Clayton Fopp teaches from the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthian Christians. This is the first in our short "Each ... All .. Every" teaching series from 1 Corinthians.

 

1 Corinthians 1:18 – 25

How God Saves People

 

How does God save people?

 

At the end of November last year, many of us committed to praying for friends, family, neighbours, who don’t know Jesus, And we wrote their names down on our “5 Friends 5 Ways” cards.

We didn’t do that because writing someone’s name down on a post card gets them saved or anything like that,

But we figured anything we can do, to help give each person, in all the Mount Barker region, every opportunity to respond to Jesus, was probably worth a try, especially starting with people we know and love, who we long will come to trust in Jesus for forgiveness and relationship.

But how does that happen?

How does someone get saved?

How is someone’s life of rebellion against God, forgiven?

If sin is pushing God to the edge of life, as the Bible tells us,

Throwing off God’s pattern for life,

And trying to carve out our existence apart from God,

If our friends and family have spent their whole lives trying to keep their distance from God, then how do they come to God?

 

We’re convinced that it’s God who saves them, God who acts for forgiveness as we saw last week in Psalm 25,

If it wasn’t Godwho saved people, there’d be no point praying.

We pray for those people whose names we’ve written on 5 Friends 5 Ways cards, because we’re convinced that saving people, forgiving people, is God’s work,

But how does he go about it?

 

How does someone who’s spent their life running from God, find themselves drawn into relationship with the God they’ve been rejecting?

 

Well in this first letter to the Christians in Corinth, the Apostle Paul, one of the leaders of the early church explains that the way God draws rebellious sinners to himself, is not what we might expect,

Certainly not what the wise and religious thinkers of his day expected.

 

See how Paul opens this section in verse 18?

He’s just been speaking about how the risen Lord Jesus commissioned him with a message to preach, and he says, 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. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.

The message of the cross”!

Now, you couldn’t find something less civilised, less sophisticated in the first century AD, than to talk about a cross.

 

It was a word you didn’t even mentionpolite conversation.  I won’t get you to imagine the rudest word you know, and I’m sorry if you just did!  But the offence that would be caused if you spoke that word, other people’s response to you,

That’s what would happen if in Paul’s day, you casually dropped the word cross into a conversation.

The Roman Empire didn’t even crucify their own citizens,that’s how bad they thought it was, except in extreme circumstances, and even then, only with the Emperor’s express personal permission.

The statesman and philosopher Cicero said The very word “cross” should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears

If you talked about someone who had been crucified, you would have got the same kind of response from people, as if today you said that you’ve got Hitler’s photo stuck on your fridge.

 

And yet what does Apostle Paul do in this opening chapter of his letter to the Corinthians?

He talks about the cross of Christ,

He talks on and on about the cross of Christ,

He talks about the fact, that all he talks about, is the cross of Christ.

 

The message of cross – foolishness or power?  (v 18 – 25)

 

Is the message of the cross Jesus who died for our rebellion against God, foolishness, or is it something else?

Where does the message of Jesus, suffering and crucified, fit within our desire to give each person in all the Mount Barker region, every opportunity to respond to him?

 

Is this one of the bits they need to respond to?

Or should we talk more about other aspects of Jesus’ life?

His miracles, his great teaching,

And just leave the cross, the account of a crucified king,. leave that bit to the side.

What does a message about a crucified saviour offer, that our friends and family can’t find anywhere else, in any other message,

Or religion,

Or philosophy,

Or experience?

There’s really no middle ground.  To some people, the message of the cross of Christ is foolishness.

But in reality, the message of Jesus crucified is the power of God,

It’s the way that God has chosen to save people.

 

So to answer our question, “How does God save people who are rebelling against him?”, we’ll jump back and forth a bit between Paul’s statement in verse 18, and his explanation and illustration in the verses that follow.

 

What is the “message of the cross”?

 

First of all, let’s get our definitions right.

One of the great philosophers of our age once said, “Sometimes it's not enough to know what things mean, sometimes you have to know what things don't mean.” That great philosopher, of course, was Bob Dylan, but he was right!

 

So what does Paul mean when he says the message of the cross is how God saves people?

And what doesn’t he mean?

Well he doesn’t mean that he speaks of the death of Jesus, in isolation from the life and ministry of Jesus.

Drop down to 2 verse 2.  I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified

Now, he doesn’t mean, “I never talk about the resurrection, just Jesus’ death.”

He’s not saying, “I never tell people that Jesus is the fulfilment of all of God’s promises in the Old Testament.”

We know that he did tell people that.

 

He doesn’t mean, “If you want to see your friends come to know Jesus, never speak to them of the good things God gives us, or all the wonderful things God has done for you.”

The message of the crossis really just a synonym for “the gospel”, the good news of Jesus.  But Paul uses this term, because he wants to highlight that the death of Jesus on the cross is the core of the gospel.

 

The message of the cross shows the world to be divided in two

 

So, let’s see what he says about it.

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.

 

I saw someone wearing a T-shirt recently, it said on the front “There are 2 types of people in the world, those who can extrapolate from incomplete data,”

Well, Paul, in his former life, had seen the world divided into 2 types of people;

The world was made up of Jews, and non-Jews, Gentiles. 

And thanks to Alexander the Great, the Greeks were the leading example of people who weren’t Jewish, hence the comparison between Jews and Greeks that we find here, in verse 24 for example.

 

Of course there were other divisions that people saw in the world,

Slaves, and free,

Men, and women,

Civilised, barbarian,

And it’s pretty easy for us to start viewing people in those kinds of categories, isn’t it?

White, non-white,

Rich, poor

Working class, middle class.

Hills-dwellers, plains-dwellers!,

Australian, everyone else!

 

And we don’t want to pretend that everyone is identical, that would be pretty boring!

But those divisions are just made up, aren’t they?!

Just because someone lives in the Hills, they’re not automatically more like you than someone who happens to live in China!

But that T-shirt was right, there are 2 types of people in the world.

And here is the one distinction that matters;

The world is made up of, those who are perishing

And those who are being saved.

 

Paul had learnt that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Jew or a Gentile, you’ll fit into one or the other of these 2 categories.

You can be rich, and be perishing, or rich, and being saved,

You can be regular at church, and be perishing, be regular at church, and being saved.

I’m sure you’ve seen the ads for DNA testing, “trace your family tree and all that”. The promise in the marketing is that you will find out who you really are. “Find your true identity” they say.

Well the true identity of every single person who’s ever lived, which of those 2 groups they’re a part of, is demonstrated by their response to the message of the cross.

It would be hard to find anything less popular, or more controversial today, than to say that people are perishing, and yet that’s what the Scriptures tell us.

 

People who reject the message of the cross,

Who oppose the cross as God’s means of reconciliation with us are present tense, perishing.

It is an action that is in the process of occurring. 

As people, in Paul’s day, as today, turn their backs on the message of the cross of Christ, they’re turning their backs on the means of salvation and rescue that God’s offering, and so they set themselves on a path to eternal death, and to separation from God and his blessing forever.

Why are we longing to give, each person, in all the Mount Barker region, not just one opportunity, but every opportunity to respond to Jesus?

Why are we committed to not resting, if there’s one more thing we can do, to present the good news of Jesus to those we live and work with?

 

Because of the terrible cost of rejecting the gospel of Jesus.

Because people in our region will perish eternally, if they are apart from God.

To reject the message of the cross, is to reject the only means of reconciliation with God that is available to us.

 

There’s a story about a pastor who’s caught in a flood, and he goes up on the roof of his house, as the floodwaters rise, but he’s absolutely confident that God will save him,

And after while, some kids paddle past in a canoe, and they say, “Hey mister, climb in, we’ll rescue you”

And the pastor says, “No, it’s OK, God will save me!”

The floodwaters keep rising, and a while later, the police come past in a boat, “You sir, climb aboard, we’ll save you.”

And the pastor says, “No, thank you, I’ll wait here, God will save me!”

The waters rise, he’s perched right on top of the chimney now, water lapping at his feet, and a helicopter arrives overhead. The rescue guy comes down on a rope, but the pastor waves him off, “Don’t worry about me!  God will save me!”  And he refuses to clip into the harness.

Finally the floodwaters rise, and the pastor drowns.  He gets to heaven and he says to God, “Why didn’t you save me?”

And you can see exactly where this is going, can’t you?

God says, “I sent you a canoe, a rescue boat, and a helicopter, what more did you want?”

 

If people reject the means of reconciliation and forgiveness, the means of rescue, that God offers,

There is no other alternative.

There is no other way to be saved.

To reject the message of the cross, is to cut yourself off from God.

That’s why we want to give every opportunity, for people in our region to respond to Jesus,

We want to call on them to consider the message of the cross, and to respond to it.

And to call on them again and again to consider the message of the cross and respond to it.

 

And like I said, it’s considered incredibly harsh, to speak of people perishing, apart from God.

People will hate you for saying that. 

Verse 23, that message is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles

And yet the message of cross is the story of the extraordinary lengths that God went to, in order for us to come to him,

And if we reject that, that same questions stands,“What more could you possibly want?”

When you reject the unimaginably gracious rescue offer, what more could you ask God to have done?

 

The message of the cross tells us God saves people because we can’t save ourselves

 

And so the message of the cross teaches us that God saves people from sin and rebellion, because we can’t do anything about that problem ourselves.

 

Back in March there was an article in the medical journal, Translational Research in Anatomy, about surgeons who have performed surgery on themselves. As you might expect, it doesn’t happen very often, it’s generally in extreme cases, like in the middle of Antarctic expeditions, and it has always tended to be relatively minor procedures, cutting off skin tumours, and the odd appendix removal.

But also as you might expect, the outcome is not always good. Even with a fairly straightforward operation;,

These self-healing surgeons pass out during the operation,

They die,

There are complications.

The problem of sin and rebellion isn’t some minor ailment that we can fix ourselves, like a surgeon doing surgery on their own body.

 

Do you see the problem there in verse 19, in the quote from Isaiah 29 in the Old Testament?

 “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 

 

Or verse 21 For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe

God was wise enough, verse 21, to make sure that human wisdom and intellect, would never be the pathway to knowing him.

 

If getting into a right relationship with God was all about being clever enough to figure it out, probably only a handful of us would make it in, and certainly not me.

Those words from Isaiah were written hundreds of years before Jesus.

God has always thought human wisdom was insufficient as a means of knowing, and reaching, and understanding him.

And worldly wisdom actually gets in the way of knowing God.

The prevailing wisdom of our age, the ways that people like to go about things, hinder us seeing and understanding God’s plans and purposes.

 

The message of the cross is foolishness to people, because it cuts right across the things that we value so highly:,

Self-advancement,

Independence,

Self-sufficiency.

See the line-up of experts in verse 20?

The wise person,

The teacher of the law,

The philosopher of this age,

They’ll tell you what they think,

They’ll tell you what they know,

But it’s not what we know, that saves us,

It’s not what people can figure out, that saves them,

It’s what God does, that saves people.

Of course that’s not to say that we don’t think about our salvation,

That we don’t use the gifts that God has given us, to wrestle with the concepts of salvation. 

You might know this exchange between Winnie the Pooh and Piglet:

“Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.

"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."

"And he has Brain."

"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."

"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything.”

 

Well, that’s not the Christian experience!

Use your brain!,

Grow in understanding!

Try and plumb the depths of what God has done for you in Christ,

Just don’t ever think that your understanding of that is what saves you, or that your friends and family can be brought into right relationship with God, simply by knowing the facts of history surrounding Jesus.

Our salvation rests on what God has done, and on what God has made known about what God has done, and we long for those we care about to respond to that.

Of course, we know that people who are busy trying to find God on their own, or who want really nothing to do with God, to those people, the message of a crucified saviour is foolishness.

 

Many of you have had those exact conversations with your friends.

The oldest known picture of Jesus, isn’t some beautiful portrait hanging in a gallery somewhere,

It’s a piece of graffiti scratched into the wall of a guard house in Rome.  It’s a picture of a man with a donkey’s head being crucified that’s Jesus!  And another man, a Christian, is pictured bowing in worship. 

Crudely scratched alongside are the words “Alexamenos”, that’s the man’s name, “Alexamenos worships his god”, presumably directed at some Christian soldier quartered in those barracks.

Human wisdom, the wisdom of our age, and of every age of human existence,

It’s stained by self-deceit,

It’s so easily twisted by the desire for status and self-sufficiency,

It seeks its own advantage, often regardless of the cost to others.

 

And if you approach the message of the crucified saviour from that perspective, it looks like utter foolishness, so you’ll reject it.

All those experts in verse 20, that’s Q & A panel, isn’t it?

Tune in 9:35 Monday nights from February 4, to hear the wise person, the teacher of the law, and the philosopher of this age, discussing and I quote from the website “all of the big issues that set Australians thinking, talking and debating.”

And yet the truth of God’s plans and purposes, revealed in the cross, so fails to live up to their intellectual criteria,

And so unequivocally cuts across the things they value, and hold dear, that they reject it out of hand.

And yet what the finest minds in the world, cannot achieve, cannot come up with, cannot operate on themselves to solve;

Hot to know God,

How to be in relationship with God,

How to be forgiven,

What they are patently unable to offer people, you and I can extend to others, through something as simple a conversation, speaking the message of the cross; “You’ve ignored and rebelled against God, and Jesus died to bring you back.”

See verse 21 again? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him,, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached, to save those who believe

 

The message of the cross is the power of God to save people

 

How are people saved?

Through preaching.

And Paul doesn’t just mean this kind of thing, standing in front of a crowd,

It’s proclamation,

It’s passing on a message,

And that was what Paul’s whole ministry was about;

, we preach Christ crucified:, verse 23, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God

It’s verse 18 again isn’t it? Foolishness, or the power of salvation.

No matter where he goes in the world,

Regardless of what kind of person he’s talking to,

Paul speaks of the cross, the good news of Jesus dying in our place, because it is in that message, that the power of God is experienced.

 

When I worked in university ministry, these teams of Christian body-builders would come onto campus, and they said their mission was to demonstrate God’s power, by doing things like breaking bricks with their head,

And bending steel bars with their teeth!

This was their method of evangelism! Come and experience God’s power, as this bloke destroys something with his body.

And yet we can see here that the Apostle Paul has a completely different idea about God’s power, doesn’t he?,

And where it’s seen,

And how it can be experienced.

And the power of the Christian body-builder guy pales into insignificance, alongside this demonstration of power.

But notice it’s not just that the cross is the power of God. That would be fair enough.  God demonstrates his power at the cross triumphing over sin, and death, and Satan.

 

But remember verse 18, it’s the message of the cross, that is the power of God.

How does God save people?

How can the people we know and care about, each person in all the Mount Barker region, experience the life-changing and eternity-shaping power of God?

The message of the cross, verse 18, that is the power of God.

 

The message that has been entrusted to us, is the power of God..

The message of the cross that points back to the event of the cross, and calls on people to make a response to Jesus, that is the power of God!

That is how God saves people.

Which, if you think about it, it means that we wield, the power of God!

We have the power of God for the salvation of people, at our disposal.

Now at one level, I hesitate to say that, because it sounds like, “How great are we?! We’ve got God’s power!”

But the whole thrust of this passage is that it’s not about how great we are!

There is no room for boasting, as verse 29 points out.

If the Christians in Corinth took one look at their lives, they’d know they’ve got nothing to boast about.

Verse 26, 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.

 

Their standing before God is not because of their efforts,

Not because of their wisdom,

The fact that they’ve come to faith in Christ is evidence Paul says, that it’s not about how clever you are,

Or how powerful you are,

Or how wise you are.

The message of the cross is the power of God, because that message makes God known,

That’s how God saves people.

The good news of Jesus with the cross at its heart explains to us how God defeated sin and evil, and therefore that we’re freed from slavery to sin, and we need not fear evil,

The message of the cross is how lives can be transformed.

Anyone who responds to the message of the cross in faith,

Anyone who is calledverse 24,

Anyone who believes, verse 21, finds God’s power at work in them.

Maybe you’re not a Christian, but you’re here this morning because you want to find out aboutGod, you want to experience the power of God.

Listen to the message of the cross.

Listen to what it tells you, about where you stand now, and about what God promises you.

Listen to the free invitation it offers you, and experience the transforming power of God for yourself.

 

If you are a Christian,

When you talk to a friend about the cross of Christ.

When you explain to them, what you believe about Jesus, and his life, his death in your place, his great love for you,

When you do that, you’re not just giving information about God’s power.

That is God’s power.

That is how God acts in the world to save people.

 

The message of the cross is the centre of our efforts to give each person in all the Mount Barker region every opportunity to respond to Jesus.

 

And this is why the message of the cross is at the very heart of our efforts to give each person in all the Mount Barker region every opportunity to respond to Jesus.

And, yes, what someone thinks of the message of the cross will show you their true identity;, Perishing or being saved,

Far from God, or in Christ, verse 28,

But hearing and responding to the message of the cross, is the means by which someone moves from perishing to being saved,

It’s the way someone’s identity is changed.

When I marry couples to each other, I have to explain to them, that simply being married doesn’t automatically change your name.

If the bride, most often, wants to change her name, change her identity, she has to fill in some paperwork,

Send off money,

Queue up at various places.

 

Hear this message and respond in faith, and identity changes.

So you can see why Paul says at the beginning of chapter 2, all I did, was bring you a message of Christ crucified.

I didn’t get out my ministry Swiss Army Knife, with 20 different approaches,

And 5 essential laws of leadership,

And a stack of clever arguments,

 

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified

 

I had a teacher in school, who was a mad keen environmentalist. We would time her, every lesson, to see how long it would take her to get out her hobby horse.

We weren’t very respectful in year 10!

So we’d be studying the gold rush, and 95 percent of the lesson would be about the environmental impact of mining.

We’d study the federal election, and all we’d learn, was the amount of land-fill that How-to-Vote cards create.

She had a one-track mind.

And yet Paul makes no apology for his one-track mind, does he?

If the message of the cross is the means by which God saves people, then no wonder that he says, I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified

 

If you’re new with us this morning, or if you’ve been around for a little while, and you’re trying to figure out what kind of church Trinity is,

What are we on about?

What do we value?

The long answer is come along to God, Church and Me in February which is a group we run just for you,

But the short answer is this,

Our message, is Jesus Christ and him crucified

If you’re not a Christian, and you’re trying to work out, “What is the key bit of the Christian message I need to come to grips with to put my trust in Jesus?”

The bit where our greatest need is both demonstrated, and met. Jesus Christ and him crucified

 

If you’re part of the family here, and you wonder what life at Trinity is going to look like in 2019 and beyond,

As, under God, ministries grow,

As we plan to start new Sunday gatherings, and plant more churches,

What is going to be the one non-negotiable that drives everything we do?

Jesus Christ and him crucified

If you wrote down the names of some friends on your 5 Friends 5 Ways card, but you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to do when God answers your prayer, and the conversation opens,

Or maybe you didn’t write anyone’s name down, because you really don’t know what part of your faith in Jesus you want your friends to understand.

Here’s your answer.

Jesus Christ and him crucified

How does God save people?

How are people we know and love going to be saved from lives lived in rebellion against God and come to know God?

How will we give each person in all the Mount Barker region, every opportunity to respond to Jesus?

 

As we speak, and they hear, the message of the cross, the good news of Jesus who laid down his life for us,

The message of a God who breaks into the world, dies in the place of sinful, rebellious humanity, to offer relationship and reconciliation.

 

So let me ask,

What will our compassion for those who are perishing lead us to give up?

What will our compassion for those who are perishing lead us to sacrifice?

Knowing how high the stakes,

Knowing the eternity that awaits those we love, and those in our region,

Knowing the power of God to save through the message of Jesus,

What would we give up,

Go without,

Do away with,

Put aside,

To give people opportunities to hear and respond?

Could we say there’s nothing we wouldn’t give up?

Nothing we wouldn’t sacrifice?

Nothing that we would demand or hold onto, rather than give each person in all the Mount Barker region, every opportunity to respond to Jesus.

If you brought you 5 Friends 5 Ways card with you today, I’m going to give you a moment now to pray for the people you’ve listed on it.

You’ll probably be able to recall the names even if you don’t have your card,

And if you never had a card, there are a few in each row, and you might be able to write the names of 5 friends, and commit to praying for them.

 

I’ll give us a moment.