Here are the notes for the lesson on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16
If you were to create the perfect champion for your community, what would be the characteristics? How would you convey the message of your champion?
Read 1 Cor. 1.18 –
Foolishness. That is how Paul characterizes the gospel message. How is it foolishness? Remember Paul was writing to a church that contained two distinct people groups: Jews and Greeks. They both had ideas of their heroes, their liberators, their champions. Prior to their conversion to Jesus, of course. Then here comes Paul preaching a message about a crucified champion. How would the people who have never heard this message before have responded?
This message about Jesus was a stumbling block. It is something in the ground that is partially hidden that we can’t see, but it causes us to trip when we pass over it. The word for stumbling block is skandalon, from where we get the word “scandal”. The story of Jesus is scandalous. Especially to a Jewish person. Why? What charge did the religious leaders of Jesus’ day bring against him constantly? Blaspheme, Jesus equated himself with God and that was blasphemy. Anyone who spoke falsely about God was a blasphemer. Anyone who claimed equality with God spoke falsely against God and that is what they claimed Jesus did. The punishment for blasphemy was death, specifically death by stoning. (Lev. 24.16). After the stoning, the people would take the body of the blasphemer and hang it on a tree.
Deut. 21.22-3 –
We know that Paul took that verse and applied it to Jesus. Because of our sin, and the need for a perfect sacrifice, Jesus took our sins and the curse reserved for sinners and bore it upon him.
Gal. 3.13 –
Here comes Paul preaching this message of the Messiah of the Jewish people, the one who came to rescue them from their oppression. Deliver them from bondage, and they are to put their trust in a champion who was hung on a tree?
Paul tells us that the “Jews demand miraculous sings.” They were expecting their deliverer to be a king who would crush those who oppressed them. Their messiah would revive the ancient kingdom. When God delivered them in the past, he acted powerfully. Jesus scolded the Jews over and over again for asking for a sign:
See Mark 8.11-12 and John 6.30-2
Now to the Greeks – the message of a crucified king was “foolishness.” During the time that the Romans ruled the Mediterranean world, crucifixion was the ultimate penalty, reserved for rebels, murders, and slaves. The people who threatened the peace or disturbed the peace were crucified. This Jesus that Paul was talking about, he was crucified? To civilized Romans (and all other people of this environment), the cross was a barbaric form of punishment. No respectable citizen would go near a crucifixion. Because of this stigma associated with crucifixion, did you know it was over 100 years before the church used the symbol of the cross as a symbol of their faith? This Jesus must have been either a low-life or a really bad man to have been crucified, definitely not a man to be worship.
Paul tells us that the Greeks looked for wisdom when choosing their heroes. They were very zealous for learning. Things had to make sense, they had to be logical. The term logical comes from the Greek word ‘logos.’ This is the same word that the apostle John uses to describe Jesus, the Logos. To the natural mind, the story of Jesus was/and is, very far from logical.
So, for both people a messiah or king was symbolized by power, splendor, majesty and triumph. The crucifix symbolized weakness, criminal, humiliation and defeat.
This story was just nutty.
Why didn’t God do something that appealed to both groups? Could he have attracted more followers by doing things differently?
Why didn’t he do things differently?
1.25 – He did things this way to show us how utterly powerful he is. This doesn’t make sense…to us. Go back to 1.19
Now let’s read 1.27-28
No one but God can get the credit for what is done. It doesn’t make sense. If it did, you wouldn’t need faith…
Here’s another question…when you think of good preachers, who comes to mind? Are they defined by their weakness, fear and trembling? Would they be characterized by being un wise and not persuasive?
Here’s something else that doesn’t make sense…God sending out as his most fervent evangelist, the one who would take his word the farthest in those early days was not much of a preacher!
We come to discover that rhetoric, speaking voice, and style were not (and are not) important to God. What attracted people to Jesus? His teaching ability, his presentation, his looks…
Read Isa. 53.2-3 – it was the power of God that attracted people to Jesus, specifically the power of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Paul sounds like a horrible preacher from a technical standpoint. And that is what the people of the day were looking for. But what did they get from Paul?
Weakness, fear, trembling, no wise words or persuasive words…what did they get?
A demonstration of the Spirit’s power “so that your faith might rest not on human words or preaching styles, but on God’s power."
We receive the message because God’s Spirit allows us to receive it. If is were left up to humans to craft the story of the salvation of mankind, it would be an epic battle between good and evil with a hero on a white horse or a man driving a tank or something like that would be the hero. God doesn’t need all of that, he desired a servant to come and humble himself, become like the people he was saving, spent time with the lowlifes, died a criminal’s death and then spread the word using a crummy teacher.
That just doesn’t make sense…to me.
It does to God.