THE CROSS

by Sean Foster on February 2, 2014

I Corinthians 1:18-31

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 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? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 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 chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” A-men.

See if you recognize some of the following brands…
(pictures of the various brands listed were projected on the screen)
• Apple
• Google
• Coca Cola
• IBM – International Business Machines
• Microsoft
• General Electric
• McDonalds
• Samsung
• Intel
• Toyota

Brands give identity.

The term brand originally came from cattle drivers and sheep herders who would stamp or mark their animals to identify that they belong to them. Outside of that, branding usually had a negative connotation.
• Slaves were branded
• Criminals
• Thieves – sometimes they would be marked with a missing finger or two.
• Adulterers – yes, with a scarlet letter.

Brands are very important, particularly in our day. Companies work hard to imprint their brand in our minds to develop a strong relationship with customers. Brands are about building trusts and relationships.

How many of you grew up with either this brand in your drive way (Ford), or this brand (GMC) in your drive way?

Growing up in Collingwood among farmers, this one (John Deere) was preferred over this one (Case International).

Which one would you rather fly? If money was not a factor, would you rather fly:
• Air Canada?
• Porter?
• West Jet?
(Actually, I would be willing to fly any of them.)

When we see a brand, it is to build trust. It is to encourage us to use the company and their product.

Kids, 2/3 years of age, are easily able to identify these:
• Wendy’s
• Burger King
• And especially this one: McDonalds.
We live in a world of Brands.

So, what image pops into people’s minds when they think about Christians, or Christianity? Well, according to Dr. James Emery White, non-Christians think Christians are hypocrites, boring, and judgmental.

When we hear what the world thinks about the church, it is not hard to understand why people are not flocking to be part of the church.

In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Paul shares a brand of Christianity that has lasted some 2000 years.

Over the last couple of weeks we have been looking at this Corinthian congregation. They were a people who envisioned themselves as spiritually advanced. They were spiritually elite. They thought of themselves as well versed in matters of the divine and wisdom. And yet, here is Paul in our lesson today showing that their ideas of self-importance are misguided. You think you’re wise? Your wisdom is foolishness. Listen to Paul:
Where is the one who is wise?
• Where is the debater of this age?
• Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
(I Corinthians 1:20)
Your ideas of wisdom do not impress God.

In verse 19, Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah who wrote:
God will destroy the wisdom of the wise. (I Corinthians 1:19/ Isaiah 29:14)

Paul has a radically different and seemingly irrational image as to the true brand of a Christian.
• Christ crucified.
That’s the brand.

The cross! The corporal punishment of its day. And image of execution!

Crucifixion was a horrible demeaning death. And yet the cross, a symbol of criminality, a symbol of execution, that is the brand that Paul chose as the symbol to identify the church.

It is the crucified Christ. It is the ugliness of the cross – that is the very essence of Christ’s mission.
• To die for us.
• To die for our sin.
• To defeat death.
• To be raised to life
• And give to us – life as well.

The cross is our brand. It is the symbol of Christianity. It is our logo.

Our brand is not a set of rules or regulations as some might think of the church. It is not the 10 commandments and a list of dos and donts. Our Brand – is Christ crucified.

This letter of Paul’s is partly a reaction. The city of Corinth is educated, and they value philosophy and philosophical discussions. They enjoy wrestling with complicated teachings. They enjoy listening to eloquent talks by people who use big words. But Paul argues that all of that is foolishness. He would completely agree that God was too big to understand. Too much for the mind to comprehend. Too wondrous to be comprehended through philosophical discussion. And that is the very reason that God came to us. That is the very reason that God humbled himself and came down to our level. It doesn’t need to be complicated – God came to us. And that is the Good News of the Gospel that Paul is proclaiming – that Christ came and died for us. It is the cross and what Christ did for us on the cross.

Listen to Paul’s words, you can see that he is reacting and responding to these groups in Corinth. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. (I Corinthians 1:18)
• It is nonsense to those who don’t believe.
• It is childish and simple to those who crave something more complicated and eloquent.
But it is not, and this is Paul’s argument – that God has made himself accessible. The One who was far away has now come close to us. We have access to God through the cross. Through the cross, it is the beginning of a relationship that was never possible with the Almighty before. Through the cross we have full access to God.

So, for those who are perishing – yes, the cross is foolishness – in fact it makes no sense at all to them. But for those of us who are being saved through the cross – it is the power of God.

And this is central to Paul – salvation has nothing to do with us. Salvation, is God’s gift to us.

God shows his power and reveals his salvation in such a way that it confuses and confounds. The Jews demand signs, he writes. (I Corinthians 1:22)
• Jesus, as Messiah, makes no sense to them.
• They fully expected that the Messiah would come in glory, strength and power.
• Not as a baby.
• God is too great to come in such a humble way.
• Born as a baby – helpless and dependent?
• Their understanding of God – this made no sense to them.
• Yes, they would agree that Jesus was a great man.
o A prophet – yes.
o God – no.
o A profound teacher – yes.
o Messiah – no.
o No one would argue – his miracles are impressive.
o He must be connected with God.
o But he is not the Messiah.
o He is not God in the flesh.
o Jesus spent time with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors.
o God is too good, too great, too holy to be with sinners.
• And then, here’s the pinnacle: God dies?
o God could never die!
o It is below God to die.
• If Jesus were truly God
o Death on the cross would be stopped.
o The angels would have prevented it.
It was beyond their comprehension – a God dying for them. It made no sense.

And similarly for the Greeks who desire wisdom. (I Corinthians 1:22) This idea of salvation: it’s too simple. Things of the divine are to be complicated and complex. It can’t be as simple a s Jesus dying on the cross.

But – we proclaim Christ crucified. Yes, a stumbling block to the Jews. (I Corinthians 1:23) Something that made no sense at all to the Jews. Something that made no sense according to their understanding of God. They could not get their mind around it. And foolishness to the Gentiles, (I Corinthians 1:23), who valued wisdom and complicated explanations.

This is what Paul is impressing upon his listeners.
It is not complicated.
It is not difficult.
God came down to our level.
So we could know him.

The Cross.
Christ crucified.
It really is that simple.
Through the cross, the relationship begins.
And we grow in the relationship with God we come to learn about this
• Wonderful
• Magnificient
• Bountiful
• Gracious
• Loving
• Forgiving
• Merciful
• And Giving God.
Who desires more than anything else – to be in relationship with us.

The Cross.

It’s our brand.

A-men.

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