This sermon was originally given at the Federated Covenant Church in Dowagiac, MI on Friday, April 19, 2019 at the Community Good Friday Worship Service sponsored by the ACTION Ministry Center.
The Foolishness of the Cross
1 Corinthians 1: 18 – 25
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Paul is drawing a sharp contrast between the “wisdom of words” and “the Word of the cross.” The world’s wisdom includes many words, that is, many ways to find the truth and meaning to life. But the Word of the cross is the only way to the truth and meaning of life. For the present, the point is to show that the men of the world who do not come to God through the cross of Christ are in a state of perishing; that the lost do not like the message of the cross, that is, the message that man is saved through a crucified Redeemer. They count the message as foolishness, and finally, that the lost do not like the simple way the message is proclaimed.
By contrast the preaching of the cross is the power of God to those who are saved. No other message on earth can reconcile men to God and put them under His daily care; can give men the perfect assurance of God’s daily love and care and of living eternally with God. No other message has changed lives like the message of the cross of Christ. No other message has revolutionized societies and communities and families like the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ is the power of God to save men.
I invite you to take a walk with me through the gospel accounts of the Cross of Jesus Christ as we examine The Foolishness of the Cross in the gospel accounts. What I am sharing with you tonight are things that I have personally been told by those who do not believe in Jesus Christ and the power of the cross. As we journey, we will also see the Power of God for those who are being saved. And lest we get to excited, we will be reminded that it’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!
1). Foolishness #1: The Empty Cross is a symbol of death and shame.
Our first stop on our journey is the hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. The sixteen-foot climb to the top of the hill brings us to a place known for one thing…death. Many believe this hill to be shaped like a skull and thus the name Place of the Skull; others say it was named so because there were so many skulls found in this place from the many crucifixions. It was a rugged place which stirred thoughts of death, of corruptible and decaying flesh. It was a terrible place to die. Even the very place where Christ was crucified symbolized death itself. Every act seemed to point to His dying for the deliverance of man. Here upon Golgotha was the picture or thought of death, and here upon Golgotha He was to die to deliver all men from the bondage of death.
Matthew provides the details of the shame and humiliation associated with the crucifixion of Christ. Christ was humiliated and made a spectacle in order to save us. Christ was stripped naked and shamedand made to appear ridiculousby being clad with a royal robe. A mock crown was made out of some limbs from a thorn bush and jammed upon His head. The thorns pierced through the skin of His brow and under His hair. Blood streamed down his head and face. A mock scepter was made out of the weak, limber reed and thrust into His hand. They ridiculed His claim to be king by jokinglybowing the knee before Him and mockingly shouting, “Hail, King of the Jews.” They scorned Him as a sham king. It was the custom for subjects to kiss their rulers as a sign of homage and allegiance. The soldiers gave the Lord a mock allegiance by spitefully spitting in His face.
Power of God #1: The Word of the Cross brought victory through His suffering and shame.
The writer of Hebrews, in chapter 12, encourages us “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The phrase author and perfecter carries with it the sense of being a pioneer; Jesus went before His people, opening the way, going where no one had gone before. In John chapter 11 Jesus and the disciples are preparing to eat the Passover Meal, following the meal Jesus sands and removes His outer clothing and wraps a towel around His waist. It is the custom of the day to provide a servant to wash the feet of your guest. However, this time, there is no servant. Jesus is preparing to go before His people once again, this time opening the way to servant leadership. No king would ever stoop to wash the feet of His subjects! This is a task that all of the disciples expected to be done for them but none of them were prepared to do it themselves. And now Jesus goes to the tomb to once again go before His people, opening the way once again for His people.
The cross meant to shame and humiliate the Son of God is our victory!
It’s Friday but Sunday is coming!
2). Foolishness #2: The Empty Cross does not prove Jesus is the Son of God.
As Jesus reaches the place of His execution, He is met with more abuse, humiliation and shame. IFthis is the King of the Jews, why does He not save Himself? IFthis is the Son of God, why does His Father send angels to protect and save Him? They crucify Jesus on the hill known as Golgotha. The crucifixion itself was the most horrible of deaths. The ancient writer, Tacitus, called it “a despicable death.” Cicero called it “the most cruel and horrifying death.” He simply said it was “incapable of description.” There was the pain of the driven spikes forced through the flesh of His hands and feet or ankles. There was the weight of His body jolting and pulling against the spikes as the cross was lifted and rocked into place.
There was the scorching sun and the unquenchable thirst gnawing away at His dry mouth and throat. There was the blood oozing from His scourged back, His thorn crowned brow, His feet, and His stick beaten head. In addition, just imagine the aggravation of flies, gnats, and other insects. There was also the piercing of the spear thrust into His side. On and on the sufferings could be described. There has never been a more cruel form of execution than crucifixion upon a cross. They added shame and reproach by crucifying Christ between two thieves.
Perhaps this was a day set aside for execution. Or perhaps the Jewish leaders pressed Pilate to execute Jesus with other criminals. Such would add weight to their position that He was no more than a mere man, an imposter who deserved to die just as other criminals. Whatever the reason, the fact that the Son of God was executed right along with other criminals added to the shame and reproach He bore. Again, this event had been prophesied. The average persons and the passers-by mocked and abused Christ. There were a large number of passers-by. Golgotha was close to the city, sitting on a hill that was probably close to a main road and a large gate leading into the city.
First, only Christ was mocked and abused; the two criminals were not. No abuse was heaped upon them. The murderers of the Lord were not satisfied with His death; they were filled with enmity and a bitterness that sought revenge and humiliation. Therefore, they sowed the seeds of enmity and mockery among those who passed by, and they too were caught up in the excitement of the sin and shame of the evil crowd.
Second, the passers-by saw Christ hanging there, believing He had claimed to be a King. Being spurred on by His accusers, they reviled Him. They also wagged their heads at Him. This was a gesture of that day which showed insult, contempt, and mockery.The passers-by mocked Christ for two things: His claim to have the power to destroy and rebuild the temple, and His claim to be the Son of God. Note that the crowd used the very same words that the devil had tempted Jesus with at the beginning of His ministry: “If you are the Son of God.”
Power of God #2: The Word of the Cross has power over life and death.
For those who are being saved there are ample examples throughout the gospels of the power Jesus holds over life and death. In John chapter 11 we find Jesus facing His enemy, death and the grave. He goes where no one has gone before; with a mighty cry He calls Lazarus from the tomb. Notice that Jesus has those around the tomb remove the stone. Certainly, the Creator could move any stone He chooses, but Jesus wanted those around the tomb to know and understand that He alone has the power over life, death and the grave. Matthew describes the darkness that came over the earth from the sixth hour till the ninth hour. During this time the gospels of Mark and Luke tell us there was an earthquake and the temple veil was torn from top to bottom.
All of creation cries out as the Creator of heaven and earth hangs on a cross between that which He created. Not only this this darkness a natural event, it also represents the spiritual darkness of the day. The religious elite take part in the shaming and humiliation of the Son of God. They challenge Him as the Son of God, the One who would destroy the temple and restore it in three days to come down of the cross. The centurion in place to guard Jesus as He dies on the cross becomes frightened during these events and confesses, “Truly’ this was the Son of God.”
It’s Friday but Sunday is coming!
3). Foolishness #3: The Empty Cross has changed nothing!
John account of the gospel tells us that Joseph of Arimathea went and asked permission to take the body of Jesus to bury Him. There is nothing, absolutely nothing unusual about this. His body had to be removed, He had to be buried. We all know that these things happened as God had planned them, but for those watching these events it was the normal and natural way to the end of an excruciating death. Luke tells us that the crowd who had gathered to observe the execution, began to return home, beating their breasts. Even Pilate wonders to himself if Jesus has died yet and sends for a centurion to question him about the death of Jesus. Nothing seems to have changed for those in the crowd or those in the household of Pilate. We also learn that the Sabbath was observed as it normally would have been. Nothing seems to have changed.
The sun comes up to begin a new day. The women return to the tomb to complete the burial process which had been done hastily. I can imagine that life in Jerusalem was returning to normal now that the Passover and Sabbath were complete. Fishermen returning to their boats, farmers returning to their fields, tax collectors beginning their money grab, the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees begin another day as the religious leaders of Israel. All in all, another normal day in the lives of people in Jerusalem.
Power of God #3: The Word of the Cross changed the relationship between a Holy God and unholy people.
As darkness fell over the land while Jesus hung on the cross, we read that the temple veil was torn in two, from top to bottom. In that moment EVERYTHING changed. God moved out of the temple built by hands to move into the only temple He ever truly wanted to live in, the hearts of His people. The vision John has in the first chapter of Revelation is the vision of Jesus as our High Priest as described in detail in the book of Hebrews. He forever stands as the intermediary between a holy God and fallen humanity.
We have been given access to the very throne room of God Almighty. No longer do we need to make sacrifice for our sins on a daily basis. No longer to we need to fear death or the grave. No longer are we held captive to sin. Now we come to the Father through faith in the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
It’s Friday but Sunday is coming!
The world’s wisdom includes many words, that is, many ways to find the truth and meaning to life. But the Word of the cross is the only way to the truth and meaning of life. John begins his gospel account by introducing us to the Word – Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is indeed God. Jesus Christ was the Word at creation; He was the Word at the Incarnation when He became flesh and lived among those He created. Jesus Christ was the Word at the Transfiguration when He opened His humanity just enough to allow His glory to peak through; He was the Word that became the Passover Lamb; He was the Word who carried His own cross. Jesus Christ was the Word as He hung between the heaven and earth He created; He was the Word who uttered “Into Your hands I commit My spirit.” He was the Word who lay in the tomb as the cross stood empty.
Tonight’s service has been designed to be a contemplative experience. It has been the desire that each of you would be able to reflect deeply on the cross and the significance of this weekend. The music, the Scripture, the message have all been designed to enter us into a time of personal reflection and application on this day, Good Friday and to keep you focused on the cross until Sunday. In just a moment Jeff is going to come and close our time together in prayer. We would like for you to remain in silent reflection as you leave tonight. And to help you remain focused on the cross, our ushers will release you by row. As you come out the usher will have a basket with a take-away gift for you tonight, a small cross that will easily fit into the palm of your hand and small enough to be carried in your pocket. As you leave keep this cross in your hand until you have reached your vehicle. Allow the Holy Spirit to bring to mind those things that of this service that have touched you the most. Ponder them throughout the weekend and remember…It’s Friday but Sunday is coming!
To the glory of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.