Throughout the past two thousand years the cross of Jesus has been a source of division. For some, the cross of Jesus, the place where the sin of the world was heaped upon the sinless shoulders of the Savior, is a source of strength, comfort, security, and evidence of the holiness of the God. For others, the cross of Jesus is mere foolishness, utter nonsense that is irrelevant and has absolutely nothing to do with anything logical, rational, or meaningful in this life. An unbelieving world can’t imagine what all of the fuss is about? An unbelieving world thinks it is absurd that people would speak with such passion, possibly even shed a tear, while they speak of this guy who died on a cross. The cross is foolishness, it is folly, it is the absolute defining moment of defeat for those who believe in their heart that Jesus is the stuff of myth and fables.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and he told them that those around them are searching for something more than the foolishness of the cross. Paul says,
18For 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. 19For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20Where 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? 21For 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. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25 NIV)
“The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” Those powerful words spoken by the Apostle Paul more than 1900 years ago ring more true today than at any time in the history of the world. For an unbelieving world the cross is the ultimate symbol of defeat. The most gruesome manner in which a person could ever die was the manner in which the One who claimed to be God Himself died. Jesus was not hoisted on the shoulders of the masses, He was hung on a rough, wooden cross with nails piercing His hands and feet. Jesus was not crowned with the ornate stones of diamonds, emeralds, and rubies – He was crowned with a ring of thorns piercing His brow. His name was not heralded on the lips of the crowd – they cried out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” The cross is the ultimate symbol of defeat to an unbelieving world, but it is the symbol of victory, the sign of forgiveness to those who have faith.
We, who are part of the modern church, have lost much of the power of the cross. We have lost touch with just how ghastly and hideous the symbol of the cross was to those who lived in Jesus’ day. During the passage of time we have transformed a wooden, blood splattered, symbol of guilt and judgment into fine gold plated ornately decorated piece of jewelry used to adorn everything from cars and churches to thin necks of gorgeous models. The cross is more of an accessory than a necessity in our day. We see crosses everywhere today. There are crosses hanging around the necks of many folks in this church this morning I’m sure. There is a fine looking cross on top of our church that has stood for years. There is a beautiful neon-lit cross that pierces the sky in Edmond, but the crosses of the first century pierced hearts.
Today, in our society, if you see someone wearing a cross you mumble to yourself, ‘What a fine person that must be.” If we see a celebrity wearing a cross we tell our friend, “I didn’t know that so-in-so was a Christian? The only people who wore crosses in the first century carried them on their backs instead of around their necks. They were a horrible sign of death and the judgement of God. Seeing someone wear a cross in the first century would be like seeing someone wear a hangman’s noose or an electric chair around their neck today. It just wasn’t done.
Crucifixion on a cross was the most despised manner in which a person could die and therefore it was the most despised symbol of the day. For those who have come to know the power of the cross and the saving grace of Almighty God, the cross is the most powerful demonstration of the love and power of God. The God we serve is so awesome is that He can take the most horrid event in human history and turn it into the greatest triumph the world has ever known.
We stand on this side of the cross. We have testimony from God’s Word that through the death of our Savior on the cross – salvation was won for all that would believe. Those who stood at the foot of the cross saw Jesus die just as they had seen thousands of criminals suffer from the judgement that had fallen upon them. The prophet Isaiah said, more than 700 years before Jesus was crucified,
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But 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. (Isaiah 53:3-5 NIV)
This is the nightmare that cast its shadow upon the whole world that day when Jesus cried out through bruised, swollen, bloody lips – “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Nobody would have ever imagined that God could have won His greatest victory upon the cross of scorn and shame. No odds maker would have given God a prayer as the darkness fell upon the world. Victory is not defined by death, especially dying the death of a common criminal, but God does not define victory in the way in which we do. Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote,
The cross of Christ is Christ’s glory. Man seeks to win his glory by the sacrifice of others – Christ by the sacrifice 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 among 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. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)
The cross is mere folly to an unbelieving world because it stands in stark contrast to everything we modern-day people value and hold up as important. God does not value what we value. It was the blood of His Son shed on Calvary’s cross that holds the designation as the most important event in human history. It was through the death of Jesus upon the cross that forgiveness was won for all that would believe. Let’s take a look at verses 18-19 as we begin our study.
18For 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. 19For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Isn’t it interesting how Paul points out that there are only two reactions to the event of the cross? For those who are perishing, those who have never bowed their knee before the throne of God and cried out for the salvation that comes only through knowing Jesus – the cross is foolishness, it is silly. On the other hand, those who are being saved see the cross as the power of God. I happen to fall into the second category. I see in the bloodied cross of Jesus God’s greatest feat in history! God won the greatest battle ever known in the world, the battle over sin and death, through suffering, scorn, and death itself. Out of death came life, life for all of those who would follow who would receive God’s crown of life won through the cross.
Paul quotes from Isaiah when he says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Those are not Isaiah’s words, they are the words of God spoken to a world who upholds wisdom and intelligence as the most precious and prized of possessions.
If you look that verse up in the book of Isaiah you will find that it came at a time when Judah was being confronted with an invasion. The northern borders of the land were being attacked by the Assyrian army, and all the statesmen and politicians of the day, including King Hezekiah, were trying to find a way out of this dilemma. They were trying to find a way by human ingenuity and intelligence and political scheming to either make a mutual defense treaty with Egypt, or somehow turn off the wrath of the Assyrian army and escape imminent invasion. But God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and announced that he would deliver his people without any help from the politicians. This is the way he put it, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart,” (Isa 29:14).
The book of Isaiah goes on to record how God did that very thing. The Assyrian army came right up to the gates of Jerusalem and surrounded the city. King Hezekiah could see the hordes of Assyrians, their tents surrounding the city, mocking and taunting the Israelites. Their leader, Sennacherib, sent a letter to the king ordering him to surrender, but the king spread it out before the Lord and prayed over it. And God answered. He sent an angel who in one night slew 185,000 of the Assyrian soldiers. History says that a plague broke out in the Assyrian camp and overnight 185,000 died. God did exactly what he said he would do. He did not ask for any human help. He did it, and the land was delivered.
My friend, we see the most powerful exhibitions of God’s power when we are powerless to do anything for ourselves. Not only did God act on the behalf of the Israelites when they were facing imminent danger, but God acted on the behalf of the entire world while we were facing eternal separation from God because of our sins. Paul writes,
6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 NIV)
“While we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Paul says that the cross of Jesus was God’s demonstration of His love for us. When you understand the depth of sin’s effects upon our lives and our inability to absolve ourselves from sin’s debilitating effects then, and only then, can you truly appreciate this statement from Paul. We can chant, “I will never sin again” until the cows come home, but my friend we will pursued by sin throughout our days. Paul goes on to say in verses 20-21,
20Where 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? 21For 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.
To this day we look to “authorities” to tell us what to do, what to believe, and what is acceptable. Not a day goes by that we do not see the folly of goteed, pipe-smoking scholars and authorities exposed and yet we still look to the ivory towers of academia to show us the way.
I was watching the news this past week when a story came on the television about a super conducting super colluder that has been built here in the United States. The purpose of the collider is to reconstruct the events that happened at the birth of the cosmos. By super charging atoms and having them collide with one another scientist are supposedly going to show the world what happened when the worlds came into being at the “Big Bang.” The story went on to say that they are now having questions about whether or not to conduct the experiments. After having spent billions of dollars and being so sure that this was it, the answer to our questions about how the world came about, they now think that there is a small chance that if they do the experiments they could destroy the world. Why didn’t they think of that before they spent billions of our dollars?
Auguste Comte, the French philosopher, decided he would start a new religion that would become more popular than Christianity. It was to have no mysteries and was to be as plain as the multiplication table; its name was to be positivism. Thomas Caryle, the Scottish essayist, told Comte, “Very good, Mr. Comte,” Carlyle replied, “very good. All you will need to do will be to speak as never a man spake, and live as never a man lived, and be crucified, and rise again the third day, and get the world to believe that you are still alive. Then your religion will have a chance to get on.”
Friedrich Neitzsche, one of the world’s greatest philosophers, shouted from the rooftops, “God is dead!” Where is Mr. Neitzsche? Albert Einstein, one of the world’s greatest scientists, said that He believed in Spinoza’s god, but the thought of Jesus dying for the sin’s of the world was foolishness. Where is Mr. Einstein? Governor Jesse Ventura, the governor of Minnesota was quoted just a few weeks ago as saying, “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.” The first Russian cosmonauts who orbited the earth, said with an air of confidence, “We do not see God anywhere?” Where are those cosmonauts today? The wisdom of the ages is folly, but God is the eternal, abiding, changeless One who made us, sustains us, and desires to lead us back to Himself through the cross of our Savior!
Winston Churchill once said these remarkable words:
Certain it is that while men are gathering knowledge and power with ever-increasing speed, their virtues and their wisdom have not shown any notable improvement as the centuries have rolled. Under sufficient stress, starvation, terror, warlike passion, or even cold, intellectual frenzy, the modern man we know so well will do the most terrible deeds, and his modern woman will back him up.
Paul speaks to the brothers and sisters in Corinth and informs them of the times in which they live. It is interesting because times have not changed at all. Paul writes,
22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
These are very odd times in which we live my friends. At the same time that there is obsessive desire to drink in more and more knowledge, more and more facts, there is also an unquenchable desire for miracles, miraculous signs. You see this phenomenon taking place in our society with a renewed interest in witchcraft, paranormal experiences, and the explosion of psychic hotlines and psychic readers all over our city. I don’t want to be too hard on those in our society who are drawn to such as these. They don’t have any defense, they have been blinded, they are being led around by every wind that blows past them. On the other hand there are many in the church today who possess the same thirst for the miraculous. I have even heard preachers tell their flocks that they need not only believe in miracles, they should hold God accountable to act in miraculous ways. I find this almost unbelievable. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in miracles. I believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus. I believe that Jesus fed 5000 with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. I believe that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. I’ve seen God do miraculous things in my life and in the lives of others, but to say that God “owes” it to us to act on our behalf in a miraculous way is preposterous! And to base our faith in Jesus upon some miracle taking place which you or I have asked of God will lead to the brink of despair.
Jesus condemned the religious folks of His day for asking for a sign from Him by saying,
1The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. 2He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ 3and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away. (Matthew 16:1-4 NIV)
I have heard well-meaning Christians state things from the Bible that are no more biblical than a man in the moon. I have heard pastors teach their people things that are totally erroneous and then when challenged by God’s Word say, “Well, we are experiencing a move of the Spirit.” I will assure you that the Spirit of God will never move in a way that will contradict God’s Word!
Paul says, Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ and Him crucified. There is no way for you and me to ever go beyond Jesus and Him crucified. That teaching is the power of God unto salvation! Paul said, “I preach Christ and Him crucified.”
This past week I was in Branson, Missouri for a Kids Across America Kaleo Council meeting when I was speaking with a lady from St. Louis named Rosemary. She told me about Billy Graham’s visit to St.Louis this past year. They could not find a stadium big enough to hold the crowds and more than 10,000 made first time commitments to Jesus as Lord of their life. Billy Graham has preached the same message for more than 50 years. Billy Graham preaches Christ and Him crucified. If you go to a Billy Graham crusade you will hear two thoughts: you and I are sinners, hopeless sinners. Jesus is the Savior who has come to deliver us from our sins and make us right with God. Then there will be an invitation and hordes of folks will commit their lives to Jesus.
You can’t go beyond the cross. It is the focus point of history. It is the hope of every sinner who has ever lived. It is the power of God unto salvation for Jew and Gentile alike.
Officer Peter O’Hanlon was patrolling on night duty in northern England some years ago when he heard a quivering sob. Turning in the direction that it came from, he saw in the shadows a little boy sitting on a doorstep. With tears rolling down his cheeks, the child whimpered, “I’m lost. Take me home.” The policeman began naming street after street, trying to help him remember where he lived. When that failed, he repeated the names of the shops and hotels in the area, but all without success. Then he remembered that in the center of the city was a well-known church with a large white cross towering high above the surrounding landscape. He pointed to it and said, “Do you live anywhere near that?” The boy’s face immediately brightened. “Yes, take me to the cross. I can find my way home from there!”
My friend, we will only find our way home when we move towards the cross. It is at the cross that the light of Heaven will penetrate our sin-hardened souls and cleanse us with the blood of Jesus our Savior. I hope you will take this opportunity right now to move from where you are to the blessed cross of our Savior.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25