CHRIST, THE POWER OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 1:18-24
4-8-74 12:00 p.m.
These are brief services. They are brief but they are full of the gladness and glory and goodness of God. The theme this year, as Mel Carter announced, is “Christ, the Savior of the World.” Tomorrow at high noon, Christ, the Gift of God; and the next day at high noon, Christ, the Word of God; and the next day, Thursday at high noon, Christ, the Way to God, and Friday at high noon, Christ, the Man of God. Ecce homo, “Behold the Man!” [John 19:5].
And today the title of the message is Christ, the Power of God.
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.
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 them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
[1 Corinthians 1:18-24]
There could be hardly a more apt and concise and confirmed description of the reception of the gospel message in the Greco-Roman world than what Paul has written here in our text.
“For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we, we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a skandalon, unto the Greeks moria; But unto us who are saved, Jew and Greek, Christ the dunamin of God” [1 Corinthians 1:22-24].
Just reading those Greek words emphasize the dramatic reception of the message as it was first preached in the first Christian century.
To the Jew the preaching of the gospel sounded like, and the Greek word is skandalon. And we’ve taken it bodily into our language. The idea to the Jewish mind of a crucified felon—we’d say one who had been executed in the electric chair. Crucifixion was the national way of condemnation and execution of a malefactor in the first century—and to the Jew the very idea of preaching the crucifixion, the execution of a felon as the Savior of the world was a skandalon, a scandal.
To the Greeks it was mōria. Our word “moron” is that exact word. To the sophisticated Greek, it was moronic idiocy and foolishness [1 Corinthians 1:23]. The very idea that our sins could be washed away and our souls saved in the execution of a condemned Roman malefactor was unthinkable and unimaginable and inexcusable [Luke 23:32]. It was idiocy and inanity, to the Greeks, moronic foolishness [1 Corinthians 1:23].
But unto us who were saved, whether Jew or Greek, the preaching of Christ is the dunamin of God. Our word dynamite, dynamo, is that word. “He is Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God” [1 Corinthians 1:24].
To me, it is nothing less than a miracle. The power of Christ and the gospel message of our Lord in the first Christian century; it literally subverted and changed the course of human history. It set civilization on a new hinge and turned it in a new direction.
To me, there is no greater miracle recorded in human story than the miracle of the power of the preaching of Christ in the first Christian century.
There are many wonderful miracles that we read in these Holy Scriptures. There are many wonderful miracles that were wrought by the hand of Christ Himself. But to me, the greatest miracle is the miracle of the Lord Himself.
Against the reality, and the power, and the presence, and the glory, and the personality, and the meaning of Christ, the kingdom of darkness and the minions of Satan have beat like the pounding waves of the sea through all of the centuries since the gospel was first announced.
And yet, after all the words that the infidel has said, and the materialists, and the agnostic, and the secularist, and those who preach false philosophy and false ideology and false religion and pseudoscience, after the passing of the centuries and the centuries, there our Lord remains. Still to the infidel, a scandal and an offense. Still to the sophisticate, an idiocy and a foolishness; but unto us, by the increasing millions, He is Christ the Word of God, Christ the gift of God, Christ the way to God, Christ the love of God, Christ the presence of God, Christ the power of God and the hope of the world [1 Corinthians 1:18].
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we, we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a scandal, and unto the Greeks moronic idiocy; but to us who are saved, whether Jew or Greek, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God [1 Corinthians 1:22-24].
Will you consider for a moment the power of Christ to draw men unto Himself—the attractive and magnetic Christ, the miraculous power of the spoken word of testimony in His name, this thing that Paul referred to as the foolishness of preaching that saves men who believe [1 Corinthians 1:21].
The world, the humanity of our world, is divided by many demarcations. They are rich and poor. They are old and young. They are wise and unwise. They are black and white. They are learned and unlearned. There are many divisions among men in the world. But there is no division in humanity in the power of the gospel message of Christ to attract. Whether it be a university professor in Cambridge or the lowest Hottentot in Africa; whether it be a soldier on the battlefield or his anxious mother at home; whether it be the mountaineer in his cabin or the plainsman on his pony; whether it be a magnate of a great industrial empire or the janitor who sweeps out his office; to all alike, a little child in a card class or a great metaphysical theologian with his tomes of story and interpretation—to all alike the message of Christ is sweet and dear and attractive.
And if a man will deliver that message, the plain, humble, simple story of our blessed Lord, put him anywhere; in a vacant store building, in a beautiful cathedral, on a town square or out in a football stadium; if he will faithfully deliver that message of Christ, men will be blessed. Their hearts will be warmed. They will listen attentively and intently, and they’ll come back again and again. Give me one man, just one, whose faith in Christ controls his mind, and I will right ten thousand wrongs and bless the name of all mankind.
There is a wondrous attractiveness and glory in the preached Word of the Son of God. That man who delivers the message may stammer like Moses. His message may be filled with grammatical errors like Moody. He may personally be small and diminutive like Wesley or crippled like Counselor. But if he delivers the message of Christ, people will listen, and they will come back, and they will come back, and they will be there again and do it for a lifetime.
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” [John 12:32].
[“Lift Him Up,” John Oatman, Jr. 1903]
He is Christ, the power of God to draw men unto Himself [John 12:32]. He is Christ, the power of God to change the human heart [Psalm 51:10]. The effect of our Lord upon the human family, its inward motives and its outward expressions, is also nothing short of miraculous and phenomenal.
The earth has received and known many wonderful and gifted men. Statesmen have come reshaping the constitutions of kingdoms and empires. Military leaders, strategists have led their armies up and down, deployed over the face of the globe. Poets and authors and philosophers have taught their words of human wisdom. But after the statesman has changed the constitution, and after the military strategist has changed the boundaries of the land, and after the poet and the philosopher have spoken their words of highest human wisdom, actually the human heart and the human life continues on pretty well unchanged, just the same.
But this Jesus, whom I first knew at my mother’s knee, of whom I was taught as a child in a little Sunday school class, whose message I heard preached in the little church in the village where I grew up, somehow as with me, so with ten thousand millions of others, having listened and having heard, we are never quite the same again.
The message of Christ does something to the human heart. It is like the story of the apostle Paul, with letters from the high priest in Jerusalem to take into custody those who called upon that name in Damascus, as he neared the city, there appeared to him above the brightness of the meridian, shining Syrian sun, the vision of the Lord of glory, the Son of God. And in the light of that brightness, Saul fell to the earth as one blind [Acts 9:1-4]. When finally he came into the city, they were leading him by the hand, this arch-persecutor, who was breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord [Acts 9:1, 8], now fasting, bowed in prayer, seeking the mind and face of God in Christ Jesus [Acts 9:11]. He was turned. He was changed. He was a new man. He became not the old Saul but Paul [Acts 13:9], the apostle of the grace of God and the Savior Christ Jesus [Acts 9:12-22].
And that marvelous transforming change that we read in the life of the persecuting Saul is the same marvelous glorious transforming change that we find in the whole course of human history.
Just the preaching of the message of Christ so softened the human heart and so allayed the fierceness of human government, that in no while at all crucifixion was outlawed.
The Roman Colosseum fell into ruins where gladiators fought to the death. Children were no longer exposed, unwanted, unclean, fed to the animals. Womanhood was exalted, uplifted. The home was glorified, and a thousand sweet ameliorating influences bathed this harsh and darkened world.
I have been around the world twice on preaching missions. And wherever the gospel is preached, in the heart of the Dark Continent, at the ends of civilization, on the frontier of culture itself, wherever the message of Christ has gone, there will you find the hospital. There was no hospital in the entire Roman Empire. But wherever the Jesus message is preached, there you will find a hospital.
Wherever the message of Christ is preached, there you will find an orphan’s home. There you will find a school. There you will find a church with its spire pointing toward heaven. He is Christ, the power of God to change the human heart [Ezekiel 36:26]. I must conclude. He is Christ, the power of God to convert and to save the human soul [Hebrews 10:39]. And all who touched Him were healed, everybody [Luke 6:19].
There is virtue in Him [Mark 5:30]. And when anyone comes to the blessed Jesus, he is a new creature, a new creation, a new man, a new somebody [2 Corinthians 5:17]. For there is power in Christ to save our souls [Hebrews 10:39], to deliver us from the judgment of death [Galatians 1:4], and to present us to Himself in this world and in the world to come, free, unfettered, unbound, saved, glorified, sanctified, healed, made whole, made new [Ephesians 5:27]. Look around you. There is no assembly of God’s people but that you see here, and there, and there, and yonder miracles of transforming grace.
I stood at the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren in St. Paul’s Cathedral. The glorious Christian edifice is a product of his hands of genius. He is the great architect who built it. And above his resting place, incised in marble are these words in Latin: Lector, si monumentum requiris circumspice, “Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.” The great cathedral is a monument to Christopher Wren. My brother, if you seek a demonstration of the ableness and might and power of Christ to save, look around you. They’re everywhere: miracles of transforming grace and power.
Last night, last night, I baptized a man who looked to be about thirty-five. He was a man who had given his life to the deepest degradation, transgression, iniquity, sin. In one of our services, he found the Lord, and as I baptized him last night, his tears mingled with the baptismal waters. He wept. When I went to dress, he was there dressing. And after we had dressed, I walked over to him and put my arms around him and said, “My brother, you cannot know how my heart was moved to see you weep when I baptized you just now.”
And he replied to me, “Pastor, you cannot know how many dark sins Christ has forgiven me and how wondrously He has changed my life.” Look around you, everywhere that glorious testimony of the grace and power of God in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 2:5-9]. That is why Paul could write so triumphantly, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13].
We can call upon culture and receive what culture can do; call upon science, what science can do; call upon wealth, what wealth can do; call upon government, what government can do; call upon education, what education can do. But call upon Christ, and see what God can do! The power of God unto salvation [Romans 10:13]. I may sing about Him, and be lost. I may write books about Him, and be lost. I may admire Him, and be lost; discuss Him, and be lost; even preach about Him; and be lost. But I can’t call upon His name, and stay lost. For if I call upon His name, God does something in my heart and in my soul [1 Corinthians 1:30].
Try it. He is Christ, the power of God to deliver us, to free us, to save us, to forgive us, to heal us [1 Corinthians 1:24], and someday to present us without fault or blemish in the presence of the great Glory [Ephesians 5:25-27; Jude 1:24-25].
And our Lord, with words of infinite, immeasurable gratitude, we thank Thee and praise Thee for the love, and the gift, and the power, and the grace that reaches even unto me, unto us, and saved us to Thyself in both worlds, this one and the world to come. In Thy love and Spirit and in Thy dear name, amen.