The World, the Church and the Cross 3. Jesus Christ and Him Crucified
1 Corinthians 2: 1 - 5
Paul was a man of one message. If you heard him in Thessalonica or Athens or Rome, it was always the same—Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is the pastor’s life work. If people want to know about sports or the latest news, they can read the paper or turn on the TV. If it’s the latest world crisis, there are plenty of ways to follow the story. But if you want to know how to be right with God, if you want to know how to have your sins forgiven, if you want to know how to go to heaven, then you need the message Paul preached: Jesus Christ and him crucified.
As a pastor, I have seen a lot of fads, trends and movements in the last 30+ years. I’ve lived through small group ministry, body life, Charismatic renewal, church renewal, church growth, balanced church, contemporary worship, renewal worship, concerts of prayer, prayer and fasting, Willow creek movement, Experiencing God, Prayer of Jabez, Purpose-Driven Church and 40 Days of Purpose. You can find valuable truth in each one of those trends and movements. But sooner or later, all those movements are destined to be forgotten. The grass withers, the flower fades, only the Word of the Lord lasts forever. That’s why Paul laboured as he did: “so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” All that comes from man must perish with man; what comes from God lasts forever.
We have seen how the world views the preaching of the cross as foolishness. We discovered that God delights to choose weak and foolish things (like us!) to make up his family so that no one can boast in his presence. Today we will see that - the message of the cross must stand at the centre of all we do.
1. His Message v. 1, 2
Paul begins not with the positive, but with the negative—“I did not come.” The terms “eloquence” and “superior wisdom” describe a certain oratorical style commonly associated with the greatest public speakers of their day. Great crowds flocked to hear them because they spoke in the style of traditional Greek rhetoric, with extensive quotations, with literary allusions, and with a refined style that made them seem brilliant, witty, charming and entertaining.
Evidently some early Christian preachers felt the need to emulate their style. They crafted their sermons into eloquent, stylized, highly polished discourses. Paul utterly rejected that approach to preaching although he could have done it himself. As a well-educated rabbi, he knew Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and no doubt Latin. Trained at the feet of Gamaliel, he could hold his own in any argument. If Paul wanted to show off his intellect, he certainly knew how to do it. But he rejected that approach.
There have always been preachers who felt the need to copy the ways of the world. Here’s one way to spot the sort of approach Paul rejected. When you hear a man enamoured by worldly wisdom, you say, “What a wonderful sermon!” When people heard Paul preach, they said, “What a wonderful Saviour!” Paul cared not at all what people thought about him as long as they heard the message of Jesus. His reputation didn’t matter as long as the gospel was preached clearly.
“I resolved” means he made a conscious choice to do things a certain way. He didn’t fall into it by chance or by force of habit. Paul preached as he did because he chose to do it that way. That same choice confronts every minister of the gospel. It’s so easy to be sidetracked by good and worthwhile things. We can preach about social issues, the political debates of our day, the crisis in the Middle East or the decline of the family. We can tackle Bible prophecy or we can major on predestination or we can spend our days arguing about some aspect of church government. There is a place for all those things, but that place is never at the centre. For Paul the choice was clear: “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” He started there and that became the centre of his preaching. Once the centre was in place, every other truth could be arranged around it. But Jesus must be in the middle of all things and all things must be properly related to him.
3 words summarise Paul’s preaching: clarity, simplicity, boldness. Paul was so clear that no one could miss his message. He was simple because he spoke plainly about what Jesus Christ accomplished in his death on the cross. He was bold in stating that truth over and over again. He was a man of one message, a preacher with a one-track mind who would not be silent. He focused on the cross because that was the one part of the Christian message the world could not duplicate.
Rotary Clubs and Lions Clubs do wonderful work for our community. But it is not given to the Rotary and Lions Clubs to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. We have the ANC and the DA and they think they have it all figured out. They don’t. They have their politics, but it is not given to them to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. We have the government and private school systems that work to educate the children of South Africa. They do the best they can, and God bless them in their efforts, but it is not given to the school system to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. That calling is given only to the church of Jesus Christ. To us—and only to us—did God entrust the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified. That is our message, our only message. We are to tell it because no one will if we don’t.
The Greeks loved philosophy so Paul could have said, “I need to talk about Plato and Socrates in my sermons.” But he didn’t, even though no one would have blamed him if he had. You can impress people with your cleverness or you can impress them with Jesus, but you can’t do both.
It is not enough for us to say that Jesus was a great moral teacher. He was, but the world largely believes that already. It is not enough to say that he came down from heaven. Many already believe that. It’s not even enough to say that he was born of a virgin. We must go all the way and declare that God himself came down to earth in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We must say that when he died on the cross, God laid on him all our sins. He took our place, dying where we should have died, bearing our punishment, standing as our substitute, taking our sin and its punishment upon himself. He died to be our Saviour and bring us home to God. He was the just dying for the unjust, the good dying for the bad, the righteous dying for the unrighteousness, the holy dying for the sinful. In his death he won our salvation. Then he rose from the dead on the 3rd day, proving all his claims to be true.
This is the message unbelievers need to hear. What good will it do to say to an unbeliever, “Be nice” or “Try harder” or “Clean yourself up” or even “Give money to the church.” That advice is both dangerous and misleading. Unbelievers can never really be nice or try harder or clean themselves up apart from God. They don’t need to give money to the church. They need to be born again.
The Gospel in 10 Words -
Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead.
There is enough truth in those 10 words to save the whole world. Stop right now and say those words to yourself. Go ahead. Say them out loud: Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. This is the heart of the gospel. This is our message. This is what we must preach to the world.
Paul regarded preaching as nothing less than the forceful declaration of the truth of God. True preaching is not sharing. It is not dialogue or discussion. When I stand behind the pulpit, I’m not having a dialogue with you. This isn’t a large-group discussion. If you want to discuss something, we can go out for coffee and we’ll talk for a while. Discussion is good and has its place, but that’s not what preaching is all about. Preaching is not dialogue because God is not negotiating with the human race.
If we substitute anything for the message of the cross, we have taken away the one message the world needs to hear. To give people what they need, sometimes you must not give them what they want. If you really love your children, you’ll give them what they need, not what they want. The same is true as we speak to others about Christ. They may want to hear other things; we must tell them about Jesus for he alone can save them.
2. His Method v. 3, 4
Here is Paul’s evangelistic plan. It’s called “fear and trembling.” Paul has in mind the chilly reception he received when he first came to Corinth. At one point he felt so abandoned and alone that the Lord came to him in a vision with these words, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
Occasionally someone asks me if I get scared or nervous before I preach. The answer is yes, and it happens every single time. No matter how many times I’ve preached or how well prepared I am, there is always a sense of nervousness that comes just before I stand up. I hope I don’t ever lose that, because if I do, I need to get out of the pulpit. If speaking for Christ ever becomes routine, then something has gone wrong.
I am comforted by the thought that Paul was a man like I am. Nothing in Paul could explain his success—except God! The NT doesn’t give us any descriptions of Paul’s appearance, but by inference Paul wasn’t much to look at and he didn’t cut an impressive figure in the pulpit.
We need the power of the Holy Spirit that will take our feeble human words and fill them with supernatural power. When that happens, lives will be radically changed.
3. His Motive v. 5
Note the striking contrast—the wisdom of men versus the power of God. If you build on one, you cannot have the other. Ministries built on human personality do not last. Wilro Park is not “William’s church,” and you are not my disciples. You may follow me and listen to me and look to me for guidance, but in the end this church belongs to Jesus Christ.
It’s dangerous to build your faith on men because pastors come and go. I am destined to retire myself one day. I say that without any sense of frustration. That’s just the way it is.
Build Your Life on Jesus Christ
It is good and even vital to love and respect your spiritual leaders, but you must not build your whole spiritual life around them. Build your life on Jesus Christ. He will still be here after all the pastors have come and gone.
This was Paul’s strategy and it ought to be ours as well: Take the Word of God. Preach it accurately. Pray for the power of God to bless the Word of God. Trust God for changed lives as a result.
The Word of God, preached in the power of God, always results in lives changed by God. This was how the tiny band of believers turned the world upside down in the 1st century. The world has no answer to a life radically changed by Jesus Christ. The world may answer our arguments, but it cannot answer the power of God let loose in the human heart.
Only God can take a heart of stone and replace with a heart of flesh. Only he can give life in the place of death. He does it as his people faithfully preach the message of the cross. So we ask God to do it again in our day—to use us to preach the message of the cross wherever we go, and then to pour out his Spirit so that our preaching results in changed lives. Pray for this. Ask God to do it in your witness to others. Ask God to do it when the congregation gathers for worship.
The Jews said, “Show us a sign.” Paul said, “I give you the sign of the cross.” The Greeks said, “Show us wisdom.” Paul said, “I will show you Jesus, the very wisdom of God.” What the world needs is not reformation but true and lasting deliverance from sin. Such a deliverance can be found only in the cross. Where sin is the problem, the cross is God’s answer. For the Christian, there is only one foundation—Jesus Christ and him crucified. Build your life on that solid rock. Stand on that rock and it will take you safely home to heaven.
In a world of hurting people, to those who are angry and to those who are in despair, to those who have lost their way, to every man and woman, to every boy and girl, the church of Jesus Christ says to everyone who will listen, “Go to the cross and the cross will lead you home.” May we never be ashamed of the cross but preach it boldly as the only hope of the world. Amen.