To recap Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth in around the year 54AD while he was in Ephesus on his third missionary journey. Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaea. You will remember that the letter was written to this church because Paul had received reports that the church in Corinth was suffering under factionalism and placing great emphasis on the gifts certain members had over others. Others claimed superior knowledge and wisdom. While others were living immoral lives while still claiming membership of the church.
You will remember that those first 9 verses which we read in our fist week involved Paul setting out who the Corinthians were in the eyes of God, and emphasising that though their knowledge and gifts are wonderful things they are all from God. They enable us to see that we are called into a whole body of believers, that we are set apart – sanctified by God, that the spiritual gifts we have are from God, that our knowledge and abilities in the faith are from God. Those first 9 verses point us to the great truth that it is God at work in us that is what redeems us – that it is God’s grace – his unmerited, or unearned favour towards us that is what saves us. Above all it shows us that though we are fickle, that we often get caught in our own desires, or think we are the ones doing great things that it is in fact God and his faithfulness that enables us to do all things.
Having set the scene for his letter to the Corinthian Church by letting them know that it is God who is at work in them, and their salvation, their knowledge and their gifts are all from God, that they are all one body – Paul moved into discussing factionalism and division in the church.
Paul called the church to unity, to be of one mind. Now remember Paul mean when he says that we as the church should all be of one mind wasn’t calling us to blind faith or conformity – rather he was calling the church to focus on the core thing – the Gospel. He was also emphasising that what we do and how we behave matters and effects how we are able to promote the Gospel.
He also gave us that model of evangelism – that being straight forward and honest about the Gospel without embellishment and without compromise.
Now we begin our reading for this week.
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.
This is the key passage for the whole reading – Paul continues this theme for the next several verses – verses 18-25 are all dealing with the foolishness of the cross and how it stands against what the world would deem to be wise.
So what does he mean that the cross is foolishness? Well let me ask you some questions – if you are a Jewish person living in first century Israel, and longing for the arrival of the promised Messiah to free you from the oppressive Roman empire – would you accept the idea that a man who was brutally tortured and executed as a criminal was in fact that promised saving Messiah?
Or what if you are a citizen of the city of Corinth – you are living in a city only around 50 miles from Athens, in a culture that prides itself on its philosophical prowess and superior knowledge. Would the best way to convince you that Jesus was your saviour – the living son of God – to explain how he was arrested tortured and killed on a cross? Remembering that the cross was the ultimate symbol of shame – it was the death of the most despised in society – there was no greater shame than that…
No… It probably wouldn’t be the best place to start would it! But that is precisely what Paul did when he came to the church at Corinth.
One of the things that is often thrown at Christianity is that it is just so implausible – that it is ridiculous to believe that the God of the universe – the one created all that is – seen and unseen – this God, not only actually cares about us, but that he cares about us so much that he was willing to become one of us – live a life of service and love and then to give himself up to suffer a slow torturous death on a cross – the shameful death of a criminal. It is foolishness, isn’t it? It was foolishness 2000 years ago too.
But you see that’s kind of the point isn’t it? If Paul wanted to impress the people of Corinth when he came to convert them to this new religion, he would have waxed lyrical with much emphasis on all the wonderful things Jesus did during his life and he would have done everything he could to downplay the significance of the cross. But Paul wasn’t about impressing the Corinthians, or anyone else with his great knowledge of the scriptures or his wisdom. Paul went straight down the foolish route. He went straight to the cross and what it means.
Why? you might wonder…
Well let me break it down for you brothers and sisters – as much as the world would like us all to believe that the most important thing about Jesus was the way he showed love and care for those around him and the great things he taught us about how we should live, the truth is that the world is dead wrong. The most important thing Jesus did for us was going to that cross, as foolish and that may sound to us, it is that cross that is the key.
You see it is that cross where we are reconciled to God. It is at the cross where the consequences for our sins are dealt with. It is at the cross where God incarnate says – even though you may think it is foolish, here I show you my love, here I do what I must to bring us back together. It is at the cross that the bill we owe is paid.
You see when we sin, when we do that which is opposition to the will of God for us, it creates a real barrier between us and him. It creates a barrier between perfection and imperfection, and it is a barrier that we are not capable of crossing by ourselves.
The God of the universe couldn’t bear that we would be lost to him, and so he came to earth as one of us, so that on behalf of all of us, he could take upon himself those consequences. You see that is the truth about what the cross means – it means that God was willing to so lower himself that he would be willing to become one of us – he joined his nature to ours – one of his created creatures – so that he could redeem us, so that he could bridge the gap that we had created. So that he could take the consequence, and we could be united with him again. You see that is why he made us in the first place – to be in relationship with him.
By coming to earth as one of us, by going to that cross and by rising again God joined our nature to his, he took the consequence of our sin upon himself and bridged the gap between us and him so that we are redeemed, remade and restored to full relationship with him.
What seems even more foolish to many is that we don’t need to try and earn what God has done – he is offering this reconciliation as a free gift. All we are required to do is accept it – all we are required to do is to say yes Lord, I accept what you have already done for me.
Foolishness isn’t it… if you were going to make up a religion and have people try and follow it, this wouldn’t be the way to do it would it. I mean who would want to sign up for this… it goes against all the wisdom of the world – it goes against the worldly wisdom that anyone worth following is respectable and looked up to because Jesus died a shameful death as a criminal, it goes against the worldly wisdom that God is just some far off concept, because Jesus is God incarnate as a human being. It goes against the worldly wisdom that says vengeance is required for wrongdoing because God says I will take the punishment on your behalf.
The cross really is a stumbling block and foolishness for those who refuse to believe. Yet when we are willing to put aside what we think God should be like according to our own ‘wisdom’ and instead just open our hearts and minds to see what he really has done for us we see that what is foolishness to the world is in fact the very thing that saves us.
Let us be willing to embrace what God has done for us, let us be willing to give that incredible message to others, and share the Gospel. We don’t need to embellish it, we don’t need to add to it or take away. Just as it did when Paul preached it, if we just speak plainly, the Gospel will convict people and bring them to faith... Lets All be fools for the Gospel.
The Lord be with you.