Good Friday - The Most Relevant Truth a Church Can Give To Its Culture
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Friday, April 10, 2009 - 10:00 a.m.  Sermon #: 1262
Pastor Don Horban

1 Corinthians 2:1-2 - “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.”

Such a short text, and yet it raises so many questions. Paul rehearses his first overtures with the gospel at Corinth. Here, in this hub of business and culture, where people seemed to have so much on the go and minds occupied with everything but saving grace, what would Paul say? How would he get their interest? How was he to make the saving work of God in Christ sparkle in their minds? What would he do to arrest their attention and capture their interest?

“I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” But surely that would be a mistake. These people were hardly ready for such a blunt approach. Why did Paul make such a decision? Was there nothing else in the whole counsel of God worth knowing? Paul had a whole Old Testament to work with and the whole oral tradition growing up around the teaching of the Savior. What about the Sermon on the Mount? And if Paul wasn’t going to work with any of that stuff, what was it all for? Or was Paul just narrow in his understanding? Was his mind small or contracted? Were there a hundred other wonderful things that could have been said, but were all beyond Paul’s grasp?

It doesn’t look like it. Paul says his narrow focus was no accident - “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” So he could have shared more but chose not to. He could have broadened his approach to their tastes but felt it unwise to do so. He could have bridged the gap between their present interest and his full heart with a thousand other interests but refused all such temptations.

Certainly Paul’s approach doesn’t seem widely recommended today. In his marvelous book, “Christianity Without Christ,” Michael Horton cites a direct quotation of an ad that was brought to his door advertizing the opening of another new church in an industrial complex nearby: “Hi Neighbor! At last! A new church for those who have given up on church services. Let’s face it. Many people aren’t active in church these days. Why? Too often the sermons are boring and don’t relate to daily living. Many churches seem more interested in your wallet than in you. Members are unfriendly to visitors. You wonder about the quality of the nursery care for your little ones.”

“Do you think attending church should be fun? Well, we’ve got good news for you! Valley Church is a new church designed to meet your needs....At Valley Church you meet new friends and get to know your neighbors - enjoy exciting music with a contemporary flavor - hear positive, practical messages which uplift you each week, like: How to feel good about yourself - How to overcome depression - How to have a full and successful life - Learning how to handle money without having it handle you - The secrets to successful family living - How to overcome stress.... Why not get a lift instead of a let-down this Sunday?”

Now surely that approach will attract more interest than Paul’s. Don’t we all want a lift instead of a let-down? It seems such a no-brainer one wonders how Paul could have missed it by so much - “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

And the mystery is even deepened when we remember Paul knew the message of the cross wasn’t a pleasing one to the worldly mind: “....we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles....”(1 Corinthians 1:23). Or Galatians 5:11 - “But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.”

He’s saying, “If I want to preach a more market savvy message - if I want to avoid a message that leads to ridicule and persecution, all I have to do is avoid the cross of Christ. Because the cross of Christ is the only religious message that knocks the legs out from under confidence in innate human potential and goodness. Only the cross exposes the needs - the real needs - of people. Only the cross exposes people to needs other than the ones the advertisers and the therapists tell them they have. The cross brings to the forefront the spiritual weight and actual guilt (not just guilt feelings) and permanent pollution sin brings in the sight of a just and holy God.”

So Paul knew he wasn’t cheating these people by his narrow approach. He knew there were more immediately appealing messages to bring, for sure. But those were the messages that were cheating the masses. In bringing them the cross, right up front, he was choosing the most loving approach. And now we’re going to look at why this is so:


There are some truths that are so pivotal that if you leave them out, you can’t get anything else right either. This is one of those truths. If the gospel message we bring to the world is instantly inviting, it is certain proof we have gotten the message wrong.

And here’s the point at which churches get confused. There is certainly absolutely nothing unappealing about Jesus Christ. Everywhere He went people loved Him. Only the self-promoting religious and political leaders found Him offensive. But the Biblical record is clear. The common people heard Him gladly. Everybody loved Jesus. And they should have loved Him. He was gracious, loving, kind, miracle-working, healing, teaching Jesus. On this point we’re all agreed.

But the person of Jesus, and the teaching of Jesus, and the miracles of Jesus are not the gospel of Jesus. Not by a long shot. And the message we’re bringing to our culture - like the message Paul brought to Corinth - isn’t a message about what Jesus was like, or what Jesus taught, or how many people Jesus healed.

No. When the Bible talks specifically about the mission of Jesus and the message of the church, it makes it very clear that the niceness of Jesus isn’t the issue. It’s the gospel of Jesus that’s the issue. And right from the start we’re all warned that the gospel of Jesus won’t be immediately appealing to the masses:

Luke 2:34-35 - “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed [35] (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

Right out of the gate this child - Jesus - God the Son - the Messiah and Redeemer - was, according to godly Simeon, appointed for something specific. And God the Father was the One who appointed Him. And if God the Father makes an appointment, then it’s an appointment that sticks. This divine Son would be appointed for the fall and the rising of many in Israel.

Note that order. The falling comes first. There is no rising until there is first a falling. Jesus doesn’t just take me up. First He takes me down, and then He takes me up. That’s the order of His working. And to make it all even more clear Simeon spells it all out even further. The Son was also appointed for a “sign that is opposed”(34). That’s what the prophet says will mark the assignment of Jesus in His death on the cross. That whole message of the cross as God’s dealing with human sin would be “opposed.” What a word! The message of Jesus crucified will meet with opposition. If there’s no opposition, the sign hasn’t done its work.

This is what would lead Paul to ask the Galatians why, if he had switched to a message of human potential and accomplishment, why was he still being persecuted for his message. Meaning the persecution he was experiencing was proof he was still preaching the true gospel of the cross of Christ.

But even if this is all true, how does it answer our initial issue? How is this message - this opposed message - still the most genuinely wise and loving approach to this lost culture? How is it sensible and loving that Paul would go to a pagan mega-center like Corinth determining to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified?

It works like this. Only the message of Christ crucified brings the opposing voice of human pride to the surface and expose it for the sin that it is. That’s why Simeon said Jesus was a “sign to be opposed.” The sign was designed to arouse the power of pride. The message of the gospel is tailored to cut across our natural tendencies toward self-help and self-potential.

The first reaction to the gospel is proud opposition just as the first reaction of the alcoholic is to deny he is one. And that self-destruction must be exposed. And the nature of the message of the cross is it creates this antipathy. It excites this response. The falling comes before the rising. The only way up is down. Christ can only pour in grace after He has confronted pride. Old John Newton got it right: “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”

But that’s just one reason why Paul “decided” to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. There is another that is often overlooked:


There are truly different ways we can know of the goodness and love of God in this fallen world. The unearned warmth of the sun on our face on a beautiful day. The seemingly magical quality of seeds in the soil that produce blossom and fruit. The rain that turns brown grass green. All of these give testimony of God’s tender care.

But none of these taken separately, nor the sum of all of them together, comes close to revealing the depth of God’s love for sinful creatures like us. We talk so much about the cross in our conversations. We wear them of gold and jewels around our necks, and so are in danger of forgetting the depth of humiliation to which the Savior surrendered Himself.

Could there have been some other way for God to forgive? And If God had chosen to do it some other way, why did He choose the death of His Son on the cross? Paul gives us a hint at the logic of the cross in Romans 8:32 - “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

These words move us beyond the realm of forgiveness. Whether or not God could have found some other way for redemption we’ll never know. But the reason He choose Christ crucified is clear. If God had chosen some lesser path - if redemption could have been at a smaller cost - even if forgiveness could have been divinely decreed, we would forever have lost what Paul saw as the greatest guarantee of God’s undying, unconditional love for bad people.

Look carefully at those words again: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”(8:32). The argument rests on the fact that nothing can now be needed in my life which would cost God as much as what He has already given.

But suppose God had not given up His own Son? Suppose He had found some other way to provide forgiveness without giving up His only Son? What proof would I have that, at some point down the road, some further help and grace needed by me might require something beyond what God had already given? How could I be sure I had not slipped beyond the bounds of the love revealed?

But God, in all the power of His divine imagination, could not find anything more costly to offer for my pardon. He planned it that way so I receive not only forgiveness for past sins but assurance for future ones.

The sun and the moon and the seasons and the rain and all the earth’s bounty only show God’s provision. They offer not one shred of evidence for His pardon. But if God did this tremendous work on the cross, not for those who were pure and noble and unspoiled by sin, but for those who have failed, and stubbornly so - if these are the ones for whom the greatest work has already been done, then the cross becomes the best news ever.

So yes, if I’m a sinner, even if I chafe in the blindness of my pride, then show me this. Show me Christ crucified. Let me glory in the cross. And don’t keep it from me!