Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1434
March 1, 2020 1 Corinthians 1.18-31
Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“The Word of the Cross”
18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The Word of the Cross (18)
The Word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing. I like Paul, he writes without apology to the modern world. He’s not politically correct. He’s not concerned about offense. But I also believe that Paul wrote without these concerns in his own time period. I don’t think people were any different then than now. Jesus, Paul, Peter, all who preached the Gospel offended people left and right. That is not to say that we go out of our way to offend people. The Word of the cross will do the offending. It will offend precisely because the world sees it as folly. The world sees no sense in the cross. It is idiotic to those who do not believe. And so, they think we are fools and at least one politician believes we are not worthy of holding an office!
Call me crazy, but I think the cross is the most sensible concept in the world! Something happens in the thought process of the believer. We hear the message of the cross and we are thankful for its brilliance. We are grateful for the love it reveals. In fact, we are so grateful that we want everyone to hear it and believe. The Holy Spirit has renewed our minds by the power of the Word of the cross. The Word of the cross is all about what God has done through Jesus Christ His Son. On the cross Jesus took our sins, He set us free from the penalty of death and washed away our sins. He defeated the devil and set things right that had been wronged in the garden of Eden. This is the good news of the cross – the power of salvation – the power of God.
Folly vs Power (18)
Paul says that the cross is folly to those who are perishing. Paul later says, in verse 25, that God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom (men). What the world sees as folly, God reveals as great power and wisdom. Isn’t it strange that such opposing views can come from seeing the same thing? Paul is saying that the Word of the cross and of Christ crucified is folly to those who do not believe it. It is foolish because they do not understand, foolish only because they interpret it to be foolish, meaning, it is not really foolish, only that they think it is foolish. But then Paul says God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. In essence Paul is saying that the smartest people in the world who fail to believe the Gospel are the most foolish even when judged the smartest by worldly standards. There are brilliant people, considered the smartest men to ever live, yet they foolish because they do not believe the Gospel.
Here is the rub, Jesus once said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mk. 10.15). Children are just beginning to learn all the things that will help them grow to adulthood. They see things with eyes wide open. They know instinctively things that we often forget as adults. They know how to laugh and play and receive and give and have a spirit of receptivity and innocence that we lose to quickly in our adult years. To children the Word of God expressed in Jesus is a welcomed Word. I imagine that we all remember something about being a child and having the blind faith to believe. We remember the fun of playing in the rain and stomping our feet in a puddle. In the eyes of a child that might even be something of a recognition of the power of God. Then as adults we forget and instead tell the child to come in out of the rain, might get sick after all. All true, but what of the fun?
The truth is that the Word of the cross is now playing in God’s reign – R E I G N and might even be more fun in God’s rain – R A I N!
There is power in the cross because God’s strength was displayed in the weakness of a cross as Jesus hung there at the mercy of wood and nails. Weakened by his suffering and death, God’s power was revealed. The world just does not understand the cross’ effect on the human soul that believes in Christ. Such foolishness, such a scandal is a scandal precisely because it turns one way for a believer and just the opposite for the world. We are saved through what the world considers foolish. The cross represents the power of God to defeat sin and death. It is a power that projects itself through weakness. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that, But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (12:9).
God’s wisdom in often hidden from us, maybe because we are acting too much like adults and not enough like children. Maybe that is the world’s problem about this Word. They have become too smart for themselves, too mature in ways that hide the message of the cross. The world will tell us just the opposite of what God does. The world says, “look out for number one,” but God’s wisdom says to look out for each other. The world says, “get more things, get bigger things, get enough because you deserve it,” while God says, “my grace is sufficient for you.” We can see this all the time if we get to know the word of God and notice anything about the world.
Foolishness vs Wisdom (21-25)
For most who grow up in the Church, the news of the cross of Christ makes perfect sense – it is great wisdom. It makes sense that the God of the universe came to earth in the form of a man, even a servant, and died on a cross. The cross is what makes our salvation a reality. It is how we learn to think about and view reality. We even take it for granted at times. We ought not to do that!
As we see in this passage, such wisdom is not universal. Once I tried to explain the cross of Christ to a non-believer. He could not make any sense at all of this God-man talk. He could not comprehend how God could possibly become a man and how Jesus could die on a cross. There was obviously some sense of a God, someone otherworldly, and a sense of being human, but try to put the two together, “I just don’t get it,” he said. Why is that? Why does the world miss the point? Well, I cannot speak for the world in Paul’s day, nor for the world today, but I believe that the world today simply thinks it knows better. The world sort of thinks like a teenager – always knows better than anyone else! We thought we knew everything, we thought we could do anything, and do it better than our parents cause our parents did not know anything! The world is like that. Technology knows better, science can prove everything we need to know, human reason is sufficient for life, and we can purchase all we need, so with all this going for us in the modern world, who needs God? The world certainly thinks it does not need God
So God gave us a foolish message of a Son who died on the cross that we might be saved from our demanding signs and sought after wisdom. This foolishness of God makes the world itself foolish by the Word of the cross. The world is that seductive power that will do all it can to make us look at life its way, but God’s perspective calls us to see the world through the lens of faith, and hope, and even foolishness! Our perspective looks through a cross that seems like folly to the world, but is the power of God. This is the wisdom of God. While the cross seems foolishness to the world, it is by the very foolishness of God that God chose to bring salvation to the world.
God’s foolishness, God’s message and Word, is wiser than anything humanity can think or reason or imagine. God’s weakness is stronger than the strongest idea of humanity. There is nothing human beings can do or think that will save them, it is only through the stumbling block of the cross, its message of folly to the world. We pray that they may become wise and innocent as children in order that they may see the folly as wisdom and their own wisdom as the true foolishness.
To Be in Christ (30)
Jesus employed a totally different way of thinking than that of the world. His was playful, “foolish” by world standards, and imaginative. Part of the church today is suffocating the Spirit and the Word by trying to twist it to conform to current social trends. In some ways we all do this; we want to come in out of the rain where everything is safe and dry. But the gospel is never safe, it is outrageous, insubordinate, like a kid who won’t come in out of the rain. The gospel is a call to become foolish, like a kid again.
BE A KID AGAIN...
~ Grow a milk mustache. ~ Read the funnies--throw the rest of the paper away. ~ Dunk your cookies. ~ Play a game where you make up the rules as you go along. ~ Make a snow angel. ~ Step carefully over sidewalk cracks. ~ Go home today and change into some play clothes. ~ Try to get someone to trade you a better sandwich. ~ Have a staring contest with your cat. ~ Kiss a frog, just in case. ~ Give someone a "hug-around-the-neck." ~ Blow the wrapper off a straw. ~ Cut the crust off your bread. ~ Make a face the next time somebody tells you "no." ~ Ask "Why?" a lot. ~ Have someone read you a story. ~ Eat dessert first. ~ Wear your favorite shirt with your favorite pants even if they don't match. ~ Whatever you're doing, stop once in a while for recess. ~ Find some pretty stones and save them. ~ Fuss a little, then take a nap. ~ Find a coloring book and some crayons. ~ Walk barefoot in wet grass, in the rain.
Jesus said we should become like children. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4.10, we are fools for Christ. Paul also says God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Be a kid again…foolish, playful, willing to trust God unconditionally, speaking the truth as you see it, sharing, caring, seeing smooth stones as precious gems, romping in the rain, and in the reign of God.
Jesus made no apology for his behavior, which the scribes and Pharisees called misbehavior (healing on the Sabbath, picking grain on the Sabbath, forgiving sin, etc.). Jesus just prayed for those around him, even when he hung from the cross – Father, forgive them, they just don’t get it!
The message of the cross is radical foolishness, impetuous, spontaneous, like a kid who refuses to come in out of the rain. Perhaps it is an attitude that we adults should use when approaching God. Such an attitude of childlike foolishness will help us to shed our tendency to be in control of the Gospel, to make the Gospel seem like sanity to the perishing. We may try to make the message of the cross sound sane, but in believing and proclaiming, we become fools.
In Christ we find wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, verse 30,
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
Every one of those things is foolishness to the world. We become wise by making decisions that enable us to follow the One who is the way, the truth, and the life. Wisdom is not guaranteed by compiling information, but by seeking to know the person of Jesus Christ. Putting us in a right relationship with God is all God’s work. We cannot earn our way to righteousness. In Christ we have the means of becoming a people made right, all because of the cross. In sanctification we are continually washed clean and growing to holiness and purity in Christ. In redemption we are set free from the slavery that says, “You’ve got to save yourself!” We are set free from having to worry about our sins being forgiven, set free from concern about our salvation, set free from some things in order to live for and to God. In Christ we are able to say with confidence, “I know my redeemer lives!” All this sounds like folly to the world.
Bragging Rights (31)
Those four characteristics, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, are given to us in Christ to help us to see that we are not the agents of our own salvation, we are not the source of our joy or strength, but that God is the true source for our life. In Christ, because of Christ, through Christ, with Christ, we have wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption – so that we are not able to boast of what we have done, but only boast of what the Lord has done for and through us. So Paul concludes by saying, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Our boasting, our bragging rights are given us through Christ and Him alone.
This week while writing about this passage, I thought about the undo button in word processing. Those of you who have used word processors on your computers probably love the undo button. We can mess something up on whatever we are writing and with the click of an icon at the top of the screen we can undo every mistake. We all need an “undo” button. In Christ we have such a button, to undo all that the devil, sin, and death have sought to destroy. In this is our boast, our bragging rights. Let us continue to boast in the Lord no matter how foolish the world thinks we might be, because one day someone will see anew and join us in our foolishness and folly of the cross. In the Word of the cross is salvation and the power of God. All God needs of us is to relay that Word to our corner of the world see what God will do with it. In this we shall brag and boast and rejoice. Amen.