The Central Point of Christianity – I Corinthians 1:17-24

We haven’t done this before, but I’d like you to go back to the scripture we read earlier in our service.  It’s not that I’ve slipped a mental cog, or I have had a problem with the earlier reading.  It’s that I’d like you to realize there is more than one way to read the scriptures.  We can sincerely and honestly read the words, or we can more slowly read the intent of those words.
I believe that in I Corinthians 1 Paul points to the core of Christianity – its essence, its central point.  If we don’t understand Paul’s theme; if we don’t realize the importance of his subject, then no matter what we might profess about our religion, we are not Christians.  The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ is single most important event in history, in eternity and potentially, in your life.
Let’s re-read our scripture and let Paul’s intent sink in – which of course is the intent of the Holy Spirit.  “For Christ sent me not to baptize,”  Paul’s commission from God was not to administer the external details of religion – no matter how good and important they might be.  It might be argued that baptism is a part of our overall commission, but it was not the key element in Paul’s.  “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel:”   Paul was a preacher – he was called to the noble ministry of authoritatively declaring the gospel.  Yes, he was a teacher, and yes, he wrote important letters, but first and foremost he was a preacher of the gospel.  And what is the gospel – “the good news” – that he preached?    Elsewhere in this epistle he tells us that his gospel was essentially “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”  Paul’s commission was “to preach the gospel; NOT with wisdom of words.”  It was not to be preached with human philosophy, or sophistry, or advertising jargon and cliches.   “Lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.    “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness;”   With this statement Paul condenses the gospel to one word.  Christ sent me to preach the gospel; He sent me to preach “the CROSS.”  “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto US which are saved it is the power of God.”  In this sentence Paul contrasts two kinds of people – the saved and those who are dying.  You might say that he contrasts the living and the dying.  With a little thought it is obvious that these dying aren’t people in hospices or emergency rooms.  These dying people are coherent enough to reject the preaching of the cross as foolish.  These living saved people are enjoying eternal life, but these dying people do not have that eternal life.
“For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”  The man with the PhD, the college professor and even many seminary professors may think that preaching the cross is an absurd waste of time.  God foretold of those dying men’s rejection; no one is surprised at their abuse of gospel preaching.  But their words and ideas are foolish; because despite their education, they don’t know what they are talking about.    “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?  “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”  “Save them that believe?”  What does Paul mean by “save?”  It isn’t explained in these immediate verses, but he is referring to deliverance from the penalty of sin.  Salvation speaks of reconciliation with the God who created us for the purpose of fellowship with Him  And how is that salvation comes to be enjoyed?  It belongs to them “that believe.”  Believe what?  The foolishness of Paul’s message.    And what is at the core of Paul’s preaching?  The cross; the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:   “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;”  Crucifixion is the process by which Christ was nailed and held to the cross.  And Paul’s commission – Paul’s message was that Christ has been crucified.  To the natural man of any background, any ethnicity or educational level – by nature everyone sees the crucifixion of Christ as either a problem or a joke.  “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”  To those whom God has called, given spiritual life, saved – the cross of Christ reveals both God’s wisdom and power.  It is the only thing that makes sense when it comes to salvation from sin.  And it is the only thing that actually can accomplish salvation.
Why did Paul place such an emphasis on preaching the cross?  Why must the cross remain at the center of the gospel ministry?  There are a number of ways to approach those questions; there are a number of ways to answer them.  And I hope to touch on some of those varieties.  But circumstances force us to pick one pathway at a time; the subject is large enough we have to limit ourselves.  For the next thirty minutes I hope to show you what the cross tells us about ourselves, what it says about the Trinue God, and what it says about Second Person of the Trinity – the Lord Jesus Christ.  Any one of these points would satisfactorily answer the question – “Why did Paul put such and emphasis on preaching the cross.”  A better preacher, like Paul, would probably make each of these points a separate message, but this morning I’d like to cover all three.
The cross reminds us just how HORRIBLE our SIN is in God’s sight.
When Adam first sinned, following his wife into disobedience and rejection of God, he and his partner were expelled from the perfection of God’s garden.  We can understand that: there were consequences to their actions and expulsion was essential.  But that was just the external manifestation of the more important result.  Adam and Eve instantly DIED and lost their spiritual fellowship with God.   Then eventually their physical hearts stopped, their bodies died and corruption ate away every evidence of their earthly existence.  “Ho hum,” people say.  “Everything and every one dies.   That is just the way it is.”  But it is not the way it should be.  Man was created in such a way as to have fellowship with God forever.  Sin, created first by Satan, destroyed God’s purpose in creation.
Without getting into dozens of scriptures which declare this point –  Let’s just say that God’s remedy for sin is blood – the proper blood properly applied.  God’s law declares that “almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” – Hebrews 9:22 .  Leviticus 17:11  – “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.”  God has determined that blood on His altar is the only atonement or covering for our sinful souls.  You don’t have to like that fact, but it is a fact – declared throughout the Bible.  Go ahead and call it “stupid” or “foolish” if you like.  But remember that is precisely what Paul has told us you might do.  “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.”  But “it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
For centuries God’s people – Israel – offered yearly, monthly, periodical and daily sacrifices to cover their sins.  But the shear number of sacrifices proved they didn’t get the job done, and the Bible tells us so.  The sins of Israel were greater than the thousands of blood sacrifices could atone.  For many in Israel those offerings were made in faith, trusting God to accept them on their behalf, nevertheless they were repeated over and over.  Hebrews 10:3-4 – “In those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every years. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”
And then one day, John the Baptist pointed toward Jesus of Nazareth and said, “Behold the lamb of God” – John 1:36.   Who was that Jesus of Nazareth?    We are told in unmistakable terms, Jesus was and is the Christ the eternal Son of God.  When his mother was being instructed by the angel, He said, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”  The man who was crucified at Golgotha was the infinitely holy, thoroughly perfect, eternally divine Son of God.
But how was it that He ended up on the cross?  Some people want to point their fingers toward Judas – who out of greed betrayed Christ.  Another person points to the cowardly Roman governor, Pilate – who couldn’t say “no” to the Jews.  Then another million people point to the Jews – who out of envy betrayed Jesus to die.  But actually, more accurate answers would have to include you, me and God Himself.  It was the will of God that the Son freely give Himself to be nailed to the cross.  Mark 10:45 – “The Son of man came not (into this world) to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  There was no other way for us to have eternal life but through the death of the eternal Lamb of God.
But it was God’s will that Christ be crucified – because you and I are sinners.  We are sinners.  My mind and words are inadequate at expressing how completely wretched we are in the light of the cross.  It should be impossible for us to face that cross without shame – horrible, debilitating, mortifying ignominy.  “When we were yet without strength;” – like 90 pound weaklings; like wimps; like anemic impotents… “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” on the cross. – Romans 5.
I wish that I could paint this picture in darker tones – in blacker colors – true colors – but I don’t know how.  The cross tells us that our sin is extremely, intensely, desperately wicked – not just the Bible, but the cross.  The cross is the only way we can be delivered from the horrible condition of our sin.  The cross is what God ordained – and deliverance is what Christ accomplished.
The cross reveals THE NATURE OF GOD in a way unlike anything else.
In the cross we find the that God’s love is wonderful beyond comprehension.  And I say, “beyond comprehension” – meaning beyond my ability to express it.  Why did God take the necessary steps to save any of us?  Was there some kind of divine logic which demanded that Jehovah reach down to rescue people who were born in sin and lived to enjoy sin, rebelling against Him, for so many years?  Did God have to justify His decision to create us after our great-grandfather chose to reject His will?  Was the presence of Satan demanding that the Lord save a few of us?
After the fall of Adam, the Lord could have whipped clean the face of the earth and started over again.  He could have destroyed creation #1 and started creation # 2.  No, Satan was not looking over God’s shoulder, forcing the Lord to do anything.  God could have vaporized creation and gone back to the way things were for eternity when nothing existed but God Himself.  Or He could simply have left the billions of sinners to their self-determined fate.  He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins before spending eternity in indescribable judgment.  Why did God choose to redeem a few despicable sinners?
Because He loved us.  Because God loved us He came after us in Christ.  He pursued us even to the inexpressible anguish of the cross.  In the Son, and in Christ’s crucifixion, God bore our sin, our guilt, and our judgment.  Out of divine love Christ died for us.  It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that.  Even though we can’t begin to understand that love.
Paul reminded Titus of the love which prompted the Lord’s salvation in Titus 3:3-7 –   “We ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.  But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,  Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;  Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;  That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Notice again verse 4 – “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared.”    John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Romans 5: 8 – “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” – on the cross.   I John 4:9-10 – “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.  Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  How did God’s Son become the propitiation – the satisfaction – for our sins?  By permitting Himself to be crucified – nailed to that cross.
Some men think they can see the love of God in the beauty of creation – mountains, snow, a rainbow.  Actually, there is more in that rainbow than the average man can imagine.  Others imagine they see God’s love in the cathedral and the religious ceremonies which take place there.  Some speak of His love when they see their first born child, or when a victim forgives his oppressor.  But there is really no evidence of divine love without the inclusion of the cross.
In the cross we see man’s depravity and God’s infinite love.
And we also see that CHRIST offers His SALVATION AS A FREE GIFT.
Let’s say that a certain man has fallen in love with a young woman.  He is handsome, rich beyond imagination, as kind as any man can be, and he’s handy around the house.  But the woman is plain to look at and financially poor; she is without a name or important heritage.  She has little to offer her beau, nevertheless he loves her  unconditionally.  One day, at a fancy restaurant, he gets up then kneels down, opening a small box with a huge ring inside.  He publically asks the young lady if she would give him the pleasure of becoming his wife.  Instantly the woman is overcome with joy, and says she would be delighted to marry the man.  Then she reaches for her purse and pulls out a nickle and offers to repay him for the beautiful ring.  Ridiculous.
But it is not as ridiculous as the sinner who believes that he must do something to help Christ to save him.  When the Lord Jesus died on the cross, letting His blood run down the post and drip off his hands into two pools next to the thieves beside Him, He paid the complete and entire price of salvation.  When the Old Testament Israelite offered a lamb as a burnt offering to God, you’ll look in vain to find him adding some mint sauce to complete the sacrifice.  When the lamb of God was crucified for our salvation, He took care of everything – absolutely everything.
He purchased our redemption with His own blood – Acts 20:28.  That purchase is included in those verses which speak about our redemption.  Galatians 3:13 – “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.”  If I might paraphrase Paul, “Christ has purchased us from the penalty of God’s law against us, by becoming accursed on our behalf, because God’s word says, Cursed is the crucified Son of God.”  “In (Christ) we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” – Colossians 1:14.  The blood which the Lord Jesus shed while hanging accursed by God on the cross, purchased our redemption from the law against us.  Without the blood – and without the cross – there would be no deliverance.  “Without the shedding of blood there is no redemption.”
The point is, there is nothing left for the sinner to pay.  Nothing!  While still hanging there, just before the human life left His body, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  There is nothing left for us to contribute to our salvation.  Isaiah 53 – “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”  God the Father “shall see the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied.”  When God is satisfied there is nothing left for us to do.  I Peter 3:18 – “Christ also hath once suffered fro sin, the just for the unjust that he might bring us to God.”  If Christ has brought us to God, there is no reason for us to pay the cab fare.  It’s done.
The Book of Revelation permits us to glimpse God’s redeemed at a future date.  In Revelation 5, while filled with emotion, John in tears looked toward God’s throne.  “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.  And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.  And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.  And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”  How were all these people redeemed and brought to God?    By the blood of the lamb.  And where was the place that the lamb of God shed His blood?   It was on the cross of Calvary.  Everything necessary for our salvation was accomplished at Calvary.
Conclusion:
Why does Paul say that the cross is so important?  Because it was there that his salvation was accomplished.  Why was the cross the primary message of Paul’s ministry?  Because it is only through the cross that sinners today can be saved.
Have you gone to the cross by faith, trusting what Christ has done there to save your soul?  There is no deliverance from sin except in the blood which Jesus Christ shed upon that cross.  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”