Christ the Power of God
August 8th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
CHRIST THE POWER OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 1: 23-24
8-08-71 10:50 a.m.
On radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. The title of the sermon is Christ the Power of God. It is a message from a text, and a meaningful one, in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians:
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the 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 1:18-21]
Not what is preached as being foolish, but the method; “the foolishness of preaching,” God’s way of saving the lost. “It pleased God by” the method, the approach, of “the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
But we, we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But unto us who are called, unto them who are saved, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
[1 Corinthians 1:21-24]
There could hardly be framed a more descriptive sentence of the reception of the Christian message in the first Christian century in the Roman Empire than Paul has written here: “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a,” and the Greek word is skandalon “unto the Jews a scandal” [1 Corinthians 1:23]. It is the same imagery as if today we were to say that we were preaching the electric chair of our Savior, or the divot of our Savior, or the hangman’s noose around the neck of our Savior. The cross today has been painted and bejeweled and made out of silver and gold and worn as ornaments around our neck and placed on our churches as embellishments.
But in that day it was a cruel, awesome instrument of execution. And Paul says that “in the preaching of Christ crucified, to the Jew it was a skandalon,” it was an unthinkable aberration. “And unto the Greeks it is,” and the Greek word is “mōrion, moron, moronic, idiocy, foolishness” [1 Corinthians 1:23]. Those learned philosophers in university centers like Athens or Alexandria or Tarsus, when they heard the gospel preached, of Christ crucified, to them it was unthinkable idiocy. It was irrational. “To the Greeks foolishness; but unto them who are called, and unto us who are saved, whether Jew or Greek, He is Christ the,” and the Greek word is “dunamin, dynamin, Christ the dynamite of God; Christ the power of God, and the sophia, the wisdom of God” [1 Corinthians 1:24].
This last week, as some of you know, I have spent in Nova Scotia as a part in attendance upon the executive committee of our Baptist World Alliance. When I was told the place of our assembly, Acadia University in Wolfville, it meant nothing to me. But when I arrived, I found that Wolfville is right, there contiguous, right next to Grand-Pré. And Grand-Pré is the location of Longfellow’s famous epic poem, “Evangeline.”
The story, as any schoolboy knows, the Acadians—and that word “Acadia” is the Indian tribe Micmac, the Micmac Indians called it “Acadia, beautiful, fertile, vale, valley, meadow.” And the word “Grand-Pré” is a French word for the big prairie, the big meadow; and it was settled by French people from Brittany. They’d lived there a hundred years. And then the English won the war against France, and England expelled the Acadians, afraid of their disloyalty to the British crown.
Well, the story: the day before Evangeline and Gabriel, two Acadian young people, were to be married; but when they were suddenly thrust out, the ships separated them. And the rest of her life, over forty years, Evangeline looked for Gabriel, found him finally the victim of a plague; and he died in her arms. And there in the Acadian National Park at Grand-Pré––which is small, but one of the most interesting and beautiful I’ve ever seen––there is a statue there in bronze of Evangeline. And how unusual; the artist made her standing with her head back and leaning to the right, as though reluctant to leave, and when you look at the girl from this side she looks to be sixteen, seventeen years of age; but when you walk around and look at her from the other side she’s an old woman.
The town of Grand-Pré is by the side of Mynas Basin which is an overflow from the Bay of Fundy. And just over the mountain ridge is this famous bay. I stood there on its shores and looked at it. The highest tides in the world are on the Bay of Fundy. They rise sixty-one feet. There you will find the fisherman’s weirs. I’ve never seen them before. As the great tide comes in and the currents with the fish, there is a great mass made out of netting that go for a hundred fifty feet from the shore down into the bay; and the tide coming in and the fish following the current hit the net, and are guided down into an enormous trap which itself is sixty feet high.
And as I stood there on those rocky and beautiful cliffs of the Bay of Fundy and watched the tide go in and out sixty feet, I thought of the invisible omnipotence of the hands that reach down and pull the entire Atlantic Ocean up, and the swelling rises, and fills the great bay and the overflow into Mynas Basin. And these astronomers say that that is the pulling of the moon. And when the moon is in its full, the height of the tide reaches its greatest level: that invisible dunamin, power of God. And as I stood there looking at that vast swelling, I remembered in Panama, the tide there is nineteen feet. And I thought the same thing there; the invisible omnipotent hands that can pull upward the entire vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean just by the power of a small satellite in God’s creation, the moon.
But as wonderful and as powerful, as invisibly omnipotent we see God’s dunamin in the vast universe, to me more marvelous and glorious and omnipotently merciful is “Christ the power of God” [1 Corinthians 1:24] unto salvation. That God, who made the world [Genesis 1:1-31], and the starry heavens [Genesis 1], should be a Man, should be incarnate [Matthew 1:23-25], should walk in human flesh in this earth, on this soil [John 1:14]. Ah, the wonder and miracle of Christ Himself, far more marvelous than any miracle He ever wrought; and far more wondrous than any miracle on these sacred pages is the wonder and the miracle of the Lord Christ Himself.
Against the fact, the reality of the living Christ, like pounding waves on those giant rock cliffs of Fundy Bay, the waves and the hammering drive of infidelity, and atheism, and agnosticism, and secularism, and materialism, and false philosophy, and false theology, and pseudoscience have beat through the years and the centuries. And yet, after the pounding of the seas of unbelief, there He stands today with His hands outstretched over the earth, more real, more wonderful, more alive than in any other time in human history. To the bigot, He is still a scandal and an offense. To the sophisticated He is still an idiocy and a foolishness. But unto us, by the increasing millions, He is the love of God, and the revelation of God, and the presence of God, and the praise of God, and the Word of God, and the way to God, and the power of God, and the hope of the world [Romans 1:16]. “We preach Christ crucified, unto us who are saved, whether Jew or Greek, Christ the dunamin of God, and the wisdom of God” [1 Corinthians 1:23-24].
He is the power of God to attract. A few Sunday nights ago I preached a sermon here entitled The Magnetic Christ. “Christ the power of God” [1 Corinthians 1:24], to woo, to draw unto Himself. By this I refer to that unusual thing, which to me is miraculous, of the attractiveness of the preached Word. I’ve been pastor here twenty-seven years. I preach three times each Sunday. And for twenty-seven years God hath given us this gracious and precious congregation.
What if I had a lectern here as this and I stood behind it and lectured on English literature, or on the humanities, or on sociology and psychology, or upon any other subject named? Long time ago the throngs that press into this sanctuary would have been bored with the tedium, weary with the repetitive triteness of the same subject. And yet, after twenty and seven years, standing in this same place, preaching this same gospel, and the people come and they return, and we never tire. To me, it is a miracle of God.
I stood in a great city looking at the front of one of the famous churches of the earth. And in my mind and memory I relived some of its history. Oh, noble preachers, famous expositors of the Word, thronging, you had to have a ticket to get in, a powerful and dynamic and world famed God-blessed ministry! And as I looked at the church now it is a vast mausoleum. It is dying.
In the corridor I picked up an announcement of their services. The coming Sunday: a feature length color film, The Wire Tapper; the next one, members of the United States champion football team have the service; the next one, the director of community redevelopment has the service; the next one “The Gift,” a drama by the Davidson Players; and the next one, The King of Kings, a motion picture by Cecil B. DeMille. And thus it reads Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Then my brethren wonder why the crowds disappear, and the people vanish, and the interest melts away, and the great far famed church that used to resound with the preaching of the gospel of Christ has become an empty shell, dead. “For it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” [1 Corinthians 1:21].
Is it not a miracle in itself? Men are divided by many demarcations. They are black and white. They are rich and poor. They are learned and unlearned. They are old and young. Many demarcations separate us. But there is no demarcation in the attractiveness and the interest in the preaching of the gospel of the living Lord. Whether it is a university professor in Cambridge, or the darkest benighted Hottentot in Africa; whether it is the richest man in his mansion, or a poor pilgrim, ragged and barefoot; whether it is a plainsman on his pony, or the mountaineer in his cabin; whether it is a little child in the card class as I attended as a little boy, with a picture of Jesus and the teacher telling us what it meant, Jesus doing something; or whether it’s in old age and facing the sunset days of life, there is no difference in the attractiveness of the gospel message of Christ.
How to reach the masses, men of every birth,
For an answer Jesus gave the key:
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth,
Will draw all men unto Me.
[“Lift Him Up,” Johnson Oatman]
For the testimony of Jesus is still the spirit of prophecy [Revelation 19:10].
Not only “Christ the power of God” to attract, to woo, to draw [1 Corinthians 1:24], He is also “Christ the power of God” to convict and to convert [1 Corinthians 1:24]. How He can change hearts and change lives and change the whole direction of culture and civilization. This world has known many statesmen, they have come and gone, have left the world and the human heart largely unchanged. This world has seen deployed over its face armies led by great military geniuses and strategists. After they have marched and fought they passed away and left the earth unchanged. This earth has known many philosophers and poets; they have come and taught us so much, and revealed so much. But after they have spoken their finest and highest and best, still the earth remains ultimately, fundamentally, actually, really unchanged.
I cannot but remember, and remember with sadness, that after the greatest philosophers who’ve ever lived, who taught in the days of the Hellenic glory of Greece, after those philosophers had lived and taught, they left still a world that was merciless and cruel, a world that exposed children and degraded womanhood. But ah, this Christ, this Lord Jesus, where He enters, where He is named, where He is worshiped and loved, there’s a new day. There’s a new creation. There’s a new life. There’s a new culture. There’s a new civilization.
I could not help but be amused, partly, and interested certainly, walking down a pathway last week with John Hamrick of our Home Mission Board through Acadia University where we were meeting. He began to tell me about something that happened, that I already knew about, in the New Orleans Southern Baptist Convention over which I presided.
Well, there had come there a group of students to protest. And they were led by a very learned and intellectual professor. They were there to protest. So they sent out word of their coming, they advertised their appearance; and they challenged anybody to accept their platform with them and debate with them on the issues for which they had come to protest. And John Hamrick took it upon himself to answer the challenge. So he went to the meeting to answer the professor as he stood up for the spokesman for the protesters.
So the professor stood up in all of his finest verbiage and nomenclature and language, and said why he attacked the Southern Baptist Convention and its association of churches for their blindness to and their neglect of the social issues of the day. Here we are with our noses buried in a Book, and preaching the gospel, and holding revival meetings, and asking men to come accept Christ as their Savior, when according to him and them what we need to do is to wrestle with the social problems that afflict us in our day and generation.
You know, same old stuff you get so tired of it, you feel like Jesus in Laodicea, you could regurgitate. You know what that’s a nice word for? After he was done and sat down, John Hamrick said to me, he said, “You know, I came to the meeting with a manuscript. And I had prepared to answer the learned professor with all of these intellectual arguments in reply.” He said, “You know, seated there and listening to that man, when time came for me to stand up to speak, I took that manuscript and I tore it in two and threw it on the floor.” He said, “I stood up there before those students and the people interested enough to come, and I told them what Christ had done for me.” He said, “We were a Bohemian family from Prague, strangers in a strange land; and we lived in a ghetto. And my father was a drunkard and mean, and I hated him. And our lives were miserable and wretched, as well as poor and degraded.
In those days,” he said, “I heard a Southern Baptist preacher proclaim the message of Christ, and I was saved. I was saved. I was gloriously saved.” And he said, “Through me, God lifted up the family in grace and mercy to the throne of heaven, and we had a new life, and a new home, and a new location, and a new father, and a new family. It was a new day when I found, and we found the Lord.” John Hadlick said, “You know, when I got through I had every one of those students with me.”
I am no sovereign and I don’t propose to dictate to the laws of our land, but I have a judgment in the experience of my life. In my humble opinion, you can create that welfare program to dole and to give to these people for a thousand generations, and at the end of the thousandth generation their children and their children’s children will still be there with their hands extended, waiting for a governmental dole. But if you could bring into the hearts of those people a pride and a dedication and a Christian love and commitment, you’d solve your welfare program overnight. And those that remain of the blind, of the demented, of the crippled, there are more than enough and to spare to take care of them.
Oh, there is something about the welfare state-ishness toward which America is fast moving that reminds me of Edward Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Out of the five reasons that he gave for the dissolution and decay of the Roman Empire, one was that, that the people with increasing numbers looked to the government for a dole. How different does Christ entering make a home, and a family, and a heart, and a life? In my humble opinion, more than all of the charity in the earth is what we’re doing in West Dallas with our missions: getting those men out of the gutter, getting those men down the aisle, getting those men to Christ; what a difference He makes.
The apostle Paul was once Saul of Tarsus, a bitter enmity of the message of the Lord. And breathing out threatening and slaughter against the church, he had papers to hale into prison and finally to death those that called on that name in Damascus [Acts 9:1-2]. And as he journeyed to Damascus with fire, and fury, and hatred, and bitterness, he met Jesus, above the brightness of the midday Syrian sun, on the road [Acts 9:3-6]. And when finally he came to Damascus, blinded by the glory of that light, they were leading him by the hand [Acts 9:8]. He had seen the Lord. He had found the Lord. It was a new day and a new world [Acts 9:9-22].
Hastily, and just the moment that remains; He is not only “Christ the power of God” to attract, not only “Christ the power of God” to convict and convert, He is “Christ the power of God” [1 Corinthians 1:24], to save, and to bless, and to bring joy and supernal happiness. He was so in the days of His flesh when He walked among men: if I but touch the hem of His garment, I will be saved [Matthew 9:20-21]. He was so in the story of the Book of Acts, and Philip the evangelist went down to Samaria, and preached Christ unto them . . . and there was great joy in that city [Acts 8:5-8].
If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy,
Let Jesus come in to your heart.
Your sins He’ll wash away;
Your night He’ll turn to day;
Your life He’ll make it over again.
If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy,
Let Jesus come in to your heart.
[“If You Want Joy, Real Joy,” Joseph D. Carlson]
And what He was in the days of His flesh, and what He was in the story of the Book of Acts, He is no less so today. Look around you, look in front of you, look behind you, look on either side of you, miracles of grace, of God’s love, everywhere. Lector si circums lector si monumentum requires circumspice, “Reader, if you seek a monument, an evidence, look around you.” Look at Him. Christ touched his heart and saved him. Look at her, the Lord spoke to her; she’s a new somebody. Look at this family, how preciously dedicated. If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy, let Jesus come into your heart. “Christ the power of God” to save us [Matthew 1:21; Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:13], “Christ the power of God” to keep us [John 10:27-30], “Christ the power of God” to raise us from the dead [John 6:40], “Christ the power of God” to present us someday faultless in the glory of His beauty [Jude 24-25]. And He is ours forever, for the asking, for the trusting, for the taking, for the believing [Romans 10:9-13]. Will you? Will you?
In a moment, we stand to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, you, give your heart to Jesus and come and stand by me [Ephesians 2:8]. “Here I am, pastor, here I come.” A family you, you your wife, and your children, all of you coming; a couple you; or just you, down one of these stairways on either side, on the lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. Into that aisle, down that stairway, here to the pastor, make the decision now. And when you stand up, that first step toward God will be the greatest step you’ve ever made in your life. To put your life with us, however the Spirit will press the appeal to your heart; or to give yourself to the Lord, come [Romans 10:9-13]. Come now, and angels will attend you in the way as you come. Do it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.