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.

 

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?