1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV)
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.
Our verse today is a wonderful message of hope and assurance. Let’s look at the context and explore “the message of the cross”:
1 Corinthians 1:17-31 (NIV)
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 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.” (Paul is quoting Isaiah 29:14) 20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? 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 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. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (Paul is quoting Jeremiah 9:24)
I think it is important to note that in the preceding Verses 10-17, Paul is addressing what he describes as “divisions” within the church … specifically a matter over which church leader(s) people should follow. Paul asks, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?” His point was that there is only ONE leader or head of the church … and that is Christ Jesus. For He is the one who was crucified on the cross for our sins. Even more … Jesus was resurrected from the dead to demonstrate the power and authority He received from God the Father. To Paul, and for us, this is the only message worthy of preaching. The Gospel is inseparable from the cross! In fact, the Gospel IS the message of the cross! So, what exactly is the message of the cross?
The message of the cross is light!
Think about it for a moment. What took place on the cross? Yes, suffering, agony, and excruciating pain. But what else did the torment of crucifixion entail? Absolute Humiliation! I think that aspect is one we tend to forget. Indeed, one of the reasons that crucifixion was used by the Romans was to use its horrific humiliation to discourage others from engaging in criminal acts – especially those of treason or insurrection. Those who were crucified were stripped naked to increase their shame since these spectacles were conducted in full view of the public. Yet, perhaps, the full exposure (the humiliation) is an aspect that we need to consider more when it comes to the message of the cross….
John 3:19-21 (NIV)
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
The cross exposes the hideous nature of sin in full detail. It reveals the justice of God against all sin, transgression, iniquity, rebellion, and evil. And I believe the full humiliation that Christ Jesus suffered for our sin should not be taken for granted at all. Yes, stop for a moment, and take an honest look at the disgrace and humiliation our own words and behaviors have inflicted upon the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, look at the cross and you will see what sin has done to us and our world…. God, in His wisdom, leads us to the cross in order to expose the condition of the human heart … the inclination of the thoughts of our hearts … to reveal the depravity of sin … and to convict us of our offense against the holiness of God.
The message of the cross is love!
While the light of the cross shows the entire world what the darkness of sin has done, the cross is where God revealed His mercy and grace … and demonstrated His love for us:
John 3:16-17 (NIV)
16 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. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
Romans 5:7-9 (NIV)
7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!
Ephesians 2:1-5 (NIV)
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
1 John 3:16 (NIV)
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.
1 John 4:9-10 (NIV)
9 This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
The message of the cross is forgiveness!
The death of Jesus on the cross was far more than just an event in history … it was ordained for the forgiveness of sins … to purchase our redemption from the slavery or control of sin. Both the Apostles Peter and Paul preached this Gospel message to the early Church:
Acts 10:39-43 (NIV)
“39 We are witnesses of everything Jesus did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed Him by hanging Him on a cross, 40 but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the One whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”
Acts 13:32-39 (NIV)
32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’ (Psalm 2:7) 34 God raised Jesus from the dead so that He will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ (Isaiah 55:3) 35 So it is also stated elsewhere: “‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’ (Psalm 16:10) 36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. 38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through Him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.
Paul later affirmed, “ In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that He lavished on us.” (Cf. Ephesians 7-8) And again, “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Cf. Colossians 1:13-14) And the Apostle John wrote: “He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (Cf. 1 John 2:2) No, we cannot escape the truth that the message of the cross is redemption … the forgiveness of our sins.
The message of the cross is reconciliation!
The forgiveness of our sins accomplished through the blood atonement, effectuated on the cross, cleansed us from all unrighteousness! Through faith in Christ Jesus, God declares us reconciled and restored. Through the cross, Jesus brought us the assurance of peace with God. As Isaiah prophesied: “Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken 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 on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (Cf. Isaiah 53:4-5)
Colossians 1:19-23 (NIV)
19 For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Jesus, 20 and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the Gospel. This is the Gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Romans 5:10-11 (NIV)
10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NIV)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made Him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
The message of reconciliation is probably one in need of great emphasis at this moment in history. Every prodigal needs to be reminded that reconciliation with God was obtained through the cross. Yes, the prodigal needs to know that peace with God is still afforded through the cross. The offense of rebellion has been redeemed! The attitude of indifference has been covered. The time for restoration is Today! The cross is where liberty from darkness awaits and where the power to live in righteousness is found!
The message of the cross is liberty!
The cross ultimately brings us freedom from sin. The cross is where the sinful nature of our flesh is put to death before we are resurrected in our spirit to newness of life. Yes, the Old Rugged Cross is the emblem of suffering and shame; but I see its beams as the intersection of our bodies and our spirits – the crossroads from which the process of sanctification emerges. Indeed, God in His wisdom, requires us to confront our sinful nature at the cross! Why? Because the cross is HOW we are freed not only from the penalty of sin (death) also how we are freed from the power of sin (sanctification). The cross is where we are led by the wisdom of God to die to self … and to no longer be held captive by the sin that was crucified there….
Romans 6:1-14 (NIV)
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. 10 The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Romans 8:1-4 (NIV)
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set us free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Galatians 5:19-25 (NIV)
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
The message of the cross is power!
Indeed, as Paul implied, the cross represents the power of God. The cross displays the sovereignty of God to determine how His salvation and sanctification will be accomplished. Although God allowed His Son to be humiliated and executed on the cross; His resurrection as the third day disarmed the powers and authorities (and the spiritual forces of darkness behind them)! Jesus overruled their plans because ALL authority in heaven and in earth has been given to Him. (Cf. Matthew 28:18, John 17:2) Through the cross, God has displayed to all creation that He alone has the power to forgive sin … and His Word declares that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness! (Cf. Hebrews 9:22) And we can see this message of power in the preaching of the Apostles:
Acts 26:15-18 (NIV)
15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ 19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.
Romans 1:15-17 (NIV)
15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Paul is quoting Habakkuk 2:4)
1 Corinthians 2:3-5 (NIV)
3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
1 Timothy 1:6-8 (NKJV)
6 Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-discipline. 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the Gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, 11 to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
2 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life 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, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
The message of the cross is triumph!
Through His death, Jesus has paid the penalty of sin – in full and once for all! And through His resurrection, Jesus imparts His Spirit to afford us continual power to triumph over sin … to give us victory in our trials and tribulations:
Colossians 2:13-15 (NIV)
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in Him by the cross.
1 Corinthians 15:54-56 (NIV)
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Note here that Paul quotes from the Prophets Isaiah and Hosea; and I want to share these particular passages for the richness they bring to Paul’s conclusion:
Isaiah 25:6-9 (NIV)
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines.On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8 He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove His people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. 9 In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”
Hosea 13:14 (NIV)
“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?
Revelation 12:10-11 (NIV)
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. 11 They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
The message of the cross is hope!
Going back to the discourse Paul had before King Agrippa, we see that he proclaims the hope of the resurrection as it relates to the cross of Jesus Christ. It is because the resurrection is true that we now have hope in all the promises of God….
Acts 26:4-8 (NIV)
4 “The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
Romans 8:19-25 (NIV)
19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope. 21 For the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
We have, I think, fully examined the message of the cross. And so I wonder, “Why is the message of the cross considered foolishness to anyone?” If a person is unable to “hear” the message about Christ Jesus, they will not come to faith. (Cf. Romans 10:17) Although we can see and understand the power of God demonstrated through the cross to bring us salvation, the fool has said in his/her heart, “There is no God.” (Cf. Psalm 14:1) And so I pray. I ask all of us to pray … that God would open the spiritual eyes and ears and hearts of prodigals and all those whom God is calling to respond to the message of the cross! Oh, how I pray, the veil of darkness will be removed from the eyes of their hearts … that the light of the cross will go forth and illuminate minds to receive and understand the Word of Truth … so that the kindness of God will lead them to repentance! (Cf. Romans 2:4) I pray that we as believers will understand that our prayers are mission critical in this hour as never before! The message of the cross is the power of God to save! I pray we will live out its message as a testimony to those who consider it foolishness. Oh may our lives bring conviction and desire to embrace the message of the cross…. Amen.