The Word of the Cross

Posts in this series:

  1. http://www.gadsby.com.au/wpg-thots/theology/the-cross-and-evangelism/
  2. http://www.gadsby.com.au/wpg-thots/theology/what-is-the-gospel/
  3. http://www.gadsby.com.au/wpg-thots/theology/the-word-of-the-cross/
  4. http://www.gadsby.com.au/wpg-thots/theology/we-preach-christ-crucified/

In 1Cor.1:18 Paul uses an unusual expression: “the word of the cross.” He says that it is “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

He has just written, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (v.17) (Note: the words “of its power” are not in the original.) So, the “word of the cross” is the message Paul preached about the cross.

What then is the “power of the cross”?

It is part of the gospel message, which, as the Apostle says in Rom.1:16, is “the power of God for salvation.” (He uses the same word in 1Cor.1:18 – dunamis.) But how does the message of the cross actually function in the proclamation of the message about Jesus?

We have seen that the cross of Christ was not to the forefront in the Apostles’ gospel preaching as summarized by Luke in the Book of Acts (see here.) However, it was clearly an essential aspect of the gospel message: so much so that Paul could write (1Cor.15:1ff) “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” (We’ll return to this passage in a future post.)

To answer our question, I believe we need to go back to the teaching of the Lord Jesus himself. What place did the cross have in his instruction to his disciples – to the Apostles, to us?

 The word “cross” appears only 16 times in the four gospels. In 11 of them, the reference is to Jesus’ literal cross. In the remaining 5 it has a metaphorical meaning: in these passages, the Lord Jesus uses the image of a cross to describe becoming and being his follower, or disciple. A disciple of Jesus must “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt.10:38; 16:24; Mk.8:34; Lk.9:23; 14:27).

In these verses, the Lord uses the word “cross” in calling us to become his disciples. You cannot be his disciple unless you first count the cost (see Lk.14:25-33). The invitation comes with a warning: first count the cost, and the cost is to take the way of death to self – the way of the cross. To follow Jesus means to take the same road that he took: the way of the cross.

Now, to the self-sufficient person, this is indeed folly! Real life to be found in death? Surely not, says the wisdom of the world. Exactly that, says Jesus who is Christ-crucified (1Cor.2:2).

The Apostles followed the instruction of the Lord: they preached Christ as Lord, calling people to turn in trust to him, and to commit themselves to his service. And they issued his warning: following him is going to cost you. And that was the word of the cross that formed an integral part of the message they proclaimed, and which is still an inseparable part of the gospel today. This is the message that powerfully produces the faith that saves.

 

Frustration of the Fallen

In his comments on Genesis 3 in his book, For the Love of God, vol.1, Prof. Don Carson writes,

“God’s curses on the human pair are striking. The first (Gen. 3:16), which promises pain in childbearing and disordered marriages, is the disruption of the first designated task human beings were assigned before the Fall: male and female, in the blessing of God, being fruitful and increasing in number (1:27–28). The second (Gen. 3:17–19), which promises painful toil, a disordered ecology, and certain death, is the disruption of the second designated task human beings were assigned before the Fall: God’s image-bearers ruling over the created order and living in harmony with it (1:28–30).”

God’s curse on his creation results in merciful frustration for his image-bearers. For us who are ‘under the sun’ (Eccl.), all is vanity, emptiness. It’s what Paul mentions in Rom.8:20,

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it…

Leaving aside for a moment the dire, eternal consequences of our rebellion against God, our own minds and hearts have been disrupted by sin. We know that there is something wrong, but apart from grace, we can’t put a finger on it.

In his mercy God has put this burr under our spiritual saddles. We seek comfort and relief in all kinds of ways and places, but we find that “all is vanity.” There is no relief to be found “under the sun.” As Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

My quotation from Rom.8 above didn’t complete the sentence: Paul continues,

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

By God’s amazing grace, there is hope for us. There is the offer of liberation, glory and adoption into God’s family!

Our lives and families are messed up; our world is messed up; but in Christ, God promises healing and hope! Those who belong to Christ patiently look forward to a new creation. As the Apostle says (Rom.8:23-25),

… we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

What is the Gospel?

Posts in this series:

  1. http://www.gadsby.com.au/wpg-thots/theology/the-cross-and-evangelism/
  2. http://www.gadsby.com.au/wpg-thots/theology/what-is-the-gospel/
  3. http://www.gadsby.com.au/wpg-thots/theology/the-word-of-the-cross/
  4. http://www.gadsby.com.au/wpg-thots/theology/we-preach-christ-crucified/

Before we consider how the “Word of the Cross” (eg. 1Cor.1:18) relates to the Apostles’ message recorded in Acts (ie. “Jesus is Lord”), we need to think about the content of “the gospel.”

Now, everyone has some idea about this. The Greek word for “gospel” is “euangelion“; it’s made up of two parts: “eu-” meaning “good,” and “angelion” meaning “news.” So, “Gospel” means “Good News,” right? It’s the good news about Jesus dying for our sins, about our being saved by faith alone in him alone.

We need to be careful at this point about not falling for the idea that the meaning of a word is determined by its history. For example, the word “decimation” originally meant “reduced by one-tenth.” Now it means almost complete destruction!

In any literature, the meaning of a word is found by observing its actual use. What may we say about the euangelion group of words?

In New Testament times, Christians’ Bible was the Greek translation of the Old Testament – the “Septuagint.” The basic meaning of the word euangelion is “news.” The context tells us whether or not it is received as good news , and in most cases it is. (When a man brought news of Saul’s death to David, he thought he was bringing good news, but it was bad news to David. And it ended badly for the messenger – see 2Sam 4:10f.)

In the New Testament, euangelion refers to the content of the message preached by Jesus and his apostles, the gospel about God’s Kingdom. Eg. Mk.1:14-15, “…after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'”

This kingdom-message includes the fact of coming judgment by the King. In Rev.14:6-7, John sees and hears an angel flying overhead bearing “an eternal gospel.” The angel says, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” This also is a part of the marvellous news of God’s Kingdom: it’s good news to some, bad news for many.

What is the gospel? It is the message from God, centring on King Jesus, about all that his Lordship means for the creation. The actual detailed content of the message will vary, according to the circumstances. We must not reduce the gospel to a few trite statements, or limit it to what makes people feel good!

Please let’s have your bouquets or brickbats in the comments below!

The Cross and Evangelism

Posts in this series:

  1. http://www.gadsby.com.au/wpg-thots/theology/the-cross-and-evangelism/
  2. http://www.gadsby.com.au/wpg-thots/theology/what-is-the-gospel/
  3. http://www.gadsby.com.au/wpg-thots/theology/the-word-of-the-cross/
  4. http://www.gadsby.com.au/wpg-thots/theology/we-preach-christ-crucified/

Is the Cross, and Christ’s atonement for sins, to be front-and-centre when we share the gospel with non-Christians? Many “Gospel Presentations” focus on our sin and guilt first, and then present Jesus’ death on the Cross as God’s solution to our problem. But is this how the apostles presented the gospel?

The Book of Acts by Luke records a wealth of important information about the spread of the Christian Faith in the days after the resurrection of Christ. What does Luke tell us about the early preaching to Jews and Gentiles?

The word “cross” “does not appear in the Book of Acts, not even once. The word “crucify” is found only in Acts 2:36 and 4:10, and in both cases, it refers to the manner of Jesus’ death at the hands of the Jews. Nowhere is  Christ’s death on the Cross directly linked to the doctrine of the atonement, or to the forgiveness of sins. Only in one passage is the link implied – when Philip speaks with the Ethiopian official (8:26-40) and begins with the passage the official was reading – Isa.53:7-8 – which refers to the death of God’s Servant.

If the apostles didn’t normally start with the Cross and our great need of forgiveness, what was their starting-point in preaching the gospel-message? Read through Acts and the answer is as plain as a pike-staff! They everywhere proclaimed that Jesus Christ is Lord through his resurrection from the dead.

Telling this truth led Jews and Gentiles to cry out, “What shall we do, then?” To which the apostles’ answer was, “Repent – change direction – and turn to him with trust, and he will save you.” The great motivation to turn to him was the fact of who he is, and the dire consequences of rejecting him.

But, you reasonably ask, what about 1Cor.1 and the ‘message of the cross’? What about 1Cor.15, and Paul’s reminder about the ‘gospel’ that he preached in Corinth?

We’ll come back to these important questions later, but meantime, why not read through Acts again, and see if what I have said is true. Please post your findings in the “Comments” below?

“Marriage Equality” (It’s all about ME.)

Marriage Equality. What a smart slogan that is! After all, who could be against “equality”? Don’t we pride ourselves on being an egalitarian society, here in Australia?

But get behind the slogan… what does it actually mean? Do the advocates for ME believe that it extends to polygamous marriage? Does it include group marriage, with several adults of different gender all getting “married”? If not, why not? What about extending “marriage” to other species?! Well, why not?

The point is that ME is a slogan, and it’s only a slogan. It looks OK on the outside, but if you unscrew the lid, the container is empty.

Maybe we should be advocating Marriage QUALITY. That is, marriage as God ordained it, and as it has been practised for centuries by every nation on earth. A life-long union and commitment to one another of a man and a woman, where, if God is pleased to grant it, children who are the product of their union can be raised in an atmosphere of love.

Of course, these days, to advocate Marriage QUALITY will be denounced as “hate speech.” Perhaps the best response to this ludicrous slander is simply to laugh at it, for it is laughable. (And of course, the same epithet could be applied to those who denigrate the advocates of traditional marriage: those who generally don’t descend to the gutter when engaging in polite debate or polemics.)

So, let’s leave ME out of it, and sing the praises of MQ!

“Bibliolatry”

I wonder if you’ve heard this word? It’s sometimes used by people who want to disparage our confidence in the words of Holy Scripture. It’s made up of the two Greek words — for ‘Bible’ and ‘worship.’ The accusation is that we are ‘Bible worshippers.’

At one level, the accusation that evangelicals are ‘Bible worshippers’ is just plain silly — does anyone set up his Bible on the mantle-piece, then bow down and pray to it? Of course not (although in my experience there have been some who seemed to ‘idolize’ a particular English translation, but that’s another kettle of fish!).

However, at a deeper level, we evangelical and Reformed Christians do (and should) have a deep respect for the Bible, for it is the Word of God. The words of Scripture were ‘breathed out’ by God’s Spirit, as he moved the original authors to write down God’s prophetic revelation:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2Tim.3:16-17)

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2Pet.1:20-21).

This means that when we hear (or read) the Bible, we are actually listening to God. These are his words, whether in the original languages or in translation. As the translators’ introduction to the first edition of the Authorised Version (1611) put it:

… we do not deny, nay we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English… containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God. As the King’s speech, which he uttereth in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian, and Latin, is still the King’s speech, though it be not interpreted by every Translator with the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, everywhere.

The Bible is the King-of-king’s speech, and therefore deserves our attention, gratitude and submission. It is God’s account of his plan to establish his everlasting kingdom, under the headship of the Lord Jesus, and the outworking of that plan, culminating in the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.

If a person receives a love-letter from his spouse or close friend, he cherishes it because of who sent it, and what it says. It is precious to him, as the words of his lover. He doesn’t worship the letter… but when he reads it, he thinks of that precious friend who loves him. So it is with the Bible. You could say it is a love letter from the Creator of the Universe to his human creatures, opening his heart to us, and calling us to receive eternal life through turning from rebellion and trusting his Son.

No, we are not ‘bibliolaters’ but we love God’s Word, his letter of love to us.