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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5; Resolved to Know One Thing

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20100110_1corinthians1_17-2_5.mp3

01/10/10 – Resolved to Know Christ Crucified

We’re ten days into 2010. Many of you have already blown your New Year’s resolutions. It’s a good time to consider What are you resolved about? What is essential, firm, unbendable? What are you passionate about? What will not change, no matter what?

re⋅solve [ri-zolv] verb, -solved, -solv⋅ing, noun –verb (used with object)

1. to come to a definite or earnest decision about; determine (to do something): I have resolved that I shall live to the full

What is Paul resolved about?

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Paul, when he came to Corinth to preach the gospel, he resolved to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Paul intentionally, strategically limited his presentation to Jesus Christ and him crucified. Now, 3 to 5 years later he reminds them of his approach and why he limited his message to this one thing.

First of all, this was not a new thing for the Apostle Paul. Resolving to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified was not an experiment he used only with the Corinthian church. He says of his preaching in Galatia “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Gal.3:1). To the Ephesians he says “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ …and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Eph.2:13, 16) To the Colossians he wrote about “…the Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. …through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col.1:14, 20). In 2:13-14 he says “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” In Pisidian Antioch, Paul preached “

…to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead. ..Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:26-30, 38-39).

In Thessalonika, Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ’” (Acts 17:2-3). In Paul’s defense before King Agrippa, he said

“I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23).

The core of Paul’s gospel message in Romans is

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25).

To Timothy he writes

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (1Tim.2:5-7).

Paul, who had been Saul, was a smart man. He was at the top of his class, schooled by Gamaliel, the leading rabbi of his day (Acts 22:3), outstanding both in skill and understanding, as well as in zeal for the truth. He was a man of influence and power; he had entered house after house in Jerusalem, dragging off the followers of Jesus and throwing them in prison. Not satisfied with that, he went to the High Priest and received authorization to attack the believers in Damascus as well. As we see from his letters, his mastery of the Old Testament and his ability to reason from the scriptures was unparalleled. His logic was rigorous. Paul could have won any argument with any person on any subject. As we see from the account in Acts, this man was virtually unstoppable in his courage and determination. Most of those who heard him either believed or resorted to violence to attempt to shut him up. And Paul says he decided, he determined, he resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Why would Paul self-impose such a severe handicap on his ministry? Why limit the possibilities for ministry so drastically? What would motivate him to limit some of his greatest God-given gifts of wisdom and rhetoric and persuasive power to only one subject?

To answer that, we have to look back to what was going on in Corinth, and to how Paul addressed it in this letter. First, there were divisions among the believers, competition over who was the greatest and who followed who. Everyone picked their favorite Christian teacher and argued over which one was better or smarter or more effective. Some followed Apollos, some followed Cephas (or Peter), some followed Paul, and some even sounded more spiritual than all the rest and said ‘I follow Christ’. It is into this pride-filled divisive atmosphere that Paul writes this letter. And Paul takes us back to his commission by Jesus Christ as reason for the single focus of his preaching.

1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Paul was sent by Christ to do one thing; to preach the gospel, to proclaim the good news. And that good news centers on Jesus Christ and him crucified. That was the message Paul was commissioned to preach. Everything he ever said or did was connected back to the cross as its source. All of his ministry flowed out of the good news of Christ crucified and the implications of the cross on all of life.

Notice Paul does not say that Christ sent him to share the gospel, or to discuss the gospel or to submit the gospel for consideration. Paul was to preach or proclaim the gospel. This is not just for pastors or preachers or Christian ministers. This is for every believer. We are called to announce or proclaim, to herald or declare. This is because in the gospel “God has taken action”; and we proclaim what he has done. “God is not not negotiating; he is both announcing and confronting” (Carson, Cross & Christian Ministry, p.37)

And Paul alerts us to a danger here. We need to watch not only the content of our proclamation, but the style of our gospel communication. Paul is afraid that by his preaching style he might empty the cross of its power. That is a terrifying thought. That I, in my presentation of the gospel could so empty the cross of power that it is completely useless and ineffective. Paul says that to preach the gospel with words of eloquent wisdom could empty the cross of its power. What could that possibly mean? Paul was speaking into a context where philosophical debates were the sport of the day and style was everything. Eloquent words would roll off the tongue like honey. Oratory was judged not by the content but by the presentation. Words were assembled with such style and rhythm that it was entertainment be in the audience and cheer for the performer regardless of the content. Paul sensed a danger that people would enjoy listening to the gospel without engaging the message of the gospel. So Paul devoted himself to clearly communicate the life-transforming message of Christ crucified.

Paul understood that the message of the cross divides humanity into two categories:

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The word of the cross distinguishes between those who are perishing and those who are being saved. To the one category it is foolishness, to the other it is the power of God. In Romans he said “I am not ashamed of the gospel” because some might feel that he ought to be ashamed of it “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom.1:16). In 2 Corinthians, Paul says:

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2Cor.2:15-16)

The cross divides all people absolutely, and this was by God’s good design. Paul continues by quoting Isaiah 29:14, which says that it is God’s purpose to destroy the wisdom of the self-proclaimed wise man through the preaching of the gospel.

19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

It was God’s wisdom that the world will not attain a true relationship with God through a pursuit of wisdom. Man’s wisdom delights to see himself as resourceful, self-sufficient, and in control. The gods we have discovered (or invented) by human wisdom are gods created in our own image, gods that are projections of our own pride, reachable through our own efforts, gods that we can please, or even manipulate to do what we wish, gods that fit into our self-centered system.

Human wisdom is offended by everything the cross stands for. The cross demonstrates that we are so bad that we deserve the death penalty, that we are so helpless that we can do nothing to remedy our situation, that God is so just that he must punish sin, that God is so merciful that he freely gave his own Son to bear the penalty of our sins and rescue us from inescapable doom, and God is so generous as to give us an eternity of enjoying his presence. The cross “makes humans look dependent and helpless and infantlike and makes God look all-sufficient and all-providing and free in giving salvation to sinners” (Piper, Pleasures of God, p.276)

21 … it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

The message, Christ crucified is by nature crass and offensive. The promised king is executed as a common criminal. The anointed one is under God’s curse. This is nonsense, madness, insanity, foolishness, a stumbling block. Yet Paul resolves to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

There is a clear purpose in God’s design of the ridiculous message of a crucified Messiah. Although we could not attain to a true knowledge of God through worldly wisdom, God chose to show his superior wisdom and power by calling out people from every nation to believe the word of the cross. God chose a method that seems foolish, weak, low and despised to save those who by grace will humbly acknowledge their sinful inability and desperate need. God chose this method to eliminate boasting. No one can claim to have attained to a knowledge of God. God “is the source of your life in Christ Jesus”. Any boasting must be boasting in the superior wisdom and strength of God to save all who trust that he forgives based on the price paid by Jesus on the cross.

“I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The cross is the wisdom and power of God for salvation. The word of the cross is the message of the good news to sinners that God has done everything necessary to secure for us righteousness and sanctification and redemption. We are counted righteous in Christ. We are set apart to enjoy his glory forever. We have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus. In Jesus Christ crucified we see the wisdom of God that destroys and shames the wisdom of the wise and brings to nothing those that think that they are something.

“I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” I’m good friends with the criminal that was just executed. This is the exact thing that caused Peter to deny knowing Jesus on the night of his trial. It is costly and dangerous and harmful to your reputation to be identified with a death-row criminal. Do we empty the cross of Christ of its power and seek to be thought well of by the perishing world?

Are we willing with Paul to resolve to know one thing, to know Jesus, to embrace the cross and all its implications that I am a guilty sinner in desperate need of God’s undeserved grace? Are we willing to center our lives on the message of God’s promised Messiah butchered like a sacrificial lamb in my place? Are we willing to risk being laughed at and considered foolish by the world? Are we willing to resolve to sound one note, to beat one drum, to arrange our lives around this one thing; knowing Jesus Christ, and him crucified? Are we resolved to proclaim unapologetically the one message that is life giving transformational power to all who humble themselves to embrace a crucified King?

1 Corinthians 2:1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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January 10, 2010 - Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , ,

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