2003 Shepherds' Conference, A Ministry of Grace Community Church 818.909.5530. © 2003 All Rights Reserved. Grace Community Church. A CD, MP3, or tape cassette copy of this session can be obtained by going to www.shepherdsconference.org
Preaching the Gospel Message (Part 1)
General Session #2
In the two nights that I have opportunity to speak to you, I am going to follow the same theme. I don’t exactly know how far I’ll get tonight, but whatever we don’t finish tonight we’ll finish on Friday.
Perhaps the dominate myth in the evangelical church today is the myth that the kingdom of God and the glory of Christ somehow advance on the back of public favor. This is the fantasy that the path for gospel influence is paved with popular acceptance of the Christian message.
This goes way back; I remember reading, in the second volume of Martin Lloyd-Jones biography (by Ian Murray), a quote from Edward John Carnel in the formative years of Fuller Seminary. E .J. Carnel, an apologist who later died a tragic death, said (for evangelicalism, from his perspective), “We need prestige desperately.”
Christians have sought to position themselves within the culture in places of power and places of influence—academically, politically, economically, athletically, socially, theatrically, religiously, you name it—in hopes of gaining mass media exposure. And then when they gain that widest possible exposure—sometimes mass media, sometimes in a very broad-minded church environment—they will then craft a message—a reinvented, designer, pop gospel—that will subtly remove all of the offense of the gospel and sort of pull people into the kingdom along an easy path. The illusion is that we can preach our message more effectively from lofty cultural perches of power and influence, or, if we can take out the sting of the gospel and develop a message that’s much more acceptable.
Of course, local church pastors are seduced into this pop gospel, this designer gospel, this message crafted to somehow fit the sinner’s desire, edited to overcome consumer resistance, you might say—church meetings stylized to look, sound, feel, and smell like the world-so that again the sinner’s resistance is removed and they can be lured into the kingdom down an easy and somewhat familiar path.
The idea is to make it easy to believe. And what we saw in the session this morning is that is actually hard to believe; in fact, it is absolutely impossible—if the sinner is left to himself.
I think the philosophy is sort of like: if they like us in our meeting, they’ll like Jesus. It seems to be a sort of underlying mantra. Obviously, this whole scheme works superficially, but only if the truth is compromised to maintain these positions of power and influence—whether politically or academically or socially or economically or religiously or wherever. To maintain this kind of tenuous alliance with the world in the name of love, in the name of attractiveness, in the name of tolerance, and to keep the unconverted happy coming to church, the truth must be reduced to the level of being inoffensive. In fact, as some Calvinist said, “Sometimes we don’t present the gospel well enough for the non-elect to reject it.” I would never say that, but somebody said that.
Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood on this: I am committed to impacting society. That is not only a commitment; that’s a calling. I am committed to reach as far as possible here and around the world and to spread the gospel. I prefer righteousness to prevail over sin. I prefer righteous people to be elevated and sin to be exposed for what it really is, in all of its destructiveness. I would long to see the glory of God extend to the end of the earth. I long to have the kingdom of darkness flooded with divine light.
No loyal child of God is ever content with sin or immorality or unrighteousness or error or unbelief. The reproach that falls on the Lord falls on me and zeal for His house eats me up as it did David and as it did Jesus. I hate the churches of the world that have become havens for heretics. I resent the TV church that, in many cases, has become a den of thieves. I would love to see the divine Lord take a whip and have at it, in the religion of our time. I occasionally pray imprecatory psalms directly on the heads of certain people. But, mostly I pray for the kingdom to come, mostly I pray for the gospel to penetrate the hearts of the lost.
I understand why John Knox said, “Give me Scotland or I die; what else do I live for?” I understand why Henry Martin ran out of that Hindu temple and said, “I cannot endure existence if Jesus is to be so dishonored.” I’ve made no truce with the way the world is. If I were in that group, I too would be among the saints under the altar saying, “How long, O Lord, how long? Isn’t there ever going to be end to this disrespect?”
I resent evil; I resent everything that dishonors the Lord. I’m against everything He’s against and for everything He’s for. I long to see people brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ. I hate that sinners die without any hope. I’m committed to the proclamation to the gospel. I’m not narrow in that sense: I want to be a little part of fulfilling the Great Commission. I want to preach the gospel—at least, my little part—to every living creature. It’s not that I’m not interested in the lost of the world. It’s not that I have made an easy truce with a wretched, sinful world that dishonors my God and Christ.
The only question for me is: how do I go about that? What is my responsibility? And it certainly can’t be by compromising the message! The message, after all, is not mine; it’s from God, and it is by that message that He saves.
Not only can I not compromise the message; I can’t compromise the cost. I can’t change the terms! As we saw in Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If you want to come after me, deny yourself.” It’s the end of you. You’re done. This is not the gospel of self-fulfillment; this is the gospel of self-denial. And to what extent do you deny yourself? “Take up your cross all the way to death if that’s what I ask.”
I can’t help it if that gospel offends a society awash in self-love. And I know this: the world is influenced truly and changes genuinely one soul at a time under the preaching of the truth—and that only by the life-giving, light-sending, soul-transforming power of the Holy Spirit, in perfect fulfillment of the eternal plan of God.
The kingdom does not advance by human cleverness. It does not advance because we have gained positions of power and influence in the culture. It doesn’t advance because we’re in the media. It doesn’t advance because somehow we have become popular in the community. In fact, the kingdom of God does not advance on the back of public favor; it advances by the power of God in spite of public hostility!
When truly proclaimed in its fullness the saving message of Jesus Christ is, frankly, outrageously offensive. It’s outrageously offensive. We proclaim a scandalous message. The message of the cross is, from the perspective of the world, shameful. It is so shameful, so antagonizing, so offensive, that even faithful Christians struggle to proclaim it because they will be resented and ridiculed!
I’ve noticed—just in my own experience, and I’m sure you have too—how hard it is for many Christians, even well-known, evangelical leaders, who get in the public media, to get out the word “Jesus”. Have you noticed that? To say nothing of “the cross”! Or “sin”! Or “hell”! They talk a lot about “faith”, sort of unattached.
Paul made a remarkable statement in Romans 1: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes: to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For, in it, the righteousness of God is revealed, from faith to faith, as it is written: ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’”
Now, why would Paul say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel”? That just seems, on the surface, to be such a strange statement. Who would ever introduce the idea of shame into such good news? Would a person, for example, who had found the cure for aids, have to overcome immense shame to proclaim it? Would a person who had discovered a cure for cancer have to get over this terrible shame to be able to open his mouth? Would he get on the media and say, “Well, I-I-I-I-I…” or would he just say it? Why is there something about the cross that is so hard to say?
In fact, Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “If you have never felt shame in proclaiming the gospel, it’s probably because you don’t understand the gospel.” People who call themselves Christians, amazingly, are ashamed. We have all, at some points or other in our Christian lives, been ashamed; we’ve kept our mouth closed when we should have opened it. And I’m not talking about the “Jesus loves you and wants to make you happy” message. Why can’t the Christian professor in the university stand up before the whole faculty and proclaim, overtly, the gospel?
Well, we want to be accepted—and we know we have a message that will be rejected. And the stronger we hold to that message, and the more we declare that message, the more hostile those around us become. And, so, we begin to feel the shame. Paul rises above that, by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit, and says, “I’m not ashamed… I’m not ashamed.” It’s an example for us—because he knew the price, didn’t he? Public rejection, imprisonment, and ultimately execution.
I want to talk tonight and Friday night about the shameful cross. I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last couple of months and been stimulated by a lot of things that I’ve read and just perused in the text; and just sort of [want to] unfold for you a little bit, a reminder that we have a message that will be rejected. Just like Isaiah 6: nobody’s going to listen to you—preach it anyway.
Shame was a big deal in the first century. Honor was a big deal in the first century. In fact, the Greek and Roman world was a world where men sought honor and shunned shame. Those were issues of high concern. Homer wrote: the chief good was to be well spoken of, the chief evil to be badly spoken of (by one’s society). People tried to avoid shame; they tried to pursue honor.
The apostle Paul ministered; I suppose you could say, in a shame-sensitive, honor-seeking culture. And there he was, shamelessly preaching what people thought was a shameful message about a publicly shamed person. So, the message was offensive. It was scandalous. It was stupid. It was foolish. It was moronic. Turn to I Corinthians 1, and let’s go where were going to park for the next couple of times.
I Corinthians 1:21—and I just want to pick it up at the second half of the verse—“God was well pleased, through the foolishness of the message preached, to save those who believe.” It was the scandalous, offensive, foolish, ridiculous, bizarre, absurd message of the cross preached, that God used to save those who believe.
Now, this one verse invites us into a rich and instructive section of scripture—and I will confess to you that I am already feeling the pressure to get through this. I was saying, a little earlier, I could preach six, probably eight, maybe ten messages on this passage. I’m going to try to crunch tonight and next Friday/this Friday. So, let me jump into the outline.
Let me tell you why we preach such a shameful message when we preach the cross.
Number one: there is the shameful stigma of the cross.
There is the shameful stigma of the cross. The world, looking at the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ, runs right into this first of all. While it is much more lost to the world of our time because we don’t have people being crucified, in the first century, they knew exactly what crucifixion was.
So, let me just draw you back to verse 18, “The word of the cross is, to those who are perishing, foolishness,”—and than down to verses 22 and 23, “For indeed Jews ask for signs, Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: to Jews, a stumbling block, and to Gentiles, foolishness.” “Foolishness” (‘moria’—from which we get “moron”—“insane”): this message, the word of the cross.
By the way, the repeated article there, “the word of the cross,” turns that second article into a demonstrative pronoun: “the word of that cross.” “That cross,” which is at the heart of the gospel—the cross of Jesus Christ—was “nonsense” to Jews and Greeks who are “perishing” (‘apollumenoiv’: who are “ruined”, “lost”), designating them as under the damnation of God.
Now, going over to verses 22 and 23 (just kind of capturing the main idea): the Jews looked for a sign—“You’re the Messiah, give us a sign”—and, by that sign, there would be the indication of some great supernatural wonder by which they would be attracted to their Messiah. Satan knew how they thought; that’s why he told Jesus, “If you want to be accepted by them, jump off this tower,” right, “jump of this parapet, this high point, and come down to a soft landing and they’ll all fall at your feet.” They were looking for a supernatural sign—that’s what the Jews wanted. They wanted a wonder. Even though Jesus had given them many in His miraculous ministry, they wanted, yet, one sort of super miracle that they could all look at and say, “That’s the sign, that’s the proof that He’s the Messiah.”
The Greeks, on the other hand, weren’t so much interested in the miraculous, they weren’t looking for the supernatural sign—they were looking for wisdom. They wanted to validate a true religion, some transcendental insight, some elevated idea, some esoteric knowledge, some sort of spiritual experience—maybe an out of body experience—or some other imaginary emotional event.
Greeks wanted wisdom; they got foolishness. The Jews wanted a sign; they got a stumbling block. God designed to give them exactly what was opposite of what they wanted. The Jews were given a ‘skandalon’; a crucified Messiah was scandalous, blasphemous, bizarre, offensive, unbelievable. And, for the Greeks, who were looking for esoteric knowledge—elevated knowledge, something high and noble and lofty—the nonsense about the eternal Creator God of the universe being crucified was idiotic. From both sides, the stigma of crucifixion made the whole notion of the gospel an absolute absurdity.
All you have to do is look a little bit into the history of crucifixion in the first century Roman Empire to know how they viewed it. It was a horrific form of capital punishment originated most likely in the Persian Empire (used by other barbarians as well). It was used for the execution of individuals and it was also used for the execution of groups. Darius crucified 3000 Babylonians, Alexander the Great crucified 2000 from the city of Tyre—they really irritated Alexander in Tyre. You know, they kind of got off shore on their little island and said, “Na, na, na, na, na,” you know, “you can’t get us! You don’t have a navy!” So he took the rubble of the city, threw it in the water between the island and the shore, marched over, and wiped them out—and in the process, crucified 2000 of them.
Alexander Janius (just 102-76 BC) crucified 800 Pharisees while their wives and children were slaughtered at their feet—while they, hanging on a cross, watched the slaughter of their families. This sealed the horror of crucifixion in the Jewish mind.
Romans came to power in 63 BC and used crucifixion extensively. Some writers say there were as many as 30,000 people crucified around that time. Felix, the procurator of Judea from AD 52-58, crucified many criminals. Titus Vespasian crucified so many Jews in AD 70 that the soldiers had no room for the crosses and not enough crosses for the bodies. It wasn’t until 337, when Constantine abolished crucifixion, that is disappeared after a millennium of cruelty in the world.
A survey like that indicates the horror with which people viewed this. The idea that anybody who died on the cross was, in any sense, an exceptional, elevated, noble, important person was absolutely bizarre. Roman citizens, generally, were exempt from crucifixion, unless they committed treason. The cross was reserved for rebellious slaves and conquered people and for notorious robbers and assassins. The Roman Empire policies on crucifixion led Romans to view any crucified person as absolutely contemptible. It was reserved for the scum, the most humiliated, the lowest of the low.
There was, first, flogging, and then there was the carrying of the cross beam; then there was a sign around the neck indicating the crime—and they were stark naked; then they were tied or nailed to the cross bar, it was hoisted into an upright post, and they were suspended there in nakedness. Death could be hurried if they shattered their legs, because they would push themselves up in order to fill their lungs with air. If the legs weren’t broken, the death could be prolonged for days. The final indignity was leaving the corpse up there until the carrion ate it.
Josephus describes multiple tortures and positions of crucifixion during the siege of Jerusalem, in every possible angle and through every possible part of the body, even unmentionable parts. Gentiles viewed anyone crucified with the most contempt. It was a virtual obscenity; crucifixion wasn’t discussed in polite company. Nobody talked about crucifixion. It just conjured up the grossest imagery. In cultured company, no one would speak of it. Cicero wrote, this very word “cross” should be removed, not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes, his ears. So horrific!
And, here comes Paul and all he ever talks about is, what? The cross! The deep contempt the Gentiles had for anybody crucified is seen in some of the pagan statements about Christ. Graffiti scratched on a stone in a guard room on Palatine Hill, near Circus Maximus in Rome (we were just there a few months ago) shows the figure of a man—with the head of an ass!—hanging on a cross. Below is a man in a gesture of adoration and the inscription says: ‘alexa manos’—“worships his God”—depicting Jesus as an ass on a cross. Idiocy! Ludicrous!—that the God of the universe, the great Creator God, would end up on a cross.
Such a depiction of the Lord Jesus Christ—so repulsive to believers—vividly illustrates pagan contempt for anybody crucified—and particularly a crucified God. Justin’s first apology in AD 152 summarized the Gentile view. It says this: “They proclaim our madness to consist in this: that we give, to a crucified man, a place equal to the unchangeable eternal God.” Nonsense!
And if the Gentile attitude was bad, the Jewish attitude was worse. It was even more hostile. They detested the Roman practice, despised it, held it in more contempt than the Romans did. By the way, the Jews did crucify, just in case you are ever studying history, but never a living person. To display the shame of a person whom they believed had felt the curse of God, they would nail a corpse to a cross and take it down the same day.
But anybody who ever ended up on a cross, in their view, fulfilled Deuteronomy 21:23: “Whoever hangs on a cross is”—what? “Is cursed.” A cursed God? You mean the eternal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The Lord himself is cursed? How could God curse God? It’s absolutely unthinkable! The Messiah cursed by God? Impossible!
The Jews saw crucifixion not only as a social pariah, but as a divine curse. So, the stigma went beyond social disgrace, all the way to divine condemnation. Second century mishal indicates that blasphemers and idolaters alone were to be crucified… And they would then hang their bodies up after they were dead. How could Messiah be a blasphemer? How could God be a blasphemer of God? They gagged on the idea of a crucified Christ. It made the gospel unbelievable. Massive obstacle! You think you’ve got problems getting the gospel across today? Massive obstacle. Insane, scandalous, scurrilous, blasphemous… It’s unbelievable.
So, Paul was not an easy-believism preacher. It’s absolutely impossible to believe. The very one who was sent that we might believe is, himself, the obstacle to faith. The gospel called them to surrender to the very one they considered “smitten by God and afflicted,” to borrow the words of Isaiah. And, frankly, to me it doesn’t seem that God could have put a more formidable barrier to faith in the first century. I couldn’t think of a worse way to market the gospel then to preach that! The Gentiles called the Christian gospel a “perverse and extravagant superstition” and a “sick delusion.” One writer says, “It is a madness!”
Hengel, in his wonderful book Crucifixion—if you can find it, get it and read it—says, “To believe that the one preexistent Son of the one true God—the Mediator at creation and the Redeemer of the world—had appeared in very recent times in out-of-the-way Galilee as a member of the obscure people of the Jews and, even worse, had died the death of a common criminal on a cross, could only be regarded as a sign of madness.” The real gods of Greece and Rome could be distinguished from mortal men by very fact that they were immortal, that they absolutely had nothing in common with the one who was bound in the most ignominious fashion and executed in such a shameful way.
So, the gospel starts out in an environment where it’s just frankly unbelievable. If you think its tough to get the gospel across today, just look at Paul. What obstacles! No wonder the Jews hated his message. No wonder the Gentiles hated his message. It was a message that was beyond human belief. No seeker-friendly message, that; it was either an absurdity or an obscenity. The gospel, then, was hindered by the shameful stigma of the cross.
Secondly (and I’ll try to get through a couple of these), the gospel was hindered by the shameful simplicity of the cross.
If it wasn’t enough that it bore the stigma of what crucifixion was, there was also that shameful simplicity of the cross. Look at verses 19-21: “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside. Where is the wise man, where is the scribe, where is the debater of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom didn’t come to know God, God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
Both Jew and Gentile were into complexities—especially the Greeks with their philosophical systems. They loved mental gymnastics and intellectual labyrinths. They believed the truth was knowable, but only to those with elevated minds (it later became known as Gnosticism): the people, who by virtue of their enhanced reasoning powers, could move beyond the hoi polloi and ascend to the level of enlightenment.
Their philosophical systems were embedded into their lives as a part of the fabric of everyday interaction. There were, at the time of Paul, we could trace at least 50 different philosophies banging around in the Roman and Greek world. And the gospel comes along and says, “None of it matters. None of it matters. We’ll destroy it all. Take all the wisdom of the wise; get the best; get the elite, the most educated, the most capable, the smartest; get the clever, the best at rhetoric, oratory, logic; get all the wise, all the scribes, the legal experts; get the people who are the good debaters—and they’re all going to be designated fools!”
The gospel had no sensitivity to that whatsoever. It disdains all of that. In fact, for Paul to even say this, in verse 19, (quoting out of Isaiah 29)—“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside”—that has got to be an offensive statement. He is just basically saying, “I’m going to trash all you philosophers and all your philosophies.”
There is nothing subtle about him. There’s nothing vague. There’s nothing ambiguous. In fact, that’s not Paul; he says, “For it is written”—literally, “it stands written”—it “stands” as divinely revealed truth that the gospel of the cross makes no concession to human wisdom. We don’t need it. It plays no role in the redemptive purpose of God.
And in verse 20, “So where is the wise man? What do you have to offer?” It’s as if he says, “What do you think you have to offer? Where is the scribe? What contribution does this legal expert make? Where is the debater? What does he have to offer? They’re all fools. They’re all fools.”
So, not only does the gospel collide with our emotional sensibilities, it collides with our rational sensibilities. The cross is emotionally unacceptable; it is rationally unacceptable.
This is a comprehensive denunciation, by the way, in verse 20; he just says, “Take it all—whatever form of philosophy it is—just take it all, and it’s foolish.” And again, he uses a form of the root verb ‘moriano’, from which we get the English word “moron”. All accumulated insight, all understanding, all the wisdom of all the elite—take all the human geniuses and lesser lights through all the years, add up all the complexities of their systems, and you get nonsense as far as salvation is concerned, as far as eternal truth is concerned.
Over in 2:14, “The natural man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised.” This is the problem: an unconverted person may have great reasoning power, great intellect, he may bring to bare upon issues in life great practical wisdom and insight, he may have great experience which lends to his ability to assist people to make life a little better, but when it comes to that which relates to spiritual reality and the life of God and eternity, he makes no contribution.
Whether it’s Athens or whether it’s Rome or whether it’s Cambridge or Oxford or Harvard or Stanford or Yale or Princeton or wherever else, take all that wisdom that is outside the scripture and the revelation of the gospel and it all adds up to foolishness. Romans 1 says, they give themselves degrees for it, “Professing themselves to be wise, they are however”—what? “Fools.”
Verse 21: “For sense, in the wisdom of God, the world through its own wisdom didn’t come to know God…” God made the wisest determination. God wisely established it this way: that no one could ever come to know Him by human wisdom. Do you see that? That has tremendous implications. The only way you will ever come to know God is by divine revelation and through the Holy Spirit. You cannot come to know God by human wisdom.
That has a lot to say to this new natural theology movement where the assumption is that, by whatever degree of enlightenment the unconverted man has, he can find his way to some idea about God, which God will accept as sufficient to save him if he hasn’t heard the gospel.
So, this is the final word on human wisdom: nonsense. Nonsense, when it comes to that which is eternal, cannot lead to the knowledge of God. Man, by wisdom, cannot know God… Cannot know God. Well, how can he know God? “Through the foolishness of the message preached.” You want people to know God, then just preach the message.
Jeremiah 8:9 says, “The wise men are put to shame, they are dismayed and caught; behold they have rejected the word of the Lord and what kind of wisdom do they have?” If you reject the scripture, you don’t have any wisdom. The wisest of the wise, the elite in human philosophy, the debaters, the scholars, the greatest thinkers who can best argue their systems logically all add up to foolishness. Who are the most important people in the world? We are—those of us who preach this foolish message faithfully. In fact, it’s hidden from the wise and revealed, Jesus said, “unto babes.”
The cross is shameful, it really is. It assaults the refined sensibilities and emotions of people. The idea that the God of the universe is executed on a cross is ridiculous. The idea that God in human flesh or that God the Messiah is executed on a cross by God and cursed by God is absolutely scandalous. And, if that’s not bad enough, it not only assaults our sensibilities, it assaults our rational minds, the pride that we carry for being different than the animals: having reason. It’s all nonsense.
And then there’s a third shameful element of the cross (just skipping a few thoughts here): the shameful stigma of the cross, the shameful simplicity of the cross and the shameful singularity of the cross.
I just want you to look back at this, the shameful singularity of the cross, verse 18, again, “The cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”
Verse 21, again, “It is through the foolishness of that very message preached to save those who believe.”
Verse 23: “We preached Christ crucified… It may be a stumbling block and foolishness, but to those who are called, it is Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God, because the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
Now, all of that simply to say, there’s only one message. That’s it! Anybody who’s being saved is being saved by the power of God through the word of the cross (verse 18). Anybody who is being saved is being saved by the message preached (in verse 21). Anybody called by God unto salvation is realizing that call (verse 24) by the power of God and the wisdom of God presented in Christ—and this is the only message we have. Absolutely the only message. And the more we say that, the more scandalous it becomes.
Somebody might say, “Well, you know, OK, you’re into this cross thing, you’re into this ‘Jesus died on a cross,’ and that’s your truth. Good for you! We are a tolerant people. That’s good for you. OK, OK, you have your foolish view of religion, your foolish perspective, your simple silly story—story of a crucified Jew—that’s OK if that’s your truth. If you want to, as Celcus put it, have your symposium with the frogs who crawled up out of the muck and are stupid enough to believe that, you’re entitled to that. But, that’s not my truth.” Well, here’s the rub: that’s the only truth.
It’s the only truth. It is the only power of God by which He saves. It is only those who believe in that gospel, that message preached, who are saved. There is no wider mercy. There is no transdispensationalizing people into salvation through some other imaginary means. Salvation is only by believing the gospel; no gospel, no salvation.
The absolute exclusivity has always been a shameful message to a pluralistic world of sinners. Islam is a damning system, Buddhism is a damning system, Hinduism is a damning system, and just not believing the Gospel is a damning system!
The things the Gentiles sacrifice (I Corinthians 10), they sacrifice to demons. Do you remember that? People in some religions somewhere aren’t in their own way, under their own terms, like the book, The Christ of Hinduism. They’re not sacrificing to the true God and the true Christ. They’re sacrificing to demons. That’s another message.
There is no salvation without the gospel. This is a shameful thing. This compounds the shame of the gospel. When I was on Larry King (I don’t know if you remember), that question was asked to one of the people, “Is God a Christian?” to which this evangelical said, “No, He’s the God of everybody.” And I almost fell off my chair! God is not a Christian? God is Christ! What do you mean? I wanted to evangelize that guy—forget Larry King! What are you talking about? I guess the shame of saying that was too much. This is a message that’s unacceptable. It’s absolutely unacceptable.
I’ve been thinking about that, you know. You think about our President: people who know him say that his Christianity is genuine and I certainly trust that’s so. But, can you imagine for a moment if, in one of his State of the Union addresses, he just said, “I’m a Christian and if you’re not, you’re going to hell”? He would be cooked, over, and impeached, right? No way could he survive that. And if he said, “All the Muslims and all the people who believe in works-righteousness and all the Mormons and all the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you’re all going to eternal hell and I care about you so much I want to give you the gospel of Jesus. Forget Iraq, forget terrorism, and I’m going to give you the gospel.” Yikes! I can just see Dan Rather, “Oh, oh, oh—can’t say that! And if you want to believe it, fine, just don’t say it’s the singular truth—it’s the singularity of the Gospel on top of the stigma and the simplicity that bothers people.
Well, it’s just so hard. You cant be faithful and popular, so decide. Take your pick. How come you get to go back so many times, Al? Cause you’re so straight on there. I think you’ve been on Larry King 25 times? Praise God, you always speak the truth—and I’m sure you get the heat. We can understand—if we hear what Paul is saying here—that the gospel collides with our emotions, it collides with our minds, it collides with our relationships. It smashes into our sensibilities, our rational thinking, our tolerances. It’s just really hard to believe; in fact, it’s impossible. And this is why people compromise it, sadly. And when they do that, they become useless, because God saves through this truth!
You say, “Well, since we got such a hard message, what we really need, we’ve got to get some really famous people spouting this. We can overcome consumer resistance if we can get some people in lofty places, if we can get the high and the mighty and the powerful and the influential. Then, even though the message is hard, even though it is bizarre and nonsense, etc., etc. If we can posture ourselves in places of influence and get famous people—” and so forth. Got news for you: we not only have the shameful stigma of the cross to deal with and the shameful simplicity of the cross to deal with and the shameful singularity of the cross to deal with, but we have got the shameful society of the cross to deal with—and there are not many noble and there are not many mighty and we’re just a bunch of nobodies. And that might seem like the worst strategy, since the message is so hard to start with, but that’s for next time, and you’ll be here.
Father, we thank you for leading us tonight, at least into the beginning of, grasping these great reminders out of this text. We don’t want to put ourselves in a place to try to avoid persecution and be like the Judaizers who compelled people to be circumcised simply to avoid Jewish hostility. We know that when we preach the true gospel there will be shame heaped upon us, but we just want to be faithful to that. Help us to understand that you’ve given us a shameful message, a message that is so shameful, that brings such resistance, that it even makes us ashamed! And even the best of us, like Timothy, to whom Paul says, “Do not be ashamed of the Lord or of me as prisoner”! Lord, help us to rise above that natural fear of man that makes us ashamed and to proclaim the truth, and open our minds in the rest of these days even until we bring this to a conclusion and we’ll wait on the complete unfolding of the wonder of this text with anticipation. In Christ’s name, Amen.
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