This morning there are followers of Jesus all over the world who are gathering to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Christians have been doing this since the first Easter morning, but there is one place on the planet where they’ve been doing it the longest—the place that we know as The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. At that place, the place where Jesus was crucified, laid in an empty, borrowed tomb, and rose from the dead–Christians gathered throughout the first century and into the second until a man named Hadrian became the Emperor of the Roman Empire. Hadrian hated Christianity so he decided to build on the site the Christians marked as the place of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He didn’t build a library, museum, government office, or theme park. No, Hadrian hated Christianity so he built a temple of another kind on the site where Jesus’ followers would come to pray and remember their Savior. Hadrian build the temple of Venus, also known as Aphrodite, the sensuous, erotic excuse of Romans to indulge in immoral sexuality of every kind.
A sacred place for the followers of Jesus had been turned into a brothel, but that didn’t stop the followers of Jesus from worshiping their Risen King and making Him known to their pagan society. The years rocked along. It looked like the place was forever lost and then, a miracle happened, the Roman Emperor, not Hadrian, but an emperor who rose to power 200 years after Hadrian’s death, Emperor Constantine, bowed to a power greater than himself. Constantine became a follower of Jesus.
Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, was a Christian. There is no doubt that she influenced her son just like all of our mothers have influenced us. The day came when Constantine the Roman Emperor gave his life to Christ. At the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. a Christian from Jerusalem, Bishop Macarius, spoke with Queen Helena, Constantine’s mother, and encouraged her to rebuild the neglected Christian sites in Jerusalem. Helena toured the sites with the Bishop and her heart was set on fire to get started.
In 330 A.D. the temple of Venus/Aphrodite was torn down, even the dirt was removed, and at the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection, at the place where Hadrian had built the temple of Venus/Aphrodite, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built. Our brothers and sisters from all over the world are gathered there even now. They are praising God and celebrating the resurrection of our King. The church has been destroyed twice, but each time it has been rebuilt. The reason I’m sharing this story with you this morning is because I want you to know that you can’t destroy the Truth. Jesus’ resurrection should serve as a bold message to the world that our God reigns! Even in death His power is able to do more than the all of the strength of all people combined.
I’ve been to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I’ve witnessed the masses of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. I’ve watched as humble men and women lifted their hands in praise to God. I’ve gotten goose bumps as I’ve seen folks bowed in prayer with tears coming down their cheeks. What is it about the dimly lit, chaotic church that continues to draw people from every tribe, tongue, and nation on the earth? In a world of astounding technological advances that amaze and mesmerize how could someone be overcome with emotion when they enter the doors and look upon the place where a Man was executed on a cross as a common criminal? Remarkable? That’s too subtle of a word to describe it. Max Lucado has written,
It rests on the time line of history like a compelling diamond. Its tragedy summons all sufferers. Its absurdity attracts all cynics. Its hope lures all searchers. History has idolized and despised it, gold-plated and burned it, worn and trashed it. History has done everything but ignore it. How could you? How could you ignore such a piece of lumber? Suspended on its beams is the greatest claim in history. A crucified carpenter claiming to be God on earth. Divine. Eternal. The Death-Slayer. Never has timber been regarded so sacred. No wonder the Apostle Paul called the Cross event the core of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3-5). Its bottom line is sobering: If the account is true, it is history’s hinge. Period. If not, the Cross is history’s hoax. (Max Lucado, The Cross, 1998)
And that is the key to understanding the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Those who come believe. They believe that the One who died on the hill called Golgotha was truly God and truly Man. They believe that the One who was despised, hanging on a tree, died with a purpose. They believe that Golgotha wasn’t the final chapter of His life. They believe an empty tomb attests to the fact that He lives. He lives! The world doesn’t get it, but those who come believe. They truly believe! Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in 1 Corinthians 1:18-24.
18 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. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18-24 NIV)
Paul wrote to the people of Corinth, but he might as well have been writing to the people of Oklahoma City, Okinawa, Dallas, Delhi, New York, or Nairobi. As in Paul’s day so it is in our day: “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.” You couldn’t draw a greater contrast could you? Foolishness vs. power. Let’s take a look at that contrast for a minute. Paul says that the message of the cross is “foolishness” to those who are perishing, those who don’t believe. The word that he uses for “foolishness” is the Greek word, “moria.” We get our English word, “moron” from this word, but literally it means, “silliness, foolishness, or dullness.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says, “What is meant is a weakness of understanding or judgment, sometimes through stupidity, sometimes through confusion, but always demanding censure.” The word is only used 5 times in the Greek New Testament, all five times in 1 Corinthians. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 2:14 and I will show you another place where we find this word.
14 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. (1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV)
The message of Christianity, the truth of God, is foolishness to the world. Those who know Jesus as Lord and Savior continue to be befuddled, bewildered, and bemused as to why unbelievers just don’t get it, but Scripture makes it very clear–apart from the Spirit of God at work in a person’s life there is no way to get it. Our “getting it” is God’s work in our life, not our work for God.
Stop and think with me for a minute. If you were to conduct a poll and ask folks, “What does a person need to do to go to heaven?” The answer you will get more than any other is this: “You need to live a good life.” Okay. I feel you. Give me a little more. What does that look like? How “good” of a life do I need to live? The answers you will get will be as diverse as snowflakes that fall on a winter’s day. There is no agreement. There is no consensus. There is no clear direction.
Let’s continue our experiment. Ask God, “How good of a life do I need to live to go to heaven?” God’s response is, according to Psalm 14:2-3,
2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3 All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3 NIV)
God says that we are tainted, our deeds are manipulative and not done out of pure motives, and there are none of us who do good–none who are truly righteous. For those of you who say, “Well, that’s an Old Testament concept. I’m a New Testament believer.” Okay. Good enough. Turn with me to Romans 3:10-12 and let’s read together.
10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 NIV)
God says that we just don’t get it. We don’t understand. We think that we are the prime factor in the equation of eternity, that our good deeds place in our hands the key to the door of the gates of heaven, but we are wrong. Scripture teaches that we are powerless to impress God, we are powerless to solve our sin problem, we are powerless period. Scripture teaches,
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)
You can listen to the wisest of the wise among us in society today and seek to learn from them how to reach nirvana, how to live a happy life, and how to get to heaven, but unless they are teaching what Scripture says then you are just spinning your wheels my friend. The cross is God’s answer to sin, God’s answer to hopelessness, God’s answer to the trials of life, and God’s key to unlock the gates of heaven. David Watson once wrote,
The cross is a picture of violence, yet the key to peace, a picture of suffering, yet the key to healing, a picture of death, yet the key to life. (David Watson 1933-1984)
In the heart of every man, woman, boy, and girl there is looming a huge question mark about life, about why things happen, about what will happen in the future, and about the possibility of life after death. God has set before us, each and every one of us, a cross. The cross of our Savior is the pivot-point for all of life. Even time itself is marked by the life of the One who hung on the cross. Apart from the cross event life can’t make sense no matter how hard you try to make sense of it. Apart from the cross event there is no way to experience lasting hope in this life no matter how many self-help books you read or how many “Positive Thinking” conferences you attend. Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer, got it right when he penned these words,
At the cross, at the cross
Where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!
The great Bible teacher, A.W. Tozer, wrote these words, “We must do something about the cross, and one of two things only we can do-flee it or die upon it.” (A. W. Tozer 1897-1963)
What is it about the cross that has caused millions of preachers to stand and speak before multiplied millions of people throughout the ages about this one event? It’s quite simple: The cross is the demonstration of the power of God. Look again at what Paul had to say to the people of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24.
22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24 NIV)
I haven’t lost my place. I remember that we are looking at the contrast of foolishness and power. Remember, the cross is utter foolishness to the world, but Paul says that it is the power of God. More specifically, in verse 24, Paul says that Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Let’s take a look at the Greek word Paul uses for “power.” The word is “dunamis” and it means, “strength, power, ability.” The word appears 120 times in the Greek New Testament. Let me show you some of the other places in the New Testament where the word appears. Turn with me to Romans 1:16 and let’s read together.
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 NIV)
In 2 Peter 1:3-4 we read that God’s power has provided for us in every possible way. God’s power demonstrated in the cross event provides for us not only eternal life, but abundant life in the present. Take a look with me.
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4 NIV)
Contrary to the world’s understanding of power, God’s power is perfected in weakness, not in strength. This is such an amazing truth that is demonstrated time and time again in Scripture. Moses and the Hebrew slaves left Egypt not by their own power, but by the power of God. Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem witnessed the defeat of Sennacherib’s army, not because of their military prowess, but because of God’s power. God did it. His power was at work in the lives of those who were defeated, those who didn’t stand a chance. This stands in total contradiction to our own thoughts of the nature of power. Power to us is demonstrated in conquering, in dominating, in winning. This is not a new concept. It has been around forever. On July 5, 1857, Pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote these words.
Now, the cross of Christ is Christ’s glory. Man seeks to win his glory by the slaughter of others–Christ by the slaughter of himself: men seek to get crowns of gold–he sought a crown of thorns: men think that glory lies in being exalted over others–Christ thought that his glory did lie in becoming “a worm and no man,” a scoff and reproach amongst all that beheld him. He stooped when he conquered; and he counted that the glory lay as much in the stooping as in the conquest. (C.H. Spurgeon. Christ Lifted Up, July 5, 1857.)
Jesus stooped when He conquered. What powerful imagery that is my friends. That is what got Jesus into trouble. He claimed to be the Messiah, but He didn’t come to take over the throne of the Emperor. He claimed to be the Messiah, yet He spent His time with tax collectors, lepers, and undesirables of every sort. What kind of Messiah would do such a thing? He claimed to be the Messiah yet His life ended with Him hanging on a tree, a despised tree, between two thieves. God’s power perfected in weakness.
The Apostle Paul learned this great lesson in his own life. He wrote to the people of Corinth a second letter. In it he states,
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 NIV)
This is God’s plan. This is God’s purpose for you and me. When we are weak then we can truly find our strength, but we will only find it in Him. There is not a week that goes by that I don’t get to spend some time with folks who are facing situations in their life where they are absolutely powerless to bring about change. Those of you who have faced situations like this know what I am talking about. We would love to change our situation but we can’t. It is out of our control. What do we do when we face situations like this? We wait on the Lord. We trust in His power to work in the midst of our weakness and frailty.
What we experience with the heartaches and trials of daily life we need to apply to our perspective of eternity. My friend, you may be a good person as the world defines good, but you aren’t good enough. God is holy and righteous, perfect in all of His ways. He cannot accept anything less than absolute perfection. There is nothing you and I can do about this. If we devoted the rest of our lives to being good we would probably be better than we are right now, but we wouldn’t be perfect. We would still see the residue of sin in our lives each and every day. If this is true, which the Bible says it is, then what can we do? That’s a great question. You can surrender. God has always worked on your behalf. He gave His Son to pay the price for your sin so that you might be reconciled with God. Hebrews 9:22 says that “there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.” Jesus was beaten, He was nailed to a Cross, and He shed His blood for you and for me. He has already paid the price. He was able to pay the price because He was without sin.
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)
I want to share my heart with you for a minute. I’ve been here most every Sunday teaching God’s Word for more than 20 years. Week after week I speak about the cross of our Savior and week after week there are folks who look at me like I’ve got four arms. I pray every Sunday for you to “get it,” for the Spirit of God to till our hearts so that the truths of God’s Word can be planted deeply and begin to grow. I believe with all of my heart that we can’t grow beyond the cross of our Savior. Paul told the people of Corinth.
1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 NIV)
Paul said that the cross was the heartbeat of his life. It is mine as well. It is the heartbeat of my life because through that one event God has changed my life. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus I have hope. I didn’t say that I don’t have troubles, I said I have hope. I have hope for today and for all of eternity, not because of any resources I possess, but because of the God who claims me as His own.
I want to give you an invitation this morning to surrender your life to Jesus. We are not in Jerusalem on a hill called Golgotha, but you can come to the cross of our Savior this morning and surrender your heart to Him. Won’t you come to the Cross?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st St.
OKC, OK. 73114
1 Corinthians 1:18-24