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1 Corinthians 1:18-31 sermon

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In America there’s a ridge running up and down the Rocky Mountains – it’s called the Continental Divide.  Any water that falls on this ridge has to go one way or the other.  A raindrop may fall on this ridge and if it trickles to the west it ends up in the Pacific Ocean.  The next drop may fall on that very same place and trickle off to the east.  It will end up in the Atlantic Ocean.  Consecutive drops of water will fall on same ridge, but eventually thousands of miles will separate them.

That’s what the cross does to the whole human race.  We are all divided into only two camps heading to only two destinations.

Verse 18 speaks of two kinds of person: there are “those who are perishing”, and there are “those who are being saved.”  The whole human race divides into the perishing and the saved.  This room divides into the perishing and the saved.

Perishing is a word we use to describe food going off, just left to decay.  When the way of all things takes its course, the food perishes.  The bible says we’re like that.  This world is like that.

Keep the clock ticking and this world will run down and decay.  And you will run down and decay.  It’s the way of all flesh.

Think of a Christmas tree.  Fresh and green and smelling great.  But it’s chopped down, wrenched from its life source and taken away from its natural habitat.  The moment that tree was cut down it started perishing.  It still looks great on the outside.  All through Christmas it gets dressed up in beautiful decorations, brought into the warmth, surrounded by family and celebrations.  But it’s perishing.  It starts dropping needles, and turning a little brown.  Never mind, we hoover up the decay and keep celebrating.  But then at some point in January, we throw this dry, decaying, lifeless firewood onto the rubbish heap.

That’s us.  We began life in the Garden of Eden.  We were fresh and green and alive.  But we decided to go it alone.  We were cut off from our lifesource in the Lord and ever since we’ve been perishing.  Perishing!  And the clock is ticking.

Oh we can pretty ourselves up.  Like a Christmas tree, we can look nice and fancy, we can adorn ourselves with all sorts of good looks and good works – like decorations on a Christmas tree.  We can surround ourselves with family and celebrations, but we’re perishing.  We have no life in us.  And we’re destined for the rubbish heap.

But there’s another kind of human being.  Verse 18 says there are those being saved.  There are those lifted out of this perishing condition.  There are those who find rescue from the way of all flesh.

But those are the only options for the human race.  We are either saved or still perishing.

The world is not ultimately divided into rich and poor.  It’s not ultimately divided into East and West.  It’s not ultimately divided into left-wing, right-wing.  It’s not ultimately divided into black and white.  It’s not divided into religious-types and non-religious types.  And listen to me here, the world is not ultimately divided into good people and bad people.  That’s irrelevant in the end.  THE divide that splits the human race is this:  there are those who are perishing and there are those who find salvation.

Which are you?  I’m not asking whether you are religious, I assume you probably are, you’re in church.  That’s not the question.  I’m not asking whether you are a good person.  I’m asking whether you have found salvation.  If not, then this morning you are perishing.

You’re either saved or you’re perishing.  And the ultimate destinations of these two groups could not be more different.  Far more than the 3000 miles that separate the Atlantic and the Pacific – the destinations of these two groups are heaven and hell.

Well then, what makes the difference between the two?  What is the divide between perishing and salvation?  Look at verse 18 again, see if you can spot what makes the difference:

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.

Do you know what makes all the difference in the world?  A message.

A simple message passed on by word of mouth.  That’s what changes eternities.  And if that didn’t sound weak enough – it’s a message about the cross.

It’s a message that says this: Jesus Christ is the Lord of Glory – that’s what He’s called in chapter 2, verse 8.  He is the Lord of Glory, He was there in the beginning, the Craftsman of Creation, the One forever-loved by the Father, the Eternal Son of God – this Lord of Glory was strung up on a beam of wood, iron nails driven through His hands and feet, dissected on full view of the world.  And when His heart had given out they thrust up a spear under His rib cage to burst Him wide open.  The Lord of Glory accursed, godforsaken, butchered – and THIS is what saves a perishing world.

And perhaps you’re asking, How?  How does that save the world?

Well… here is the Lord taking responsibility for His world.  His world is perishing, so what does He do?  He takes what’s coming to us. He enters in, He sums it up, He stands at the Head of a perishing world, and a perishing people, and He takes what is coming to us.

We deserve to be accursed, we deserve to be godforsaken, we deserve to perish in the darkness but Christ died for us.  He took to Himself what was coming to us.  And He put it all to death.

The Lord of Glory perished and He perished for you.  To save you from that fate.

How do you react to the message of the cross?

Perhaps you’re sitting there and on some level you’re thinking: “How odd, how silly, how unnecessary, how foolish?  I don’t need Jesus to die for me.  I don’t want Jesus to die for me.”

But if you’re thinking that, it’s clear what side of the divide you’re on.  Look at verse 18:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.

If this message sounds foolish to you, you ARE perishing.  But if your eyes are open, you’ll look to the cross and say, v18: “that’s the power of God!”

So which is it?  When you look to “Christ crucified” do you see something weak and foolish.  Or is this, for you, the wisdom and power of God?

The whole world divides at this point.  And there’s no neutrality, no spiritual Switzerland.  I wonder what side you fall on.

Let me shift gears and ask you a question: What do you think would convince the world to believe in God.  What would convince the world to believe in God?

Last year I was writing to an atheist about this very question.  I asked him what would convince him to believe in God.  He said (and I quote) “Until god appears before me as a burning bush or I see his picture on the front of popular science magazines I will remain a non-believer.”

He wants a burning bush or a scientific proof.  I think that’s pretty representative, don’t you?  We want big miraculous encounters and/or we want logical, rational arguments.

To put it in the words of this passage, we want POWER or we want WISDOM.  And usually people have a preference.  There are some types who would prefer the POWER encounter – the burning bush.  And there are some types who would prefer the WISDOM path – the logical arguments.

Which are you?

Well in verse 22 Paul talks about two groups of people he ministered to – Jews and Greeks.  The Jews were the burning bush kind of people, the Greeks were the rational argument people.  Look at verse 22

22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,

Are you more like the Jews or more like the Greeks?  Well whichever you are, neither group gets what they want.  Look at v23:

23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

Here’s the image.  There are those looking up into the sky for miraculous signs and they trip over the cross.  They stumble over this weak looking cross and they despise it.

Then there are those looking down into books and test-tubes and calculators trying to figure out God and out of the corner of their eye they spot the cross, and they scoff.  How foolish, they think, and they despise it.

The power people think it’s weak.  The wisdom people think it’s foolish.

But in verse 24 there’s a true miracle that can happen.  Someone can look at the cross and say “My Lord and My God!”  In amidst this perishing world, someone can see the perishing LORD and say, “THERE is God’s power and wisdom.”  And whenever that happens another soul is saved.  Through the foolish message of the cross.  And perhaps that’s happening right now to some of you, as the message of the cross is preached…

…Let me ask you…  What would it look like for God to show up?  What would it look like for God to show up?

If you’re a POWER kind of person you’ll think of Thor hurling a lightning bolt.  You think of a God dishing out the punishments.  But on the cross is a God who takes the punishments.  What kind of power is that?

You know it’s one kind of power to be able to live above suffering, it’s another kind of power that chooses to enter in and to take that suffering.  You want to see real power, watch as the LORD of Glory takes responsibility for His handiwork, and wrenches His world back from the abyss, when He perishes in our place.  That’s real power, the power of God.

Or, think of a WISE god.  When you imagine a WISE God showing up, what would it look like?  Probably we think of some eternal mind.  Or we think of eloquent teaching that can be cross-stitched onto wall-hangings.

But on the cross is a very different kind of God.  Here is a God so wise He turns all our ideas upside down.  You thought of God as big, He came small.  You thought of God as Demanding, He came as Giver.  You thought of God as Master, He came as Servant.  You thought of God as Mighty, He came as Meek.  A meek Lamb – a sacrificial victim, bleeding for you.

Is that wise?  Is that powerful?  Well if you’re seeing things rightly you’ll confess along with verse 25, it’s the most wise, the most powerful:

25 this foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and this weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Christ crucified IS God’s power and wisdom.

Can you look to the cross and say that?  A Christian is someone who looks to Jesus and says “THERE is God’s power and wisdom.”

And church is a COMMUNITY of people who do the same.  Church is a community that worships at the foot of the cross.

But if that’s true.  Then what will our churches look like?

They will look extremely weak and foolish.  Read with me from v26:

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.

Jesus looked like a real loser didn’t He?  Executed as a criminal aged 33.  Just three years of public ministry then His people call for His blood and He’s dispatched.  He looked like a total loser to the world.  So what will His people look like?  I’m afraid there’s no way around this.  We’re going to look (v28) like “lowly”, “despisednobodies.  Lowly, despised, nobodies.

But God wants it that way.  A weak and foolish-looking cross, produces a weak and foolish-looking people.  And God’s got His reasons for doing it this way.

Remember back at school when team captains picked players for their football side?  It was always the best players chosen first and then me at the end.  But God chooses differently.  He’d be like the captain who says ‘Let’s have the Australian with two left feet.’  God’s like the captain who picks the fat kid, the cross-eyed nerd and the chronic asthmatic – all so that He can shame the team of all-stars.

Because the people who worship at the foot of the cross KNOW they’ve got nothing – and God wants it that way.  He chooses to have this kind of community.   So the world will know we are nothing.  Christ is our EVERYTHING.

That’s what church is – Church is a community of nobodies.  We are nobodies who can say to the world: “I am nothing.  Christ is my everything.”

And He’s my everything because of 5 wonderful words in verse 30.  Look down to verse 30 and see these words addressed to the believer:

you are in Christ Jesus.

What does that mean?  What does it mean to be IN Christ?

Well think of the Christmas tree – perishing, decaying, no life in it.  Jesus Christ comes into this world, fully connected to the true Lifesource in God.  He puts to death our perishing ways on the cross, and opens His arms to us to say – COME, Get grafted into me.  COME, share in MY life.  COME, be united to the true Lifesource again.  And those who trust Jesus are grafted in.  They become united to Jesus.  They are IN Him.

Or let me give another illustration of it.  Next month there’ll be a royal wedding.  And the commoner, Kate Middleton, will, in an instant, become royalty.  And on that day, if she had any debts, in an INSTANT they will be swallowed up in royal riches.  If she had any shame attached to her family name, in an INSTANT, her name would be covered by his.  She will instantly have royal power, royal privileges, royal connections, royal inheritance.  Because she will be united to the Prince.

And verse 30 says, believers are united to Christ.  That’s what it means to be IN Christ, we are united to Christ.

He is the Prince of Peace, standing with arms outstretched to the world.  Any who trust Him become UNITED to Him.  That’s what being IN Christ means.  It means having a marriage-like union to Jesus.  And all that’s ours becomes His.  All our debts, our sins, our shame, our perishing ways.  They all go to Him and He pays for them all on that cross.  And all His riches, His righteousness, His royal status, His inheritance comes to us.

He takes our debts, we get His riches.  He takes our sins, we get His righteousness.  In fact it’s better than that.  We don’t just get things from Jesus.  We’re not gold-diggers.  We get HIM.  And IN HIM we get everything that belongs to Him.  Verse 30 mentions three things in particular.  Look at the second half of verse 30:

[Jesus] has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Here are the riches we get from Jesus: righteousness, holiness and redemption.  What does that mean?

Well righteousness is the sense of being justified.  It’s being in the clear.  It’s being in the right before God and the world.  Friends – we need that desperately.  Don’t meet God without having the righteousness of Christ.  But if you’re IN Christ, you have His righteousness.  Which means you can walk tall.

Holiness:  It’s the sense of being consecrated.  Special.  Set apart.  Having a sacred purpose in this world.  Which means you can walk distinctly.

Redemption: Someone who is redeemed is someone who is liberated.  They’ve been freed from the junk that holds them back.  They’re not enslaved to their old foolish ways.  Which means you can walk free.

These are three cravings of the human heart: to walk tall, to walk distinctly, to walk free.  To be justified, to be special, to be liberated.  When we’re united to Jesus – like in a marriage – here’s what we have in Him: His righteousness, His holiness, His redemption.  It’s completely ours.  In fact Jesus Himself is completely ours.  And HE IS our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

In the words of v31 we stop boasting in ourselves.  We start boasting in Jesus.  We say, I am nothing. Christ is my everything.

Let me finish with the story of John Bunyan.

Do you know John Bunyan?  In 1678 he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, perhaps the second most read book in the world after the bible.

He had for many years gone to church but had never known Christ as his righteousness.  And so he laboured for years under his sins and never felt the freedom of Christ.  But then he remembered verse 30 from our passage.  Here he describes the moment in his own words:

“One day as I was passing into the field, and that too with some blemishes on my conscience, fearing lest all was not right, this sentence fell upon my soul: ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven.’ (He got that idea straight out of verse 30, as we’ll see)

And with the eyes of my soul I saw Jesus at the Father’s right hand. ‘There,’ I said, ‘is my righteousness!’ So that wherever I was or whatever I was doing, God could not say to me, ‘Where is your righteousness?’ For it is always right before him.

I saw that it is not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness IS Christ. Now my chains fell off indeed. My temptations fled away, and I lived sweetly at peace with God.

...Now Christ was all: my righteousness, holiness, redemption.”

That’s a direct quote from v30:  Christ IS my righteousness, holiness and redemption.  That realization changed Bunyan forever.

Christians let me just ask you – Do you realize that JESUS is your righteousness?  Do you realize that JESUS is your holiness?  Which means your righteousness and holiness is of a fairly high caliber.

Do you fret and frown and worry and work to establish your own righteousness?  Are you anxious about where you stand with God?  Do you know your standing before God??  Do you know how good it is?  It’s unimprovable.  You are IN Christ.  How much closer do you want to be?  You are IN Christ.  And HE is your righteousness, holiness and redemption.

I am nothing.  Jesus is my everything.

Can you say that about Jesus?  It’s the essence of the Christian life.  It’s the very heart of conversion.  It’s the secret of new life.  It’s the gateway of heaven.  It’s the motto of the Christian.  Can you say: I am nothing, Jesus is my everything?

Have you come to Christ?  Have you received His marriage like proposal?

I assure you, He is offered to you this morning to save you.  Jesus is offered to you to BE your salvation.  His arms are open for you.  They were nailed open for you.

How will you respond?  This morning you have heard the message of the cross.

What do you make of it?  Is it foolish and weak?  Or do you see in Christ the power and wisdom of God.  There might be some here who, for the very first time, have seen Christ as their Saviour.  And if that’s happened, you might just have crossed over from perishing to salvation.

I’m going to lead us in a prayer now, that just puts words to that realization.

Dear God,

I realize I’m perishing in my sins.
But I turn to Christ who died for me.
I receive Him now as Saviour and Lord.   Amen.

4 thoughts on “1 Corinthians 1:18-31 sermon

  1. woldeyesus

    The ultimate demo. of God's foolishness being wiser than human wisdom and God's weakness stronger than human strength is Christ's death on the cross complete with God's life-giving Spirit and man's useless power. (John 6: 62-64 in principle; Matt. 27: 50-56 in practice; Heb. 10: 19-26 in commentary)

  2. Pingback: Daily Inspirational - Crossways Ministries

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