Bible Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
In the context of our passage this morning we are going to see God’s Word reminding us of the cross and the reason is there is power in the message of the cross.
I remember first time I asked someone, “Do you want to give your life to Jesus?” And the person said, “Yes, how does that happen?” I was new in my walk with Jesus, so I wasn’t sure if I was explaining Jesus’ life, death and resurrection the right way so I just kept going over Jesus’ life, death and resurrection over and over and over until one point the person was so excited to begin new life in Jesus they interrupt me with tears in their eyes and say, “Can you just hurry up and finish because I want to give my life to Jesus.”
Obviously, my presentation wasn’t impressive, so that person wasn’t responding to the power of my delivery but they were responding to the power in the message of the cross because there is power in the message of the cross.
A few years ago, we had someone visit our worship service on a Sunday morning. Afterwards we ended up getting a meal with them at Hopdoddy off Anderson Ln. In our meal the husband and wife began to share that they don’t believe anything we teach as a church family, in fact they said, we openly speak against what you teach as a church family but then they said, “I don’t agree with what you are teaching but I can’t deny the power that’s present when you talk about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. There’s power in the message of the cross.
Just last week I was sitting down with someone in our church family and they were walking through their spiritual journey and they described going in and out of church throughout their lives because they said they always felt like something was missing. Then one day they visited another church, not our church, and they said, “I have figured out what was missing. We were missing someone teaching the bible in such a way that exposed Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
In our passage this morning God’s Word is going to show us there are two types of people in this room. You are either the type of person who is convinced of the power in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection or you are convinced the cross is foolish. You can’t be in both groups. You can’t be in neither group. You either see the cross as powerful or you see the cross as foolish. Let’s look at verses 18:
1 Corinthians 1:18 “18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians is written by the Apostle Paul, Paul’s life has been transformed through faith in Jesus, Paul has proclaimed the name of Jesus to the Corinthian people so that a new church is established but these men and women are struggling in their behavior and beliefs to such a degree that they are seeing division and quarrels in the life of the church. Does that make sense?
When we struggle in our behavior and beliefs it is going to lead to conflicts. There’s going to be friction. When we struggle in our behavior and beliefs we are going to see quarrels. There’s going to be a lack of unity in ourselves and as a result a lack of unity in the relationships with the people around us in our friendships, marriage, work and local church. It’s going to happen!
In verse 18 the Apostle Paul responds to these quarrels and conflicts by lifting the eyes of Corinthian people to the cross because the cross is the great unifier of humanity. The Republican and the Democrat are leveled to the same playing field under the cross. The rich and the poor have been humbled under the cross. The educated and uneducated have been brought near to God through the cross. The young and the old, male and female, black and white, short and tall were all once a people who were far from God but by grace through faith in the cross have been brought near. That’s Ephesians 2.
Therefore, back in 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul writes, “I didn’t come in cleverness of speech, I am not writing to try to impress you but I am writing to remind us of the power made known in the cross of Christ!” When we present the gospel, we don’t need to work people up emotionally. We don’t need to find the right time. We don’t need to wow people with our intellectual ability. We simply need to point people to the message of the cross!
In verse 18 we see there are two types of responses to the message of the cross. Do you see it in verse 18? There are those who are perishing and those who are being saved. There are those who are convinced there is power in the cross and there are those who think the cross is a waste of time, so let’s break down verse 18.
First let’s break down the phrase “the word of the cross.” The word of the cross is a loaded phrase of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and we need to draw that out because there are some in our city, maybe in this room who only see Jesus’ life as a good example. There are some who only see Jesus death as a model of sacrifice. There are some who don’t really talk about Jesus’ supernatural resurrection and only talk about the love and compassion of Jesus but you need to know there is so much more.
We could talk about the importance of Jesus’ life, but let’s just zero in on the importance of Jesus’ death because there is a theological term in Romans 3 called “propitiation.” You should write that in your devotional.
The word “propitiation” means to satisfy God’s wrath toward our sin and it goes back to Genesis 2 when the God of Scripture looks to Adam and Eve and says, “If you eat of that tree you shall surely die.”
The word “die” in Genesis 2 is an emphatic die, die, so that in that moment humanity is spiritually and physically separated from God into death, therefore, when Jesus lays His life down at the cross, not against His will, but willingly, it is God Himself taking our Genesis 2 death upon Himself so that at the cross Jesus is standing in our place, so as to become our sin and take the judgment for our sin. Isn’t that amazing! That’s just a sliver of what the Apostle Paul means in the phrase “word of the cross.”
Second, when you see that word “foolishness” in verse 18 the word “foolishness” in the original language is the word “moria” which is where we get the English word “moronic” so that there are some, maybe in this room, who hear what I just described about the cross and think to themselves, “That’s silly!”
That’s what I thought for years. I grew up in Dallas, TX. There is a church on every corner in Dallas. I have memories of strangers stopping me at the mall as a young person to talk to me about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and I remember thinking to myself, “That’s silly!”
I had seen people talk about Jesus on the television. I had seen people sell prayer cloths and take advantage of people. I had seen people who professed faith in Jesus at school and then do the same things I was doing on the weekends, so that I was sure, this message of the cross was foolishness.
After all, how could anyone believe in someone who said they were God! Crazy people make those types of claims. And I am supposed to believe that guy dying on the cross was somehow a benefit for me. And that that guy rose from the dead three days later. That’s bonkers!
Therefore, each of us would allow God’s Word to press into us this morning and ask the question, “Which group are you in?” Is the word of the cross foolishness or is the word of the cross the power of God? Let’s look at verse 19:
1 Corinthians 1:19, “19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the understanding of those who have understanding, I will confound.”
In verse 19 the Apostle Paul is going to illustrate his teaching through an Old Testament reference. In our day I tell you a story about my kids playing in the front yard but in the New Testament they would illustrate their points with Old Testament references.
The reference in verse 19 is from 2 Kings 18 when Israel was being threatened by the Assyrian empire and instead of Israel trusting in the power of God, the King of Israel sought wisdom of the day and they advised the king to make an alliance with Egypt for protection, so that the purpose of this reference is to ask the question, “Who are we as human begins to consider what the God of Scripture does to be foolish?” Does that make sense?
Israel had a choice between trusting in the power of God or the power of the Egyptians and Israel went with the power of the Egyptians, therefore, should we really give that much wait to the wisdom of humanity? Look at verses 20:
1 Corinthians 1:20, “20 Where is the wise person? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
This question, “Where is the wise person?” is literally asking, “What has humanity been able to accomplish compared to the God of Scripture?” Verse 20 Gods Word is talking trash about the wisdom of humanity. He does this in other places like Job 38 when He asks the question, “Were you there when I created the earth? Tell me, since you know so much! Were you there when I said to the waters this far and no further? We’re you there when I hung the stars?”
We are a people who struggle to keep up with our keys? Do you know how many times I have lost the remote to the TV while lying in bed? Who are we to consider what is foolish and what is powerful?
Therefore, the God of Scripture is asking, “Where is the wise person of your day?” Brene’ Brown? Jordan Peterson? Great but at best they are offering self-help tricks. The “scribe” was the religious leader of the day. The debater was the philosopher or politician. Is there a politician of our day that anyone is thinking, “I want to model my life after them?”
Seriously. We are supposed to be at a point in history with the best access to education, best access to technology and people are making the argument that we are moving backwards in humanity.
Yet we take our 2.7 in Rhetoric from the University of North Texas, the podcast we listened to, the book we read that was published in 2016 and say to ourselves, “I am the best judge to determine what is foolish and what is wise.” Look at verse 21:
1 Corinthians 1:21, “21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
This part of the passage can get us bogged down so just focus on the phrase “did not come to know God.” Although humanity has studied as much as we can study, learned as much as we can learn, you won’t walk into any class at the University of Texas where the professor teaches about the power of the cross.
You won’t turn on any MSM and see someone talking about the glory of the cross. It won’t happen. Even though all of humanity walks past the work of His hands in a creation that speaks of His glory, that rings out His eternal power, a creation that echoes His divine nature, so that His glory is clearly seen, undeniable and yet humanity will say to itself, “There is no God.” That’s Romans 1.
That makes as much sense as a human being walking down the sidewalk, finding an iPhone iPhone laying on the sidewalk, seeing the beauty of the iPhone, the complexity of the iPhone and then saying to themselves, “I bet sand particles and wind blew around for billions and billions and billions of years until one day this iPhone magically appeared before us!” I bet that’s what happened!
No, the fact that humanity would consider the cross to be foolish only brings more glory to the cross. This is too elementary of a comparison but it would be similar to the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl today. At the beginning of the season everyone said the Eagles were horrible, they said the QB was incapable, the wisdom of the day said it was impossible, and so that the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl would only highlight that those people didn’t know what they were talking about. Look at verses 22-23:
1 Corinthians 1:22-23, “22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness,”
Both Jews and Greeks, just like today, were looking for someone powerful. Both Jews and Greeks were looking for someone who was impressive. The Jews wanted a Savior with power who would overthrow Rome, therefore, a Savior who dies on the cross didn’t make sense, so that the cross is a stumbling block to the Jew.
The Greeks were looking for someone of position, panache, someone to compete with the culture of the day, yet the message of the cross is the message of a virgin birth into a manger that was completely overlooked, so, that for the Greek it didn’t make any sense, just like a person today who will hear the message of the cross and say, “It doesn’t make any sense.” Look at verse 24:
1 Corinthians 1:24, “24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. “
I want to focus on this phrase “the called.” If you were with us two weeks ago then you know this use of “called” is the fourth time the Apostle Paul has used this language in chapter 1.
The Apostle Paul was called as an apostle (vs. 1). Those in Christ are called saints (vs. 2). Those in Christ are called into fellowship with the Son (vs. 9). And now those who are called by God to see the message of the cross as the power of God. I want to let you sit in that for a second.
Up to this point, God’s Word has been making the point that humanities wisdom on our best day, our best effort, will never see the message of the cross as the power of God. The reason is because of our sin. Ephesians 2 we are all born into spiritual sin, we are all born dead in our sin and spiritually dead people can’t know God. Does that make sense? That’s why verse 24 says, “To those who are called.”
Remember, we talked about this a couple of Sundays ago but this “calling” isn’t like a telephone call that you might miss or might not but it is the Creator of all things summoning you into His presence. It is the Spirit of God opening your eyes to see that which was once foolish is now glorious. It is the Spirit of God showing your sin. It is the Spirit of God pointing you to Jesus’ death at the cross. It is the Spirit of God lifting your eyes to see His glory.
Sometimes people say, “I found God” but to be clear God was never lost. We were lost. He found us. He calls us. John 6, He draws us to Himself, so that in that moment the message of the cross becomes the power of God.
After all, who of us would be able to stand before the glory of God and say to ourselves, “Look at my wisdom!” Look at what I figured out. Look at what I did! Nobody, therefore, if you are here today with any interests in the glory of the cross then rejoice because it means the Spirit of God is calling you to Himself. Look at verse 25:
1 Corinthians 1:25, “25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than mankind, and the weakness of God is stronger than mankind.”
Do you see the contrast in verse 25? The foolishness of God, which isn’t possible but if you took the least wise part of God’s wisdom it is still wiser than mankind. Does that make sense?
And again, the weakness of God, which isn’t possible but if you took the least strength of God’s glory is still stronger than any strength that mankind has to offer. Does that make sense?
So that the message of the cross, though regarded as foolish and weak, has more wisdom and power than anything humanity could ever consider. Do you hear that this morning? Do you see the power of the cross?
I am not asking you if you went to church, if you live a moral life, or if you vote a particular party. I am asking you if you see the power of the cross and if you do it’s because the Spirit of God is working in your life. Praise God!
It’s possible you see the message of the cross as foolish or you know people in your life who see the message of the cross as foolish, and if that’s where you land this morning then you need to know that you are perishing. Look at verse 18 again:
1 Corinthians 1:18 “18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
We didn’t touch on it earlier but in verse 18 the verb tense “are-being-saved” in verse 18 in the original language is implies something that is happening now and ongoing into the future. Does that make sense?
So, when it says those who reject the word of the cross are perishing, it means they are suffering spiritual and physical death now and they will suffer eternal spiritual and physical death into the future.
Just as those who see the word of the cross as powerful are being saved from spiritual and physical death now and they will be saved from eternal spiritual and physical death into the future, so that our response to the word of the cross matters today.
Those who reject the word of the cross are perishing eternal spiritual and physical death and will perish eternal spiritual and physical death and those who see the word of the cross as powerful are saved, reconciled to God will be saved, so that our response to the word of the cross matters today.
If you are here this morning or watching online it means on some level the Spirit of God is peaking your interests, opening your eyes, drawing you to Himself, therefore, turn from the human wisdom that you know is limited and receive the unlimited wisdom of God through the message of the cross!
Some might say to themselves, “What about those who aren’t here or watching on line?” Yes! We know it’s not about our delivery! We know we can’t argue someone into the message of the cross. We know people need to hear to respond. We know we can’t be surprised when our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and extended family think the message of the cross is foolish. Of course, they think the message of the cross but that shouldn’t hinder us from proclaiming the message of the cross over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and all the while trusting the Father to do His work in the lives of His people. Will you pray with me?