The Cross of Christ (SBC)
May 6th, 1963
1 Corinthians 2
THE CROSS OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
SBC Pastor’s Conference 1963
The title Dr. Ford has given to me is The Cross of Christ, and the reading from the Book is in the second chapter of the first Corinthian letter:
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony, the oracles of God.
For I am determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
[1 Corinthians 2:1-5]
Just to read these words is to sense a deep spiritual conflict in the life of the great apostle. “For I am determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” [1 Corinthians 2:2].
The basis of that spiritual conflict is easily seen in the record of Paul’s missionary journey from Athens to Corinth [Acts 18:1]. Heretofore, everywhere he had been he had met persecution and imprisonment; they stoned him, they beat him [2 Corinthians 23-25], all except in the university center at Athens [Acts 17:15-34]. As he stood before the court of the Areopagus and preached Jesus—His death, His burial, and His resurrection—to the supreme court of the Athenians, when he came to the death of our Lord and His resurrection, the Epicureans laughed out loud. The Stoics were a little more gentle and gracious; they smiled and said, “We will hear thee again of this matter” [Acts 17:32]. And on the way from Athens to Corinth, walking over the Corinthian isthmus, he went through a struggle in his soul that every preacher of the gospel of Christ goes through: “Shall I stay by the old gospel? Shall I continue preaching the cross? Or shall I exchange it for the new thought, the new theology, the latest intellectual sophistry; these programs on social, economic, and political amelioration?” Many of our ministers so exchange it.
I have preached in churches where every song on the blood of Christ has been purged from the hymn books. I one time read of a freight train that a conductor, that an engineer drove to a wreck. He was called before the board of inquiry and asked, “Did you see the flag?”
And the engineer said, “Yes.”
“Well, why didn’t you stop?”
“Well,” said the engineer, “it was white.” “The flag,” [another] testified, “when I put it there, it was red.” The flag was called for. It had been [red], but the color had gone out of it. The offense of the cross, the old fashioned, old time gospel has become offensive and unacceptable. We are seeking things for itching ears; we want a new gospel, we want a new interpretation, we want a new message, for the old is worn out. All preachers go through that crisis. But the martyrs and the apostles and the witnesses of Christ took their stand in the presence of the cross of Christ and said, “God forbid that I should boast, that I should glory, save in the cross of the Son of God” [Galatians 6:14]. And every syllable and every page of the New Testament they have left behind is inspired by His sufferings and stained by His blood.” May I say three things, good homiletical outline?
What comes, what happens when a man preaches the gospel of the cross of the Son of God? “For I am determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” [1 Corinthians 2:2]. One: you will have a key to the meaning of the suffering and death of our Lord; the purpose of His coming into the world. Without that key, the life, the suffering, and the death of our Lord is a farce, it’s a cheap burlesque. It’s a “Divine Comedy.”
Albert Schweitzer, this famous philanthropist and humanitarian in the French Cameroon’s in West Africa, wrote a book entitled The Quest for the Historical Jesus. And the thesis of that book is this: that our Lord expected the apocalyptic descent of the kingdom of God from heaven, and when it didn’t happen, He died frustrated, and defeated, and disappointed, and in despair. Outside of the revelation in God’s Word of the purpose of the coming of Christ into this world, He is correct; Christ died frustrated and defeated and in despair, the kingdom didn’t come. But in the revelation of God and in the elective purposes of heaven for us, the suffering of our Lord and the cross of our Christ is the ultimate glory and purpose and meaning of His incarnation and of His coming into the world [John 18:37]. In eternity He was the Lamb slain from before the foundation of this world [Revelation 13:8]. In prophecy He is the Lamb led to the slaughter, and before His shearers dumb [Isaiah 53:7].
In the annunciation, “This is Jesus, Savior, who shall deliver us from our sins” [Matthew 1:21]; in His introduction, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]; in His teaching ministry, the Son of Man must suffer and be crucified [Matthew 20:17-19]; in His transfiguration, these are they of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, who speak to Him concerning His death [Luke 9:28-31]. And the Greeks, “We would see Jesus” [John 12:20-21]; elicited from Him the meaningful, oh so meaningful response! “Except a grain of wheat fall on the ground and die, it abideth alone [John 12:24]; but I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me” [John 12:32]. When Mary anointed Him at the supper He said, “It is for My burial” [Matthew 26:7-13]. And when He instituted the beautiful, meaningful ordinance of the breaking of bread, He said, “This is My blood of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28]. And He bowed His head on the cross and cried, “It is finished” [John 19:30]. What? “It is finished.” What? The great atoning purpose that brought Him from heaven into the world. We have the key, the explanation, God’s answer to the suffering and the agony and the death of our Lord in the world [John 3:16-17].
A second thing in the preaching of the cross: we have an answer to the problem of human suffering. By and by, by and by, wrung from every heart will be that agonizing cry, “Eli, Eli, lama, lama, lama, lama”—“My God, My God, why, oh why?” [Matthew 27:46] Dr. Jess Moody described a man, a famous baseball athlete, whose sons are afflicted. As a beloved physician in our church, the son of a great wonderful missionary, when the little girl was born and I went to visit in the home, she was plainly mongoloid. And what distressed me most was the mother refused to recognize it; never mentioned it, never referred to it—in all ways, and in all syllables, and words, and sentences, and introductions, just as though the child were normal. Oh, that ultimate day, that day coming! And upon a time when I was there in the home, she held the little baby in her arms and turned to me and said, “We’ve had the final report from the doctor in New York City, and my child is mongoloid.” Then that inevitable question, “Why? Oh, why? What has my husband done, what have I done? What have we done? Why? Why? Why? Why?”
May I pause here? You see, in the answer of a frequently asked question like that, what do I say? This is what I say. “Listen dear, God had a little one coming into this world who was not well. And He looked over the earth to find a couple whom He could trust with the life of that hurt little one. And out of all of the families and couples in the earth for this little one who is hurt, He chose you. It is a compliment from God.”
This is the preaching of the cross: out of death is life [1 Corinthians 15:22]; out of suffering is our salvation [Isaiah 53:5]; out of weakness is our strength [2 Corinthians 12:9]; out of our tears and our sobs is our godliness and our drawing nigh to the Lord who knows and understands [2 Corinthians 1:3-5]. Are not the greatest blessings of human life the fruit of the tears, and the heartache, and the sobs, and the cries of our broken hearts? It’s a blind Milton, who will write of Paradise Regained. It is a deaf Beethoven who will hear the angels sing. It is an imprisoned John Bunyan who will see the vision of the Christian Pilgrim. It’s a broken hearted Tennyson who will write In Memoriam. It’s in the sacrifice of our forefathers in a Valley Forge that we live in a free America. It’s in the graves of our missionaries that we bear witness to the saving grace of the Son of God in the world. This is the very heart and soul and substance of the message of the Son of God [1 Peter 5:10]. Out of our sufferings come the sympathies of life, the understandings, the kindnesses, the sweetnesses that adorn the doctrine of the gospel of our Savior.
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 marveled at God for spreading abroad
Such sorrow and suffering.
Evening came creeping over the earth,
And the sky grew dim and gray
And faded from sight, and I grumbled at night
For stealing my sky away.
Then out of the dark, just a speck of a face
Peeked forth from its window bars;
And I rejoiced to see it smile at me:
I had not thought of the stars!
They are millions of loving thoughts and deeds,
All ripe for awakening,
That never would 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]
Out of the sufferings and the heartaches and the tears of our broken souls and bent bodies, out of our agony are the sympathies and the kindnesses and the understandings of human life. And, it is in our tears, and in our bereavement, and in our sorrow that we lift up our faces in hope of a better world, of a heaven God hath prepared for us who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].
I have often thought, were it not for age, and pain, and suffering, and sorrow, and death, men would forget the very name of the Lord God; they’d never turn, they’d never look. Riding across this continent one time in a plane, I happened to be seated by a godly professor in one of our seminaries. I’d never had opportunity to visit with him before, and I rejoiced in those moments of conversation. I asked him, I said, “Doctor, do you have any children?”
“No,” he said, “No, my wife and I do not have any children.” Then he paused and added, “But we had a little boy, we had a little son; but he left us.”
“Oh,” I said, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. How old was he when he was taken away?”
“Oh,” he said, “the little boy was about ten.”
“Oh, that made it doubly, doubly hurtful.”
“Yes,” he said. Well I said, “How was it that he died?”
“Well,” said the professor, “it was like this.” He said the little fellow came home from school one afternoon and he said, “Mother, I don’t think I’ll go out and play, I don’t feel well.” And the next morning when time came for the little fellow to go to school, why, the little boy said, “Mother, I don’t think I’ll go to school today, I don’t feel well.” And she said, “Well, son, that’s all right, that’s all right if you don’t feel well.” By the evening his temperature was raging. The family physician was helpless before the child. They sent for a doctor in the big city, a specialist. And when the doctor came in, just a little while, he diagnosed him like this, “In a few hours, your son will be gone. He has spinal meningitis, in its most virulent form.” And the doctor left. And the professor said, “I took my seat by the bed of my boy. And in a little while, my boy said, ‘Daddy, it’s getting dark isn’t it?’”
What was happening, the little boy was going blind. And the professor bravely replied, “Yes, son, it is getting dark.” The little boy said, “Well, then Daddy night will soon be here.” And the father said, “Yes, son, night will soon be here.” The little boy said, “Well, Daddy, if it’s getting nighttime I better prepare to go to sleep, hadn’t I?”
“Yes,” said the father, “you better get ready to go to sleep.” He said, “My boy had a little way of arranging a pillow and putting his hand under his face on his hand. He arranged his pillow, his hand and his face; then he turned to me and he said, ‘Good night, Daddy, I’ll see you in the morning.’” And the father bravely replied, “Good night, son, I’ll see you in the morning.”
The professor turned his face from me. He was seated next to the window in the plane, and he looked out into the blue sky for a long time. When he turned back and looked at me, he put his hand on my knee, and he said, “I am living for the day when I see my boy in the morning.” There is an infinite and heavenly purpose of God in our suffering. And we find its key and its explanation in the sobs and in the tears and in the cross of the Lord our Savior.
Briefly, one other word; the cross of Christ has come to be to us the symbol of our ultimate and final triumph. In the day of His death, when those who nailed Him to the tree walked up and down in front of His cross and blasphemously said, “You, You that destroys the temple, and raises it again, come down from the cross.” “He saved others, and He cannot save Himself.”
“Come down and we will believe You” [Matthew 27:40-43].
Every time I read that I feel in my spirit, “Lord, do it. Do it Lord. Come down from the cross and strike terrifying conviction in their hearts; do it, Lord, come down from the cross.” No, it will not be a living Man in superhuman strength tearing Himself from the wood who comes down; it will be a limp and lifeless corpse [Matthew 27:46-50], whom two Sanhedrinists, Nicodemus and Joseph, take down from the cross, lovingly wrap in a winding sheet, and tenderly lay it away in a tomb [John 19:38-42]. But, but, that same Man who, our God, died on the cross for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], shall break the bond of death and rise triumphant from the grave [Matthew 28:5-7]; and we who die with Him shall be raised in the likeness of His glorious resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. And wherever the gospel of Christ is preached, that cross has become the symbol of our triumph and our ultimate glory!
“If in Flander’s fields the poppies blow, it’ll be between crosses row on row.” Wherever there is death, wherever there’s a cemetery, wherever there’s a weeping family, there will you find the Christian with the word of hope, the gospel of the cross, of the death [Matthew 27:32-50], of the atonement [Romans 5:11], and of the glorious resurrection of the Son of God! [Matthew 28:1-7].
Oh, what a message, what a gospel, what an evangel, what a word of good news and of blessed hope! Far as the world goes east, far as the world goes west, the arms of the cross are extended wide as the world is wide; there are no frontiers, this world can never be the same again because Jesus suffered in it and died for it. In the heart of history, in the heart of time, in the very souls of His people Christ hath planted the cross.
O Jesus, keep me near the cross;
E’er a precious fountain,
Free to all—to me—a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.
[from “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,” Fanny J. Crosby]
In the cross, in the cross I glory; “I determine not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” [1 Corinthians 2:2]. O love excellent, O blessed, blessed Jesus!