18 For the message of the cross is foolishness 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; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For 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. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before Him. 30 It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Apparently an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show a few years ago was entitled, “Having Affairs With Married Men.”
A number of people who were having an affair were brought onto the show, and asked for their comments.
One lady responded very positively, saying that her relationship with a married man had been a long-standing affair, and she was very happy in it.
Then someone raised the question of morality, and she immediately took offence.
“Wait a minute,” she said. “I’m a Christian, but I want everyone to know that my personal life and my religion don’t interfere with one another.”
Then she went on to say, “I believe in a God who wants me to be happy. And if this man makes me happy, then God approves of the relationship.”
That’s an amazing statement, and I wonder how she justified it, because I’m pretty sure that she didn’t find it in the Bible which she claimed to believe in.
But that kind of thinking is not new at all. It has been around for a long time.
People have always wanted a God who will place His stamp of approval on their lifestyle, never requiring any changes to be made.
And they have come up with all kinds of euphemisms to make it sound all right.
So what used to be called ‘committing adultery’ is now rather quaintly called ‘having an affair’.
What used to be called ‘living in sin’, and what the Bible calls fornication, is now called ‘a meaningful relationship.’
What used to be called ‘self-indulgence’ is now called ‘self-fulfilment.’
And what used to be called murdering and butchering children is now called ‘the right to choose.’
In Matthew 23:27 Jesus confronted the Pharisees and Sadducees, and said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”
On the outside they appeared to be pious and prayerful and obedient to God. But inside they were rotten.
And people are still like that today. The lady on the Oprah Winfrey Show is just an example, and her attitude rather accurately describes what lies at the root of our sin problem: We want a God who doesn’t make us feel uncomfortable.
We prefer Him to not require any changes, but rather to place His stamp of approval on whatever way we want to live.
We don’t like a God who interferes with and disapproves of our choices.
So what we’ve done instead is taken God’s laws and we’ve twisted and manipulated them to suit ourselves.
And that seems to work for a while.
But sooner or later, we bump into an old rugged cross.
Sooner or later we will come to the point where the enormity of our sin will finally dawn on us.
And there we meet a God who says, “I don’t approve of the way you are living. I don’t like your sin – in fact, it repulses me. And what’s more, your sin is so repulsive, so evil, that it requires that I go to the cross and suffer and die for it, because that is the only way that you can fulfill the destiny I’ve planned for you – eternal life.”
Paul spoke about bumping into that old rugged cross, and in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24 he describes 3 types of people, and what the cross means to these people: “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.”
And we still have those three kinds of people in the world today.
The Jews looked at the cross and stumbled over it because they didn’t see the kind of Messiah they wanted.
Which is surprising, because they had been carefully picked by God. He had watched over and protected them down through the generations, and had prepared them to be the nation through whom the Messiah would come.
But when they saw the Messiah, they rejected Him and crucified Him.
John 1:11 says, “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.”
Paul tells us that the Jews stumbled over the cross because they were looking for miraculous signs.
They wanted a Messiah who would perform miracles for them.
The irony is that that was exactly what Jesus did.
He performed miraculous signs all the time.
He was giving sight to the blind. He was straightening the legs of the lame. He was cleansing the skin of lepers. He was ministering to them, reaching out to meet their needs.
But that went right over their heads because those weren’t the kinds of miracles that they wanted.
They wanted signs of power and success. They wanted a Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and re-establish the Jewish Kingdom.
If Jesus had marshalled an army, led them into battle and defeated the Romans, and shown them that He was successful and victorious, they would have marched behind Him.
But the cross got in the way.
You see, the cross doesn’t look like success or power.
Remember that crucifixion was a regular means of execution in those days, so there were crosses all over the place.
The Jews clearly understood what a cross stood for.
And a cross certainly didn’t stand for victory. It looks like weakness. It looks like failure. It looks like defeat. So they kept falling over it. It kept getting in the way.
But not only did they have a false concept of the Messiah - they also had a false understanding of salvation. They thought that the way to salvation was through their own righteousness. So they were busy keeping the Law.
But they weren’t keeping God’s Law. They just fooled everybody into thinking that they were.
They kept themselves busy by going through the motions - running to the synagogue at the appointed times and saying their prayers loudly so that all could hear.
They were giving their offerings in such a way that everybody was impressed with their generosity. They appeared to be pious and prayerful and generous.
As far as they were concerned, they didn’t need a Saviour. They didn’t need anybody to die on the cross for them. They thought the way to salvation was through their own righteousness which they carefully defined to their own liking. And as a result, they kept falling over the cross.
Secondly, Paul addresses the Greeks. Verse 22 of 1 Corinthians 1 says that the Greeks wanted wisdom, and wisdom was what they got.
They had produced men like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Great thinkers, whose works are still read today.
Socrates once said, “The secret to a successful society is education. If we can just give everybody a good education, then it must follow that the world will get better and better.”
Now that sounds familiar.
We bought into it then, and we still buy into it today.
Education will solve all our problems.
All we need is more education, and mankind will become better and better.
But we haven’t, have we?
I am certainly not opposed to education.
If it wasn’t for education, we’d still be living in caves, but we have been misled by what education can do for us.
The problem is that we can learn everything there is to learn, but we still have a fatal flaw. And that fatal flaw is sin.
In the 17th chapter of Acts we find Paul visiting Athens. The Athenians sat on Mar’s Hill, the Aeropagus.
They sat there all day, thinking their profound thoughts.
Then one day the Paul walked up there and started telling them about a God who was unknown to them. This God came to earth, walked among men, died on the cross, and rose again. But it was all foolishness to them.
Reason tells you that virgins don’t have babies.
Reason tells you that God who is spirit doesn’t become flesh.
Reason tells you that an almighty God will not allow puny men to nail Him to a cross.
Reason tells you that when a man dies he stays dead, and can’t come back to life.
None of that makes any sense, so the Greeks looked at the cross as foolishness.
The Greeks also had a different understanding of salvation.
The ancient Greeks believed that all souls are immortal. Therefore, when you die, you automatically go to be with the gods.
If your life was good enough, then you stayed with the gods. But if it wasn’t, then you were reincarnated into another body, and you get another chance. And you keep trying until you get it right.
That way everybody is finally saved. Nobody is lost. You keep being reincarnated until finally everybody is with the gods. That was what the Greeks believed.
They didn’t need a Saviour, because everybody was going to be saved anyway. So when it came to hearing about a cross, that was foolishness. “Why does anybody have to go to a cross and die? We’re all going to be saved.”
Does that sound familiar?
Not much has changed, because we hear the same thing today.
“Why do we need to be Christians if we’re all going to a better place when we die?”
That question is not new. It is as old as the ancient Greek philosophies.
Despite all our intelligence and our achievements, when it comes down to the most important things in life, we’ve learned nothing new.
We’re still sinning the same sins, still thinking the same false thoughts, and still stumbling over the same cross.
We’re still laughing at the wisdom of God, and treating it as foolishness.
Interestingly enough, Paul, the man who wrote the words we read from 1 Corinthians this morning tried both ways. Paul tried being a good Jew, even to the point of committing murder because he thought that was what he should be doing.
Yet, when he had kept all the rules and regulations, and tried to save himself through his own righteousness, he ended up empty inside.
So he tried scholarship. He sat at the feet of the finest teachers. And when he had learned all that he could squeeze into his mind, he was still empty inside.
In Philippians 3:4-8 he wrote, “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The dramatic change in Paul’s life was a direct result of him bumping into an old rugged cross and seeing Jesus for who He really is. He met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and his life was never the same again.
And this is the third kind of person…
Those who see in the cross the power and wisdom of God.
In the 7th chapter of Romans, Paul opens his heart to us. He tells us that he clearly understands what is right, and what is wrong.
Now that is an amazing statement to make, because the world still hasn’t figured that out. We’re trying to say that what used to be right is now wrong, and what used to be wrong is now right. When it comes to right and wrong, and morality and immorality, we are still re-inventing the wheel and creating all kinds of confusion as a result.
As the world’s standards change, so do the rules and regulations.
Paul though said, “I know what is right, and what is wrong.”
Then he went a step further. In Romans 7:14-20 he said, “The law is good, then. The trouble is not with the law but with me, because I am sold into slavery, with sin as my master. I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things. I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. But if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it.”
Then from the depths of his soul he cries out in verses 24 and 25, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
He answers his own question, because he has bumped into the old rugged cross, but instead of stumbling over it, he met Jesus there.
God accomplished what was impossible when He went to the cross and died for my sins.
He did for me what I couldn’t do for myself. I can’t explain it to you.
There is no way to do that. I just know that it is true, because I have been there. That is why I know it is true.
That is the invitation that Jesus gives to each one of us.
An invitation to stand by the cross, to see the one who suffered and died there, and to submit to the God who says, “I don’t like your sin. It is repulsive to me and is in conflict with my very nature. It breaks my heart, but I am prepared to forgive you. And to prove that I’m sincere, I’ll pay the price, if you’ll accept it. I’ll grant you my pardon. I’ll forgive you and love you for all eternity.”
Which of those three categories do you fit into?
Are you like the Jews, going through the motions, making all the right noises, and relying on ‘doing church’ to save you?
Or maybe you’re like the Greeks – maybe you think this is all a load of hogwash, and that the death of a peasant carpenter on the opposite end of the planet 2000 years ago is of absolutely no relevance to you. In fact, it’s foolishness.
Or are you in the third category? Have you looked at the cross and seen God’s power and wisdom?
If you haven’t done so already, one day you’ll bump into that old rugged cross, and then you’ll have to make a decision:
Is it foolishness?
Or is it true?
Your eternal destiny hinges on your decision. Life is full of important choices, but the greatest decision you will ever make is how you choose to answer the question Jesus asked His disciples in Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9: “What about you? Who do you say I am?”
The choice is yours.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
What do you think Paul means in verses 23 and 24?
We heard on Sunday of the 3 different reactions to the ‘Old Rugged Cross’:
The Jews caught up in legalism, the Greeks who see the Cross as foolishness, and those who have met Jesus at the Cross.
Which person best describes you:
God has given us an intellect, and the world teaches us to be critical thinkers (it is after all, the basis of our education).
This however often makes it harder to accept the truth that the Bible proclaims by faith.
What have been (or are) your struggles in this area
What was it that caused you to bump into the Old Rugged Cross? Share with your group how Jesus has opened your eyes to the truth and the real message of the Cross of Calvary.
Close by praying that the Lord would continue to reveal His wisdom and power to you.