Christ the Power of God
August 8th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
CHRIST THE POWER OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 1:23-24
8-08-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the happiest church in the world; happy when we are laughing, even happy when we are crying, and inexpressibly and unfathomably in love with Jesus our Lord, all of us. The title of the sermon is Christ the Power of God. It is a presentation of a glorious text 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 that the message preached is foolish, but that the method God has chosen for the saving of the lost, “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching,” that method 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, and unto them who are saved, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
[1 Corinthians 1:21-24]
You could hardly place in one descriptive sentence more accurately the reception of the Christian message in the first Roman Christian century than in the summary Paul has made here: “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews,” and the Greek word is skandalon, “unto the Jews a scandal” [1 Corinthians 1:23].
To us, we have so glorified the cross. We have painted it, we have made it in silver and gold, and it has lost its executionary imagery. But it’s the same thing to us today as we were to say that we glory in the electric chair or in the divot, in the hangman’s noose. The cross was a dreadful, awesome spectacle in that day; “And to the Jews the preaching of the cross was a skandalon, it was a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks,” and the Greek word used here is “moron, mōrion,” one form of it “moron,” foolishness, idiocy [1 Corinthians 1:23].
To a man who was a university student or a graduate of the intellectual centers in Athens or Tarsus or Alexandria or Antioch, the preaching of the cross, to those learned philosophers was an idiocy and a foolishness. “But unto us who are saved, whether we are Jew or Greek, he is Christ the,” and the Greek word used here is “dunamin, dynamin, dynamite,” “He is Christ the power of God, and the sophia, the wisdom of God” [1 Corinthians 1:24]. Christ the “dynamite, the dunamin, the dynamin, the power of God.”
This last week I have spent in Nova Scotia, attending the sessions, of which I’m a part, of the Baptist World Alliance. The announcement came to me that it was going to be convened in Acadia University at Wolfville, which meant nothing to me, but when I arrived there I found that Wolfville and Grand-Pré are just side by side. And at Grand-Pré is the Evangeline National Park, the Acadian National Park. Acadia is a Micmac word; an Indian, Micmac. The Micmac Indians, they called it Acadia because of the beautiful fertile valley and meadow there. And Grand-Pré is the French word for the same meaning of Acadia: beautiful meadow, big meadow.
There is the story of Evangeline: when the British expelled those Acadians, the French settlers who lived there a hundred years, and she and her husband to be were to be married; and that day they were placed on ships and separated. And for the rest of her life, for over forty years, she searched for him. And found him dying in a plague. He died in her arms. That’s Longfellow’s “Evangeline.” And there in that national park is a glorious statue in bronze of Evangeline, and an unusual thing it is. When you look at her on this side with her head back and tilted as though reluctant to leave the home out of which they were expelled, when you look at her this side she looks to be a girl about sixteen or seventeen years of age. But the artist has done an unusual thing. When you walk around and look at her on the other side, she’s an old woman.
The country is impressive. It’s a magnificent land. And the Mynas Basin, on which Grand-Pré and Wolfville and the Acadian University are located, is a part of the Bay of Fundy. And I went up to the Bay of Fundy to look at it; the highest tides of the world are there. They rise sometimes beyond sixty feet high, the tides. And they have fishing weirs, which are unusual to me, great walls of netting. And as the tide comes in and the current comes around, the fish are thrown against the net, and they run down seeking escape into a great trap that itself is sixty feet high. And as I stood on the Bay of Fundy and just looked at it, these men who study say that that tide is made by the power of the moon, and standing there thinking of the invisible omnipotent hands that reach down and pull the entire Atlantic Ocean up in the Bay of Fundy sixty feet.
In Panama the tides there are nineteen feet. And again, standing there I thought of the invisible power of the Almighty that with just a small satellite like the moon reaches down and pulls the entire Pacific Ocean up nineteen feet. It is fantastic. And yet, this power of God displayed wantonly, aboundingly, immeasurably in the vast universe He has created is as nothing compared to the power of God in Christ Jesus [1 Corinthians 1:24].
The miracle of miracles is not the moon, or the stars, or the sun, or the sidereal spheres; but the miracle of miracles is that “God was in Christ, incarnate God, reconciling the world unto Himself” [2 Corinthians 5:19]. Greater than any miracle He ever performed, and greater than any miracle recorded in the Holy Word is the miracle of the Lord Christ Himself. Oh, it is astonishing! It is amazing. It is unbelievable. It is a wonderment that God who made the creation [Genesis 1:31] should have been born as a babe [Matthew 1:21-23], grew up as a man, and died for our sins in atoning grace [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Romans 5:11], the miracle of the reality of the living presence and being and existence of Christ.
Against that reality, against that fact of the living Lord, like pounding waves on the Bay of Fundy, atheism, agnosticism, materialism, secularism, false philosophy, false religion, false ideology, pseudoscience, have beat through the centuries. And yet after the passing of the days and the years, there He stands, the living Lord more wonderful, and more alive, more glorious today than ever in past history. To the bigot still a scandal and an offense. To the sophisticated still an idiocy and a foolishness. But to us by the increasing millions, He is Christ the love of God, and the presence of God, and the reality of God, and the Word of God, and the way to God [John 14:6; Romans 1:16]. He is still “Christ the power of God” [1 Corinthians 1:24], and the hope of the world [Matthew 12:21; John 3:16].
He is “Christ the power of God” to attract. Sunday before last I preached at an evening service on The Magnetic Christ. He is “Christ the power of God” [1 Corinthians 1:24], to attract. To me, it is no other thing than a miracle, the attractiveness of the spoken testimony in His behalf; “the foolishness of preaching that saves them that believe” [1 Corinthians 1:21]. I think of my own ministry. I’ve been here twenty-seven years. I preach three times a day. Suppose I were here in this place, lecturing on literature or speaking on economics or on any assignment that you could think of, and to do it for twenty-seven years. Do you think the people would come? Do you think they’d be back? Why, after the first few weeks the subject would have become so dry and dreary the audience would have fallen apart in boredom.
And yet after twenty-seven years, speaking on the same theme, “Christ the Savior of the World” [1 John 4:14], people still come, and you’re here. It is a miracle of God. Oh, how many times do I think that my fellow servants of Jesus in the pulpit make colossal mistakes in turning aside from the preaching of the cross and the blessedness of the goodness of Jesus in order to speak on book reviews, and current events, and economic policies, and procedures, and governmental programs?
I stood in the presence of one of the great, great churches of the earth, in one of our great cities, and stood there looking at one of our mighty churches. Facing a great park in the heart of a vast city, and its days passed written in glory and splendor. But today it is dead. And I picked up a program announcing their Sunday services. This first Sunday that is presented, a feature length color film entitled The Wire Tapper; the next Sunday, a presentation of members of the United States Champion football team; the next Sunday, a presentation of a discussion under the director of community redevelopment; the next Sunday, a gift, “The Gift,” a drama by the Davidson Players’, and the next Sunday, The King of Kings, a motion picture by Cecil B. DeMille. Against none of those things would I have any objection. I am just saying that it is not the gospel of the dynamite of Christ. And my evidence for the judgment is that great church wrapped in a winding sheet, sepulchral, like a mausoleum, dead.
There are many demarcations among men. They are old and young. They are black and white. They are educated and uneducated. They are rich and poor. But there is no demarcation among men in the power of the gospel to attract. The university professor in Cambridge, the lowest benighted Hottentot in Africa, the mountaineer in his cabin with his little family making his way to church, the plainsmen on his pony, the rich man dealing in vast financial transactions, the beggar a pilgrim with bare feet, the child in the kindergarten––I remember the little card class, the picture of Jesus and the lesson that went with it when I was a little boy––the old man tottering to the grave, to all alike there is a strange invisible attractiveness in the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God.
How to win 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.
[from “Lift Him Up,” Johnson Oatman]
For the testimony of Jesus is still the spirit of prophecy [Revelation 19:10].
“Christ the power of God” to attract; He is “Christ the power of God” to convict and to convert [1 Corinthians 1:24]. Ah Lord, what a difference Christ has made in the earth. Statesmen have come and gone, remapping and remaking the political governments of the peoples; but the hearts continue on just the same. Military strategists and generals and leaders making war have marched their armies up and down and over the face of the earth, but the human heart has continued on just the same. Poets and philosophers have taught, come and gone, and the human heart continues on just the same. I cannot but think of the Greco-Roman world after the greatest philosophers who’ve ever lived taught their Hellenic thought, Greek thought, and left the world merciless and cruel. But this Jesus, wherever His name is loved it’s a new generation. It’s a new hope. It’s a new heart. It is another life.
Last week I was walking down a pathway through the university there with John Hamrick of our Home Mission Board. And he reminded me, when I was president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a great group of students under a certain leader came to New Orleans, where I was presiding over the convention, to protest. Oh, they had it all set. And they had their illustrious professor at the convocation and invited everyone to attend and challenged anyone to respond. Well, John Hamrick accepted the challenge.
So the professor stood up there, and in learned language he attacked the Southern Baptist Convention and its churches and its pastors for preaching the gospel of Christ. “When,” he said, they ought to be wrestling with the social problems of the world,” that was his thesis. Well, John Hamrick said to me, “You know, as I sat there and listened to him, and those students just pulled along with him,” he said, “I had it all prepared. And when he got through I took that manuscript by which I had sought to contrive intellectual arguments to subvert and interdict what he’d said,” he said, “I took that manuscript and I tore it in two, and threw it on the floor. When my time came,” he said, “I stood up there and I told them about what Christ had done for me and my family.”
He said, “We were Bohemians, come from Prague, we were Bohemians, and lived in a ghetto. And my father was vile and a drunkard, and our family was wretched, and I hated my father. And upon a day,” he said, “I heard the gospel of the Son of God, and I was saved. I was saved.” And he said, “I love my father. And I love the things of home and family that I once despised.” And he said, “The hands of the Lord lifted us up and out, put a song in our souls, praises on our lips, and we had a new home, and a new father, all of them coming to the blessed Jesus.” Now he said, “That is real social work.” And John said to me, “Did you know, when I got through, I had every one of those students with me, every one of them”; the power of God to convert [1 Corinthians 1:24].
In my humble opinion, you can take this welfare and pour it into these people for a thousand generations, and at the end of the thousandth generation, they’ll still be there with their hands out expecting somebody to feed them. And it will grow, and grow, and grow and their children will expect somebody to feed them, and their children will expect somebody to feed them. But O God, if you could change the heart, if you could get them to Christ, there’d be a new hope, and a new dedication, and a new pride, and a new love, and a new life. “Christ the power of God” to convict and to convert [1 Corinthians 1:24].
Why, there’s no miracle in that universe, ocean, mountain, star, Milky Way. There’s no miracle in God’s universe like this kind of a miracle: Saul breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, going to Damascus to hale them into prison and to death [Acts 9:1-2], and he meets Jesus in the way [Acts 9:3-6]. And when finally he comes to Damascus, they lead him by the hand: the sight of that glory blinded his eyes [Acts 9:8]. And he was a new man; he was Paul the apostle [Acts 9:9-22].
He is “Christ the power of God” to save [1 Corinthians 1:24]. So in His life, in the days of His flesh, if I but touch the hem of His garment I will be whole [Matthew 9:20-21]; laying His hands on the lepers, they were clean [Mark 1:40-42]; saying to the thief by His side, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].
“Christ the power of God” to save [1 Corinthians 1:24]; in the Book of Acts, Philip 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 into 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 into your heart.
[“If You Want Joy, Real Joy,” Joseph D. Carlson]
And as the treasurer of Ethiopia hearing the gospel, baptized, a convert now, a disciple of the lowly Jesus, he went on his way rejoicing [Acts 8:35-39]. “Christ the power of God” [1 Corinthians 1:24].
I have felt that. And look all around you: monuments of grace, trophies of God’s love, seated in front of you, seated on either side of you, seated back of you, here seated above you. Come and join us. We have found the pearl of price [Matthew 13:45-46]. We have found the treasure hid in a field [Matthew 13:44]. We have found the Savior of the world [1 John 4:14]. We have found joy and everlasting life [John 3:16, 10:27-30]. We have found Jesus, our Lord. Come, and rejoice with us. That’s what it is to be a Christian. I’ve found the Lord. I’ve found the Friend of friends. I’ve found joy and gladness. I’ve found Someone who has all the answers. “Christ the power of God” to stand by me in life [Matthew 28:20], to raise me from the dead [John 6:40], to present me in heaven someday [Jude 24-25]; I’ve found the Savior of my soul. I’ve given my heart to Christ. Do it, now [Romans 10:8-13].
In a moment we shall stand to sing, and while we sing that hymn of appeal, you, somebody you, “I’m coming now and here I am. Here I stand.” In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, come. A family you, a couple you, or just you, “Here I am, pastor, I make it now. I’m coming now.” Do it. Angels will attend you in the way when you come. That first step you make will be the greatest step you ever made in your life, and the most meaningful. Try it and see. Come, give your heart to God, believe and be saved [Acts 16:30-31], wash and be clean [2 Kings 5:10-14; Revelation 7:14]; look and live [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]. Come, make the decision in your heart now, wherever you’re seated. In your heart, “Lord I open my life to Thee, I give my heart to Thee, Lord, bless and see me through”. Make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. Into that aisle, or down that stairway and here to the pastor, “I make the decision now, and I’m coming” [Romans 10:8-13]. While we stand and while we sing.