I Corinthians 1:18 - 24
I. The Message of the Cross Is Foolishness I Corinthians 1:18a
A few weeks ago I was watching a few minutes of the Masters golf tournament. In the end Vijay Singh won the event with a 10 under par. He was 3 strokes ahead of Ernie Els who was the next nearest player. At one point in the tournament they showed a picture of Tiger Woods and I noted that he was not in it for the fun, rather, he was concentrating and serious about what he was doing. These people are competitors who want to win and the only way to do so is to do better than the next guy. If you had ever golfed with me, you would know that I am out there for the walk, companionship and pleasant surroundings and that winning golf is incidental to me. Such an attitude means that I will never win the Masters because you don’t win by losing.
We have all heard about Wayne Gretzky. For many years, he was the greatest hockey player around. But who of us has ever heard about the kid who desperately wanted to play hockey, but just didn't have what it takes? Wayne Gretzky has won games, awards and a reputation by winning.
Today there is no military power today greater than the United States, but who fears the army of Italy. In the years of Napolean and later, Mussolini the Italian armies were a powerful army, but they lost and today, Italy is no great power. Once again, we see that you don't win by losing.
The world is full of people who desperately want to become famous singers, but don't quite make it. We hear about Garth Brooks, Celine Dion, Pavarotti, but we never hear about those who wanted to, but didn’t make it. The world is set up so that winners advance and losers get lost.
When you play a game of Monopoly with your children, do you ever make the object of the game to lose? If you did, it wouldn't be for very long. The whole reason for playing, the way the rules are set up and even the fun of playing would be entirely destroyed if you tried to lose. It wouldn't work.
The world moves ahead, people succeed, people become wealthy, people become known by doing well, by winning. Our whole world is structured to function in such a way that you do not win by losing.
Indeed, our world cannot accept that there is such a thing as winning by losing. Gordon Nickel, who is a missionary to Muslims and a Muslim scholar, writes about the Muslim belief that Jesus did not die. They believe that He was God's prophet, that He was going to die, but God took him up to heaven before he died. The Qur'an says, "...they did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them...they slew him not of a certainty - no indeed; God raised him up to Him." Gord writes that "most Muslims understand that Jesus did not die on the cross...Islam lives in the conviction that Jesus did not really die but was mysteriously received up into heaven." He says that one of the reasons that Muslims believe that is because they live by the understanding "that God would never operate like that." "God should not allow Jesus to die, according to Muslim thought.." His death on the cross makes no sense because you do not win by losing.
In I Corinthians 1:18 Paul says, "...the message of the cross is foolishness." Then in 1:23, he says again that Christ crucified is "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
The Jews were looking for a Messiah. One who would come and redeem God's people. During his lifetime, they repeatedly asked him for a miraculous sign that he was the power of God. In Mark 8:11 it says, “To test him, they aked him for a sign from heaven.” When the sign came, they could not accept it. A crucified Messiah is a contradiction in terms. Like hot ice or good murderer. It is opposite, you can't put it together. The Jews could not get their minds around the possibility of a Messiah who would die on a cross, because you do not win by losing. Messiah would act like God acted in the Exodus by powerfully and visibly defeating the enemy.
For the Greeks, it was just utter foolishness. They were world renowned for seeking wisdom and in all the wisdom they had sought the world over, they had never encountered such foolishness. They knew as all thinking people know that God would never act like that! It is far too humiliating for God, for any supreme being, to dream up a scheme of redemption through a crucified Messiah. It doesn’t make sense.
When Jesus hung on the cross it was over! The soldier knew it and laughed that he should have thought that he was somebody. The thief hanging beside him laughed at Jesus for considering that he was better than he, a common criminal. The Jewish leaders muttered to each other that he obviously had no power otherwise he would come down off the cross. They all knew that as he hung on the cross it was over. He had lost, his cause was finished, whatever he was trying to accomplish was done. You don't win by losing. That is a fact!
II. The Message of the Cross Is The Power of God I Corinthians 1:18b
But is it really? In I Corinthians 1:18, Paul says "the cross is...the power of God." Then again in I Corinthians 1:23, "Christ crucified" is "the power of God and the wisdom of God." How can he say that? How can you win by losing?
A. Only The Cross Brings Freedom From The Guilt Of Sin
I once had a dream that I had killed someone. It was so real that I still remember the awful guilt I felt for such a terrible deed. You can imagine how happy I was when I woke up and found out it was a dream. Whenever we do wrong, and we know we have done wrong, we are filled with a terrible sense of guilt.
The top four responses by U.S. adults when asked what they most felt guilty about were: 12 % - not spending time with family and friends; 12 % - taking poor care of their health; 15 % - having or spending too much money and 34% - felt guilty about nothing in particular. They just had a sense of guilt.
A person writing about the trauma of abortion writes, "I am of the opinion that guilt is the most destructive human emotion. Guilt robs the soul of dignity and eats away at the self-worth of an individual. Despite being told by others that the guilt one is feeling is unwarranted, the bearer of guilt does not seem able to accept this opinion, and continues to feel guilty. Since we find that guilt even for no specific wrong is pervasive as a human feeling, something must be done to overcome that guilt."
Another writer says, "Primordial guilt... Ever feel that no matter what you do, or don't do, somehow, you did the wrong thing?"
All of us feel guilt at some time or other for the wrong things we do and it is hard to get over that guilt. Many people also have what the writer called "primordial guilt" a general sense of wrong doing.
How do you get rid of the guilt?
Some try to blame others for their terrible life. They shift blame for the wrong things they have done on others. But that does not help!
Some try to categorize guilt as false guilt. The article on abortion guilt suggested that some guilt should not be accepted. Once you categorize guilt, it should be easier to get rid of. But that does not help.
Some try to bury their guilt by engaging in pleasureful activities or in watching television or in mind numbing drugs or alcohol, but that also does not work.
One writer in the Encounter magazine tells of his spiritual quests, "I tried to find peace in various "isms" and "ologies". Transcendental meditation was a farce, as was scientology. I tried to find myself on a psychiatrists couch, but I seemed to only go around in circles."
All our efforts only bring more loss. "Haunted by shadows of wrath we try all painful methods of self pacification,... vigils, pilgrimages, sacrifices, tortures, nothing is too painful or wearisome that promises to ease the guilt of the mind. Yet justification does not come."
It makes sense to us that we should be able to overcome our guilt in some way, by some effort, but all our efforts are useless.
The only power that is able to overcome the guilt of our sin is the weakness and foolishness of the cross! The Bible says in, Ephesians 1:7, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace" Colossians 1:20 says, "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." Revelation 1:5, "...Jesus Christ, ...who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood."
How does the foolishness of the cross have the power to save us from the guilt of our sin?
The guilt of our sin is present in our lives because we are guilty before the one who created us. It is not phantom guilt or undeserved guilt or misplaced guilt, it is true and appropriate guilt because we have sinned against God. The only way our guilt can be removed is if the one we have sinned against says to us, "you are not guilty anymore."
The only way that God can say "you are not guilty anymore is if someone is punished for the things we have done wrong. God allowed Jesus to die on the cross so that He could take our punishment for us and so that God could say to us, "you are not guilty anymore." The cross is the only power able to remove from us the guilt of our sin.
In Pilgrim's Progress we read:
"Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.
"He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more."
The power of the cross is the only power which is able to remove the guilt of our sin!
B. Only The Cross Brings Freedom From Sins Consequences
There is a book that came out in February 1999 entitled Cheating Death; The Promise And The Future Impact Of Trying To Live Forever by Marvin Cetron and Owen Davies.
The description of the book says, "To live forever is one of man's oldest aspirations--and it might become a reality. With advances in medicine and new gene research, human life span could extend into hundreds of years."
In another article entitled Immortalism and Life Extension the author writes, "I will live forever, or die trying." He goes on to say however, "many of the visions of
Transhumanism will probably not be possible within our lifetimes. "
Why do people get old and die? It just doesn't make any sense and really messes up life. If we could somehow find a way of avoiding death, it would make life all the more pleasant. People have hoped for this for years, but still the reality for all people is that we will die. We are up against a wall when it comes to death. We all fear death but we will all die. We can't seem to win on that count.
The only way to overcome death is through the foolishness of the cross. Now that seems like the ultimate contradiction - how can death bring life? How can the cross bring freedom from our common and universal enemy?
The reason we die is because it is God's punishment on sin. Since all of us sin, all of us will die. Death is much more a spiritual issue than it is a biological issue. Scientists who are looking for a way to overcome death by studying the human body are looking in the wrong place because death will never be overcome by science. But, it has already been overcome by the cross. Since we die because of sin, it is only by overcoming sin that the death law will be repealed. That is what happened on the cross.
By dying on the cross, Jesus paid our penalty and so we do not need to pay it any more. In other words, we have been freed from the consequences of sin. Romans 5:9, "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!"
The power of the cross is the only power which makes it possible for us to overcome the consequences of sin.
Can you win by losing? Contrary to everything we learn in this life, absolutely! When Jesus lost everything by dying on the cross, he won the way for us to find freedom from our sins and the means for us to escape the consequences of our sin.
In the Fall/Winter 1997 issue of Encounter, Paula Robertson tells the story of her father. Although he kept a job, his life at home was one of drug addiction, and spending all his time watching TV. He "neither cared about nor obeyed God."
It was Paula's mother who began to be interested in Christianity and although her father opposed it, he allowed them to have a Bible study in the home. When it was on, however, he would go into the basement and watch TV.
But over time, a radical change took place in his life. Now he no longer fills up his days watching TV. "Instead of marijuana smoke, his home is filled with happiness and joy that only God can give." She writes that he was "changed miraculously by the power of God." That is the power of the cross.
In the same issue of Encounter there is a story about a fellow by the name of Fred Martin. As a young child, he often got in trouble because as he says, I "just liked being bad." A series of jail terms did not change him at all, in fact it only made him worse and he got involved in a bike gang and the criminal activities which go with that. He "frequently landed in jail."
But ...."A member of the faith for 16 years now, Fred says, "I go to church for fellowship...The Bible says you need that..." The author of this article attended a "field day for Christian bikers and met...(others whose)lives once devoted to criminal activity were now rededicated to goodness." That is the power of the cross.
How do we respond to the amazing power of the cross?
First of all, we must accept it by faith. The only way to win is to accept Christ's loss as our gain. Paul says in Romans 1:16 "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." "We are thus left with the awful risk: trust God and be saved by his wise folly, or keep up our pretensions and perish."
Secondly, we must continue to live in the power of the cross. We must recognize that our salvation is rooted not in our ability, but in God's sacrifice. The gospel will not fail those who embrace it. The law, wisdom, meditation nor self discipline have the power to set people free from sin, or from death. By accepting the loss of the cross alone can we escape eternal loss.
Thirdly, we must rejoice and give thanks for the wonderful gift and so embrace the amazing power of the cross. That is what we want to do as we observe communion. It is a time of remembrance and thanksgiving and rejoicing that in the cross, we win!