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The Power and Message of the Cross (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
August 25, 2022 4:00 am

The Power and Message of the Cross (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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August 25, 2022 4:00 am

Most people agree that we live in a broken world—and there’s plenty of debate about how to fix it. But here’s the real question: Is there even a solution? On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg confirms that there is and explains what that means for us.



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Most people agree we live in a broken world. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explains what that solution means for us. 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? 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. For Jews demand signs, and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

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. 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. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.

Amen. Well, my text is essentially the eighteenth verse, and my topic is the power or the message of the cross. And I should say at the very outset, especially if somebody says, Well, why choose such a topic for this evening? Is it really necessary to come to an event like this, to a place like this, and address the matter of the centrality of the cross? Well, I should say that I have not arrived here to tell you something that you do not know, but rather that we would remind each other of that which we must never forget. In 1951, James Denny, who was a Scottish theologian, remarking at the beginning of that decade, the cross has less than its proper place in preaching and in theology. One can only wonder at what Denny would have to say if he were to reappear at this point, certainly in my native Scotland.

Three simple observations by way of introduction. First of all, the cross is rejected by other religions. Islam rejects the notion of a sin-bearing Savior. According to the Qur'an, each one shall reap the fruit of their own deeds, and therefore there is no place, there is no need for the cross.

And indeed, to the Muslim mind, it is unthinkable that a major prophet of God should come to such an ignominious end. Hinduism, while accepting the historicity of the death of Christ, rejects its saving significance. And humanism, in all of its forms in contemporary selfism, rejects the notion of the cross entirely. So the cross is rejected by other religions. The cross is marginalized by liberal scholarship. In liberal thinking throughout certainly the last hundred and fifty years, the essence of Christianity is the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is an exemplar. He's an ethicist.

He is in some places the leader of a liberation army. The incarnation is defined apart from its relationship to the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross. It's a kind of Harry Belafonte kind of Christianity, that man will live forevermore because of Christmas Day. But in actual fact, the incarnation without the atonement has nothing at all to say to us. So if it is rejected by religions, if it is marginalized by liberal scholarship, what will we say further? Well—and this is painful—the cross is in danger of being trivialized by the approach of much contemporary evangelicalism.

I say again, this is bitter. We should examine ourselves in this regard and recognize that the rehearsing of clichés and evangelical mantras should not be equated with a central emphasis on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ—an emphasis which declares its necessity, which establishes its meaning, and which does not shy away from its offense. The offense which is clearly stated by Paul in this section, the message of the cross, is foolishness to those who are perishing. But that is exactly what Paul preached. Somebody puts up their hand and immediately says, But of course, Alistair, we have moved a long way from those days.

Time has gone by. Wasn't Paul just able to do this? Because that's the kind of thing that people in Paul's day were happy to hear.

Actually, no. If he had chosen to respond to the expectations of his listeners, he would have spent the afternoon performing miracles, and then he would have had a crowd over to his tent later in the evening when they could sit around and discuss philosophy. It wasn't just that he chose not to give them what they wanted.

He continued to provide them with the one thing they didn't want. Now, what possible idea of church growth is this? That you set your style up to make sure that whatever it is that appeals to people, you've decided, I'm going to set that aside, and why don't I talk to them about something else? Why don't I give them this story of a crucified Christ?

Especially if I've got a number of Jewish people listening. Because it stumbles them. And of course, the Gentiles, they just thought it was absolutely ridiculous.

Why do such a thing? Well, in large measure, it falls on from where we have been earlier in terms of this great paradox, not only revealed as it is outlined there in 2 Corinthians 4, but also in this respect, that God's power is seen in weakness and his wisdom is revealed in the foolishness of what is preached. That the cross is actually not simply a central event of biblical theology, but the cross is actually the pivotal event of human history. Can you imagine going into the history faculty of one of the great universities here in Texas and saying, You know, I'd like to give a talk to the class. I'd like to explain to them that whatever their perspective of ancient history and ancient Rome and Greece and right through into the twenty-first century, I want to be able to explain to them that they will never understand history as it is taught them unless they have a Bible. And they will never understand the Bible unless they realize that the cross is at the very center of God's making himself known.

You see, all the way through the Bible, God does this, doesn't he? We're studying for Samuel at the moment, for Samuel 16 and 17. I'm struggling my way through it. If you doubt that, just go online and you can see how much I'm struggling. Or better still, for my wife, she'll tell you.

At least she told me on Sunday night I was struggling. There you have it. I mean, Samuel says, Well, Eliab, he's the big, strong, tall one. He's the obvious one.

No, he's not. We go through the whole seven brothers, and there's nobody there at all, till eventually the father says, Jesse says, Well, there's another—we do have another one, just that fellow, but I never even brought him up for the interview, because clearly, clearly, he's not the man. Oh yes, he is the man. Who would think that he would be the man? And who would think that the major problems of our world and the troubles of human life find their ultimate solution in the execution of an innocent man in AD 33 and in the preaching of that news about him to the nations of the world? Who actually believes that? Who believes it, you see? We do not expect people to believe it. We understand that their immediate response to it is to say, You know what? You are a major clown, and we don't know where you appeared from.

But the sooner you go back, the better. Because in actual fact, it is obvious to us that such a thing is folly. And yet everywhere Paul goes, he does the same thing. He's essentially got one string to his bow. He goes into the synagogues again and again, and he labors to show them that the Messiah had to suffer and die. Check it out, wherever he goes. And he goes in and he says, Now I want to show you from the Scriptures that the Messiah had to suffer and die. And then when he has done that, he then says, And this Jesus is that Messiah. This Jesus is that Christ. In other words, the Jesus of history is the Lord of glory. He was pointing out something that we need to point out in our preaching, and that is that we can tell people that Christ will come into their hearts and live, but first they need to know that he has come into the world, lived, and died, and rose again. And that historic foundation gives to us the platform upon which we are then able to encourage them in that way. Well, we had a little tour around Corinth there, didn't we? Thank you, brother.

Very, very good. Commercial center, lots of shops, and the Isthmian Games, and the sea, and the sailors, and everything that comes with it, and the temple of Aphrodite, with a focus on the pagan goddess of love. All of the excessive immorality of the place, so much so that it becomes a byword for sexual license in excess of every kind. And then, of course, there were all the bright boys and ladies that lived there with their high-sounding discourses and the ponderings of the intelligentsia. That was the whole framework. Similar to Athens, wasn't it? They spent their time doing nothing other than just talking about the latest ideas, Luke says of Athens.

Similar here. That's the context. And so it is into this significant, decadent city that this little converted Jew walks. And he says to them, I'm not going to talk about myself. I'm not going to try and impress you in the way I speak to you. Because if I were to do that, you might then just be fascinated by my ability, by my rhetoric, by my capacity with language, by the philosophical notions that I can promulgate for you.

But I'm not going to do that at all. I'm not here to build a crowd. No, I'm here just to tell you about the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, preaching the message in such a way that people would cease trusting in anything other than the work of God in Christ. We didn't read as far as verse 5 of chapter 2, but that's the point that he makes. He says, And the reason for my approach is straightforward, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. And where is the power of God displayed? In the weakness.

And where is the epitome of weakness? In this death of a Galilean carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth. Nothing looked less like a Messiah than that scene on the middle cross outside the city wall. Nobody would have walked up there and said, Oh, this must be the Messiah. No, they walked up there and said this couldn't possibly be the Messiah.

After all, the whole thing has come to a crashing halt in a Palestinian tomb. Now, the cross is not only a picture of weakness as revealed in Jesus himself, but he's actually prepared to say to them, you know, if you have a mirror—one of those things that we were hearing about earlier—if you have a mirror, you can prove what I'm telling you. Because think about yourselves. Think about yourselves. You're not really a particularly fantastic group of people. Not very nice to say, but I mean, it's true.

He said, you've got to make sure that you keep the consonants in this. He doesn't say, Not any. He says, Not many. Not many.

It's true. I mean, look at this choir. It's a very nice group. Still awake, most of them, as far as I can see.

That's the only reason I turn around, just to check. But I don't want to be unkind. This is a very nice church and a nice choir. But if you take the average choir on a Sunday and you look up there and you go, Look at these people. What a funny group of people.

Right? And they are representative of the larger group of people. And you say, We're going to turn the world upside down with this group? I mean, they can sing, but… And he says, And if you're feeling bad that I mentioned you, why don't I just mention me? Because I'm no great shakes myself, he said.

You know, whoever had picked him up at the donkey port or whatever and brought him home for tea, you know, while he was waiting for his evening meal, the wife said to her husband, who had picked him up, said, Well, what do you think? I mean, he hasn't done anything yet, but, Oh, he's a weird guy, man. He's got sweaty palms.

I don't know whether he's nervous or what it is, but we didn't have much of a conversation. I don't know if he's gonna be much good. Weakness! Weak group! Weak preacher!

Weak! The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing. They look at that, and they say, No, it's never gonna happen. Now, when we apply this, we have to say first what this means to the unbeliever. Why this message for the unbeliever?

Well, let me suggest a couple of things. First of all, because the message of the cross establishes the gravity of the human condition. The message of the cross establishes the gravity of sin. The story of humanity is the story of man's rebellion and man's alienation and man's brokenness.

And the death of Jesus and the picture that is then given to us in the Bible causes us to ponder and then to proclaim that it took the death of God's perfect Son to deal with my sinful life, with my alienation, and with my brokenness, and with my rebellion. Now, I'm pretty sure, but I haven't checked, because I'm not here. But I think if you let me loose tomorrow morning anywhere in your city, I can get agreement from just about anyone that I meet about one subject. And it is this—that our world is broken. That it is broken.

You can broach the subject in Starbucks, you can broach it on the airplane, anywhere you want to go. You will get general agreement that something has gone amazingly wrong. You get agreement on that when it comes to the issue of not simply dealing with the symptoms, but actually a diagnosis of the cause, then the opportunity for evangelism explosion is just kicking in at that point.

But the point I'm making is straightforward. People are prepared to acknowledge something is badly odd. If you saw At Eternity's Gate, the movie—actually, if you did, you're in a very small group—but it's a movie that was made about Van Gogh most recently called At Eternity's Gate. And part of that involves his interaction with Gauguin, who ended his life in a miserable situation down in the islands, and Gauguin, who was brought up as a Roman Catholic and catechized all through his life and painted and abused his circumstances in all kinds of ways, his largest painting is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. And he wrote on that painting, and he doesn't write on his paintings, and he wrote three questions up in the corner. Où venant nous? Qu'est-ce qu'on nous?

Où allon nous? Where do we come from? What are we?

And where are we going? And he didn't have an answer to the question. And the average millennial out in Texas tonight has no answer for that question either. They have no answer for the question. They have been raised believing that they exist as a result of time plus matter plus chance.

They are a collection of molecules held in suspension. There is no ultimate destiny towards which they are moving, therefore there is no arc that they're able to navigate through their lives, and they are at sea. And if the message that is then offered to them is a kind of watery substitute for the message of the cross, then we ought not be surprised that they just walk away from it. Because what we have to face up to is the fact of our rebellion against God, that no part of our lives is left intact—our emotions, our affections, our minds, our wills. The anti-God bias, which is part and parcel of our human existence, comes in at the level of our understanding and our intellect. And there is no intellectual road to God. The cross of Christ, Jesus' crucifixion, is central to Christian theology.

But more importantly, it's the pivotal event in all of human history. We're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life, and we'll hear more about the power and the message of the cross tomorrow. I hope you're enjoying our Encore 2022 series, a series of listener favorites. If you'd like to re-listen to any of these messages or share any of this teaching with a friend, you'll find the entire series at truthforlife.org.

Just use the search feature and key in Encore 2022. In fact, as you may be aware, thousands of Alistair's sermons can be listened to or downloaded or shared with others for free on the Truth for Life mobile app as well as on our website. The teaching library is free because Truth for Life is fully funded by generous donations that come to us from listeners like you and by the ongoing monthly support we receive from our truth partners. If you give regularly or have partnered with us as one of our truth partners, thank you. And if you've benefited from the generosity of others by downloading a teaching for free on our website or our mobile app, think about becoming a truth partner today.

It only takes a few minutes. You can sign up at truthforlife.org slash truth partner, or you can call us at 888-588-7884. One of the ways we show appreciation for and say thank you to our truth partners is by inviting you to request two books we offer each month. Today, we're recommending to you a book titled God is a devotional guide to the attributes of God. This is a devotional that will help you strengthen your relationship with God, as you discover what he reveals about himself in the Bible. Request your copy of the book God is when you sign up to become a monthly truth partner, or you can request the book with a one-time donation.

Visit us at truthforlife.org slash donate. While you're on our website, you can read articles drawn from Alistair's teaching. New articles are posted weekly. They cover a wide variety of topics. Just like Alistair's sermons, the articles are free to share.

You'll find the most recent articles at truthforlife.org slash articles. I'm Bob Lapine. Join us tomorrow for the conclusion of today's message. We'll find out why it's more important to teach what's true than to teach what's popular. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-06 01:13:39 / 2023-03-06 01:21:43 / 8

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