Allen Jackson - Confused Message, Confused Messengers - Part 2
It's an honor to be with you today. We're working through a series on Jesus's followers and politics. We're looking at two cities, specifically, where Paul ministered. One was Athens. When Paul rolled into Athens, he approached them in terms of their culture. He talked about their poets. It was kind of a group hug, and the outcome was pretty limited. When he got to Corinth, his next stop, he said, "I decided when I was in Corinth to only preach the gospel of Christ crucified, to center on the cross," and the city was shaken, and one of the most powerful churches in the New Testament world was established. We desperately need the message of the cross. We're sinners, we need a Savior, and the only solution is the ugly defeat of the cross where God brought the greatest victory to humanity for time and eternity. We're gonna look at it in some detail. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart to the invitation that God's Spirit has for you today.
Now, I wanna take the balance of the time we have and look at Paul's message in Corinth, and how it differed from Athens. We saw in Athens he quoted Greek poets, he talked about the signs on their idols, but in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, this is the letter he wrote to the church in Corinth. And remember, he spent over a year and a half there. He visits them multiple times. And this letter is written back to them, and he's gonna describe his message. He said, "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified".
Christ is the English equivalent of the Greek word "Christos" which is the equivalent of the Hebrew word "Mashiach," Messiah. He said, "We preach a Messiah who was crucified". Said, "It's a stumbling block to Jews". No kidding. It's very clear from the language of the Gospels that the Jewish community in the first century was very much looking for a Messiah who was a military, political leader. They wanted somebody to dispel the Romans, and the problem wasn't the Roman occupation. The problem was the hearts of the people. If the people's hearts had been changed, the Romans could have been summarily dismissed. God had proven that over and over and over again through history. But the people weren't interested in a heart change, for the most part. They simply wanted more political autonomy.
So the idea that the Messiah came and he was crucified was a stumbling block. To the Gentiles, to the non-Jews, it was just foolishness that the Son of God could be nailed to a Roman cross. Some of you know a bit of Greek mythology or Roman mythology. The Greek and Roman gods toyed with human beings. They certainly weren't subject to them. So the idea that God would send his Son to be crucified, to the Jews is a stumbling block and to the Greeks, it was foolishness. This is Paul's message in Corinth. "To those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God," or Messiah, the power of God, "And the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength".
And then he goes on to describe the condition in which he found them, "Brothers, think of what you were when God called you". And it's not a very flattering recitation. He starts the message by talking about a Messiah who was crucified. It was a political disappointment. The change you need isn't coming through the political arena, he said. God's provision came in sending his Son. The great oppression was not the Romans; it was sin, and the separation from God's purposes. The problems in our world today, in our schools, and the violence in our cities, and the 60 million children we have sacrificed, is not primarily a political problem. It's God's people who have stepped away from him. We are separated from his purposes.
And then he begins to talk to the Corinthians, "Think of what you were when God called you". He said, "By human standards regarding influence or intelligence or status". He said, "In fact, you were non-essential people". I mean, that's not like a group hug. He said, "God chose you. He chose the foolish, the weak, the lowly, the despised, those who had very little appeal". Again, folks, that's not really something you put on your recruitment poster. "You're kind of plain, you look a little slow. If anything good happened with your life, everybody would know God had to do it". It's what he's saying to them. He's not quoting their poets. He's not saying, "I perceive you are a clever group of people". He's taken the opposite approach, and he said, "God recruited from the slow group, and he chose you".
And he said the reason he did it, if there's any boasting, the only boasting could be because of what Christ has done in you, what the Messiah has done in you. And he makes the point, at the very beginning, that the essence of that, the heart of that, is at the Crucifixion. We kind of sweep past that, and we talk about Jesus's death on the cross and his Resurrection as the necessary component for gaining entrance into the kingdom of God. It's the provision for the forgiveness of our sins. That is accurate, that is true, but it's incomplete, if that's all that you know about the redemptive work of Jesus. He also died so that we might be empowered for the purposes of God, not the fulfillment of selfish ambition, but that the purposes of God might move forward triumphantly in the earth.
The point of the cross and the total defeat of Satan, irreversibly, entirely, for all eternity, was so that the gospel, the good news of Jesus, could be shared with all humanity. And Paul said, "That was my message to you. That's what I did in Corinth," he said. Skip the Timothy passage for a moment. Look at 1 Corinthians 2, next chapter, same book. He said, "When I came to you, brothers, I didn't come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus the Messiah and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling.
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power". He said, "I decided when I was in Corinth, I really wasn't gonna talk about anything except about a Messiah and his Crucifixion, because you needed the power of God. I needed an outcome, my opinion, better than I got in Athens. I'm gonna choose a new tack". And he had the most remarkable outcome in Corinth. He's declaring the sufficiency of the gospel to transform lives. Sin and the need for repentance, the idea that repentance is about a change in our lives, a change in how we think, and a change in how we behave.
See, we have behaved as if the government were gonna solve our problems. That the government would make our schools safer, that the government would make our economy more just. Justice comes from God. And the church has been timid and afraid and frightened. We've been reluctant to express our biblical worldview and our ideas because we understood that people who didn't want to embrace them would say, "You're being political". In 2 Timothy chapter 3, this is Paul, different audience. He's writing to a young man he's coaching. He says, "Mark this: There'll be terrible times in the last days".
And then he lists 18 characteristics of human character that will deteriorate. That's what'll make the time so difficult. I didn't give you the whole list, but for many of you who know them, he said, "People will be lovers of themselves, and lovers of money, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God". Gee, that doesn't sound like anything like today. But then in verse 5 he said, "They're gonna have a form of godliness but deny its power". Having a form of godliness, but they'll deny its power.
Now we just read in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, what does Paul understand the power of God to be? A Messiah crucified. Christ crucified, he said, is the demonstration of the power of God. And he writes Timothy and he says, "Now, in the last days they're gonna have a form of godliness, they're gonna have religious language and religious buildings and religious services, and they're gonna have religious rules, but they're gonna deny the power of God. You really won't have to focus on repentance, you won't, you know, we don't need the cross because sin is kind of an outdated idea. We'll be evolving in how we understand things".
That sounds pretty familiar to me, folks. We'll be so worried that the ungodly will be offended by the truth, that we don't wanna speak the truth. We just wanna have a group hug. And we begin to compromise until the people of God can no longer distinguish between the truth of God and the invitation to come to the cross in repentance. And we find messages like, "Well, the New Testament is all about love," that it's impossible to understand the message of the New Testament without love. Well, I would agree with you that love is a part of the message of the New Testament. But it's a gross misstatement of the facts to suggest it's the only message of the New Testament. The book of Revelation is the story of God's judgment upon this present age. And the only way to be prepared to face that triumphantly is to approach the cross in repentance.
Paul's not done in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 6, he's gonna get really political, I'm just gonna warn you. He said, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God"? Now, he's talking about a kingdom and a realm of authority that supersedes any authority in this world. So he's calling us to obedience to a power higher than any government or any civil authority. He says, "Do not be deceived". And if he's warning us not to be deceived, remember, these are people he's lived with for over a year. They've heard him have these discussions. He knows they know what he thinks, but they have drifted.
The Corinthian church has a dynamic of the spirit that's almost unprecedented in the New Testament, in the churches we're exposed to, and it's also one of the most ungodly, carnal churches we're exposed to because they're drunk, they're immoral, they're gluttonous. He said, "There is immorality amongst you in Corinth that even the pagans won't do". And so it isn't surprising to me that when he's writing this letter back to them, he's saying to them, "Don't you know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? What are you thinking? You're gathering in your buildings, you've having church services". He said, "Don't be deceived: The sexually immoral or the idolaters or the adulterers or the male prostitutes or the homosexual offenders or the thieves or the greedy or the drunkards or the slanderers or the swindlers, they will not inherit the kingdom of God".
He's writing to his friends. He said, "That's what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God". He's repeating what we just read. He said, "God recruited you from the scrapheap. You were so broken, nobody wanted you. And you found the power of God that could transform your life, and you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, by the Lord Jesus, our Messiah, and by the Spirit of God".
Now, if I used contemporary language, I would submit to you that Paul was being very political. He's challenging the cultural practices of his day, things that are widely accepted, that are celebrated, that have been normalized, and he's saying, "Listen to me. If you practice those things, you cannot participate in the kingdom of God". And he suffers greatly for his determination to say those things. He's often challenged by religious and secular authorities for his message. He was very seldom conciliatory. It's infrequent where you find Paul softening his message to be less offensive. In fact, he's following Jesus's pattern on more than one occasion.
Jesus's disciples would come to him privately and say, "Did you know you offended your audience"? "Oh really? Tell me about that, O observant ones". Well, I would submit to you we need the same determination that Paul demonstrated in Corinth, not to be angry, not even to be critical. It's an invitation to freedom. The gospel is enough. But to introduce the gospel to a secular culture is going to create friction because it's an invitation to change, and it has to begin in us. We can't live like the world, hide in our churches, and say "Jesus" when we're with our Christian friends and live like the ungodly and imagine we will receive the blessings of God. And we have so confused the message with reaching a lost and broken world and our desire to give a gospel that's appealing, that we have softened the message to those of us who gather as the people of God.
God has not compromised his standards in the 21st century. He hasn't dumbed down holiness. He hasn't redefined purity. And we're gonna have to have the courage to begin with ourselves at our kitchen tables. We have tolerated ungodliness and we said, "Well, they go to church. I saw 'em baptized, they were dedicated as a baby". Folks, if they are living ungodly, immoral lives, please meditate a little bit on what Paul said to his friends in Corinth. You cannot live like this and inherit the kingdom of God. There's a brokenness that it takes to come to the cross. There's a brokenness that is required to come to the Lord. We don't come in our sufficiency with our intellect and our ability and our resources and our power and our strength and our contacts. We come when we're at the end of ourselves and say, "God, I need your help. I need your help".
And then the Creator of heaven and earth intervenes on our behalf. That's our story. We give those stories, we have a booth in the lobby so you can take a bit of time and tell a bit of your God story week by week. I would imagine you have a God story on a weekly basis. It's only a couple of minutes long. People say, "Well, two minutes is not enough". We didn't want your whole autobiography. We wanted to know what God did this week. If he hasn't done anything, go sit in that booth for a few weeks and say, "God didn't do anything this week". Just the anticipation of that appointment will change your engagement with the world around you. God is moving in the earth, and he's looking for a people with the courage.
One last passage: Luke 11. This was Jesus now. Says, "As the crowds increased, Jesus said," these are Jesus's words, "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be in this generation". And then he says some really insulting things to them. The Jewish people understood then and today, they understood themselves to be God's unique people. And Jesus, one of them, is saying that "A foreign queen will have status, a non-Jewish queen, will have status ahead of you. And a Gentile, a non-Jewish, city responded to God more readily than you have".
Those are very insightful things. Highly critical, abrasive. And in case you didn't catch it, he introduced them by saying, "You're a wicked generation". Again, by current definitions, Jesus is being highly political. He's talking about their behavior, their capitulation to civil authority. Their desire to be accepted is more than their desire to be pleasing to God. It captured my attention that in Jesus's evaluation, a generation can be wicked. That's pretty harsh language.
Now, it is inferred by logic, if you can have a wicked generation, you can have a faithful generation or an obedient generation or a generation who experienced the power of God. And if you'll allow me, I would submit to you, we have a choice. What are we going to be known as? There was a book written not too long ago about the World War II generation. They were said to be the greatest generation. I don't think our story is complete yet. But to the degree that it's up to me, I'd like to be a part of a faithful generation, an obedient generation. I know we're in another election cycle. We're tired of it already, and we're just getting warmed up. But don't give in to the idolatry that thinking November next year will fix us.
I want you to participate in the process, I think we have that assignment. I think it's biblical, but our hope is in the people of God being salt and light, which means we have to use our voices to engage the world in which we live. It starts at our kitchen table. Stop worrying about the White House and start praying about your house. That's the truth. If we will do that, I believe we will see changes. I think we'll see Jesus come back into our schools, in our courtrooms and our hospitals. But it's gonna take a little more courage. We've wanted to be accepted and applauded and embraced. We haven't wanted to be excluded. We don't want anybody to call us a name, so we're just quiet. It's not okay with me.
When I hear our faith denigrated and people mocked and ridiculed and said we're unfit for the public square because of our worldview, I will not be quiet. If we live in a culture that celebrates immorality and ungodliness and wickedness and persecutes godliness and righteousness and holiness and purity, and we don't use our voice, then we have capitulated as watchmen on the walls. We are not salt and we are not light. And there is no question about the outcome if we abandon those assignments.
So even if somebody tries to label you or everybody doesn't applaud, we wanna love people that don't know the Lord. We wanna invite them towards the cross. We will freely acknowledge our own brokenness and our own failures and our own inconsistencies, but we will not renegotiate what righteousness or holiness or purity is so we can be accepted more broadly. And that isn't political, that's biblical. And please don't be confused. I brought you a prayer. A brief one, since I brought you most of the book of Acts in your outline. Why don't you stand with me. Can we read this together?
Heavenly Father, we humble ourselves before you, you have called us out of the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of your Son. Now teach us to walk uprightly before you. Grant us boldness to speak the truth in our homes and beyond. May your power be made evident to this generation and Jesus's name exalted, amen.