Summary: The seemingly simplistic message of Christ crucified is the message through which God brings us to faith in Jesus and makes us fully equipped for life here and hereafter.
How many of you have read “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen? It’s a young-adult novel about a boy’s quest to survive in the Canadian wilderness after his plane crashes. He’s only armed with a hatchet, and yet that’s all he needs to survive for over a month before he’s rescued. It’s a familiar storyline isn’t it? Survivors of plane crashes and ship wrecks have to make do with the bare minimum. No matches? No problem. Just strike your hatchet against rock with iron in it and you’ll get sparks with which to ignite tinder. No fish hooks? Use your hatchet to sharpen branches into spears. You’re only limited in what you can do by your creativity, or so the story goes.
What does this have to do with the church in Corinth we’ve been studying? I thought we’ve been saying that the Corinthian church was fully equipped, unlike the boy in the novel who only had a hatchet? Yes, the Corinthians were fully equipped spiritually speaking, but how had they become that? Through the seemingly simplistic message of Christ crucified. This is the message that we have received too—a message, however, that we might take for granted because we hear it so often. But without the message of Christ crucified we’d be worse off than a hatchet-less boy lost in the wilderness. Let’s come to appreciate again how we are fully equipped for life now and hereafter through the message of Christ crucified.
It was a miracle that there was a Christian congregation in Corinth. You may remember from our first sermon in this series how the city of Corinth was considered to be “sin city” in Paul’s day, much like Las Vegas is today. Just as anything seems to be permissible and even encouraged in Vegas, so it was in Corinth. In fact sexual immorality was promoted at one of the pagan temples. The temple of Aphrodite which stood on a lofty rock overlooking the city was said to have employed 1,000 men and women for the purpose of sleeping with worshippers as a way for them to get closer to the divine. On top of that, Corinth was a well-to-do city. What would the people there need with Jesus? They had it all already—or so they thought. Besides that, Paul came to Corinth from Athens where his message about Jesus had received a lukewarm reception by the intellectuals of that city. And before that he had come from Berea, Thessalonica, and Philippi—all towns he had been run out of for preaching about Jesus. Would his reception be any better in Corinth, which seemed like it could be the city with the toughest audience of them all? Paul even admitted to the Corinthians: “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3).
Do you feel the way Paul did when you think about witnessing to friends? Sure, the newcomer to Canada might be interested in learning about Jesus because they never had the chance before, but what about the friend whose family stopped going to church a generation ago? What about the science teacher who promotes evolution, or your neighbor, the bank rep who seems to have it all? What about the musician whose goal it is to make it big? Do you get nervous when you think about telling people like that about Jesus? I do because I doubt that they will believe what I have to say or even care to listen. So I hesitate, telling myself that I’m waiting for a more “appropriate” time. Then I search for eloquent words and irrefutable arguments to lay before them. But compare that with Paul’s approach. He told the Corinthians, “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1, 2).
Why was Paul determined to keep sharing a message that had already been rejected by many of his other listeners? Paul explained in verses before our text. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). No, not everyone is going to welcome the message about the God-man Jesus dying on the cross to pay for the world’s sins. But that’s the only message that saves us from hell. It’s the only message the opens the door to heaven. AND it’s also the message that unleashes the Holy Spirit to melt stubborn hearts so they come to confess Jesus as their God and Lord. If Paul didn’t share this message, his listeners wouldn’t have a chance of getting into heaven—unless another Christian shared Jesus with them.