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I continue to share my teaching notes from a 6 week class at my church about the mysteries of God. Week 4: the mystery of the cross.

Like last week, I am going to begin with a question that we will come back to later. I want you to name some key attributes of God. What are some important attributes, or characteristics, of God? (A variety were mentioned.)


  • Last week we looked at the mystery of godliness in 1 Timothy 3:16, which was ultimately the Incarnation. “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh.”
  • This week we will continue in this direction, as we look at the mystery of the cross in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2. When I was typing up my notes, I either mis-typed or spellcheck did one of those bad corrections – and mystery became misery. But as we will see tonight, misery could be thought of as part of this mystery – that God suffered and died on a cross.

Corinth… The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth. I don’t know how familiar we are with 1 Corinthians. Does anything come to your mind about the church in Corinth? What was this church like?

-Corinth had some very gifted believers, but unfortunately this church also had serious problems. Some of these gifted folks were arrogant, and in pursuit of fame, or using their gifts with other sinful motives.
-There was moral compromise, such as the toleration of overt sexual immorality.
-They were suing each other in secular court over frivolous things.
-There were ecclesiastical factions (ecclesial just refers to the church) and they were dividing up into groups based upon what Bible teacher they thought was the best one.

This was a church struggling to apply the truths of the gospel to the problems of everyday life. Hmmm…does this sound familiar? Like the church today? We can have a sanitized or Pollyanna view of the early church, thinking of it as this glorious time when everything was wonderful.

Paul begins his letter in an interesting way. Open to 1 Corinthians and I am going to read chapter 1:1-9. And this is what I want you to pay attention to…count how many times the name of Christ is used, whether it is Christ, or Jesus Christ, or the Lord Jesus Christ.

So how many times was name of Christ used? (nine)
In light of the many problems in Corinth, it seems like Paul is trying to re-focus them on Christ.

And someone read verse 10 now.
-So he appeals to them in the NAME of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now let’s move to 1:17 and 2: 1-5.  (Read both. And the reason I jump from verse 17 over to these verses in chapter 2 is that it expands upon what is said in verse 17.)

-I do NOT think the point Paul is making is that instead of presenting the gospel with wisdom and eloquence, we should do the opposite and present the gospel in a stupid way with unclear or inarticulate words. So, if that is not what Paul means, what is the point he is making? I think there are several related points. Take another look at 1:17 and 2:4-5.

  • The presentation of the gospel message can obscure the gospel when we end up overly focused on our presentation of it. The cross can end up emptied of its power, as 1:17 says, when we are focused on our wisdom and eloquence in presenting it.
  • The gospel has power all by itself. Are we ultimately trusting in the power of the gospel, or in the power of our words and ability? Where is our trust?
  • In 2:5, where does Paul NOT want their faith to rest upon?
    He doesn’t want them to believe because it was such a captivating and persuasive speech, but because they are captivated by Jesus and that He was crucified for them.

Let’s go back to 1:17 and read 1:17-18 together. Would someone read that – chapter 1:17-18.

In what two ways do people view the message of the cross?
-They either see it as foolishness or as the power that saves them.

These 2 verses are Paul’s thesis statement for the Corinthians
and for us too… The message of the cross, just like the Incarnation, should permanently transform our view of life, and thus transform our behavior too. We need to embrace the paradoxical message of the cross, and it is a paradox.

My Bible has a title before verse 1:18 and that title is for the section from 1:18 to 2:5, and the title is: Christ crucified is God’s power and wisdom.  (We really need to let that sink in…)

Let’s read 1:19-25. (I’ll read. Follow along in your Bible.)

What were the Jews and Greeks seeking after? And how did the preaching of Christ crucified appear to the Jews and the Greeks?
– Jews were looking for signs and the Greeks for wisdom.
– The message of Christ crucified was a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles or Greeks.

The Greeks were cultured and known for their love of learning. They idolized brains. They were interested in human reasoning and logic. When you really think about it, the cross is illogical. How could such a display of weakness be a source of power?

  • I read about Christian missionaries who took the gospel to the Franks (one of the Germanic people groups) way back in the first millennium. And when the king of the Franks heard about the cross, he replied something like: “If I and my Franks had been there, we would have stormed Calvary and rescued Jesus from his enemies.” *  (And indeed that seems a logical response. Jesus was mistreated and needed rescue.)

To the Jews the cross symbolized utter rejection and being accursed by God. It was the epitome of shame. Let’s read a verse from Paul over in Galatians 3:13. (Someone read it.)
And there Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (me read)
– So you can see how the cross was a stumbling block for Jews.

And the Jews, particularly in John, were always looking for a sign – but even when they got a sign it was not enough. They still would not believe. This revealed their heart, that even a sign was not enough.

It may be easy for us to look in judgement on the Greeks and Jews, but we aren’t much different today. There are people that may not be Jewish or Greek, but they still fall into one of these categories in how they perceive the gospel.

But even if we believe that Jesus is God in the flesh and died on the cross, we can fail to live out the implications for our everyday life, just like the Corinthians. We worship success. We admire force. We want power. We look down on weakness. I’m going to have a quick, mini sermon here…

Evangelicalism is in a terrible state in the US mostly because we have become obsessed with power, and we are upset because we have lost societal power and influence. Too many of us evangelicals are behaving in a very un-Christian way.

Just like the apostle Paul is trying to re-focus the Corinthians, we also need to re-focus. Paul did NOT preach Christ the Conqueror or Christ the philosopher, but Christ crucified and Christ the humble. **

The early Christians, in the opening 250 years of the church, lived in a pagan culture and they lacked power. But somehow Christianity was established and grew rather quickly. If someone today offers Christians worldly power, that should set off alarm buttons for us. It should be a warning that this will take us down the wrong path, and divert us away from our Lord Jesus Christ.

To go back to verses 19-25, the word wisdom is used multiple times. Something you might want to do later at home is to take some time to carefully observe verses 19-31, and jot down what you learn about wisdom. Note the contrasts or differences between God’s wisdom and human wisdom, God’s ways and human ways. (Could make 2 columns on your paper and jot these things down.)

But for now, take a look at verse 21. What does it mean “in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God”?
-The history of this world is people trying to make their own way to God in one or another, but it did not and does not work, and God in his wisdom came down to us.

Verse 30 (in chapter 1) says “Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.” – Isn’t that a great verse?

This begins to tie in with the idea of mystery. Remember things we learned in Daniel 2 and Matthew 13, such as:
-In Daniel, it is God who reveals mysteries and makes known his wisdom, and there was a connection between mystery and wisdom.
-In Matthew 13, Jesus makes a connection between mysteries and parables. When the disciples asked Jesus why he speaks in parables, he said it was because he is revealing mysteries to them. Divine enablement and spiritual receptiveness are needed in order understand unveiled wisdom. Parables both reveal and conceal.

We will see a similar type of emphasis here in 1 Corinthians chapter 2. Let’s read all the way from verse 6 to 16, and just be listening for the big ideas.

Verse 6 said that Paul spoke a message of wisdom among the mature, and that reminded me of how, in Daniel, it said that God gives wisdom to the wise and discerning. And we discussed that a bit the first week. If you are already wise or mature, are you the one that needs wisdom? It seems God should give wisdom to the unwise and immature. What conclusions did we have the first week?

Verse 9 is a well-known verse you’ve likely heard: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him.” (that is a quote from Isaiah)

And I usually see this verse taken out of context and made to be about the glories of our future in heaven (it is true that we have a great future on the new heaven and earth), but in context I don’t think that is what this verse is about, at all.

Rather it is about the way of salvation planned by God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

-Paul has been really emphasizing Jesus Christ and him crucified, and the uniqueness of God’s wisdom that is so different than our human wisdom.
-And when we think of the Incarnation, that God came to earth to live a human life, and then God allows himself to die a terrible and shameful death. “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him.”
– This is about God’s plan of salvation. Who could have imagined this? God became human and died for us!

So what does the very next verse say, verse 10?
– It is God who reveals mysteries and wisdom, and that was emphasized in Daniel as well.

Here in Corinthians, it is revealed to us by the Spirit.
Looking at verse 14, why is the Spirit necessary?
-The gospel has a divine origin and is divine in its nature, so it can only be understood with divine help – that is the Spirit of God.

To begin to wrap this up, I want to focus on 3 things about Christ and this idea of his crucifixion being a mystery.

1. Lord of Glory. Verse 7 mentions mystery, and verse 8 says “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” This phrase Lord of Glory is not used anywhere else in the New Testament. It is unique to this verse. However, it is found in 1 Enoch. It is an ancient Hebrew religious text, and while not Scripture for the Jews, it would have had historical or theological interest for them. And this phrase “Lord of Glory” is used only of God in his heavenly throne room in 1 Enoch. Calling Jesus the “Lord of Glory”, particularly in reference to his crucifixion, is significant. ***

2. Messiah or Christ. These are the same word. This is a title. Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Old Testament Hebrew title Messiah, which means “anointed one” because their kings were anointed. There was a Jewish expectation that a Messiah, of Davidic lineage (the kingly line of David), would come to rule in righteousness and deliver the Jewish people from their oppressors.

And here in 1 Corinthians when Paul uses the word Christ, it is connected to the crucifixion – it is Christ crucified, the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:17,23, 30; 2:2). For example, in verse 1:17 he refers to the cross of Christ, not the cross of Jesus.

Again, there is significance here. Paul is highlighting the kingly Messianic nature of Jesus as it relates to his death on the cross. This would have more significance to a Jew, and we can miss it.

3. Power. Power is tethered the cross. “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.”

And this should remind us of Daniel. Remember that in Daniel it was emphasized that there is a God who governs history and he raises up kings and removes kings, and that there was a coming kingdom – the rock that would fill the earth – that would be God’s eternal kingdom. And this kingdom came through the King’s death – the death of Christ, the Messiah.

Gordon Fee, who wrote a commentary on 1 Corinthians, said this:

“One may have a Messiah, or one may have a crucifixion; but one may not have both – at least not from the perspective of a merely human understanding. Messiah meant power, splendor, triumph; crucifixion meant weakness, humiliation, defeat.”

Yet in the crucifixion, we do have both of these things at the same time. While Jesus is suffering a shameful death on the cross, he is simultaneously the supreme divine ruler of this world, the Lord of Glory.

This should blow our minds. This should leave us stunned, amazed, astonished…

Christ crucified is God’s power and wisdom. This is the mystery of the cross. Like the other mysteries, this was an unexpected dimension to the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. There were indications in the OT that the Messiah would suffer, but they simply could not conceive that he would die a shameful death on a cross.

Alright, these attributes. You probably guessed there was some type of point that I was trying to make…

Last week we focused on the Incarnation, and how the Creator of the universe became a creature. Philippians 2 says that Christ Jesus humbled himself. Mark 10:45 says that Jesus came to serve. Ever notice that in Psalm 23 it says God prepares a table for us, that means he serves us. Here is 1 Corinthians Paul emphasizes Christ crucified.

We can somehow overlook the Incarnation as a miracle, and really it is the greatest miracle. Similarly, I think there is an attribute of God that we somehow overlook.

This may make you uncomfortable. You may need to go home and think about it. And I am not saying you have to agree either. But I want to suggest that this is an important attribute of God that should be in the forefront of our minds.

Write on board: Humility. God is humble.

If it seems like a paradox…Well, it is.

In Revelation 5, Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah and the lamb that was slain. A lion and lamb are quite different.

If it seems illogical, remember that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25)

And if God is humble, what does that mean for us?

[At some point in the class there was discussion about the meaning of a paradox. A couple general definitions for clarification: A paradox is a logically self-contradictory statement that runs contrary to one’s expectation. A statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is true or perhaps true.]

I use multiple sources when I prepare lessons, but wanted to give several specific references:
* I got this from William Barclay’s commentary.
** I got this from Henrietta Mears.
*** From Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery by Beale and Gladd