The Preaching of the Cross
May 1st, 1955 @ 7:30 PM
1 Corinthians 2:1-2
THE PREACHING OF THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 2:1-2
5-1-55 7:30 p.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we are in the first Corinthian letter and have come to the second chapter, and the message tonight is also the text. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2:
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom declaring unto you the testimony of God.
For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
[1 Corinthians 2:1-2]
Writ large here in this Bible is a record of a conflict in the soul of the apostle Paul. You gain a little key to it in that word determined: thoughtedly, volitionally, by choice, by dedication. "I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified" [1 Corinthians 2:2].
It is always a regret to me that things intervene in my preaching through the Book for you lose the continuity of the passage. The whole first chapter of the first Corinthian letter is a record of Paul’s decision to stay by the wisdom of God which to men was sheer unadulterated foolishness. For in the first chapter Paul writes like this:
Where is the wise man, and the learned scribe, and the orator of this world? Hath not God made foolish the so-called wisdom of this world?
For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
[1 Corinthians 1:20-21]
For to the Jew the preaching of the cross is a stumbling block
– the Greek word, a skandalon –
To the Greeks, foolishness
– the Greek word mōrian, moronic idiocy. But unto us who are saved
unto them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, 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.
[1 Corinthians 1:23-25]
And then my text: "And I, brethren, when I came to you . . ." [1 Corinthians 2:1]. Where’d he come from? From Athens. Every place that Paul preached, they threw him in jail [Acts 16:22-23]; they beat him with stripes [2 Corinthians 11:24]; they persecuted him [Acts 21:27-30]; they sent him out of town [Acts 17:10]; they dragged him out for dead [Acts 14:19]; they stoned him [2 Corinthians 11:25] – all except one place and that was the cultural university city of Athens. But in Athens, as they listened to him preach and he came to the cross of Christ and the resurrection from the dead, when he began to preach about Christ crucified and risen again they began to scorn and to laugh and to ridicule [Acts 17:32].
A thing like that does something to a preacher. Any preacher has – if he’s a good preacher – is a man of studious habits. If he’s not turned that way, he wouldn’t be a good expositor of the Word. Paul was a scholar. He was a student. All of his life, he had been in school. He sat at the feet of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3]. He belonged to the rabbinical school of Gamaliel. He had gone to the university at Tarsus. He knew the classical Greek poets. And for a man when he presents his message to be laughed at and scorned and ridiculed by the professor and by the intelligentsia and by the scholars and by the learned men [Acts 17:32] is to sustain a hurt that nobody but he quite could ever feel. Paul felt that. There preaching in the great university city of Athens with the Stoic and the Epicurean philosophers before him – when he began to preach about the cross, about the Lord Jesus, about His death and His resurrection, and to see them laugh and ridicule and scorn, precipitated, I say, a conflict in his heart.
And on the way down to Corinth from Athens, that thing waged in his soul. And when he came to Corinth, as he says here in his letter, there were some great fundamental commitments of his life of which one was this: that however philosophy might laugh, and however learnedness might scorn, and however the new thought of the day might ridicule, he had set himself, he had dedicated himself, to the preaching of the cross.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
[1 Corinthians 2:1-2]
I say, there’s not a young minister of our day that does not pass through that same crisis, for in our day, the most popular thing I know is this new psychiatry, this new psychology, this new approach that brings peace of mind.
Have you ever in your life, or do you ever think about it, the sweeping of the American people, peace of mind? Honestly, for my part, it would seem to me what we need the most is not to be lulled to sleep. What we need the most is to be made aware and conscious of the great truths of Almighty God that are not regnant in our lives and are not seen among our people. But no, the beautiful thing and the modern thing and the acceptable thing is to lull the people: peace of mind – all of our problems settled by this new psychiatrical approach. The exponent: one of the great preachers of our generation, supposedly, and he has ten thousand little followers all over the land.
What shall you do? What shall you preach? Well, we ought to preach the new thought. We ought to preach the new psychology. We ought to preach the new psychiatry. We ought to preach the new approach. We ought to be made aware of these marvelous new things in philosophy and deliver them to the people. Or shall we stay by the old gospel which is very harsh? For the old gospel is this: that we are born in sin, that all of us are sinners, and that what’s wrong with humanity isn’t because we have psychiatrical quirks in our heads. It isn’t because we need another philosophy or some new metaphysic, but what we need is to be touched by the regenerating power of the cross of the Son of God.
So, I say, every preacher faces it today as he builds his staff. Shall we build a psychiatrical staff? Shall we have four or five psychiatrists down here, and let the people come and bring their problems to him, and let him settle it on a psychiatrical basis? Or shall we administer the Word of God, which is that we’re lost sinners, and however we may get right in the quirks in our head and however may we order our lives, without Christ and without God and without the confession of sin and without the atoning blood of the cross, we’re lost, no matter how much peace of mind we may have in our souls?
My brethren, when I came to you, came not in the new wisdom, came not in the new psychiatry, came not in the new psychology, came not in the new philosophy, came not in the new metaphysic, but I came preaching the cross of the Son of God. And that’s my text: "I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified" [1 Corinthians 2:2].
Now, for the little moment tonight, I want to show the best I can – I want you to see what the preaching of the cross does. First, without the preaching of the cross, there is no understanding of the life and the atonement of our Savior, Christ Jesus. Without the meaning of the cross, without the atonement of the blood, the life of Jesus is a farce. It’s a tragedy. It’s an inexplicable enigma. It ruined – it fell into ruin. His life was one of abject failure and abysmal disappointment. He lived a beautiful life. He ministered among the people, but it ended on a cross. And if the preaching of the cross is not the saving of our souls and the forgiveness of our sins, then the life of Christ is a tragedy, a burlesque, a cheap comedy [Galatians 2:21]. Look how He died though He was so great and so wonderful!
But the preaching of the cross is the key to the life and the meaning of the ministry of our Savior, Christ Jesus, for you see, when you preach the cross you’re preaching that our Lord Jesus came into the world to die [Matthew 16:21-23; Mark 8:31; Luke 18:31-34]. He came into the world that He might spill out His life into this earth for the remission of our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 1 Timothy 1:15] and that we might have life in Him [1 John 5:11-13]. And the whole presentation of the life of our Lord is in keeping with that great fundamental gospel message: that He came into the world to die for our sins according to the Scriptures [Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3].
"Lo, I come — in the roll of the book it is written of Me — to do Thy will, O God" [Hebrews 10:7]. In other words, before the world was made, Christ had offered Himself: the Lamb to take away the sin of the world. In the Old Testament prophets: "All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, unto his own way; And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" [Isaiah 53:6]. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter [Isaiah 53:7]. The whole picture of the Lord in the day before He came was that He should come into the earth to die for our sins.
The enunciation to the Virgin Mary and to His stepfather was this: "That you’re to call His name Iēsous, Savior, because He shall save the people from their sins" [Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31]. When He began His public ministry and was so gloriously received and accepted, He was introduced to the world by John the Baptist with this saying: "Behold! The Lamb of God that should take away the sin of the world" [John 1:29]. In Galilee, He began to teach His disciples that He should suffer in Jerusalem – that He should be crucified and the third day rise again [Matthew 17:22-23].
When He was transfigured on top of the mountain, there appeared Moses and Elijah to Him speaking to Him concerning His death [Luke 9:29-31]. When He was anointed by Mary of Bethany and Judas found fault with the extravagance of the alabaster broken box and the ointment poured out and wasted to Him, the Lord said, "Leave her alone. She’s done a good work. She has anointed my body for the burying" [Mark 14:1-9]. All the way through, until finally, the night before He was crucified, the same story: "This is my body which is broken for you. This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for the remission of sins" [Luke 22:19-20].
If you ever drop out of the preaching of the Lord Jesus that great fundamental gospel message that He came to die, you make of the Lord Jesus just another good man – a wonderful, a marvelous, a superlative man – but just a good man whose moral life and influence in this earth always hallows and sanctifies. But He’s no longer our Savior, and He’s no longer the atonement for our sins on the cross. Take the cross out, take the message of the gospel out, and you have nothing left but another Confucius, another Mahavira, another Zoroaster, another Mohammed, another prophet, and to most of the world, on a level with their own.
Oh, not Jesus. He came into the world for that one great moment – to die for our sins: "That in remembrance of Me" [Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24].
All right, a second thing: "I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified" [1 Corinthians 2:2]. What does the preaching of the cross do? The preaching of the cross is the only ultimate answer to why there is suffering in this world. Suffering is the most inexplicable of all of the overwhelming misfortunes that overtake our lives. "Hadn’t overtaken me, Preacher." Just wait a while. There’s not any life without its shadow, and there’s not any home without its valley. Just give it time. Just wait awhile. Now that suffering comes, and it comes in the most inexplicable way, and I don’t understand. God’s sainted people sometimes suffer the most, and always and out of every heart is raised that inevitable cry of the cross: "My God, my God, why, oh, why?" [Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34]
A dear and blessed friend of mine, a physician, had a little baby come into their home. When I saw the little child, oh, I could tell immediately that the little child was much, much abnormal, oh, so much so. But how hope, how wishful thinking: the mother said, "No. My child is all right." And they took pictures of the child – x-rays, and, oh, I don’t know how much, and to New York did they send them and had the finest physicians in the world to give answer. And upon a day when I visited in their home, she had her final and scientific and learned and ultimate answer. Her child was greatly afflicted.
That name they call those afflicted children, I don’t like even to say it. So I sat down by her side, and there in her arms that baby, and looking at me, she said, "We have this final word, and my baby is" – and that awful, awful word. What if you had to say that word as you held your baby in your arms? "My baby is" – and that awful, awful word, born abnormal; then, through her tears, asked me that inevitable question: "Why has God done this to us?" Her husband a famous missionary’s son, the couple as devout as you could ever know; "Why, oh, why, why, why?"
Without the cross there is no approach to the problem of human suffering at all, but in the cross, we have an ultimate, a divine, a holy and a heavenly answer. There is a tremendously blessed and hallowed purpose back of the suffering in this life and in this world. Out of that cross came our salvation [Romans 5:1-2]. Out of death comes life. Out of suffering, hope and the glory that is to come [Romans 5:3-5]. The great blessings whereby the human race has been blessed, those blessings have come through blood and through sacrifice and through suffering.
A blind Milton [John Milton] will hear the music of poetry like no man ever heard it and write it down in language like no man ever spoke. A deaf Beethoven [Ludwig van Beethoven] will hear the angels sing and write it down in music like nobody ever heard. An imprisoned Bunyan [John Bunyan] will see visions of God and an allegory like nobody else could ever write. A broken-hearted Tennyson [Lord Alfred Tennyson] will write an In Memoriam that will approach an expression of grief that no other poet has ever entered into.
So with all of the sufferings of life. Back of them, in Christ, in the will of God, in the cross and love and patience of Jesus, back of all suffering is a hallowed and sanctifying purpose. If only in the tears and agony and wounds of Jesus we can bow and pray as He prayed, "Not My will, but Thine be done" [Luke 22:42].
Out of the suffering of life come all of the great sympathies that sanctify and hallow the spirit of our people [2 Corinthians 1:2-11]. If you have known death in your home, when death comes in somebody else’s home, there’s a sympathy that otherwise you’d ever know. If there has been trouble in your home, and there’s trouble in somebody else’s home, there’s an understanding in your heart that otherwise you could never enter into. If you see somebody going through the dark valley, and you’ve been through that dark valley, there is a sympathy and an understanding that otherwise you’d never know.
Seemingly what heals the wounds of this world, and what keeps our people together, is its community of interest and feeling in the sorrows and the disappointments and the burdens and the despair of our life [Romans 12:15; Galatians 6:2].
I lay at ease in my little boat,
Fast moored to the shore of the pond,
And looked up through the trees that swayed in the breeze
At God’s own sky beyond.
And I thought of the want and the sin in the world,
And the pain and the grief they bring;
And I marvel at God for spreading abroad
Such sorrow and suffering.
Evening came creeping over the earth,
And the sky grew dim and gray
For stealing my sky away.
Then out of the dark just a speck of a face
Peeped forth from its window bars,
And I laughed to see it smile at me.
I had not thought of the stars!
There are millions of loving thoughts and deeds
All ripe for awakening,
That would never start from the world’s cold heart
But for sorrow and suffering.
Yes, the blackening night is somber and cold,
And the day is warm and fine;
And yet, if the day never faded away,
The stars would never shine!
["The Stars," by Robert Beverly Hale, c. 1893]
Out of the sufferings and disappointments and despair of life come the sympathies and the understandings that make us know and sympathize and understand and feel for our people who go through like valleys and like hurts and like tears.
What does the preaching of the cross do? Not only is it the gospel of Christ, not only is it the key to the whole ministry of Jesus, not only does it teach us the meaning of suffering and of disappointment and heartache, but the preaching of the cross is the revelation of the love of God for this world and is a sign and a symbol of our ultimate hope and victory therein [Romans 5:6-11].
When the Lord died on the cross, they marched up and down in front of His cross saying: "Come down from the cross, and we will believe You" [Mark 15:30]; and others: "He saved others. Himself He cannot save;" and others: "He trusted in God. Let God have Him now if He wants Him;" and others, "Look at Him. Look at Him. He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ Look at Him die like a thief" [Matthew 27:39-43; Mark 15:29-32; Luke 23:35-39].
As you read those taunts, in your heart you want to say, "Lord Jesus, tear yourself from that wood! Come down from the cross. Strike terrified conviction in their hearts!" No. It won’t be just a superman tearing himself from those nails, coming down to strike terror in the hearts of his enemies. It won’t be like that. It’ll be a limp, lifeless, helpless, dead man from whose hands they pull out the spikes, from whose feet they loosen from the cross. It’ll be a dead, limp, lifeless man, rolled in a winding sheet and buried in a tomb [Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:31-41]. It’ll be a man over whom the disciples weep and cry as He is laid away dead, crucified.
But it’ll also be a man who, the third day, is raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-21:25; Acts 1:1-11]. In the triumph and the power of the Spirit of the living God, it’ll be one who is victor over sin and over death and over the grave! [Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-58] And He made that cross a sign and a symbol of our hope and our own ultimate triumph and victory.
If in Flanders fields the poppies blow
It’ll be between crosses, row on row.
[from "In Flanders Fields," by John McCrae, 1915]
Wherever around this world a Christian is martyred or falls in battle, wherever around this world a Christian dies, above him will be raised a symbol of our ultimate hope and our final victory, and it’ll always be a cross. A cross – with its arms outstretched, wide as the world is wide, as far as the east goes east and the west goes west [Psalm 103:12]; there, the outstretched arms of the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. The symbol of our hope, of our resurrection, of our triumph yet to come: the cross of the Son of God.
Going through Germany I saw a large, large British cemetery. To see a cemetery in your native land is an expected thing. There’s no village, there’s no hamlet, there’s no city without its cemetery. To see it in your native land is an expected thing.
To see an American military cemetery way over in Okinawa or way over in Japan or way over in Italy or way over in Africa or way over in France with the American flag flying above it, to see that somehow brings a soberness, a silence, to the heart. It’s pretty hard to describe.
Going through Germany, I saw a British cemetery. They had gathered together the RAF boys, the Royal Air Force men, who had lost their lives over Germany. They’d gathered their bodies together and had buried them there in that British cemetery. As I walked through it, I noticed in the center among all those crosses, I noticed a cross with a wreath of fresh flowers upon it. So I walked to the middle of the cemetery and looked there at the wreath of fresh flowers, and there was a little scroll in somebody’s handwriting attached to the wreath of flowers, and it was this – the writing: the name of the boy, and underneath his wife and boys, "We’ll never forget."
Somebody had made a journey all the way from Britain to visit that cemetery, to find that grave, and on the cross above that boy to put that wreath of flowers. His wife and boys will never forget. And that is this memorial tonight: the cross of Christ, His blood an atonement – we shall never forget.
Now, I want to change our hymn of invitation. I want us to sing, "There’s a Fountain Filled with Blood." Number 48. Number 48.
And while we sing it, number 48, while we sing it, somebody tonight to give his heart to the Lord; somebody to put his life in the church; somebody you, however God would make the appeal, while we sing the song, into the aisle, down here to the front, taking the pastor by the hand: "Here I come, Pastor, and here I am. I give my heart to God. I give you my hand. I want to put my life in the church," or "I want to take Jesus as my Savior. I’m coming by letter. I’m coming by confession of faith. I’m coming by baptism." However the Lord shall say the word and open the door, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE PREACHING OF THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 2:1-2
A. Evidently a crisis in Paul’s life
B. Reading the inspired account of his life, most evident when it arose – after his experience at Athens
1. Everywhere else he was persecuted – at Athens, laughed at
2. He came to Corinth with a renewed dedication to the preaching of the cross
C. Every preacher faces a like crisis
1. Stay by the gospel of the cross or exchange it for the latest sophistry, psychiatric method or popular fad
II. The preaching of the cross – what will it do?
A. It will reveal the life and the meaning of the ministry of Christ
1. Without it, His life is a tragedy, failure and disappointment
2. Jesus came to give His life for remission of sins(Hebrews 10:7, Isaiah 53:6, Matthew 1:21, 17:1-3, 26:26-28, John 1:29, Luke 18:31-34, Mark 14:2-8)
B. It will reveal the meaning and purpose of suffering in this world(Matthew 27:46)
1. In the cross an understanding – out of death, life
2. Humanity’s richest blessings have come out of blood and sacrifice
3. We are brought closer to one another in sympathy, compassion
4. Poem, "The Stars"
C. It is the revelation of the love of God for this world and a sign of our ultimate hope and victory therein
1. The Lord was taunted on the cross(Matthew 27:40-42)
2. Victory not in tearing Himself down from the cross, but in rising from the dead the third day
3. The cross the symbol of our hope, our resurrection, our triumph yet to come