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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Why God was Crucified

 “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling . . ..”  (1 Corinthians 2:1-3)

It certainly wasn’t that Paul couldn’t bring a deep and insightful teaching about Jesus the Messiah to those at the church in Corinth. He was arguably one of the most profound thinkers even to this century. Read his letter to the Christians at Rome, called by some Paul’s masterpiece of Christocentric theology. Or his letter to the church at Ephesus, or Colossae. Libraries are full of commentaries illuminating the theology and Christology of the man called St. Paul.

He was a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” as he called himself. Educated under the tutelage of the great Gamaliel. As to adherence to the Law of Moses, he called himself a Pharisee of Pharisees. As to righteousness tied to the Law of Moses, he said he was blameless. You can find those autobiographical sketches in his letter to the Philippians.

But Paul’s primary goal in this letter to the Corinthians was to simply remind them of who Jesus was, what He did, and why He did it. We can learn an important lesson from his method, as well.

In 1960 Sam Cooke released the song, ‘Wonderful World.’ Here are some of the lyrics:

Don't know much about history/Don't know much biology. Don't know much about science books/Don’t know much about the French I took. But I do know that I love you, and I know that if you love me, too, what a wonderful world this would be.

Don't know much about geography/Don't know much trigonometry. Don't know much about algebra/Don't know what a slide rule’s for. But I do know one and one is two/and if this one could be with you/what a wonderful world this would be.

Believe it or not, there is a spiritual application of this song to what Paul wrote to the Corinthians about knowing nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

Paul could have brought to the Corinthian church much about eschatology – the study of the last days and the return of Jesus for His church. He could have, but he didn’t. He could have brought them much about ecclesiology – the study of the church, its history, its liturgy and so forth. He could have, but he didn’t. He could have impressed them with his knowledge of the Law of Moses and traditions of the elders. But he didn’t.

What he DID bring them was what they needed at the moment: An equation as fundamental as one and one is two. In this case, Paul’s equation was “Jesus plus the cross” equals God’s love for humanity. In fancy theological terms, Paul brought them ‘much about’ soteriology – which is the study of what God did through Jesus to bring us eternal salvation. 

Without question, Paul’s explanation of soteriology is the foundation upon which all other ‘ologies’ rest: God’s love for each of us, even while we were shaking our fists in His face.

Paul talks about that very thing in his letter to the church at Rome: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

Paul also makes another important point in this text. Along with the divine equation, he also said he was with them “in fear and in much trembling.” Now, why would the seeming fearless apostle write about his fear and trembling as he presented to them the gospel of Jesus?

I don’t think he was concerned for his safety. I think he feared they’d reject God’s message because of the hardness of their hearts as evidenced by their continuing divisions and spiritual arrogance.

Most of us here know about divisions in churches, and spiritual arrogance among the laity and the leadership – even so far as turning blind eyes to flagrant and open sin within congregations. This is an important point to ponder lest we also fall into the same devilish trap. Continued rejection of God’s truth would make them – and us as well – all the more susceptible to the deceptions of the evil one who always looks for ways to infiltrate Christ-centered groups with his poisonous candy-coated lies.

We must remain guided by the Holy Spirit to ensure we are not following the same patterns of divisiveness and immorality among ourselves. Many of you on my email lists and my online pages attend different churches. We have different understandings of various Scriptures. But we must also and always remember and practice: “In essentials of the faith – unity. In non-essentials of the faith – liberty. In all things, charity.” 

What do I mean by the essentials of the faith?  I’ve written of this before, but it cannot be overstated since our eternal salvation rests on those essential truths – truths which are summarized by the Nicene Creed. Rejection of these essential truths places a person in danger of eternal damnation. 

The Nicene Creed, formulated in response to the 4th century heresy being spread by a renegade priest named Arius, set in writing orthodox Christian faith and has been the foundation of the Christ-centered Church ever since. The focal point of the heresy was the Person of Jesus. Was He a created being – as Arius taught? Or is He as the Scriptures teach, God almighty in the flesh, co-eternal and of one essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit? 

The Nicene Creed covers much more than the deity of Jesus, and I urge you to read it at your leisure. You can find it at this link. I refer to the Creed as an illustration of unity of beliefs ‘essential’ to salvation. ‘Non-essentials’ would include opinions such as ‘once saved, always saved’ or ‘speaking in tongues’ as a gift of the Holy Spirit for today, or should we worship on Sunday or Saturday. To accept or reject those dogmas puts no one in danger of losing their salvation.

Again, that’s why Paul focused this letter simply on Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. This point was so important to Paul that he placed a curse on those who taught another gospel. You’ll find that in Galatians 1:8-9, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”

Yes, Paul worried that they might not receive his message when they themselves were so divided, even to the point of permitting sexual immorality to be flaunted among themselves. He migh have worried that his preaching God’s truth would further divide and split the fledgling church in Corinth.

His fear should not surprise anyone who’s been a Christian for any length of time. As I said earlier, churches split all the time. Perhaps that is why many pastors water down their homilies and sermons to avoid controversy.  Some church leaders have actually told me they don’t talk about societal hot-button issues for fear of offending anyone in their congregation.

But here is what Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth: Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.(1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Those sparse five words at the beginning of this letter comprise the summary of the simplicity of the gospel. Paul returns to that simplicity at the end of this letter, in chapter 15: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-3)

That’s it. The gospel explained in language so simple, a toddler can understand it. But what does it mean when we say, Christ died for our sins?

God tells us through Paul, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). He continues in the next few verses of that chapter to say we have been justified (the Greek word means God declared us to be without guilt) – having been “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.”
Propitiation is a word we rarely, if ever, hear in everyday language. Let’s unwrap the word for a few moments. Propitiation emphasizes the appeasement or the averting of God's wrath toward the guilty. A related word, ‘Expiation,’ emphasizes the removal of guilt through the payment of a penalty. 

That’s what Jesus did: He paid the penalty we deserved to pay for our sins, and in so doing, He appeased God’s wrath toward us. But there is still more:
Both words – propitiation and expiation – are directly related to reconciliation, since it is through Christ's substitutionary death on the cross for our sins that we are reconciled to our loving and impartial God of justice and mercy.
The very concept of a substitutionary sacrifice dates to the Books of Moses and the various bloody sacrifices proscribed particularly in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but we also find that concept in the prophets. Perhaps the best-known example is Isaiah’s prophecy in the 8th century before Christ:

“He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6, HCSB)
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth that while he was with them, he determined to know nothing else but Jesus who was crucified for them – and for you and me.

It was Jesus’ death that delivered them – and us – from the domain of darkness; His bloody sacrifice saved us from the eternal judgment our sins so justly deserve; His suffering reconciled us back to God who loves us so dearly, so tenderly, so completely that He gave His Son, Jesus, to die in our place.

THAT is the message God the Holy Spirit brought to the church at Corinth through his servant, Paul. And that is the message God the Holy Spirit brings to you and to me in the 21st century through the apostle Paul.

So what should all that mean to you and me? Simply this: When was the last time you confessed your sins to God and determined to turn from them? When was the last time you committed your life to obey God’s commandments – even the ones you don’t particularly like? When was the last time you said to Him – as the prophet Isaiah said 2800 years ago: “Here I am. Send me wherever you want me to go and I will do whatever it is you want me to do”?

May the Holy Spirit help us to never be ashamed of that gospel message, or compromise that message, or add to that message – for the gospel message is truly the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes and obeys Jesus Christ our Lord.

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