'BUT WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED'
SERIES: PAUL, AN INSTRUMENT OF THE RISEN CHRIST
by Ron Ritchie
Last week I got a message from our receptionist here at the church that
a woman had telephoned asking to talk to a pastor. She was interested in
learning how our church functions because she wanted to become part of this
fellowship, I was told. I noticed that this was the second time this woman
had telephoned me. When I got the first note about her call, I asked a secretary
to direct her to talk to one of our elders on a Sunday morning and he would
answer her questions on church government. But she persisted and called
back, asking to see me. Again, I told the secretary that I did not want
to give up my counseling slot to talk about church government. "But
she wants to talk to a pastor," the secretary said. So I agreed to
talk to her.
This woman turned out to be a delightful person. She was married, with two
young children, and she told me that she had left the church at a young
age. Now that she had settled down she was anxious to once again become
involved and join a church. I asked if she was a Christian. She said that
she was. I then asked her to define what she thought Christianity was. She
said she believed in God and the Bible. I replied, "Hold on to your
seat. Do you not know that the demons believe that? If that is all you believe,
you're in a dangerous place. If you were to appear before God this afternoon,
what would you say to him you had brought with you that would entitle you
to remain with him for eternity?" She replied, "I would say that
I believe in him and in the Bible." "Based on that statement,"
I said, "you would be eternally separated from the God you say you
believe in. You have bypassed Jesus and the cross, and thus established
your own criteria for having a relationship with God."
I then shared with her the gospel as it is revealed in the Scriptures. God
so loved her, I said, that he did not just send the Bible, he sent his own
Son. He died on the cross, taking upon himself all of our sins; and if she
placed her faith in his Person and in his action on the cross, she would
then come into a personal relationship with him. Jesus would then become
the Mediator between her and God the Father. That is what being a Christian
is all about, I told her. "I think I missed a step," she said
with a chuckle in her voice, "although I got two out of three."
She had devised a theology she hoped would be acceptable to God, but it
had been found wanting. At 2:36 on Wednesday afternoon, Joy was born again.
The Lord filled her heart with true joy, peace and hope.
Christianity without the cross is not true Christianity. The message of
the apostle Paul, whose life we have been studying in this series from the
book of Acts, could be summed up in his own words, "We preach Christ
and him crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, to the Gentiles foolishness,
but to those who are called, the power of God." This morning we have
come to Acts chapter 18 where we find the apostle in the city of Corinth.
Paul. we discovered in our first study, was to become, in the words of Jesus,
"a chosen instrument of Mine to bear My name to the Gentiles, kings
and children of Israel." We have followed the apostle's travels on
his second missionary journey. Last week we looked at his ministry in Athens,
where he shared the gospel in three different locations. After ministering
to a few new converts, he moved on to Corinth, some sixty miles away, where
he again planned on sharing the good news.
Corinth was a seaport city on the southern tip of Greece, a thriving metropolis
with a population of half a million. The city was known as the cradle of
pleasure. It was an architectural showplace, the hub of the social and economic
world. Its residents were known for their lack of aristocracy, tradition
and loyalty to to the city fathers. Because of the city's cosmopolitan and
corrupt makeup, Corinthians were known for their competitive spirit and
immorality. The very word "Corinthian" in fact was synonymous
with drunkenness and immorality. In that first century day when Paul visited
the city, there was one source of evil prevalent in Corinth of which the
whole Western world took note. Above the city towered the Acropolis, on
which stood the great temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. One thousand
religious prostitutes were housed in that temple, and every evening they
came down to walk the streets of the city. As they walked in the dust of
the streets, the hobnails embedded in their sandals spelled out the words,
"Follow me." It became a Greek proverb, especially among visitors
to the city, to say, "It is not every man who can afford to journey
It is to this city of Corinth then that the apostle next takes the gospel
of Jesus Christ. As usual, he begins his ministry in a synagogue. Once more,
the Jews found the good news unacceptable.
I. To the Jews: A Stumbling Block, Acts 18:1-6
After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he
found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come
from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the
Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade,
he stayed with them and they were working: for by trade they were tentmakers.
And he was reasoning in the synagogues every Sabbath and trying to persuade
Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul
began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the
Jews that Jesus was the Christ. And when they resisted and blasphemed, he
shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood be upon your own
heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles."
Paul, who has arrived alone in Athens, quickly finds fellowship with Aquila
and Priscilla, a Jewish couple who apparently came to faith on the day of
Pentecost, eighteen years earlier (Acts 2:9). This couple, who were natives
of Pontus in Asia Minor, had arrived in Corinth some months earlier. Paul
met them and all three began working at making tents, which was their trade.
They joined Paul in his custom of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath
where he reasoned with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, as he had
done in the other cities where he had ministered, "...explaining and
giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead
and saying, 'This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.'"
(Acts 17:2, 3).
Next, Timothy and Silas arrived in Corinth from Thessalonica and Berea respectively.
It was at the point of their arrival to join the apostle that Paul "began
devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews
that Jesus was the Christ." Writing from Ephesus a few years later
to the Corinthian church, Paul shared about his message and his attitude
when he arrived in the city. First, his message,
For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but
to us who are being saved it is the power of God...for indeed Jews ask for
signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to
the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those
who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom
of God (1 Cor.1:18; 22-24).
And now his attitude,
...when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority
of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined
to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I
was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message
and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration
of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom
of men, but in the power of God (1 Cor.2:1-5).
"...Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block..." Paul presented
Jesus Christ as a propitiary sacrifice, one which justifies sinners through
faith, transforming them by the inward work of the Holy Spirit and creating
a new community into which Gentiles and Jews are admitted on the same terms.
The apostle saw the atoning death of Christ as a demonstration of God's
justice and God's wisdom. God had devised a costly plan of salvation which
both meets our needs yet which also satisfies his demand for justice.
In his latest book The Cross of Christ, John Stott writes on
the subject of the cross,
The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone
one which tricked and trapped him; nor an exact equivalent, a quid pro quo
to satisfy a code of honor or technical point of law; nor a compulsory submission
by God to some moral authority above him from which he could not otherwise
escape; nor a punishment of a meek Christ by a harsh and punitive Father;
nor an action of the Father which bypassed the Son as Mediator. Instead,
the righteous, loving Father humbled himself to become in and through his
only Son flesh, sin and a curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising
his own character...The biblical gospel of atonement is of God satisfying
himself by substituting himself for us.
Man, Paul would say, had fallen short of the glory of God. He had become
separated from God and there was no way back except through the atoning
sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Thus, man could not approach God and be accepted
on his own merits. No one can stand before God and claim that his good works
on earth outweighed the bad he had done. No, Paul's message was "Jesus
Christ and him crucified." The cross shatters man's pride and eliminates
But the Jews and the Greeks of Paul's day had laid down terms on which the
gospel would be acceptable to them. The Jews demanded miraculous signs,
while the Greeks looked for wisdom. Paul, however, preached Christ crucified,
an offense to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.
The Jews had two main objections to the word that Jesus was the Messiah.
First, although they might agree that the Messiah would be the "suffering
Servant" identified in Isaiah's prophecy, they had nothing but scorn
for the statement that he would be crucified. Furthermore, they were looking
for a deliverer, one who would free them from the power of the Roman Empire.
If the Messiah had been crucified, as Paul was teaching, how could he possibly
deliver them? they asked. Christians, of course, would hold that in the
crucifixion, Jesus disarmed the "principalities and powers of the air";
and proof that he did so was his resurrection from the dead.
Secondly, the Jews found the cross to be offensive because of the statement
in Deuteronomy which said, "...anyone who is hanged on a tree is under
God's curse." They reasoned that Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah
because when he was crucified he fell under God's curse. The claim that
he was the Messiah therefore was blasphemous. Furthermore, those who chose
to follow Christ would also be blasphemers, and as such they deserved to
suffer the fate of revilers. Christians, the Jews said, were deluded fools,
deceivers and imposters who went about deceiving others. Paul would answer
this objection in his letter to the Galatians, in these words,
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become
a curse for us, for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,'
in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the
Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Jesus was cursed, not for his sin, for he was without sin, but for our sin.
He died on our behalf, for it is we who should have been on the cross. Through
his sacrifice therefore we have forgiveness for our sins. We should not
allow Satan to keep bringing them up again and again. Resist the temptation
to believe that you will be held responsible for your sin. Instead, rejoice
that in his sacrifice you have perfect forgiveness. Do not review your sin,
but instead review your forgiveness. Be amazed and humbled by what God in
Christ has done for you.
As he looked at the cross Paul would say that it was the ground of his justification,
the means of his sanctification, the subject of his witness, and the object
of his boasting. In the cross, we as believers can see the justice, love,
wisdom and power of God. We can see the justice of God in judging sin, the
love of God in bearing the judgment in our place, the wisdom of God in perfectly
combining the two, and the power of God in saving all who believe.
The Jews in the synagogue in Corinth "resisted and blasphemed"
Paul's message of the gospel. They dug in their heels, resisting everything
he had to say. And then they blasphemed Paul and the others, speaking evil
of them and, of course, the Lord Jesus also. Why did they react so strongly?
Paul gives us the answer in his letter to the Romans:
...Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at
that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it
were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it written,
"Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed." (Rom.9:31-33)
Paul responded to the resistance and blasphemy of the Jews by shaking out
his garment, which symbolized that he would have nothing more to do with
those in the synagogue. He would not even allow the dust from the floor
to remain on his clothes, in an action reminiscent of Nehemiah, who said,
"May God deal with you" (Neh.5:13). "Your blood be upon your
own heads! I am clean," Paul declared. This was not a curse but a solemn
disclaimer of responsibility for their salvation. When Paul stood before
the Lord, God would not hold their resistant stand against him. The issue
was very serious. It was a life and death affair, a choice between heaven
and hell, then and for eternity.
"From now on I will go to the Gentiles," said Paul. The apostle
had already said this to the Jews living in Pisidian Antioch on his first
missionary journey: "it was necessary that the word of God should be
spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy
of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46).
I myself have many Jewish friends with whom I have shared the message, "Jesus
Christ and him crucified." But many of them have resisted it time and
time again. They have not blasphemed me to my face, but they have resisted
my message. They will not accept a Messiah who was crucified on a tree.
"But," says Paul, "we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews
a stumbling block,
II. To Those Called, the Power of God, Acts 18:7-11
And he departed from there and went to the house of a certain
man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the
synagogue. And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord
with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were
believing and being baptized. And the Lord said to Paul in the night by
a vision, "Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not
be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm
you, for I have many people in this city." And he settled there a year
and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
Whenever I read this passage I cannot help but think of the words of Jesus,
"The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the
ground; and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts
up and grows--how, he himself does not know. The earth produces crops by
itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.
But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the
harvest has come." (Mark 4:26-29)
While Paul and his team were faithfully teaching week in and week out that
Jesus was the Messiah, it seemed on the surface that nothing was happening
spiritually. The Jews, as we have seen, both resisted and blasphemed. In
response, Paul planned on taking his message to the Gentiles in the market
places. But the seed of the gospel which had been planted by the apostle
in the synagogue was already germinating. And Paul did not have to go far
to find evidence that God had been working in the hearts of those who were
in the process of being saved. He had to go no farther than next door to
the synagogue, to the home of Titius Justus, "a worshiper of God."
No wonder Paul would later write to the Corinthian church and say with great
But thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ
and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every
place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being
saved and among those who are perishing. (2 Cor.2:14, 15)
Christians are seed-spreaders. We are not called to save anybody. One plants,
another waters, but "God gives the increase." Paul discovered
that another seed also had sprouted. This time it was Crispus, the leader
of the synagogue himself, who "believed in the Lord with all his household."
And thirdly, a whole group of seeds had germinated since Paul and the team
had been kicked out of the synagogue: "...many of the Corinthians when
they heard were believing and being baptized." By being baptized these
new believers were making outward demonstration that an inward spiritual
change had taken place in their lives. As Paul wrote in Romans,
...all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been
baptized into his death, therefore we have been buried with Him through
baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through
the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom.6:3,
But in the midst of this harvest of new life which had come about through
Paul and his team's ministry, the enemy was not asleep. Paul, it seems,
was undergoing a spiritual attack which resulted in his becoming fearful.
He had vivid memories of what had happened him on several other occasions
when he had preached Jesus as Messiah and people had come to faith in Christ:
stonings and beatings were his reward on those occasions as the mobs gathered
to lay political charges on him and have him run out of the city. As he
sat in the home of Titius therefore he was coming to the conclusion that
it as time to hit the road again before the Jews did it for him. In the
midst of his fear, however, the Lord appeared to him in a vision which
both comforted and reassured him. The Lord said to Paul in this third recorded
vision which he had, "Do not be afraid any longer but go on speaking
and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order
to harm you, for I have many people in this city."
Jesus was very much aware of the fears which were haunting his own chosen
instrument. And he was faithful to keep the word which he had promised to
his own disciples, "Lo, I am with you always..." God's people,
prompted by the Holy Spirit, had planted the word in the hearts of the Corinthians
and those seeds had borne fruit. But there was more to come. In the vision,
Paul was told to go on preaching the word because Jesus had many people
in the city of Corinth. Right in the middle of Paul's fear and trepidation
the Lord was working in the hearts of many Corinthians, providing a body
of new believers for Paul and his ministry team, a work which would occupy
them for eighteen months. And that is what the team did, remaining on in
Corinth for a year and a half, "teaching the word of God among them."
They had experienced much joy, and much suffering, too, during their evangelistic
efforts, but once the initial penetration by the gospel had been made then
it was time to teach the new converts "the whole counsel of God."
"But we preach Christ crucified," declared Paul, "to the
Jews a stumbling block, to those called the power of God, and,
III. To the Rulers: Not Understood, Acts 18:12-18
But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one
accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, saying,
"This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law." But
when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "If
it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable
for me to put up with you; but if there are questions about words and names
and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge
of these matters." And he drove them away from the judgment seat. And
they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began
beating him in front of the judgment seat. And Gallio was not concerned
about any of these things. And Paul, having remained many days longer, took
leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla
and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.
Here we go again. Paul may have gotten a break from the Jews for a time,
but sooner or later the mob would form again and drag him before the Roman
authorities. And this is what happened finally in Corinth. The Jews brought
the apostle before Gallio, the proconsul, and charged, "This man persuades
men to worship God contrary to the law." But they chose the wrong man
to judge their case. The Greek philosopher Seneca, the brother of Gallio,
described his brother in these words, "he is a man of considerable
personal charm...no mortal is so pleasant to any one person as Gallio is
to everybody." After hearing the Jews charge that Paul was teaching
a religion that was not authorized by the Roman government, Gallio told
the Jews that he would have no part in their squabbling over "words
and names and your own law." "Look after it yourselves,"
he told them, "I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters."
Then he drove them away from the judgment seat.
Gallio's action so frustrated the Jews that they turned on the new leader
of the synagogue, Sosthenes--and not on Paul, as we would expect--and began
beating him in front of the proconsul. Gallio remained unmoved by their
actions: he "was not concerned about any of these things," according
to the text. Sosthenes may have become a Christian later. Paul makes mention
of a Sosthenes in his first letter to the Corinthians.
This decision by Gallio to not become involved in the charges trumped up
by the Jews against Paul was a major break for the spreading of the gospel.
As a direct result of this incident, for the next dozen years or so, Rome
regarded Christianity as just another form of Judaism and thus not a threat
to Roman law, which held that Judaism in all its forms was a legal and registered
religion. From 51 A.D. until the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D. (for which
Nero blamed the Christians), followers of Christ did not undergo political
persecution. Gallio's decision to not put up with the Jews, therefore, was
responsible for the gospel being freely spread throughout the Empire for
a number of years until the persecution of Christians began in earnest.
Thus, Paul, the chosen instrument of the Lord to "bear His name before
the Gentiles, the kings and the children of Israel," continued to minister
in his generation in the Age of the Spirit. The apostle's message, which
is best stated in his first letter to the Corinthians, is our message too
in our generation,
For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...for indeed Jews ask
for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified,
to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those
who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom
of God. (1 Cor.1:18; 22-24)
Paul's ground for confidence, likewise, is our ground for confidence. He
writes in Romans,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God
for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the
Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith,
as it is written, "But the righteous shall live by faith." (Rom.1:16,17)
The message which Paul received from the Lord is the vision we also should
hold in our hearts and minds during all of our days on this earth. We should
not be fearful to speak the message of the good news, for Jesus says, "I
have many people in this city." I sometimes wonder how many people
are waiting to enter the kingdom of God but Christians are fearful of rejection
by their families, friends, or co-workers if they were to share it. God
is in charge of both those who are in the process of being saved and those
who are in the process of perishing. The Christian's responsibility is to
show up, ready to be used by God, to share his message of redemption. There
are many, many people who want to come to a knowledge of God but he will
not bypass the process of using his own Spirit, together with his word,
in and through his people, to reach the unsaved with the gospel.
Our is a redemptive God. He wants to redeem, save, and give people newness
of life, through us, in our generation. And if we do not want to go out
and do this, the Lord will send them to us. I did not want to talk to Joy--she
had asked the wrong question--but because the Spirit was already working
in her heart she would not give up. I had no choice but to introduce her
to the Savior. Now she knows that Jesus Christ is the only Mediator between
God and man. I want to tell you that this woman lives two blocks from this
church! "I have many people in this city," the Lord told Paul.
They are as close as two blocks away. If we don't go and talk with them,
God will send them to talk to us. We have to become serious about why we
are here, serious about the Spirit of God who is in us, serious about the
message of the gospel--to know it and to be willing to share it as the Lord
opens up doors of opportunity.
Catalog No. 4057
Ron R. Ritchie
September 13, 1987
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