In the context of this verse, Paul is presenting the antidote to contentions and divisions among God’s people. He has been setting forth in sad perspective the spectacle of a divided Church and, under the Spirit’s guidance, he is suggesting to us the one sure, unifying influence in Christianity – the Cross of Christ. Paul stated that Christ sent him “to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the Cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (1 Cor. 1:17). Notice that the emphasis is on the Cross here rather than the Person of Christ. It is not because the Cross is more important than the Person, but rather that we cannot reach the truth of His Person without coming by way of the Cross. The Cross has been used through the ages as a symbol of Christian faith. The importance of the Cross is that it brings us to realize that we can never become followers of Jesus in the same way that we might follow a leader among men. The Lord has not inaugurated a political system, social order, or intellectual cult, wherein we bring our ideas into conformity with His, and thus become supporters of His cause. Unfortunately, sometimes we look at Christianity that way, but Paul indicates that the Christian faith touches something much deeper than that.
It is by the Cross that we make our first contact with God in His divine dealing with us. That is what John meant when he wrote of the Lord coming “by water and blood” (1 Jn. 5:6). It was at the Cross that the soldier pierced Christ’s side, and “forthwith came there out blood and water” (Jn. 19:34). The Lord Jesus reaches us in our need by the cleansing of water by the Word and by the release from sin by His shed blood.
The Cross stands in the center of two eternities – the dividing point of all time. The ages, from the world’s foundation, rolled onward with every milestone a finger pointing to Calvary. The cycles of time of the Old Testament were measured prophetically in view of that time when the Messiah would be cut off. Moreover the tide of time in the last twenty centuries has rolled forward in every receding ebb from the high mark of Calvary. The Cross is the apex of all time.
Moreover, if we go beyond the span of time itself, we find that, in a bygone eternity, the Godhead took counsel together regarding the vast plan of everlasting bliss that should be inaugurated. It was decreed that the foundation of the universe of bliss that was planned should be laid at Calvary’s Cross. Then, as we look forward into the limitless expanse of eternity to come, we see the Lord Jesus not merely as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but also as “a Lamb as it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). We see Him riding forth to establish His kingdom in power and great glory with His vesture dipped in blood. Both the millennial and the eternal kingdom are built upon the foundation laid at Calvary’s Cross.
Thus our attention is riveted in 1 Corinthians 1:18 on the preaching of the Cross. It is not the preaching of the Christ as an example, leader or even as martyr. It is the preaching of the Cross. It is the symbol of that which was the cutting off of everything of the first creation, and the beginning of everything of a new creation. The Lord Himself said, “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” And then He said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto Me” (Jn. 12:24,32).
We who are Christians do not begin to estimate the tremendous importance of the Cross. It is not simply the death of Christ, because death might have been inflicted on Him in some other way. The Bible says, “He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8).
Crucifixion was the worst form of death for an arch-criminal, and it is the expression of man’s estimate of the Son of God. Disgrace, reproach, and shame are involved. It, therefore, signifies the calamity of the ages. The Cross of Christ plunged the universe into hopeless gloom during those three hours of darkness when Jesus was the sin-bearer under Jehovah’s hand. The light of the sun was shut out, and the universe was plunged into black night. It was the climactic focal point of all time and eternity.
Think of what was transacted at the Cross. God was there in the Person of His beloved Son, who had taken a place so lowly, and in such magnificent grace, that He “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus, in the supreme sensitivity of perfect Manhood, underwent the agony of physical pain, mental anguish, and heart sorrow. His soul was troubled. He was grieved in spirit. His body was bruised. And He suffered the agony of thirst. Then the holocaust of divine judgment descended upon Him, and He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:46). That was done on the Cross.
But not only was God there, Man was there too – representative of all mankind. The Just One was taken and condemned. The Jews and Gentiles joined together to crucify the Lord of Glory. You and I were represented there, because those who took part in the awful pageant of Calvary’s drama behaved just as you and I would have, under the same circumstances. They were demonstrating what was in man’s heart, namely, hatred against the God who had made him.
Satan was there also, for he and his fallen legions had mustered all their reserves to make one last assault upon the Son of God, and they were using men as their own foolish instruments to perpetrate their diabolical deeds.
The angels were there, for were there not twelve legions of them poised on the horizon of heaven ready to come to the aid of Jesus, their Creator, had He breathed a prayer for their assistance (Mt. 26:53)?
God the Father was present also at that climactic scene, beholding with divine and infinite satisfaction His beloved Son bringing glory to His Name in the putting away of sin forever. Before the Savior yielded His life, He said, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Lk. 23:46). Never was Jesus nearer and dearer to His Father than He was on the Cross (Jn. 13:31-32.)
The Cross is the eternal symbol of Satan’s wicked might and man’s slavery to the power of evil. But it is also the eternal symbol of the endless and unfathomable love of God: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).
“The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God.” By the Cross of Christ, you and I stand or fall before our Creator.
By Tom Westwood
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org