24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did He enter heaven to offer Himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.
19 For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him,20 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.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. 22 But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation - 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
In 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 Paul wrote, “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Paul’s main focus in his teaching and preaching was Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Of course, when he emphasised that by saying he “resolved to know nothing” else, he was using hyperbole. It was a figure of speech, much like a parent saying to a child, “I’ve told you a thousand times to stop doing that.”
When Jesus told Peter that he was to forgive seventy times seven, we all know that Peter wasn’t to keep a score card, counting down to 490, until finally reaching the magic number of 491, meaning he no longer needed to forgive.
The hyperbole that Jesus and Paul used in these two instances is a form of emphasis that uses intentional exaggeration.
This is what Paul meant by saying to the Church in Corinth that he was determined to know nothing except Christ crucified. He went on to teach them many things about the nature and character of God in First and Second Corinthians, but in essence what he meant was, “of all the things I teach you, don’t forget the cross, because it was on the cross, through the cross, and by the cross that Jesus performed His work of redemption and saved you for all eternity.”
The apostle Paul was not the only author of the New Testament letters, but inspired by the Holy Spirit, he was speaking for them all by emphasising how important it is to have the Cross of Calvary at the very heart of the life and witness of the Church.
So we can assume that if the cross is of central importance to Biblical Christianity, then it is vitally important that Christians should have a Biblically rooted understanding of the doctrine of the cross.
The reality is that we are living in a post-Christian era. Wikipedia defines Postchristianity as “the loss of the primacy of the Christian worldview, especially in the Western world where Christianity had previously flourished, in favour of alternative worldviews such as secularism or nationalism.” As sad as it is, I think that statement is an accurate picture of our world. We live in an age where the significance, centrality and even the necessity of the cross and what happened there is being systematically eroded on a daily basis.
In our secular world, to even suggest that God (if indeed, He exists) would send His own Son to die on a Roman cross is barbaric in the extreme. The doctrine of the cross and the human need for atonement has never been as widely challenged and ridiculed as it is today.
Speak to the average non-Christian, and you’ll find that they are not Christians not so much because they don’t believe the truth claims of Christianity, but because they see no need for what the Bible teaches. How many times have you heard people say, “That may be true for you, but I personally don’t feel the need for Jesus,” or “I don’t need the Church,” or “I don’t need Christianity?”
This is the challenge we are facing today, and if we are ever going to be able to answer those objections properly, we need to be first and foremost utterly convinced of the necessity of the Cross of Christ in our own lives.
We need to know why we need the cross and what the significance of the death of Jesus Christ really is all about.
Most people are not concerned about the atonement offered to us by God through Jesus because they are convinced they don’t need to be saved. They aren’t asking questions like, “How can I be reconciled to God? How can I escape the judgment of God?” Over time we have been indoctrinated by the lies of the world that we are not accountable to God for our lives. satan said it first: “You will not surely die!” (Genesis 3:4)
Our greatest need is salvation, but if you look at the world, salvation could not be further from the minds of most people. The Christian faith though, is built on the primary assumption that we do have a problem that we cannot solve, and that our greatest need is salvation from the eternal consequences of our sin.
R C Sproul wrote, “The prevailing doctrine of justification today is not justification by faith alone. It’s not even justification by good works or by a combination of faith and works. The prevailing notion of justification in Western culture today is justification by death. It’s assumed that all one has to do to be received into the everlasting arms of God is to die.”
And he’s right. We hear it over and over again when someone dies. “They’ve gone to a much better place.” There is a much better place available to us all, but physical death is not the rite of passage to that place. It is only available to those who put their faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, accomplished by His atoning death on the Cross of Calvary, and sealed by the power of His blood.
I was listening to a podcast interview on a Christian radio station with R C Sproul recently, and the interviewer asked him how he would respond to the general idea that all good people go to Heaven. “I’d agree with that, yes. Only good people go to Heaven,” was his reply. You could almost hear his host choking in disbelief, when Sproul chuckled quietly. “The only problem is that there is only one good man. It is only Jesus Himself who is righteous. For anyone else to stand in God’s holy presence, we need the righteousness of someone else. We need a Saviour.”
We should not be surprised at the objections we find in the world to the message of the cross, but of greater concern is that many Churches and denominations are moving away from the old message of salvation through the blood of Jesus. The message of the Church is changing and is moving towards a message of salvation through social action and good works. Not that social action and good works are wrong. The Bible calls us to these things, but they are to be the fruits of our salvation, not the means.
The message of the cross is slowly but surely being replaced by a bloodless message that lacks power and offers no true hope. Instead of hearing the devastating, but life changing news that we are sinners in need of redemption through Jesus Christ, people are hearing from the heretics in the Word and Faith and prosperity gospel movements a message that says basically, “I’m okay and you’re okay.”
It’s bad enough when the world says that God just wants you to be happy, but when you start hearing it being constantly proclaimed from so-called Christian pulpits, we have a serious problem. God does not want you to be happy. He wants you to be holy, and you can only be holy through Jesus Christ.
And so, we must return to the cross, and we need to do so regularly. When Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, he reminded them that he had been called for one purpose, and that purpose was to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That message was to be his focus and that message was to be his ministry.
It was the events that happened outside Jerusalem at Calvary some 2000 years ago that changed the future for every person who places their faith in the one who died there that day.
The paradox of the cross is one of the first hurdles the human heart has to overcome. That life should come from death is not normal. The Jews were waiting for a rescuer, a Messiah who would rid them of Roman oppression and give them political freedom. They completely missed the fact that their Messiah would be One who would suffer for the sins of the people. They missed the message of Isaiah 53. “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:1-3)
The message of the bloody cross of Jesus is still a strange message to those who have never experienced its life changing power. To them it remains foolishness. Look what human philosophy, human wisdom, says about the cross: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”
“Foolishness” comes from the Greek moria, from which we get the word moron. To the unbeliever, the cross is moronic. It is absolute nonsense. Why? Because it conflicts with his own wisdom. That God would become a man, be crucified on a cross, be raised to life in order to provide for our forgiveness of sin and entrance into heaven is such a simple idea that it appears too foolish for natural man to accept. That one man, the Son of God, would die a criminal’s death on an insignificant hill in a very common and ordinary city and as a result determine the destiny of every person who has ever lived seems stupid to the natural person.
Human wisdom cannot understand the cross. To the natural mind, it is offensive and unacceptable.
To the lost, the idea of trusting a suffering, bleeding man for salvation is moronic.
As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:21-24, “Since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
The Cross of Christ is the only means of salvation available to us. The atoning death of Jesus is the only way the righteous wrath of God at human sin can be appeased.
There is only one way for you to get to God and that is by the way of the cross. There is no salvation apart from faith in the work of Jesus on Calvary.
It’s a shocking and a foolish message, but it really is a simple message. When the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is proclaimed Biblically and not clouded by demands and details, it really is a simple message.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul gives us one of the most concise, yet Biblically sound proclamations of the Gospel. “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
One of the problems with the Church is that we have made the simplicity of the cross complicated by wrongly attaching too many conditions to salvation, but the Bible is clear when it tells us that the way to be saved is for the sinner to accept by faith what the Bible teaches about Jesus and His atoning death on the cross. Romans 10:9-10 says quite simply, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” That’s the simplicity of the Gospel. There is nothing in those verses about a works-based salvation.
Salvation is about you coming to Jesus by faith. It is not about turning over a new leaf or trying to be a better person. Salvation is about placing your faith in Jesus and Him alone for salvation, and nothing else.
One of the fruits of our salvation is growth in grace. By the power of the Spirit we are changed and fashioned into nicer people than we used to be, but that is because we are saved. We don’t become nicer people in order to be saved. Salvation is God’s plan and Jesus’ work. It has nothing to do with us.
The Bible tells us that there is no other way to cleanse sin, except through the sacrifice of an innocent one in the place of the guilty.
It began in the Garden of Eden, and can be traced all the way through the Old Testament, through the Tabernacle and the Temple where sin was atoned for by the blood of sheep, bulls and goats, but it was never taken away completely, until it reached its climax at Calvary where Jesus went to the cross and died for the sins of humanity. When He died, His death on the cross forever settled our sin debt. It is putting your faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross that brings you into the presence of God. Nothing else will do.
“History has only one main event. Mankind’s timeline is dotted with important moments; the first spark from the first flint, the rolling of the first wheel, the treating of the first wound. Who dares minimise these events, but who dares compare them with the Cross? History has only one main event. Scripture has only one main event. Others matter, but only one is essential. The story of Jericho might stir you but falling walls can’t redeem you. Moses will give you directions for the wilderness, but no solution for your sin. David’s defeat of Goliath might reduce your timidity, but only the Cross prepares you for eternity. Scripture has only one main event. Even in the life of Jesus there is only one main event, for if there is no Cross ofChrist then there is no truth toChrist and when it comes to your life, the same is true. To remove the Cross is to remove the hinge-pin from the door of hope - the door of your hope - for if there is no Cross, then there is no sacrifice for sin, and if there is no sacrifice for sin how will you face a sinless God? Will you cleanse your own sin? And if there is no Cross of Christ then there is no resurrection of Christ, and if there is no resurrection, how will you live again? Will you push back your own grave? Forgiveness of sin, deliverance from death - these are the claims of the Cross. Let there be no mistake: The Cross is not anevent in history. It is The Event of History.” (Max Lucado)
Homegroup Study Notes
Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
There are two contrasting concepts in this passage: human wisdom and foolishness.
Discuss the differences. How are they actually similar to each other?
Why are both wrong when it comes to trying to understand the wisdom of God?
Read 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
Why do you think Paul placed so much emphasis on proclaiming the Cross of Christ?
Are his words still important today? Why, or why not?
The Bible teaches that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
What does this mean?
Many non-believers struggle to understand the simplicity of the Gospel. Why is that?
How would you summarise the Gospel in one sentence?
(1 Corinthians 15:3-4 may help)
At the very heart of the Gospel is the fact that we have a need that we cannot provide for by ourselves.
How would you respond to those who say, “Christianity might work for you, but it’s not really for me?”