1 Corinthians 1:17-18 ~ 20130224 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
02/24 1 Corinthians 1:17-18 The Power of the Word; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130224_1cor1_17-18.mp3
18 Ὁ λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν, τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν. 19 γέγραπται γάρ· Ἀπολῶ τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν, καὶ τὴν σύνεσιν τῶν συνετῶν ἀθετήσω. 20 ποῦ σοφός; ποῦ γραμματεύς; ποῦ συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου; οὐχὶ ἐμώρανεν ὁ θεὸς τὴν σοφίαν τοῦ ⸀κόσμου; 21 ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔγνω ὁ κόσμος διὰ τῆς σοφίας τὸν θεόν, εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας. 22 ἐπειδὴ καὶ Ἰουδαῖοι ⸀σημεῖα αἰτοῦσιν καὶ Ἕλληνες σοφίαν ζητοῦσιν· 23 ἡμεῖς δὲ κηρύσσομεν Χριστὸν ἐσταυρωμένον, Ἰουδαίοις μὲν σκάνδαλον ⸀ἔθνεσιν δὲ μωρίαν, 24 αὐτοῖς δὲ τοῖς κλητοῖς, Ἰουδαίοις τε καὶ Ἕλλησιν, Χριστὸν θεοῦ δύναμιν καὶ θεοῦ σοφίαν. 25 ὅτι τὸ μωρὸν τοῦ θεοῦ σοφώτερον τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐστίν, καὶ τὸ ἀσθενὲς τοῦ θεοῦ ἰσχυρότερον τῶν ⸀ἀνθρώπων.
The believers in Corinth were in danger of undermining the power of the gospel by their division; Paul had heard reports of their quarreling and wrote to address this issue. They were caving to our human tendency to elevate a human leader or teacher to almost a divine status deserving of allegiance. They were buying in to the cultural wisdom of their day, trying to gain status or prestige by the teacher they identified with. When Paul wrote to the Galatian churches, he told them
The messenger is not as important as the integrity of the message. Human messengers will come and go, but 'the word of the Lord stands forever' (Is.40:8; 1 Peter 1:24-25). Paul's solution to their divisions was to bring them back to the gospel; to remind them of the simplicity of the good news that they had believed.
The Word of the Cross
Paul claims that he was sent to preach the gospel. This passage gives us a clear picture of what Paul believes is the core message of the gospel. Gospel means good news. Paul's primary responsibility was to announce a victory. The war had been won. The enemy had been defeated. Good news! In verse 17 he says that he was sent to preach the gospel in a way that avoided sophistry so that the cross of Christ not be emptied of its power. He is claiming that the power of the gospel is the cross of Christ. He says as much in Romans 1:16.
Paul declares that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, regardless of ethnic distinctions. He says that he is not ashamed of the gospel because many people would think that it is a shameful message. Instead, the gospel is the power of God for salvation. In the context of Romans 1, salvation is rescue from God's righteous wrath against my God-belittling ways. In Romans 3, salvation is being:
Here in 1 Corinthians he tells us that the gospel is a simple message centered on the cross. The cross of Christ is the power of the gospel. In verse 18 he describes the gospel as 'the word of the cross'. This is in contrast to the 'words of wisdom' in verse 17. It is not wisdom words that have power, it is cross-words. The gospel is a cross shaped message. He says that the word of the cross is the power of God to us who are being saved. In verse 21, he tells us that the message is foolish, but it is a message that saves those who believe. This saving is contrasted to not knowing God; so being saved is related to knowing God, to being in relationship with God. Salvation is rescue from a life lived in separation from God, outside a relationship with the living God. Down in verse 23 he expands on what it means to preach the gospel. He says 'we preach Christ crucified ...Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God'. In chapter 15, he comes back to the gospel message and reminds the Corinthians of the gospel he preached, the gospel that is saving them. This is the content:
The gospel was the announcement that Jesus died and was buried; that he died and was really truly dead; and that he was raised and appeared to many; that he is alive and that it has been undeniably proven that he is really and truly alive. But the gospel is not merely the facts of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel is the fulfillment of prophecy. The gospel is the focal point of all of biblical history. The Messiah died and was raised in accordance with the Scriptures. This was no accident, no surprise, no new direction in the plan of God. This had been the grand design of God through the ages. The promised one had come to die. The Christ died and was raised as the final fulfillment of God's plan. The good news also answers that most important question 'why?' Why did the Christ die? Why did God's perfect sinless King, whose rule would never end, die? Christ died for our sins. He died as a substitute. He took our place. He died for us. He paid the price for our sins. The wages of sin is death, and he died for us.
So the good news or the gospel is the power of the cross of Christ, the power of God in the word of the cross, the foolish preaching that saves believers and brings them into a relationship with God, knowing God. Preaching the gospel is preaching Christ crucified, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. That Christ died for our sins and is now alive. Any so called gospel message that is not anchored in the cross, in the death of Christ as a substitute for sinners is an empty message and it is not the Christian gospel.
No Third Category
We are told here that the cross divides all of humanity into two categories; those who are perishing and those who are being saved. There is no third category.
Some of you right now are in the process of destroying yourselves. You will choose to resist the gospel and reject what Jesus did for you. The cross is too bloody – it's offensive. The gospel is too simple. There must be more to it. The gospel is too easy – just believe? The gospel is too free – by grace alone? There must be something I have to do, something I must contribute. I simply cannot believe that Jesus did it all. If this describes you, you are perishing. Proverbs says:
Jesus spoke of only two categories in the final judgment:
In John 3, where Jesus spoke of his coming crucifixion, he said:
The cross divides all men absolutely. There are those who believe and those who do not believe. There are those who are being saved and those who are perishing. Where are you?
Why is the Word of the Cross Folly
Paul says that the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing. What does he mean that the cross is folly? We who are so familiar with the cross as the symbol of Christianity, who adorn our buildings and our pulpits and maybe even our living rooms with the cross, who hang the cross around our neck or from our ears will probably miss what the cross would mean to someone living in the first century. Picture this; a huge mural on the front of our church building depicting the horrors of the Nazi prison camp at Auschwitz. Imagine wearing a miniature silver replica of a gas chamber around your neck. What if you had an image of the electric chair printed on your favorite t-shirt? What if we erected a noose and gallows atop the steeple on our building? Why in the world would we do that? That's just sick! These images might begin to capture for us the emotional impact that the cross would communicate in the first century.
The cross was an all too familiar symbol of crime and capital punishment and ruthless Roman rule. The cross was a gruesome and shameful form of public execution, where the criminal was torturously executed, suspended bloody and naked for all to see; a graphic reminder of what happens to those who commit heinous crimes or go against Rome. Crucifixion was not talked about in polite society. For Greeks and Romans the mere thought of crucifixion was repulsive and repugnant. But Christians claimed that their God had become human and had been crucified by Rome. They claimed to worship a crucified hero. This makes no sense. The hero is the guy who is strong, fights hard and conquers against all odds; not the guy who is weak and gets himself captured and killed. The cross is a symbol of helplessness, powerlessness, weakness, a symbol of the ultimate loser, the most despised outsider. To align yourself behind a crucified leader would be to declare 'I am on the losing team, and I am a loser'.
Archaeologists discovered ancient graffiti in Rome depicting a man standing at the foot of a cross. On the cross was the figure of a man with the head of a donkey. Below the caricature is scrawled 'Alexamenos worships his god'. This is the way that Christianity was perceived in that culture. This is the foolishness of the cross. To those who are perishing, to those who have not had their eyes opened to the beauty of the cross, the word of the cross is folly.
The Word of the Cross is the Power of God
But to us who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God. What does this mean? How is the word of the cross the power of God? In verse 21, he says that 'in the wisdom of God ...it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe'. In verse 24 he says that Christ crucified is 'to those who are called ...Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God'. God chooses to use the seeming foolishness of the message of the Jesus Christ crucified to save those who believe, those whom he is calling to himself. In Romans 10, Paul outlines the sequence of evangelism as sending, preaching, hearing, believing, calling on the name of the Lord and being saved, and he says:
Faith comes from hearing the word of Christ, hearing the word of the cross. If we think back to Genesis, back to the creation account, we see that God's word has creative power. God said 'let there be... and there was... let there be... and it was so'. We see this creative active life giving power of the word of God all through the book of Acts. The apostles prayed for boldness to speak the word (4:29). They testified and spoke the word of the Lord (8:25). And the results are described like this:
It's as if the word of the Lord has a life of its own. It was spreading, increasing, and prevailing mightily. Listen to what Paul tells the Ephesian elders that the word of God's grace has the potential to do:
Paul will never see these men again. He entrusts them to God and his word. The word of his grace is able! In 2 Corinthians, Paul makes the connection between the effective word of God in creation and in us as new creations; he says:
The gospel is the power of God for salvation; the word of the cross is the power of God. Faith comes from hearing. Luke records for us a beautiful instance of this happening on the river banks near the city of Philippi. He says 'we sat down and spoke' and:
They spoke. The Lord opened her heart. The powerful word of the cross creates new life and faith in the heart of the hearers. Faith comes through hearing. There is creative power in the proclamation of this message. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Paul says a few chapters later:
This is why Paul says that he did not preach the gospel with words of eloquent wisdom. The word of the cross is the power of God. We dare not empty the cross of saving power by dressing it up, watering it down, altering it in any way. We must not be ashamed. We must pray for boldness to plainly proclaim the powerful good news.
Power to those who Are Being Saved
But does the power of the cross of Christ end with salvation? I believe the gospel and now I have eternal life. I have been saved. But this verse says that the word of the cross is the power of God to us who are being saved. In chapter 15 he says:
We are being saved by the gospel. In believing the gospel, there is a once for all decisive finished act;
And there is also a present continuing aspect of the gospel. How is the power of the cross now at work in us who are being saved? An illustration might help. Your home is on fire. You are sound asleep in your bed, oblivious to the danger. Suddenly a fireman crashes into your room, shakes you from your sleep, and announces 'your house is on fire – come, I will get you out'. You believe him, and he picks you up, wraps you in his fireproof coat, puts his oxygen mask on you, and carries you in his strong arms. You are depending on him, and you are now in his care. You have been rescued. But you are not out of the house yet. He will carry you through the door and along the smoke-filled halls and down the stairs, or out the broken window and down the ladder. You are being saved. How is this power of the cross at work in us who are being saved?
The power of the cross is at work freeing me from slavery to sin.
The power of the gospel gives me everything I need to live a godly life
The power of the cross is awesome resurrection power
The power of the gospel is the power of the Holy Spirit in you enabling you to know and experience the love of Christ for you
The power of the cross sets us free to live for the glory of Jesus
Is the power of the cross at work in you today?