Jesus did.
A river of miracles were done through Jesus, such as Matthew 4:24. "News about him spread all over Syria and people brought to him, all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon possessed, the epileptics and the paralytics, and He healed them." We have absolutely no idea how many miracles that is. As a matter of fact, John, at the end of his gospel, said that if all the stories about the miracles were written, the whole world couldn't contain the books that would be written. But the central reason why Jesus came was to die on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. That's why God sent him, above any other reason.
John the Baptist, the forerunner to Jesus, the last of the old covenant Jewish prophets, pointed to Jesus and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." Incredibly important statement. Effectively, John was saying this one, this man, is the Son of God, and He has come to be the fulfillment of the animal sacrificial system. All of those animal sacrifices that were the center of the Jewish religion, have been fulfilled in this man, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
You remember the lessons of the animal sacrificial system? Number one: All sin deserves the death penalty. Without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins, that's lesson number one. Lesson number two: The death penalty can be paid by a substitute, so that the guilt can be transferred off the people and put on the substitute and the substitute dies the bloody death they deserved to die, and they go free. The third lesson of the animal sacrificial system is, the substitute cannot be an animal. The endless repetition shows it's just symbolic. The table was set for the true substitute, the true atoning sacrifice, and that's Jesus. "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." And that substitution of Jesus at the cross is the essence of the message of the cross. As Isaiah the prophet had predicted so clearly seven centuries before, in Isaiah 53:5-6, "He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."
Those two verses are the clearest in all the Bible, including the New Testament, on substitutionary atonement. That Jesus, by dying under the wrath of God in our place, has taken away our penalty and freed us from guilt and hell, and given us eternal life. That's the message of the cross. That's what the Jews found to be a stumbling block, and that's what the Greeks said was foolishness.
Why Did Paul Preach the Message of the Cross?
Now, why did Paul preach it? So we covered, "We preach Christ," that's the message. Why did he preach it? He went from place to place; everywhere he went, if there was a Jewish synagogue, he would go there first. Said in Romans chapter one, to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles. So he'd go there and he would try to reason with them on Sabbath days, from the Scripture, trying to prove that Jesus was the Christ.
He also went out in the Gentile market places and he would explain and reason with them and try to prove that this Christ was their Savior as well, not just for the Jews, but also for Gentiles. Why did he do that? Well, because God has willed that sinners, like you and me, be made right by hearing a preached message and believing it in our hearts, and that's it. Not by works, but by hearing, with faith, are our sins forgiven. That's the way that God has always justified, or made right, sinners with Him. Not by works, but by hearing a promise with faith. As it says in Romans 3:23-25, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely, that is forgiven of their sins and made right with God, justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, or a propitiation, through faith in His blood."
That's how sinners are made right with God. And so that faith comes not by doing any good works. It says later in that same chapter, Romans 3:28, "We maintain that a person is justified by faith and not by works of the law." Now, Romans 10:17 tells us later, in that book of Romans, "Faith comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ." So it's times just like this, in which the gospel is simply and clearly proclaimed, that people hear and believe. That's how it happens. Now, Paul says earlier than that, Romans 10:8-10, he says, "‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."
As he says a few verses later, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But then he asks a series of important questions. I'm asking the question, why did Paul preach Christ? This is why: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, but he said, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in someone they've never heard of? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach, unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’" That's Paul's personal life mission. That we should take the message of the gospel to those who have not yet heard or not yet believed. That's why he preached it.
So, verse 23, "We preach Christ crucified." But neither Jews nor Greeks naturally were disposed to receive such a message. So look at verse 22, "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom." That's what they were ready for. So he was preaching to a hostile audience everywhere he went. Now, the Jews demand miraculous signs because their religion, as I said, is a supernatural religion. God birthed the Jewish nation through a miracle done by an elderly couple, a man who was 100 years old and a woman, a barren wife, who was 90 years old and they, together, had a miracle baby named Isaac. And so the Jewish nation was birthed through supernatural power. God also did signs and wonders, as I mentioned, through Moses, in delivering them out of bondage to Egypt, a miraculous religion. And again and again, God raised up prophets, many of whom, not all of whom, but many of whom did miracles. All of them did miracles in predicting the future. But some of them, like Elijah and Elisha, also did signs and wonders.
So when Jesus came, making amazing claims about himself, the Jews demanded to see miracles so that he should prove himself. Now, as I said, Jesus did more miracles than could ever be cataloged or written about. But they still demanded more; it was never enough! Day after day, they came and wanted more miracles. Matthew 12:38-40, it says, "Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’" This is after all those healings. This is after feeding the 5,000. This is after all of the things he'd done. "We want to see a miraculous sign from you." Jesus said, "A wicked and adulterous generation asked for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it, except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." So the miraculous sign the Jews were demanding is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That's it, that's the sign to the nation. The resurrection.
Now, the miracles were, and still are valid evidences, on which we can base our faith in Him that he's the Son of God. John 14:11, Jesus said, "Believe me when I say to you, that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves." John 14:11. So they are a valid basis for faith. Now, the apostles, when they would go out and preach, they would occasionally do miracles as well. Not anywhere near as many as Jesus, but they did them. Paul healed some people. As a matter of fact, some handkerchiefs were taken from Paul to a sick person, the sick person was made well. Now, I'm not advocating that today, not at all. I mean, you can see this kind of stuff on TV. But it actually happened back in Paul's days. The things that mark an apostle, signs and wonders, were done among you with great perseverance. So Paul did miracles, so did they all, but still, it's never enough. They're always demanding more miraculous signs.
You remember the greatest miracle in Jesus's life, not counting his own resurrection, was the resurrection of Lazarus from the grave. Remember? He'd been dead for four days, now he's alive. He had quite a story to tell. I'd want to ask him questions about those four days, so would you, I know you would. He probably had no memory, I'm thinking he had no memory of those four days, because then he would be filled with misery. "Why am I back here?" But he had a job to do and that was to testify to the greatness of Jesus in his life. But you know what the Jews did? Instead of believing in Jesus, they conspired to kill, not only Jesus, but now Lazarus too. Let's kill him.
Jews demand miraculous signs and the Greeks are looking for wisdom. By that, Paul means a polished system of philosophy, with rhetorical public speaking experts, that went around from place to place, they were called the Sophists, and they would get money for preaching polished, high-sounding philosophies. And the Greeks loved this kind of thing, it was their entertainment and they would pay well if the guy was good. So that's what the Greeks are looking for, they're not looking for somebody like me. But what both Jewish skeptics and Greek skeptics did not realize is that Christ crucified is the infinite answer to both. Jesus is the greatest display of power there has ever been on planet Earth. He is also the greatest display of wisdom there ever has been on planet earth.
III. Jewish Rejection: The Cross is a Stumbling Block
Now, Jewish rejection was based on the fact that the cross was a stumbling block. Do you see that? Look at verse 23, "We preach Christ crucified: A stumbling block to the Jews." A "scandalon" in the Greek. Scandalized by this.
The message of the cross was deeply offensive to the Jews of Jesus's day and of Paul's day. So much so that Paul would frequently start, inadvertently start riots, almost everywhere he preached. His Jewish opponents got so violent in Jerusalem that they were throwing off their cloaks and kicking up dust in the air with their eagerness to kill this man. Earlier, a number of them took an oath not to eat again until they had assassinated Paul. Now that's a high level of commitment, because they hated his message so much.
The Incarnation Was Offensive
Why? Well first, the incarnation itself was offensive. The Jews believed in one God and only one God, the Shema, "Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one, there is one God and only one God." But Jesus claimed to be that one God. He claimed to be the son of the eternal God, and he openly said in John 10:30, "I and the Father are one." And when the Jews heard this, they picked up stones to stone him. Jesus said, "I've shown you many great miracles signs from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" "We're not stoning you for any of these… but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God." That's offensive; that's a scandalon; that's a stumbling block to us.
Not only that, they were told, they were instructed in their law, what to do with even a wonder-working prophet who predicted things that actually came true, but told Israel to worship another God. This is in Deuteronomy 13. If any a dreamer or prophet comes and he's working miracles, but he's telling you to worship gods, gods neither you nor your fathers have known, then you must kill him. God is testing you to see whether you love him with all your heart. That's Deuteronomy 13:1-5. But Jesus wasn't preaching another god, he was preaching to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Son of God, and that was deeply offensive, but even worse, by far, was the idea of a crucified messiah.
The Crucified Messiah Was Offensive
That their messiah, their Son of David, could end up dead on a Roman cross, was infinitely offensive to them. It was a stumbling block more than we can possibly imagine. They were waiting for a Son of David who would destroy the Romans, throw off the Roman yoke and set up a kingdom from sea to shining sea. Psalm 72:8-11 is their scriptural support among any verses. Listen to this, "He will rule from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth. The desert tribes will bow down before him and his enemies will lick the dust. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him." They were waiting for that. And oh, how sick they were of the Romans. So when Jesus rides in with a triumphal entry and they're cheering and saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David," what is it they're expecting? They're expecting the revolution is imminent. Instead, that same week, Jesus was crucified, he was dead on a Roman cross.
And this was so offensive to them. You remember how Pontius Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened over the head of Jesus on the cross, This is Jesus, the "King of the Jews." And he had it written in three languages, so that everyone could get his message. Do you remember the Jewish leaders came to Pilate said, "Take it down, it's offensive. Do not write, ‘King of the Jews,’ but, this man claimed to be the King of the Jews." Pilate said, "What I have written, I have written." Interesting guy, Pilate. That's another sermon for another day. But they were so offended that this, the King of the Jews, could actually be dead on a Roman cross. And the clearest proof of all was a statement in Deuteronomy 21:22-23, "If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse."
So there's no way, in the Jewish mindset, that the Son of David, the ultimate blessed one of God, could be ultimately cursed by God. Made no sense, so that's a done deal, he's not the Messiah. Well, how did Paul work it out? Paul was bothered by this, wasn't he? Saul of Tarsus, he was deeply offended by this, you remember? And he had it in his mind, he had to destroy this religion of Christianity. And so he's on the road to Damascus, you know the story. Suddenly, a blinding light flashed around him and a voice came from heaven.
"Saul, Saul. Why do you persecute me?" "who are you, Lord?" He asked. "I am Jesus." Those words changed everything for Paul. Everything. Changed everything for the world. "I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now, get up and go into the city and you'll be told what you must do." He was blinded, literally blinded, by that brilliant light. But some things were very clear. First of all, Jesus was alive, so therefore he had risen from the dead. He's in glory, therefore he is Lord. And he didn't kill him, though he was persecuting him. He had work for him to do. But what about that whole curse thing?
And I don't know when the Holy Spirit instructed him about the cross and made it no longer a stumbling block, but now the wisdom of God, but somewhere in there, he came to understand how it is that Jesus could be both the blessed one of God, and still a curse from God. And so he wrote about it in Galatians 3:13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’" So Jesus took our curse. We deserved to die under the wrath of God. Jesus stood in our place, the lightning rod, and took the lightning strike for us, that we might not be cursed. So that's, to the Jews, a stumbling block.
IV. Greek Rejection: The Cross is Foolishness
To the Greeks, the cross is foolishness. Made no sense why a sublime spirit being like God, the God of Plato and Aristotle and Socrates would take on a human body. They were trying to get up out of the body and get into a spiritual realm. Why would God do that? And even worse, if He did that, He would be very famous, I think. He would be the glorious king of the world. Instead, he gets born in some obscure place to some Jewish peasant girl and then it doesn't go well for him, he actually ends up arrested and dead like a slave on a Roman cross.
Really hard to believe. And even beyond that, you're telling me that if I as a Greek believe in this Jewish carpenter, my sins will be saved before a Jewish God? Doesn't make much sense, seems pretty foolish to me. So, the audience is set against this message and friends, it's still true today. When we go out this week to share the Gospel, you're going to meet the same kinds of reactions, foolishness worthy of mockery or that's offensive to me. What you're sharing is offensive. You're going to meet the same responses and this is the answer.
V. For the Called: The Cross is the Power and Wisdom of God
Now, your outline says, "The cross is the power and wisdom of God," but the text actually... Got the outline wrong, sorry. "Christ is the power and the wisdom of God." To some degree in this text, they seem to be one and the same. The Cross and Christ are united.
Look at verse 23,24, "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles." Verse 24, "But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God." The sovereign calling of God is everything here. God has the power to call you out of darkness into light. He has the power to take out your heart of stone through the Holy Spirit and give you a heart of flesh. He has the power to give eyes, give the eyes of your heart light so that you can see the truth. That's the calling of God to the called, to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks.
Now, there are two calls in the gospel one of them is external, it's heard through sound. You've been hearing that since you've heard me preaching today, your ear drums vibrate. That's the external call. That goes on all over the world. That's the external call only though. That doesn't save your soul. Jesus said, "Many are called, but few are chosen." This is referring to, I think the internal call of the Holy Spirit of God. And the thing that's so powerful about that is God has the power to call things into existence, that didn't exist a moment before. Remember at creation, God says, "Let there be light." He says the word light before there is light and then there is light. God says, "Let the waters on the earth be gathered together in one place and let dry ground appear and behold it's so."
God had the power to say to a barren couple, Abraham and Sarah, "Be pregnant Sarah. A year from now, Sarah, you will hold a son and Abraham will be the father." One year from now. Paul talking about that in Romans 4:17, speaks about "the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were." So before God calls you the cross is foolishness or a stumbling block. But then when He calls you, when He says to Lazarus, "Lazarus come forth," then suddenly there's life, and there is light and there is power. The Holy Spirit of God does that. Look again at 1 Corinthians 2:14, the next chapter. "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." So I took that verse and turned it around. Let's turn it around. The person with the Spirit does accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are no longer foolishness to him, but have become wisdom. The cross of Christ is no longer weakness or a stumbling block, but it has become the power of God to save their souls.
So the Spirit enables a person to understand the cross of Christ and see it spiritually for what it really is. And notice that the called are from both Jews and Greeks. There are, I don't know what, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Jews who believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God. Called the Messianic Jews are some of the most delightful people you'll ever meet. And there are Greeks too, that's all of us non Jews, literally hundreds of millions of those, who believe that Jesus actually is the Son of God, and is their Savior. We are the called of God, and to us, the cross has become the power of God for our salvation, and wisdom of God.
VI. The Superiority of God’s Wisdom and Power
And finally in verse 25, we see the superiority of God's wisdom and power. "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." That's better than the ESV translation that says, "Wiser than man…" "Stronger than man…" It's in the genitive form, so it's the man's what? It's ellipsis, it leaves a word out. So I think the NIV does a good job translating here. "The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom [that of man] and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." So even the tiniest bit of God's wisdom, even what we might think of as foolishness, is still wiser than anything we'd ever do.
Jesus said, "Consider how the lilies grow. They don't labor or spin. …not even Solomon in all his splendor is dressed like one of these." Have you ever picked a wild flower, and just looked at it? I did it some time ago with a violet, little purple flower. And I studied it for a long time. I don't know what I was hoping to learn, but I was doing what Jesus said. "Consider the lilies of the field." I was just looking at it and I said, "This is a wonderful, marvelous creation of God." It's just a piece of foolishness from God. It's here today, and tomorrow is thrown in the fire. And you could say, "God, do you realize people are going to heaven and hell every day? There's big things going on here in the world God, and you're making a little flower." Yes, God does that kind of thing. He's causing flowers to grow all over the world, He loves them and He just makes them pretty. Even the smallest bit of God's foolishness is wiser than anything we could do. All we do is observe and study, and use things. God made them. But this foolishness here isn't talking about the wild flower. It's talking about the cross. That which seems to be foolishness to us actually is infinite wisdom. That which seems to be weak, is actually the most powerful thing that has ever been.
Applications. First, if you're not yet a Christian, I'm delighted you're here I prayed that you would come this morning. You overcame a battle probably to get up and keep the promise to your friend, or to walk in here. I prayed that God would help you do that. I remember that battle when I was 19, a junior at MIT, I had that battle. It was hard. So I'm praising God that you're here. It could be that in the call of the Gospel, that external thing you've been hearing, that God has moved something in your heart and that you actually are beginning to see the cross of Christ differently than you've ever seen before. Friends, that's how salvation happens, that's exactly how it occurs. Don't wait to call on the name of the Lord. In your heart cry out and say, "Oh God, save me from my sins through Jesus. I want to trust in Christ as my Lord and Savior, and He will save you. Because everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Now, if you're a Christian, I'm delighted you're here. I'm not just delighted for non-Christians. I'm glad you're here because we're not done being saved either. The cross is still the power of God for our salvation as well. So start with this: Be confident that God is going to vindicate the cross at the end of time. You're not on the wrong side of this thing. The mockery of the world will fade away like the crackling of thorns in a fire. The proverb says that the fool's laughter is like the crackling of thorns in a fire. It's nothing. And then it will be gone. And Christ... The wisdom of Christ at the cross and the power of God and the cross will be vindicated on Judgment Day. So, don't be intimidated by the really shrewd, clever, funny, talk show host type people or professors that mock our religion. It cannot be mocked.
Secondly, see the wisdom of God and humbling pride at the cross, and be more humble than you are. I'm not done being humbled yet. I can't believe how strong my pride is. The cross needs to keep slaying my pride and yours too. So be humbled by the cross.
Thirdly, trust in the power of God, to finish saving you. The cross isn't done with you yet. And so He who began a good work in you, by calling you out of darkness into light, He will complete it, until the day of Christ Jesus. He will not stop saving you by the power of the cross. Be confident of that. No one can snatch you out of the Father's hand, or out of Jesus's hand.
Fourthly, speak the message of Christ and him crucified, to people who are set against it. Don't be intimidated, don't be afraid. They may mock you they may become angry at you. More likely they'll be indifferent and say, "That's good for you. I've got my own thing." But persevere. Let's speak the message of the cross this week to someone here in the Durham area, the Raleigh area. Let's speak Christ... And let's trust in it and not be ashamed.
Fifth, the message of the cross teaches us that God's ways are different, than ours, and that God sometimes offends us by what he does. John the Baptist was tempted to be offended at the cross. Jesus said, "Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me." The things that God does are sometimes difficult for us to accept. So if you're going through suffering, affliction, you're having a financial trouble, a medical problem, you've been praying and God is not doing what you want. Just understand that God's ways are not your ways, God is working a higher purpose in your life, trust in His wisdom. Trust in His power even though it's perhaps initially offensive to you, what he's doing.
And then finally, understand that this message of the cross is for the whole world. Not just for us here in the Raleigh/Durham area. Let's be a missions church, a church that's committed to taking the message of the gospel to those who have never heard the name of Christ.
Close with me in prayer. Father, We thank you for the time that we've had to study this incredible passage. We thank you for all the things that we've learned in it. And we ask Lord, that You would please sustain and strengthen each of us to see the message and the truth of the cross. That it's not foolishness, but actual perfect wisdom. It's not weakness, but actually it's perfect power. Lord, we thank You for the way that the Word of God teaches us the truth. Help us, O Lord by the Spirit to see it working in our lives. God I pray, give us a heart of compassion to the lost that surround us in the college campus, in the workplace, in our neighborhoods, just people we meet here in the triangle area. Help us to share this message of the cross with them in Jesus name, Amen.