Susan Magdalane Boyle (born 1 April 1961) is a Scottish singer who came to international public attention when she appeared as a contestant on reality TV program Britain’s Got Talent on 11 April 2009. It was there that she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables. Her first album was released in November 2009 and debuted as the number one best-selling CD on charts around the globe. Global interest in Boyle was triggered by the contrast between her powerful voice and her plain appearance on stage. The juxtaposition of the audience’s first impression of her with the standing ovation she received during and after her performance led to an international media and Internet response. Within nine days of the audition, videos of Boyle — from the show, various interviews and her 1999 rendition of “Cry Me a River” — had been watched over 100 million times. Great Briton’s Got Talent is similar to America’s Idol debuted on June 11, 2002.
Most of us are familiar with the show’s concept: it aims to discover the best singer in the country through a series of nationwide auditions in which viewers’ votes determine the winner. Everything on stage is drive to receive applause and approval from the audience. To say the show is popular is an understatement. The show appears in the United States, Canada, Australia, Asia, Great Briton, Ireland, Latin American, and Israel. What drives the program and the contestants is the response they receive from the audience and the judges. Keep that thought in mind for the next few minutes.
We find ourselves in 1 Corinthians 2 where Paul is laboring diligently to demonstrate the power of Christ’s cross. After discussing the cross why people see the cross as useless and why people see Christians as weak, he turns our attention to his time when he was in Corinth.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
In the later part of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves him three times. After Peter emphasizes his love for our Lord the third time, Jesus commands Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:15-17). Jesus tells Peter to the sheep good, solid nourishment. The New Testament is clear; preaching is not about providing gourmet meals but giving the people the Words of God. Paul’s aim in coming to Corinth was not to please people but to save people. Paul’s ministry wasn’t driven for American Idol where the people in the pew would judge the style of his presentation. Instead, his aim was to display the full-orbed power of the Cross of Christ.
Today’s Big Idea: The preacher is to remove himself so that you may see the cross of Christ – for it alone saves.
1. The Preacher’s Job: Put Christ on Display
Benjamin Franklin, who never professed faith in Christ, would attend church on occasion. After attending a Presbyterian church, Franklin stated that he was “disgusted” with the sermon that morning had nothing to do with the Scripture text that was read. Notice Paul’s aim in verse five: “that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:5) Keep verse five in view like a man driving his car on the highway is focused on his destination. We’ll examine more of what he means by “wisdom of men” in a few minutes, but first… Why is it so crucial that our faith not rest in the “wisdom of men” but in the “power of God?” It makes a big difference what a preacher offers as the basis of faith. Why? Because one thing is the “power of God.” The power of God is named in verse two: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
The point of preaching is to display Jesus Christ. The special stress of preachers is Christ’s death on the cross – where He died in our place – “him crucified.” This is the subject we are to communicate whether we are in the prince’s palace or the peasant’s hut. It’s to be preached whether we are in the marketplace or the university.
Why is this so important? “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
(1 Corinthians 1:18)
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
It’s the cross that where guilty sinners find cleansing through Christ’s blood. It’s the cross that has the power to transform lives. Paul is determined to preach only this. There should be a resolve for Christians to restrict themselves only to the cross.
And for good reason… The entire Bible pivots on one weekend in Jerusalem about two thousand years ago. Most feel the cross of Christ is a foolish message (that’s the theme of 1 Corinthians 1). The entire scheme of Christ’s death on the cross for sinners is weak. The cross was a barbaric manner of death in the first century. It was an obscene topic in the days of the Bible because it was a display of primitive lust for revenge and sadistic cruelty. Lifting its naked victim to a prominent place at a crossroads, it was the uttermost humiliation. Nevertheless, it was the signal feature of the Gospel that saves men from their sin.
If you were in the living rooms of most of America’s aristocracy this morning, they would tell you there is little transformative power in the cross of Christ. There is little in the way of explanatory power in the cross. He was little more than a good example. Yet, watch closely the policy statement given in verse two: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
Much like a mission statement for a business. Macintosh’s mission is: Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings. Walmart’s mission is: Saving people money to help them live better. Preaching is the proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified. And the cross of Jesus matters because lives are transformed. Not just now but in eternity. Evaluate preachers by verse two – has this man made a firm decision to preach Christ crucified.
Quick reminder: Paul’s writing to a church he started and labored eighteen months in preaching. He’s left the church and went onto to the city of Ephesus. Things have changes since he left Corinth, though it’s only been a short while.
The people who were converted by the cross of Christ have moved onto to more important subjects. What Paul wants to show in this chapter is that the reason there is so much pride and boasting at Corinth is that they are not letting the cross have its crucifying effect in the present. They think they have advanced beyond the cross. The cross may have been necessary to get them over the problem of sin; but now they are filled and rich and wise and strong! They are kings! In their own eyes. The weakness of the cross, the foolishness of the cross, the humiliation of the cross — these are long gone! The firm resolve to only preach the crucifixion of Jesus is because it is so powerful to transform people. Our goal is simple. It’s to focus on the cross of Christ and cause you to concentrate on the cross.
2. The Preacher’s Job: Get Out the Way
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 2:1) What Paul wanted more than anything was to get out of the way of the power of God. Again, notice Paul’s aim in verse five: “that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:5)
The thought that anyone might pin their hope or their faith on his eloquence or his strength was a dreadful thought to Paul. All he wanted was to advertise Christ crucified so that the power of the cross could save sinners. Therefore, Paul was against an Entertainment Weekly style of ministry. We know from Paul's letters that he was a profound thinker and that he could use language powerfully. But the point he is making here is that he did not preach the gospel with the hope that people would find him appealing. He did not want people to respond because of his oratory or his intellect. God abhors pastors who preach in order to elicit applause from people. God abhors pastors who preach in order to increase their status. Ministry is to be a demonstration of God’s wisdom. Ministry is to be a display of God’s wisdom. All of this is done because of the end of verse four: “…in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4b)
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)
The truly spiritual preacher may not be calm or rock-star cool. Paul clearly entered his ministry in Corinth with some anxiety. Corinth had a huge reputation as a cosmopolitan city. He still had vivid memories of his beating in Philippi… the rioting and his nighttime escape in Thessalonica… and the cool indifference he received in Athens.
Paul was unimpressive. According to accounts outside of the New Testament, was likely a short bald man with crooked legs, eyebrows that met in the middle and a hooked nose. In the next letter Paul wrote to Corinth in our Bibles, he repeated this complaint about himself: “For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” (2 Corinthians 10:10)
During Paul’s stay in Corinth, he discovered that orators entered the city of Corinth, praised its eloquence, and told of all that they had done so that the rich would be impressed and become their patrons. Their goal was to gain a reputation.
Several months ago when I introduced the letter of 1 Corinthians to you, I talked about the Isthmian games. Second only to the Olympic games, the Isthmian games were very popular for Corinth. One of the competitive games was rhetoric where contestants competed for applause. There primary method of building a reputation was through their method of speaking. We might call them rhetoric conventions. They were even called in to entertain guests between courses at banquets. Paul was no professional lecturer. He distanced his writing from a popular style in his day that displayed flourishes of rhetorical power. He refuses to manipulate where the goal was to gain the applause and the approval of the people.
Today, status and popularity are not gained through rhetoric but lights and music and dress and hair. Preaching should not aim to please the audience because the audience would then shape the Gospel. Coolness often arrives with tats and having your children live in three different cities. Instead, Paul’s style was simple in order that he drew no attention to himself. Paul did not come to Corinth with a cocky air about him. There was no swagger or vanity or ostentation about him as he arrived in Corinth. If I could choose a symbolic sound that First Baptist Church would come to be known for, you know what it would be? The swish of the pages of 700 Bibles turning simultaneously to the morning and evening texts. The reason is this: the source of my authority in this pulpit is not my wisdom; nor is it a private revelation granted to me beyond the revelation of Scripture. My words have authority only insofar as they are the repetition, unfolding and proper application of the words of Scripture. I have authority only when I stand under authority. And our corporate symbol of that truth is the sound of your Bibles opening to the text. My deep conviction about preaching is that a pastor must show the people that what he is saying was already said or implied in the Bible. If it cannot be shown it has no special authority.