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1 Corinthians 1:18–2:5 The Cross as a Stumbling Block

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Closing Illustration: Hebridees Revival of 1949

In the late 1940’s two elderly sisters, Peggy and Christine Smith began to pray for revival on the little Isle of Lewis about 50 miles off the coast of Scotland. One of these sisters was blind, and the other was hunchd over so badly she could barely walk. But they loved Jesus. They were for Jesus to work a miracle. They began hosting people in their home for prayer and worship. People started to come. They called their local pastor, a man named Duncan Campbell, one day to interview him. A strong man, a stronger preacher. But they weren’t interested in either of those things. They had one question for him, “Are you a man of prayer.” He said, “I believe so.” They began to pray for revival. And through the prayers of those two little old ladies, one of the most famous revivals in human history swept across the Hebrides, thousands coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ. It all started with a little old blind lady and her older hunchbacked sister committed to prayer.


God so often uses that which the world sees as weak to shame the strong. He uses that which the world sees as foolish to shame the wise. As Christians we must see beyond what the world sees. We must train ourselves to see the power revival to who little old ladies.


We continue today in our sermon series on 1 Corinthians. The theme I will be preaching on is that of Power Dynamics in the Kingdom of God. Last week we introduced the letter by studying his greeting in the first few verses. And what we saw was that before Paul jumped into the issues that 1 Corinthians will ultimately deal with, he first rooted them in their identity in Christ. We saw that every Christian, no matter your background or story, has a new primary in Christ. You are sanctified (that is made holy), and you are a saints (that is a holy one) because of your faith in Jesus Christ. And in verse 10-17 last week we saw that Paul introduced his first major problem in the Corinthian Church, that of internal divisions and politics.
1 Corinthians 1:11-12 “11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.””
In chapter 3 Paul is going to hit the issues of Divisions in the Church head on. But today he continues to lay the infrastructure that is needed to have that conversation. The issue, and the reason for these political factions in the Church, was that each group favored one leader over another. Some loved Apollos who was a brilliant orator and were certain that is where the power lies. Some loved Paul who was a brilliant church planter, and were certain that is where the power lies. Some loved Cephas (the Apostle Peter) who was Jesus’s closest disciple and were certain that is where the power lies. The divisions were power struggles. Who was right? So today, Paul eviscerates their concept of power and possibility. He’ll teach us that there is strength in weakness & weakness in strength. His main idea is ‘The Way of the Cross is the Antithesis of the Way of the World.

Idea 1: The Offense of the Cross

First, let us look at the offense of God’s wisdom.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 “18 For 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. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Two Types of People (18)

Verse 18 begins with God’s vision of humanity. There are two, and only two, categories of people. There are those who are perishing. And there are those who are being saved. Paul begains his entire conversation here, and it is the correct place to begin, for until we understand this we will never understand the world around us or the people around us. Those who are being saved are those who have repented of their sin before a Holy God and have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Those who are perishing, are those who have never made the decision to trust in Jesus Christ. They are perishing because unless they repent and trust in Jesus, they will incur a judgment of eternal separation from God in Hell.

The Word of the Cross (The Gospel)

Paul says that, “for those who are perishing, the word of cross, is foolish.” At the center of this passage is the idea that the primary message of the Christianity is foolish and weak in the eyes of the world. But let’s get this straight. What is the word of the cross. The word of the cross is the message thatt here is salvation in no other name but Jesus Christ. The word of the cross is the most important thing you are going to hear this morning. It is the message that each and every person in here has sinned and is guilty before a holy God. Every single person has broken God’s commands. If God were to leave us on our own, if God were to not pursue us, ours would be a story of compounding sin in this life, and separation from God forever in hell in the next life. That’s how bad our sin is. But God in his mercy sent Jesus, God in the flesh, on a mission for us. He became a willing substitute underneath the wrath of God. On the cross the justice of God is satisfied in full, as one man takes our place underneath the penalty of sin. The message of the cross is one of forgiveness, of turning from our foolish humanist ways, repenting of our sin, and choosing to make Jesus truly the Lord of our life! That’s the word of the cross!

Paul Quotes Isaiah 29

Paul then quotes from Isaiah 29 in the Old Testament to support this point. This is Paul’s way of saying, “We ought not be surprised when learned minds and capable people think Christianity is foolish because this is exactly how God has been functioning all through history, even in the days of Isaiah.” The Jews of the Old Testament days didn’t build their empire on strength. They were virtually outnumbered in battle. It was in their weakness where God always brought victory.

Jews & Greeks

In the rest of these verses Paul develops the idea that the message of cross, the central message of Christianity is absolute foolishness to the world. He brings up two different types of people that think its foolish. The Jew (Who represents religiously oriented people) and the Greek (who represents secular minded people).
1 Corinthians 1:22-23 “22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,”

Stumbling Block to the Jews

A crucified savior was a stumbling to the Jews of Paul’s day as it is to the Jews of our day. Why? Have you ever wondered why many Jews of our day don’t recognize Jesus as their Messiah? It’s because the cross is a stumbling block to them. They believe when the Messiah comes he will bring about political revolution. He will come in human forms of power. He will come on a war horse, not a donkey. He will build the temple, not prophesy of its destruction. He will have a conquering army, not a persecuted Church. He will be a King ona Throne, on a servant on his knees. They wanted visible signs that aligned with their concept of God’s power. The word “stumbling block” is actually the root word for our English word scandal. The cross is a scandal to religously minded person, because who would imagine that God’s Kingdom would be established through the murder of God in the flesh. It’s scandalous to even consider that.

Folly to the Greeks

But there is another group, it’s the secular minded individual. The secular mind is represented by the Greeks. The Greeks were famous for their philosophers. Men like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. For the Greeks, especially the Stoic Greeks of the 1st century, the pinnacle of human existence, the greatest goal of humanity, was a perfectly fine tuned mind. They were debators who love well delivered speeches that used words that many could not understand. The Greeks laid down many of the laws of logic and approaches to human discovery that we still use today. So these secular minded Greeks would listen to the message of the cross and what would they hear? A message that was so simple that a child could deliver it. “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified underneath the wrath of God in order to forgive you of your sin. Simply believe on Jesus and you will have life everlasting.” And the Greeks said, “That’s elementary. Send us someone with a better mind than that.”

The Cross is Scandalous Today

The cross is no less a scandalous to the religious minded or foolish to the secular minded today then it was 2,000 years ago among Jews & Greeks. Why is the cross scandalous and foolish today? Three reasons why:

1 The Cross Exposes The Extent of Human Pride (Authentic Self)

First, the cross exposes the extent of human pride. To come to the cross and receive forgiveness from Jesus we must first confess that the cross is necessary. We must first accept the reality that we cannot save ourselves; that our human condition is so flawed, so unfixable, that it requires the torturous of God in the flesh to atone. Our modern mindset denies the historic doctrine of Original Sin, the idea that we are all born in sin and personally guilty before a Holy God. The modern man believes the greatest virtue is to pursue your “authentic self” no matter how far that “authentic self” deviates from God’s design. The cross however demands that you die to yourself, and put on Christ. This is stumbling block because it attacks our pride.

2 The Cross Reveals our Utter Dependence (Might Makes Right)

Secondly, the cross reveals our Utter Dependence. To come to the cross you must come on your knees. You must come like an infant child asking for milk. The message of the cross is a message of grace for sinners. You have nothing to bring of your own. You cannot save yourself no matter how religious you think you are. All the religion in the world cannot save you from your true spiritual condition. You are utterly dependent on Jesus hanging on a cross in your place. Grace, as it turns out, is a stumbling block. We want a self help guide. We want be a better you handbook. We don’t to be born again, to become utterly dependent. This is a stumbling block.

3 The Cross Declares that True Religion is an Objective Fact of History (Mysticism)

Thirdly, the cross declares that true religion is an objective fact of history and is therefore a direct attack on modern form of spiritual mysticism. In our post-modern culture, we like religion that nebulous, that is without true form, that does not interact with human history in a true measurable sense. But the cross is an actual physical moment in human history. It either happened or it didn’t. It cannot be spiritualized. We are dealing with a man named Jesus who was crucified by Romans. The modern secular mind does not want mix faith with facts. And so a cross and an empty tomb become stumbling blocks, because their physical events in physical time.
The Offense of the Cross

Idea 2: The Paradox of the Cross

Now we turn to the Paradox of the Cross (verses 26-31):
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 “26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.””

Looks at Them Directly

Pastor Paul is now speaking personally and directly to people he knows, people who years ago he had pastored. And recalls their story. He says, “If you really want to understand that the way of the cross is the antithesis of the way of the world, look at your own story.

Illustration: He’s My Guy

Can you imagine God scouring the Earth twenty years ago saying, “Let’s see who are we going to get to Pastor Park South Loop in 20 years. Let’s see… Yeah let’s get that kid over there, Raef Chenery.” And an angel says, “But God, he’s drunk and making a fool of himself.” God says, “Yeah he’s my guy.” The angel says, “Look at him… he’s running through a suburb street stealing things and causing mischief.” God says, “Yeah he’ll do just fine.” The angel says, “Surely God it can’t be. I’m looking at his story and personality profile and he’s quite insecure, and doesn’t lean towards academics at all.” God says, “Just what I’m looking for.”
1 Corinthians 1:27 “27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;”
God rewrites stories. God makes new what was old. God changes desires. And creates entire new futures for those whom He loves. You’re story is just getting started.

So That No Human May Boast

Verse 29 gives our purpose statement, our “so that.” So that no human might boast in the presence of God.” If it were up to how noble we were, how wise we were, how strong we were, or how accomplished we were, we would have a reason to boast in our salvation. We would be able to look back on the Churches we’ve built and the ministries we’ve run, and we’d be able to say, “Look what I built.” No, God is inviting you to see beyond what the world sees. But we fail at this consantly. Brennan Manning has wonderful insight on this in his book Abba’s Child. He says,
“Instead of entering into the way of weakness, we try to use God to become something powerful...Twice over we neglect our Redeemer. We neglect him in our self-accomplishment, in our attempt to overcome our weaknesses with strengths. We also neglect him because we don’t believe we need him where we are powerful; we only need him where we are failing or still poor. In this sense, operating from our strengths is practicing atheism.”
Do you see, the cross is a Paradox. It requires that we train ourselves to see differently, to work differently.

The Mark of Power in God is One Who Abides in Christ

1 Corinthians 1:30 “30 And because of HIM you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,”
Do you want power in your life? Do you want true victory, not shallow victories. I’m talking about deep sanctification in your life. That comes from one place, abiding deeply in Christ. Our modern mindset, frankly the city mindset, has a focus on my abilities, my creativity, my potential. Can you hear the focus there, “My…my…my.” The modern Christian has almost no place for weakness and therefore no place for the power of God to manifest in your life. We’ve got it all wrong. This is why for so many modern Christians prayer is an afterthought to our Christianity. Rather than the source of our strength, it’s a necessary checkmark. Rather than developing prayer muscles, we’re busy developing leadership muscles.

What This Doesn’t Mean

Before I show you what I think this means, let me first say what it doesn't mean. This text is not saying that Christians do not know how to hold power and use it effectively to bring about societal change. Jesus said
Matthew 10:16 “16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Christians in every generation face the spirit of the antiChrist that pops its head up in the world’s various philosophies and political movements. And we need Christians who know and love God to be civil leaders all throughout this city and this country. From Supreme Court Justices, to principals of schools. From Governors and Presidents to Business Owners and Department Managers. We need Christians men and women, who know how hold power effectively, and wield it for Kingdom purposes. So this is not saying, all seats of authority in this world are dirty and unbecoming of a Christian. Far from it!

What This Does Mean

What this does means though, is every Christian needs to major in the way of the way of the cross. The way of the cross is a paradox. The way of the cross does not see the world through the world’s eyes. The way of the cross begins by abiding in Christ which produces an overflow of the Holy Spirit in your life. This will impact your children, your employees, your friends. The way of the cross is humble and takes the form of a servant. Remember how Christ washed his disciple’s feet. The way of the cross is narrow, and Jesus said that few would find it. The way of the cross expects persecution and slander. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for my name’s sake.” And the way of the cross does not retaliate, does not get back, no it forgives. How many time does it forgive. The way of the cross takes a sabbath every week, where we do not work, where we rest and enjoy God’s goodness, as a way of fulfilling the 10 commandment to not covent. The way of the cross is concerned with the poor, the marginilized, the immigrant, and those who are on this path of the cross, you will often discover have spent hidden time with those in these categories.
The Way of the Cross is a Paradox to the world. Too often Christians slander the name of God by claiming Christ and then denying the way of the cross. We must disciple each other towards this.

Move 3: The Power of the Cross

We have seen the Offense of the Cross. The Paradox of the cross. And now the Power of the Cross. Paul says,
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 “1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
Paul now turns the microscope on himself and recalls his days of ministry among them. Now Paul was a man of many talents, Paul had a mind as genius as any of the great Greek philosophers. He studied under Gamaliel one of the most famous Jewish rabbis in history. But he never utilized those giftings as the basis of his ministry. His ministry was not built on Paul’s aptitude, but on God’s grace. Pauls says, “Remember how this all got started. When I was originally among you (back in Acts 18), don’t you remember all I was going through. Nobody was giving me accolades for how eloquent my sermons were.”
Side note, the Book of Acts records a sermon Paul gave that was so long and so boring that a young man Eutychus fell asleep leaning against a window and fell out of a second story and died. Paul was able to bring him back from the dead. But the point is, the grew like wildfire not because of their talent pool, but because of the way the power of God was working among them.

“So That” Your Faith Might Not Rest in the Wisdom of Men

Why is this is important. Well we have another purpose statement down in vese 5. “So that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” What is the problem with your faith ultimately resting on a person. Two reasons. First, that person is a sinful person who one day will let you down somehow. If your faith doesn’t transcend that person, then when they let you down, your faith will falter as well. Secondly, even the most talented person in the world cannot miraculously heal a little girl. But God can, I’ve seen it. The most talented person in the world cannot make your sister or your father, who is so far from Christ that he hates the name of Jesus, fall on his knees and believe in Jesus. But God can, I’ve seen it. Even the most talented person in the world cannot fix a marriage of two people that are violently angry with one another. But God can, I’ve seen it. This is the power of God’s Wisdom.


Concluding Thoughts

Church—I think what is needed here is a time of repentance. Each of us have dragged the wisdom of the world into our little kingdoms. I see it in me, and how I pastor. This week has been convicting working with this passage and wondering how I’ve allowed the simplicity of the cross at times to get much more complicated. I think of the Church where I pastor and the wife and children that I lead, and I’ve been asking myself this week, “Is this how I pastor? Is this how I am a husband? A father?” Honestly at times, I think the answer is yes. I can see some of this fruit in my life. At other times, perhaps the answer is no. There’s a big part of me that likes strength and I’m not sure if I have that submitted fully to the cross. But that’s the work isn’t it. Seeing in the text, weakness in yourself, and then praying for God to conform you into Christ-likeness.
Transition into communion and how to use the time to repent and pray
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