As a follow-up to an evangelistic series I did this last spring, we started a Bible Study on Tuesday nights at our church for new believers. We have been going through a series of Bible Study lessons that two of my friends and colleagues—Pastors Cliff Gleason and Arnet Mathers—have created, called His Healing Love.
Tonight, we were on Lesson 10—“The Cross.” They included a verse that I had long ago underlined but since forgotten. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is the foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”
Don’t miss it: God’s power comes through the cross. This means that God’s power does not come through the health message; through His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary; through His church—as important as these things are. It comes singularly through His cross—and thus, if we want to experience power in our lives, we must, as Paul says a few verses later, “determine to know nothing . . . except Christ and Him crucified” (2:2).
But Paul doesn’t actually simply say that the “power of God” comes through the cross. He says it comes through the message of the cross. This is an important distinction.
It reminds me a lot of what the late and great Robert Wieland wrote in his classic book, In Search of the Cross:
So confident is Satan of his plans that he freely permits talking about the cross, praying about it, singing about it, wearing it, using it as an architectural emblem, even worshipping it, just so long as he can thwart any attempt toward understanding what happened there (p. 12).
And that’s the key! I’ve heard many sermons and read many books that talk about the cross; I’ve heard preachers talk about the importance of dwelling upon the cross. But this is not enough. The power of God does not come by talking about the cross—as if the mere mention of the word or event has any saving power. The power of God does not come through wearing a cross around your neck, or bowing to a cross at the front of a church. The power of God comes through the “message of the cross,” of “understanding what happened there.”
What is that message? What happened there?
Christ revealed the heart of God at Calvary. At the cross, we see the humility and agape-love of God. We see Christ taking our sins upon Himself and dying the death we deserve (Isa 53:4-6). We see Him actually “becoming” sin for us (1 Corinthians 5:21). We see the lengths to which He was willing to go—and did go—to save us. We see self-sacrifice, self-emptying, self-giving (Phil 2:6-8). We see complete other-centeredness.
At the cross, we hear and recognize the forgiveness of God; that Jesus “tasted death for everyone” (Heb 2:9), and that “while we were yet sinners” and “enemies” of God (Rom 5:8, 10), Christ “justified” our lives (Rom 5:18)—there, at the cross.
At the cross, we hear the anguishing and heart-wrenching cries of Jesus, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46). At the cross, we hear the echoes of Gethsemane, where Christ sweat great drops of blood and thrice pleaded with His Father to take away the possibility of eternal forsakeness.
But, of course, at the cross, we see Christ’s willingness to endure “the shame” (Heb 12:2), so that we might experience the joy of eternal fellowship with His Father.
This is the message of the cross—and so much more. And it is this message—and the conglomerate of the so much more, which we will continue to study throughout all eternity—that is the “power of God.”