(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

Paul tells the Corinthians: For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel - not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. v25. In this passage he does, however, give them an inkling of what he was capable of. It is a magnificent piece of writing contrasting the wisdom and power of God with the judgment and strength of man. It has the sonorous majesty of a peal of bells.

It is important to remember that Paul still had the disunity of the Corinthian church in mind in making his assessment of man's wisdom. He deals with four aspects of gospel preaching as he reviews his ministry amongst them.

(B) The gospel priority. We preach Christ crucified. v23.

Some might question this statement of Paul's because:

(1) Everything about Christ is worthy of study. John's gospel is full of material about Jesus - all of which is of great spiritual blessing.

(2) Paul's epistles are very wide ranging in their subject matter. They are not predominantly about Christ crucified. In his first epistle to the Corinthians Paul deals with: church unity, sexual immorality, church discipline, marriage, food sacrificed to idols, the Lord's Supper, propriety in worship, spiritual gifts and the resurrection from the dead.

(3) The emphasis of the other apostles as is evident from the early chapters in Acts is on Christ's resurrection and his gift of the Spirit. Jewish Christians found the crucifixion of Jesus difficult to come to terms with. It was such a degrading death and linked in the popular mind with criminals of the very worst sort. It took 400 years before the cross was adopted as a Christian symbol.

Paul preached Christ crucified at Corinth because:

(1) The inhabitants of that city were undoubtedly LOST. Corinth was, according to William Barclay: A byword for evil and immoral living ....... to live like a Corinthian, had become a part of the Greek language, and it meant to live with drunken and immoral debauchery ... . The word even entered our own language. In Regency times, a Corinthian was one of the wealthy young bucks who engaged in reckless and riotous living.

(2) Christ's death on the cross is what saves men from sin. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him, to reconcile to himself all things ..... by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Col1v20. Or in the words of the writer to the Hebrews: But when this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time ONE sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Heb10v12. (See my exposition on: The Superior Sacrifice.)

If someone is drowning in a river or reservoir he does not want a lecture on how to swim or a discourse on the principles of buoyancy. He wants someone to throw him a life-line. There are plenty of drowning men and as the old Sankey hymn puts it:

          Soon will the season of rescue be o'er,
          Soon will they drift to eternity shore,
          Haste then, my brother! No time for delay,
          But throw out the life-line and save them to today.

(3) When Christ crucified is preached to dying men they are saved. Paul affirms: God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. v22. It may seem foolishness, wholly inappropriate and outdated medicine for the terminally sick, an outlandish, unfashionable treatment for the hopeless and helpless but when the desperate and despairing believe in what Jesus did for them at Calvary they are redeemed.

          Sing above the toil and strife -
          Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
          By his death and endless life -
          Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
          Sing it softly through the gloom,
          When the heart for mercy craves;
          Sing in triumph o'er the tomb -
          Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

Today, (May 25th 2006) on BBC TV News, there was an item about evangelicals taking the gospel to hardened criminals in United States prisons. The reporter seemed surprised that this policy was so successful in reducing rates of re-offending. No mention was made of Jesus - but it is Jesus who saves and changes the worst of men.

(C) The gospel method. For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel - not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. v17.

Paul implies that the evangelist can empty the cross of Christ of its power by being:

(1) Too wordy. If preachers are too wordy folk will lose concentration. They will become inattentive. The gospel will be lost in a welter of words.

Some of the most effective messages are very brief: stop, give way, mind the gap, no bathing - dangerous currents, beware - deep water, I love you, not guilty, I will.

The gospel is stated clearly and succinctly in many Bible verses. For example: 1Peter3v18: For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. John3v16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

(2) Too complicated. The evangelist should never try to show how clever he is. There is no need to make the gospel complicated. We all know how convoluted instructions put people off reading how to use a mobile phone, microwave or video recorder. Dying men do not want involved explanations about what happened on the cross. The theology of substitutionary atonement will not help them. When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, "Sirs what must I do to be saved?" Paul's answer was brief and simple: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." Acts16v31.

(3) Too dramatic. Paul reminded the Corinthians: My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words. 1Cor2v4. He did not set out to impress his hearers. Preachers who aim to captivate their congregation may well succeed. The listeners will be so taken with the brilliance of the speaker that they lose sight of the message.

A man dying of cancer does not want a dramatic presentation of the details of the operation. He simply needs to be told that he can be saved. All he needs to do is trust the surgeon.

(4) Too emotional. Paul, unlike some evangelists, was not a tearjerker. It is possible for an eloquent preacher to make folk weep. The danger is that a good cry will make them feel better - a poor substitute for actually submitting to, and believing in, the Lord Jesus Christ.

A man dangling from a cable attached to helicopter above a life raft on a stormy sea does not need to make an emotional appeal to those in danger of losing their lives. All he has to do is give a few simple instructions and ask for the co-operation of those longing to be rescued.

What is the word of the cross in all its simplicity:

(1) We need saving. The cross reveals the awful depravity of the human heart. On the Day of Pentecost Peter said to the Jews: "You, with the help of wicked men, put him (Jesus) to death by nailing him to the cross." Acts2v23. That the most religious of men should consider crucifixion a fitting end for the Son of God is a terrible indictment of our flawed nature. We see, too, the consequences of sin at Calvary; when Jesus bore our sin he became fallen as we are fallen; God withdrew from him - as he has withdrawn from us. This was a shocking experience for Jesus; he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Mt27v46.

(2) God wants to save us. Jesus death was by God's set purpose and foreknowledge. Acts2v23. It is his overwhelming desire to redeem us. Paul declares God's commitment to our salvation when he wrote to the Romans: He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things. Rom9v32.

(3) Christ's saving work has been accomplished. Jesus offered him self as a sacrifice for sin on the cross. It was an act of mercy:

            In loving kindness Jesus came,
            My soul in mercy to reclaim ...

It was a sacrifice - a token payment rendered to God for our forgiveness, reclamation and restoration that he graciously accepted. God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting man's sins against them. 2Cor5v19.

            And from the depths of sin and shame
            Through grace He lifted me

(4) Anyone can come to Jesus for full and free salvation. The gospel invitation is for all. John could not make it clearer: He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 1Jn2v2. The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. Rev22v17.

How thankful we should be that:

            There's a way back to God from the dark paths of sin;
            There's a door that is open and you may go in:
            At Calvary's cross is where you begin,
            When you come as a sinner to Jesus.

(D) The gospel opponents.

(1) The Jews. We preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to the Jews.
The Jews considered that what they, and the world, needed was a great ruler - a powerful religious and political leader - accredited by God through signs and wonders. They looked for a second Moses to bring peace and prosperity to the nations. To be fair to them there are many Old Testament Scriptures that encourage this view. For example, Micah5v4and5:

        He will stand and shepherd his flock
        in the strength of the Lord,
        in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
        And they will live securely, for then his greatness
        will reach to the ends of the earth.
        And he will be their peace.

A crucified Messiah was a stumbling block to the Jews because:

    (a) Jesus appeared too weak and ineffectual to save him self and insufficiently important for God to rescue.

    (b) Jesus became the victim of the very Gentiles the Jews despised so much. The crucifixion was a symbol of Roman power.

    (c) A God who desired man's redemption so much he was willing to sacrifice his Son is somehow vulnerable. Surely there was a better way!

    (d) The death of Jesus left the world as it was with the Roman's in charge. Injustice, disease, want and cruelty remained very much in evidence. Nothing had changed!!

Today there are those just like the Jews of old. They ask:

    (a) "If Jesus reigns and cares why doesn't he do something about world poverty, war, injustice, pain and suffering? Why isn't our world a better place?"

    (b) "What sort of God is it that requires the cruel death of his Son to save mankind? Surely he could have devised a better, more humane plan than that."

    (c) "What we need is incontrovertible proof that God is at work today - sensational preaching and spectacular miracles."

The fact is that Jesus does work through his followers to improve the lot of humanity. Universities and hospitals that have contributed so much to our quality of life were, in the first instance, Christian foundations. The driving force behind many, many charities like the hospice movement, Alcoholics Anonymous, Tear Fund, Dr Barnadoes have been Christians. Some of the better values that influence our society owe much to Christianity.

(2) The Greeks. We preach Christ crucified .... foolishness to the Greeks.
The Greeks were interested in and made a big contribution to:

(a) Mathematics, Science and Technology. Famous names include: Euclid, Pythagoras and Aristotle.

(b) The Arts. They celebrated beauty in their sculpture and architecture.

(c) Moral philosophy - as taught by men like Socrates.

Pundits and experts abounded who gave their views on the arts, politics, morals and religion. Many of them did so to inform and entertain. In so doing they were little different from the proliferation of journalists, correspondents and celebrities who work in the media today. At dinnertime I watched representatives of this circus discussing 'Today in Parliament' on BBC TV.

Now, sadly, to the educated and cultured Greeks the cross of Christ was foolishness because:

    (1) It didn't advance Mathematical or Scientific knowledge.

    (2) There was nothing very beautiful about death by crucifixion.

    (3) The execution of a criminal in Jerusalem had little to do with morals or politics. It did not inform about what political system was best.

    (4) It was difficult to make Roman torture entertaining.

Today there are many like the Greeks:

    (1) Some Scientists, in their arrogance, are contemptuous of God and dismiss Christ's cross as an irrelevance. Their attitude is dismissive because God falls outside their frame of reference. They are only able to study what God has created and not God him self. Scientists are also totally powerless to replicate what God has done. They are rather like theatre critics who can neither write a play, direct or act in it.

    (2) Much modern art is devoid of any religious content and, unlike art in the past, tawdry and of little consequence.

    (3) It is rare for politicians, pundits or entertainers to say anything of significance about Christ crucified. Indeed, even Christian politicians, like Ruth Kelly, seem inhibited and embarrassed when questioned about their beliefs. Ruth Kelly, a Roman Catholic, when asked if she considered homosexual practice a sin refused to comment because it wasn't the job of politicians to pronounce on moral matters. Well, if politics is empty of morality our parliament is like a ship without a rudder. As I remember, many labour politicians thought the abolition of fox hunting was a moral issue!

    Paul mocks the inadequacy of the Greeks and their modern counterparts in a fine piece of rhetoric: 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? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him.... .

    No one will get to know God through studying Science, Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy or, indeed, Theology. Political experts and the many various pundits, from respected journalists to disreputable agony aunts, scarcely put us in the way to life eternal. Paul, speaking from experience, claims: God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. v21. And what did Paul preach? He preached CHRIST CRUCIFIED.

(E) The gospel beneficiaries.

Those who believe are being saved because Christ crucified is:

(1) The wisdom of God.
Believers understand the appropriateness of the cross. It exhibits the wisdom of God because it:

    (a) Demonstrates man's sinfulness. This needs doing! A sick man's condition must be diagnosed before there can be any hope of a cure.

    (b) Shows God cannot ignore or overlook our sin. A price had to be paid to redeem us. Sin spoils us. God cannot pretend that it does not matter. We do not get salvation on the cheap. Jesus suffered, bled and died to make it possible

    (c) Declares God's great love for fallen humanity. This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin. 1John4v10.

            O wide embracing, wondrous love!
            We read thee in the sky above
            We read thee in the earth below,
            In seas that swell and streams that flow.

            We read thee best in Him who came
            To bear for us the cross of shame,
            Sent by the Father from on high,
            Our life to live, our death to die.

    (d) Was a saving work for all who believe. None are excluded from its benefits.

    (e) Means Christians are united in their total dependence upon, and indebtedness to, Christ crucified for their salvation and new status as sons of God. It is the banner for all genuine believers to rally round.

(2) The power of God.
Paul had experienced the power of the gospel and seen the results of preaching Christ crucified. IT:

    (a) Enlightens. Peter writes: But you are a chosen people .... that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1Peter2v7.

    (b) Releases from guilt, fear and dread. Charles Wesley testified to this in his great hymn, 'And can it be':

            Long my imprisoned spirit lay
            Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
            Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
            I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
            My chains fell off, my heart was free;
            I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

    (c) Assures us of God's forgiveness and commitment to us. If God be for us, who can be against us?

    (d) Regenerates all who believe. Christians are given God's Spirit. He (God) saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Titus3v5and6.

    (e) Satisfies our longings and brings peace of heart.

    (f) Makes us useful and productive in God's service.

    (g) Sanctifies. Christians are special: A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God... . 1Peter2v9. To him (Jesus) who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father..... . Rev1v6.

    (f) Unites. Christians are united by the death of Jesus. We are a blood bought people. All those Israelites who escaped from slavery in Egypt sheltered beneath the blood as the angel of death passed over.

    Paul wrote to those in Corinth who were being saved. Every Christian is being saved as he or she continues to believe in Jesus and maintains a personal relationship with him.

    Last week I attended the funeral of my old Biology teacher - Miss K. After the committal I chatted to a former colleague, Don Hunt. As he left, his wife, a devout Roman Catholic, turned to me and said by way of farewell, "I keep talking to Jesus." I replied, "That's about the best thing we can do." "Yes," she said with emphasis, "I keep talking to him." We were united, Roman Catholic and dodgy Grace Baptist, in our utter dependence upon Jesus.

(F) Conclusion.

Throughout the passage we have studied Paul contrasts the wisdom of God with the wisdom of man. As far as he is concerned there is no comparison! For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. v25. This is a truth the world cannot accept and is easy for us all to lose sight of!

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