"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. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.' Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
How is the message of the cross the power of God? We have already touched on this briefly, but I believe it may help us to look at this more closely. I think all of us want power--power to live above sin, power to do the will of God, power to love as He loves and to live as He lived. Why do we often seem to lack this power? I believe the answer lies in the message of the cross.
In the passage we just have quoted from 1 Corinthians, Paul focuses on the problem. Men by nature want to be wise and strong in their own strength. The message of the cross cuts across that. It says we must come and die. That is not a popular message. Man does not want to come and die. He wants to come and live. He wants to bring his own wisdom and understanding to God and ask God to bless it. Then he can look back and say, "Look what I have done." So often, this is the root of why we do not know the power of God.
The one who has heard the message of the cross understands when Jesus says, "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). While we may agree with this statement in our mind, our hearts may not respond so easily. To let God penetrate to the depths of the heart and touch our secret motives and ambitions takes real dealing with God. It does not come overnight. God is able, but we must lower our defenses, come before the Lord, and allow His word to penetrate and shed light. "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).
The most difficult area seems to be our service to God. We may have turned aside from the world and all that it has to offer. We have lain down every other goal and set our eyes on the kingdom of God . We want Jesus and we want to live for Him. But when we begin to face the needs that crowd into our lives, it is too easy to turn to our own resources to try to meet those needs. For example, suppose we don't see clearly in the area we are discussing: the cross. Many of us have different translations of the Bible available to us, so we start to compare translations. We may have access to Bible commentaries, so we turn to them and begin to read. In all of this, we find ourselves looking to our own intellect to try to grasp the things of God. We come up with answers, but they lack power because they do not have their root in a revelation of the cross.
Or, we may see the needs of men and women around us, and desire to meet some of them. We begin to look at our resources and come up with a plan. It may seem good on the surface and others are quick to praise us for the good we are doing, but if we are honest, we find it lacks power. Men are not being delivered from sin. The sick are not being healed. The kingdom being built rests on the wisdom of men and not on the power of God. Why? It is because we have not focused on the cross and what God provided there. We have preached and practiced a message that looks to man and his ability, instead of taking all of that to the cross and letting it die.
The kingdom that will last is the one that is built on what God can do, not what man can do. Paul said that all of the weapons of his warfare were spiritual. God is building a spiritual kingdom, and the message of the cross is that all we need is Jesus. We don't need the wisdom of men in education and medicine. We don't need to educate the mind through great institutions of learning. We don't need great musicians and musical instruments, nor great fund-raising programs or attractive media presentations. We don't need great buildings or beautiful surroundings. All of these have roots in man, and there is much opportunity for the display of fleshly efforts. These touch the emotions and intellect and may look good for a while, but they do not touch the spirit and heart of man. The message of the cross goes to the heart and puts us in touch with the living God. That is where there is power--in God. Are we willing to be persecuted for the message of the cross? Paul was, and God used him to lay the foundation of the early church. What about us?
When we begin to live and preach the message of the cross, I believe we will find considerable opposition, especially among religious people. Religion as a whole is built on man's effort to work for God. When Jesus and what God did on the cross are held before men in a proper way, it condemns the man or woman who is not willing to lay all at the feet of Jesus and only move by His direction. "What's wrong with that?" is often the response. "It does not originate in God," is the answer. It takes spiritual eyes to see this, and a heart of submission and obedience to move in God and what He is doing. Let us approach the throne of grace in boldness, knowing that apart from Him and His grace we can do nothing that has any value to God. Let us bow low before God, keep ourselves in His love, and let the Holy Spirit move as He desires. Then we will know His power moving in and through us, and God will be glorified.