Saturday 3 March 2018

1 Corinthians 1 v.18/25

This morning I want to turn with you to the Letter Paul wrote to the Church of God in Corinth. This Letter has been described as a Letter for the 21st century, because its contents are now so relevant.

The passage we are turning to is all about the heart of the Christian faith, the Cross. All religions have a symbol; the Jews have the Star of David, and Muslims the crescent, we have the Cross. We display it on our Churches, Bibles, ladies predominantly wear it around their necks, but even men in the entertainment industry wear it, despite their lives being unworthy of doing so. But everyone is relaxed about that, it is only when you wear it as a demonstration of your faith that you run into trouble.

Turning in detail to our passage,
Corinth was a sophisticated city and these Corinthians considered themselves wise and full of human wisdom, and such thinking had crept in to the church at Corinth, and the danger was that they would change the gospel, and so the importance of the message of the cross, to suit the world, and to make it more palatable to society.

The message of the cross of Christ is still foolishness today to many people. Even in the church there is much preaching of human wisdom in order to please society and to conform to what modern culture demands, so that the Church loses its moral and spiritual authority, and so makes it appear we have nothing special or different to offer. Rather than lead the way, the Church has itself be led. Like the Corinthians, we seek to operate by human intellect rather than the wisdom of God

Paul was telling the Corinthians, and by extension us, that the Church is to make known the will of God and take His authority to the world. Such is the purpose of the Church.

The Christian faith is the faith of Christ crucified. That Jesus, the Son of God, fully God and fully man, died in our place on the cross to pay the price for our sins, and rose again is central.

We must not alter the message of the cross, yes it is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.

Paul always held there are two distinct points of view, two black or white fundamental absolutes that can never be reconciled because they produce different responses to the gospel. Firstly, those who are blind to the truth of the gospel are perishing, and are eternally lost. To them however, it is absurd, and they refuse to believe the Biblical teaching that to achieve eternal salvation you have to believe that a man died on a Cross 2000 years ago, in a little country on the far side of the world, and did so that our sins may be forgiven.

I have taken hundreds of funerals over the past 40 years and there has never been any doubt in the minds of those attending that the deceased would be going to one of the many mansions in heaven. I have always been amazed how so many people who never attend Church or study their bibles know the verses from John’s gospel, and believe it automatically applies to them. Such is the effect of the Church’s false teaching. Most people sincerely believe as long as you are honest and leave a good life, such is your inheritance and to think otherwise is ridiculous. The Bible does not support them.

It is amazing how many people believe everybody, irrespective of lifestyle, will go to heaven; and there those within the Church, even clergy, who believe what is called the belief of universalism.

The other reaction is that those who believe Jesus did die on the Cross that we might be saved, will one day live with Him in heaven, having eternal life.

Paul then quotes from the Old Testament where God states, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate’. We have men who write books and speak in profound theological terms. They love to debate issues from the Bible and put forward alternative interpretations of Scripture. Whilst this may entertain themselves in University Common rooms, they can only cause confusion in other people’s minds when they are transmitted to the wider public. God promises to frustrate such actions.

Again Paul quotes the words of God when God said where is the wise man? Human wisdom is transitory. At one time a highly educated person could be valued for having a great deal of knowledge, but such is the amount of knowledge available that a person needs to specialise in a particular field. Just in my time a person could do well in their occupation and rise to a senior position without having any degree, now that is becoming very less likely. Some people have more than one degree, but little common sense. One cynic remarked the Church is falling apart by degrees.

Many of the so-called educated in our culture are increasingly antagonistic toward Biblical Christianity. Those who claim there is absolute truth and morality, are looked at as if we are the uneducated ones. The so-called sophisticated like to think that we are backward and ignorant because we believe in a creator God before whom every person will stand to give account. And true Christianity is especially singled out because of the implications of the message of the Cross.

The Jews and Greeks both asked for a sign. The Jews could not accept that the Messiah could be crucified on a tree. The Jews found difficulty with the cross, because most of them were looking for a political leader who would deliver them from the Roman Empire. Jesus didn’t want to start a political movement that would overthrow Rome, He came to establish the Kingdom of God.

It is difficult for us to understand what crucifixion meant to the Jews. It would have been unthinkable in the first century to wear a cross as an ornament of jewellery, just as no one today would wear a model of the gallows or electric chair around their neck, but that is what is equal to how the Jews saw the cross. They could not believe God would allow his Son to die that way. This should make anyone wearing a cross to think deeply as to what purpose they wear it.

The Greeks thought their learning and wisdom was sufficient. A man hanging on a cross to save the world was just utter nonsense to them. These two demands are still evident in our society today.

There are still those who demand that God perform for them. There are still those that demand that God conform to our logic and reason. But history has shown that they would not believe even then

Things haven’t changed in the intervening years, the cross is still offensive as I pointed out earlier, it strikes at the conscience and gives a sense of inner guilt.

The gospel message is the opposite of worldly wisdom. Paul is here saying I know how foolish it sounds to those who don’t believe when they hear that Jesus died to save them, but we do believe, we preach Christ crucified. He never diluted the message to make it appear something different so people could accept it, as is now happening. How we need to hear that message today, but how often do you hear a sermon on the Cross? Have you heard one in recent times?

In the Cross we see the love of Jesus Christ displayed in a way that defies explanation. God loved us so much that he stepped in and did what we cannot do. How deep the Father’s love for us that He gave his only Son to die for us. The truth is that we are sinners and cannot save ourselves. The good news is that God would not sit idly by and do nothing. He has provided a way. It is the way of the Cross. Not everyone will travel that way. Many have and will reject it. But for those who do receive it, they will experience its power.

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