First Corinthians 1:18-31
The Word Of The Cross

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. A silver cross stands on the roof of our church. A large cross is on the front of our sanctuary.  Nobody would think it strange.  But, what if it were a guillotine?  If a big guillotine were on our roof or the front of the sanctuary, I don't think anyone would come to this church.  The cross was originally an implement of the death penalty like the guillotine.  Thus, putting crosses on churches was originally very odd.  If seen from this perspective, it would truly be foolish.

2.  From the beginning the church has done what seems odd and foolish.  In pointing to a man crucified with other criminals, it has proclaimed that this very person is the messiah to save us.  Thus, the message of this cross was originally by nature a very difficult message to accept.  In the passage we read today it says this, "It is a stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles," (verse twenty-three).

3.  So, during that same time about then, a movement, whether consciously or not, had been taking place that sought to remove this word of the cross from the preached message.  It was also taking place at the church of Corinth.  They spoke of a personal awareness of God without Christ's cross.  They proclaimed a salvation that comes from special knowledge (gnosis) that brought them a crossless consciousness of God.  Some appeared claiming they were spiritual persons who have obtained perfect freedom, having attained this divine consciousness.  Some were attracted to this spiritual phenomenon and experience that was showing up there among them.  The stumbling block of the Christ of the cross was gone.

4.  But, Paul says, "The message of the cross is foolishness for those who are being destroyed, but it is the power of God for we who are being saved," (verse eighteen).  The message of the cross does indeed have to do with salvation or destruction.  Upon this matter I would like for us to carefully consider today.

The Person Who Knows The Word Of The Cross As The Power Of God

5.  To begin with, what does it mean that some will regard the way we are as being "foolish?"  If I put it another way, it might mean that they will think, "I'm not as foolish as [you]."  Of course, they might not say with their mouths that "I'm wise."  But, we often act thinking that "I am a person who understands many things.  My judgment is right."  And we even go to God with this wisdom of ours.  We behave before God as if our thoughts and decisions were superior.

6.  But are we really as smart as that?  Much rather, isn't the problem really that a not so wise person thinks he or she is wise?  God is against this kind of human arrogance.  Paul quotes the following words from Isaiah, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and make senseless the intelligence of the intelligent."  He also says, "Where are the wise?  Where is the learned?  Where are the controversialists of this world?  Has not God made the wisdom of the world into foolishness?," (verse twenty).  You could certainly say that the history of humankind has been a process in which the wisdom, of which humanity has been boasting before God, has been continuously exposed as having been so foolish.  And it is the same in individual human lives.  God has made the world's wisdom into foolishness.

7.  God doesn't think much of people knowing God with a wisdom that comes from within humans.  [He feels that way] even if it includes a very much religious garb.  Because in knowing God after such a fashion a person will never humble himself or herself no matter how high up he or she is.  In order for God to reveal himself, he, instead, set up the cross right in this passing world.  He put Christ on the cross.  In doing that, he lowered Christ down to a very low place.  In other words, God made it so that a person knows God at a low place and not on a high place upon which a person can work his or her way up to the top.  A person cannot understand the word of the cross as long as he or she is looking down from the top.  Since the word of the cross is at a low place one cannot understand it as long as one is not low.  Therefore, the word of the cross presses us for a decision of whether we will become humble before God or not.

8.  You might say that it has to do with whether or not we will admit our own sin.  The word of the cross states that he who was crucified had died for our sins.  Put another way, the word of the cross tells us that "You are a sinner who cannot be saved unless the son of God hangs on the cross and redeems your sin."  For those who think that "I am a righteous person" there is not a more difficult message to accept than this.  It is only the person who expresses his or her own sin at the cross who can accept this message.

9.  Please remember.  On both sides of Christ two criminals were stuck to crosses.  One spoke to Christ on the cross like this, "Aren't you the messiah?  Save yourself and us."  But, the other one rebuked him and said, "Don't you fear God, even while you are receiving the same penalty?  We deserve it because we are receiving the punishment for what we have done.  But, this person has not done anything bad."  Then he asks a favor of Jesus.  "Jesus, when you come into your kingdom, please remember me," (Luke 23:42).  One of them was up higher than Christ though he was being crucified just like Christ was.  The other one begged for mercy, being lower than Christ as a person admitting his own sin.  And it was only the latter who had heard the word of salvation.

10.  People seek for an obtainable salvation without becoming humble.  It says in the scriptures that "The Jews seek for a sign and the Greeks search for wisdom," (verse twenty-two).  If in seeing a sign and seeing miraculous proof one has faith, then there is no need to lower oneself and admit one's sins.  You can remain in a position of requiring signs and keep on regarding yourself as a righteous person.  Going to the extreme a person may ultimately say, "Aren't you the messiah?  Save yourself and us."  Thus they seek a path where there is no need to be humble.  Also, it's the same when one [tries to] comprehend God with knowledge and wisdom.  If a person can know God and obtain salvation by thinking or by special knowledge, then there wouldn't be any need to admit one's sin and to lower oneself.  You could keep on thinking you are wise and keep on seeing yourself as a righteous person.

11.  However, God rejects such a path.  "So, God decided to save those who believe by the foolish method of preaching," says Paul.  Thus, Paul proclaims Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  The church has similarly been proclaiming the crucified Christ and still is.  Because the only time a person can know the saving power of God or get to the point of praising the saving wisdom of God is when he or she becomes humble under the cross.

The Called

12.  The church should be defined as a community of called persons, who once [humbled themselves at the cross].  As the word of the cross was losing its ground, the church of Corinth was in a crisis of being separated from its original position the way it first was.  Therefore, the following message was addressed to the Corinthians, "Brothers, please remember when you were called," (verse twenty-six).  It is translated as "when you were called" but it doesn't just mean to turn back to a previous state.  This is a phrase that points to the totality of the truth that God has called them.  In short, it tells why they were there.  They had to remember that ["when you were called"] meant it [all] depended upon the gracious call of God.

13.  They were not called because they had wisdom or ability or good family heritage.  Because God dared to choose the unlearned, the powerless, the zeroes, the lowdown types, those who are looked down on.  As you should know, in all reality, those with knowledge or those with authority in this world have not all been little devils.  In the church at Corinth there was the likes of one Crispus, who was the leader of the Jewish synagogue.  However, people like [him] too have known their folly, powerlessness, and sinfulness and have responded to the call of God.  In that sense it has been the same with other powerless people.  And the Bible teaches that the reason God calls [the powerless] is so that no one will ever be high minded and boast before God.

14.  It is the same for us too.  We too are here having been called by God.  Possessed with folly and impotence we too are called by God.  Do you get mad saying Don't be stupid?  Or, do you feel a great happiness when someone like you is called?  But, generally speaking, that's what it means to be called.  When we forget this, the church starts getting controlled by a disgusting chosen people mentality and factional fighting comes into being based on powerful human relationships.  We must always put ourselves under the word of the cross.  Then as we are under the word of the cross we will sense our own calling.

15.  "Through God you were joined to Christ Jesus and Christ became the wisdom of God to us and he became righteousness, holiness, and redemption." (verse thirty).  The word of the cross is a message that ultimately makes us speak that way.  Christ became our righteousness.  Because of just the crucified Christ, we are forgiven of sin, justified, and are entered into a righteous relationship with God.  Christ became our holiness.  Because of just the crucified Christ, we can live as saints, that is as God's own, as persons who belong to God, as the people of God.  And Christ became our redemption.  Because of just the crucified Christ, we are saved from sin and from destruction.  For that reason Paul quotes from Jeremiah, saying, "Let the one who boasts boast of the Lord."  The word of the cross divests us of human boasting.  But, he makes us persons who live in a true boasting.  It is a boasting that nothing can steal away from us.  Because it is not a boasting we acquired through our own strength, but is a boasting we are called to and given.  Because the crucified Lord who became our righteousness, holiness, and redemption cannot be stolen away from us called ones.

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