The Bible tells us that the message of the cross is actually foolishness to those who are perishing. So why would God give us a message to proclaim that the culture regards as foolish? Wouldn't it be more impressive if He used a band of angels to deliver the message instead of people like us? Alistair Begg explores the answers to these questions today on Truth for Life. Jews demand miraculous signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Amen. How can God pardon sinners without encouraging sin? How can God simultaneously show justice in punishment but mercy in pardoning? How can He turn His enemies into His friends and bind them to Him in eternal love?
How can He admit men and women into heaven without spoiling heaven's holiness? The answer to all of these questions is quite simply on account of the cross. And as foolish as it seems to those who are perishing, here the Apostle tells us in this wonderful opening chapter or two of 1 Corinthians that for those who are being saved by it, it becomes apparent that it is the very power of God. To preach the cross is to explain its necessity, its meaning, and its consequences in such a way that two things may happen. One that God's people may find themselves constantly glorying in it, and secondly that unconverted sinners may be humbled by it and brought to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And to preach the cross is to explain its necessity, meaning, and consequences for the express purpose that believers will glory in it and unbelievers will be humbled by it and brought to faith. Indeed, one of the benefits of these couple of days together on this most central subject is to enable us to ask the question, how central is the cross in my life, in my preaching, if I have the privilege of doing so, in our worship within our congregations, and in our witness as we seek to live in society. There is little doubt that there is a direct link between usefulness in the service of God and an emphasis on the central theme of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you read Christian biography at all, and especially if you like, as I do, to read the stories of preachers of the past, I think you will conclude along with me that it is right to see a correlation between a man's conviction concerning the preaching of the cross and that man's usefulness in the cause of Jesus Christ. I have three illustrations in my mind, two of which I want to share with you now, and one I'm going to save for the end. All of them come from my homeland. First of all, from the city of Glasgow. Glasgow was the second city of the British Empire, if you've read your history at all. It was strategic in the world of trade, and I am very grateful for the privilege of having been born there and growing up there. I'm also glad to have grown up in a city which has its motto, let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word and by the praising of God's name.
And I was born, as it were, within the framework of that city and underneath the orb of that banner. I also had the privilege from my earliest days, not recognizing it to be a privilege when I was a small boy, but seeing it in hindsight, of sitting under the proclamation of the word of God by all kinds of people whom God had raised up to exercise very effective ministries. And one of the places that I would be taken as a small boy was to St. George's Tron Parish Church, which is, of course, the location of the ministry of Eric Alexander, and prior to him, a man by the name of George B. Duncan, and prior to him, a man by the name of Tom Allen. I was born just about the end of Tom Allen's ministry, and nevertheless, the impact of his ministry extended for a good number of years. And therefore, it was intriguing for me to read a little of his own biographical data and to discover that he had already entered into theological studies when he was called away at the onset of the Second World War. And I quote him now.
He says, I was posted to France as an intelligence officer. And on Easter day, I heard an American GI sing the spiritual, were you there when they crucified my Lord? And on that day, Christ laid hold of my life.
I came back without any background to resume my interrupted studies for the ministry. It was liberal, modernistic, and yet I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the reality of Jesus Christ. And as he talks about the challenges of being involved in what was essentially a mission ministry in this great city of Glasgow at that time, in the 40s and early 50s, he tells of how, quotes, I was driven to two discoveries which transformed my ministry. The first was that the preaching of the cross is central. I discovered the meaning of the doctrine of the Atonement.
And secondly, I discovered the authority of the Word of God. And so it is no surprise to me that God honored and owned the ministry of Tom Allen. Because when he preached, he preached the cross of Christ, and he did so in confidence that the Spirit of God would do what the Spirit's role is to do when the Lord Jesus Christ is brought before the minds of men and women. Now you have a similar story by moving some 45 miles to the east of Scotland and to the city of Edinburgh, and to the congregation that was pastored by a man who was called Alexander White. Some of you will have his books on your shelves. He was a famous preacher in his day, not only in Scotland, but beyond there. And he was known as being almost something of a monomaniac. Because people said of Alexander White, all that he ever does is he talks about the cross, and he talks about salvation. And at the turn of the century, with the rise of German theological thought and the infiltration of that into the minds of men and women, Alexander White became aware of the fact that his emphasis on the cross of Christ was increasingly unpopular. And he found himself being tempted to muffle in his preaching the central note of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
He was taking vacation in the highlands of Scotland, and he records how he could almost remember the spot where, when he was out walking, he felt as though the voice of God spoke with clarity to his conscience. And again I quote him, the voice declared, no, go on and flinch not. Go back and boldly finish the work that has been given you to do. Speak out and fear not. Make them at any cost to see themselves in God's holy law as in a glass or in a mirror. Do that, for no one else would do it.
No one else would so risk his life and his reputation to do it, and you have not much of either left to risk. Go home and spend what is left of your life in your appointing task of showing my people their sin and their need of my salvation. And it absolutely galvanized into action Alexander White in the closing years of his ministry. If you have visited in the UK at all, you will perhaps have gone to see the grave of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and you will have stood there in awesome wonder as you look at the words from the hymn, there is a fountain filled with blood which are there on his tombstone. As Spurgeon requested, the stanza would read, ere sins by faith, I saw the stream, thy flowing wounds supply, redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
Now the emphasis of these men is not unique, and the reason I mention them is because they illustrate to us the fact that the recurring emphasis of the faithful will be the emphasis of that which the Bible gives us. And so it is that they were simply doing what Paul was doing in Corinth, declaring the mess of the cross, foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, the power of God. The city of Corinth was a strategic city. You can read of Paul arriving there from Athens recorded by Dr. Luke for us in Acts chapter 18.
And if you take time to rehearse the story, you will begin to put together what is a very striking picture. Corinth was a significant city and it was a decadent city. This population gave, by virtue of the very name of the city, a verb to the world which was an expression of licentiousness and immorality.
The people in Corinth seemed to spend all of their time in the wanton indulgence of their senses, searching out every avenue down which they might travel to discover the good life. They were at a strategic point in the world, that narrow neck of land, that isthmus was a center of trading. They didn't have the Olympic games, but they had the Isthmian games. They didn't have quite what Athens had, but they had significant stuff. There was architecture and there was art and it was impressive. It wasn't dissimilar to a city here in the North American context such as Chicago itself. And into that vast metropolis walks this converted little Jewish man. Because we know our Bible so well, there's something of the immediacy and striking dimension of it that we're tempted to overlook. Can you imagine walking in to a city that was as daunting then as it would be to walk into the city of Chicago without having any knowledge of a single person who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ?
And say to yourself, what am I going to do now? So it is that he walks in. He hooks up with a kindly couple called Priscilla and Aquila. They have an affinity with one another because of their background in tent making and so he begins to make a dollar or two during the week by making tents and then when it comes to the Sabbath he goes into the synagogue and he reasons in the synagogue trying to persuade the Jews and the Gentiles concerning the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And he keeps that up for some time. Then a couple of his buddies come down from Macedonia. They bring some cash which allows him to go full time. So he quits with a tent and he goes full time in this reasoning about the Lord Jesus Christ. He preaches the cross. They get really ticked off with him in the synagogue and they throw him out.
They abuse him verbally and physically. And so he moves next door to the House of Tishious Justice. And he sets up his operation there. And he's no sooner begun to do that than the head of the synagogue from next door, a chap by the name of Crispus, brings his wife and family over and starts coming to his services. And as a result of coming to his services, the head of the synagogue is converted and all of his family.
It's a wonderful story. And in the midst of all of that, God speaks to him in a vision by night and he says to him a number of things. Number one, he says, I don't want you to be afraid. Number two, I don't want you to be silent. Number three, I want you to know that I am with you.
And number four, I want you to know that I have many people in this city. And so Paul stays there for a year and a half doing the very same thing over and over and over again on every opportunity preaching the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now let me just say a word to all prospective church planters. Whatever else contemporary wisdom may tell us about strategies for planting the church, understand this, there is no planting of the church without the proclaiming of the cross. And it doesn't matter where we are and it doesn't matter what generation we're in, that will never change.
This slick methodology will never be able to fill the gap left by the absence of biblical theology. And the amazing unfolding truth is simply this, that as the apostle declares with boldness and humility the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and its saving significance, while men and women regard it as foolish and weak and impoverished, men and women's lives are being transformed by it as they discover that it is the very power of God. As you see in verse 25, for the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. And that was axiomatic in the thinking of Paul. It was his deep conviction in relationship to all that he did.
And indeed without such a conviction why in the world would anybody ever do what he did? Why would you ever start doing this? Why would you ever have only one string to your bow, as it were, and the one string is the proclaiming of a message which men and women in the contemporary culture regard as total foolishness and an expression of absolute weakness? Why would you ever proclaim that message? Because you must. Because there is no other message. Because it is the very power of God unto salvation. Now, it is on account of this deep-seated conviction that Paul proceeds as he does. And in order that his readers might be reminded of truths with which they would be able to find an immediate point of identification, he illustrates for them in two regards.
And I want just you to notice them at the end of chapter one and the beginning of chapter two. Listen, he says, remember how I declared to you this essential truth, that God's weakness is stronger than man's strength, that God's foolishness is wiser than man's wisdom. Number one, he says, think about it in terms of personnel. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.
Now, what he's asking them to reflect upon is this. Were you a bright bunch? Were you an influential bunch? Were you the masters of political machination? Were you possessed of significant clout? I said, okay, I've given you long enough to think about that.
And the answer to all of the above is no, no, no, no, no. No, he says, when you think about what you were, you realize that God was choosing lowly things and things that are despised to nullify the things that are, that God was choosing what was apparently poverty-stricken and foolish in order to establish the power and might of the wisdom of the cross. And as he would have looked out on the group that had began to gather at the house of Tishius Crispus, it would have been Mr. and Mrs. Levi and their spotty-faced little family.
And Paul would have looked out and said to himself, do I really believe that we're going to turn the world upside down with this motley crew? That is exactly how I feel when I look out on my own congregation. He said, well, that's not very nice. I'm not trying to be nice.
I'm trying to be honest. And they look at me and say, can this skinny little nitwit really do anything that is of significance or worth? And they're forced to conclude, absolutely not. So we all look at one another and we look at the concluding verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and we say, that's right, Paul. That does make the point very clearly. We are not particularly influential. We're not particularly noble.
We're not particularly astute. And therefore, if God is going to show himself strong and do so through us, it is going to be in such a way that we understand that the power comes from somewhere else. That's what he's saying later on when he says we have this treasure in old clay pots so that the transcendent power might be seen to belong to God and not to us. That is why, as an aside, I find it so frustrating to be on the constant receiving end of initiatives from people who want to reverse the principle of the closing verses of 1 Corinthians 1. And to tell me, you don't understand, pastor, it's only as we are mighty, it's only as we are powerful, it's only as we are influential, it is only on the strength of that that we're going to be able to save the world.
Well, of course, we are not supposed to be saving the world and we're certainly not supposed to be saving America. What we're supposed to be doing is declaring the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. He said, let me illustrate it, first of all, by reminding you of the personnel, sad absence of political muscle, apparently very little clout, and this is the group that God has chosen to use. You think about this building in the heart of the city here, amongst all these millions of people, Asian people, African people, empty people, and you worship here on the Lord's Day and you say to yourself, are we really going to make a difference? Struck by our own ineffectiveness, it turns us away.
It's supposed to. Now, the second point of illustration is in this matter of preaching. When I came to you, brothers, I didn't come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaim to you the testimony of God. It's very striking that he was actually preaching at all. That's the first thing to notice.
Why is it striking? Well, there was essentially, amongst the consumers of his day, an interest in two things. One fairly significant group were interested in signs and wonders, and another fairly strong group were interested in superior wisdom and eloquence. And there wasn't actually a group that was interested in the preaching of the cross.
So he looks out in the environment and he says, now, let me understand this. There's a group that is very interested in signs and wonders. There's another group that would like me to engage in oratory.
I'm not going to do either of those. You can't show yourself to be clever and Christ to be great simultaneously. And if I come in and impress you with my background, he says, if I dredge up all that has been part and parcel of my experience, if I come as it were wearing my credentials and my badges and my pins and my degrees and my encouragements, I will denude the cross of Christ of the very power that it contains.
It doesn't need dressed up. The cross of Christ needs no help. You don't have to be a special kind of person to placard the cross of Christ for the minds of contemporary men and women. And so he says, no, I left most of my baggage behind.
I left it there before I arrived. Just how central is the cross of Christ in your life, in your worship, in your witnessing? You're listening to Truth for Life, that is Alistair Begg affirming why the cross of Jesus Christ has to be proclaimed. In today's message, Alistair explained that to preach the cross is to explain its necessity, its meaning, and its consequences in such a way that two things might happen. One, God's people might find themselves constantly glorying in the cross. And then second, unconverted sinners may be humbled by it and brought to faith in the Jesus Christ.
This is how churches are built up. And this pretty much sums up our mission at Truth for Life. This is the work you support every time you donate to this ministry. And when you give, today we want to invite you to request a book we're offering called The Grumbler's Guide to Giving Thanks. This is a book that's loaded with practical suggestions to help you become more thankful and more aware of God's presence, whether or not you consider yourself a grumbler. Discover how grumblers can become more grateful, how the grouchy can find joy.
Request your copy of The Grumbler's Guide when you give a donation at truthforlife.org slash donate. Now, you may have heard me mention the deeper faith 2023 Mediterranean cruise. Alistair is going to be the guest speaker on board that cruise. That set sail on August 26, 2023.
These adventures tend to sell out quickly, so you'll want to start making plans today. Visit deeperfaithcruise.com to find out more. I'm Bob Lapine. Join us tomorrow to find out why it's imperative to preach the cross of Christ not only to unbelievers but to long-established believers as well. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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