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The Heart of the Gospel 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones
02/06/11

Isaiah 58:1-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-12


We have been listening very carefully to Paul's first letter to the young church in Corinth, a letter written about three years after his first visit to them in 50 A.D. (You can read of Luke's account of Paul's eighteen-month stay in Acts 18.) It is a church now filled with quarreling over matters smaller than the Gospel, and a community threatened by boasting and factionalism within its own ranks. I am reminded of Lincoln's observation that a nation's worst enemies are never those outside its borders, but nations are threatened far more by what goes on inside their life. Lincoln said, "Of all things, avoid if possible, a dividing into cliques among the friends of the common object." Paul placed a high value on community, on the unity of the Church as the source of its power and vitality.

Here Paul makes very clear the only basis for the church's oneness. He recalls here his first visit to Corinth: "I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom." Then he says it: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." 

This for Paul is the heart of the Gospel: "Jesus Christ and Him crucified." Jesus' death is God's decisive saving event, and any other account of Jesus' identity, no matter how eloquently it may be voiced, is not the Gospel. And for Paul, it is the content of the Gospel, "Jesus Christ and Him crucified," and not the style of its presentation, or the attractiveness of the preacher, that matters.

Paul's own personal bearing mirrored his message. He did not come to them three years earlier all full of himself. He came "in weakness and in fear and trembling." Why? So that no one's faith would rest on human wisdom or on the attractiveness of the messenger, but solely on the power of God, which is the Holy Spirit.

"God gives the cross," said St. John of the Cross, "and the cross gives us God." The Gospel is as simple and as profound, as this. Salvation is not a matter of wisdom, or some eternal principle waiting to be grasped by the especially insightful. Salvation is something that happened in time. It is historical. The cross marks God's intrusion into human history, and it is God's act of our salvation.

The Nicene Creed puts it like this: "For us, and for our salvation, He came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became truly human. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried." The mention of Pontius Pilate roots the Gospel of "Christ crucified" in history. This is what Paul is saying when he proclaims, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

Remember those coarse, crude bumper stickers of a few years ago that we saw far too much of, that proclaimed "___ Happens"? (You cannot believe that I'd mention a thing in church!) Well, here is a deeper truth, and one of infinitely better news: "Salvation happened." And "Salvation happens." It keeps happening! When Paul says, "Christ crucified," he puts it grammatically in the perfect tense. The perfect tense speaks of "acts completed in the past that have continued effects into the present." "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" is just such an act that has forever changed the world. It is the most important and decisive thing that ever happened, and it remains the great hope of the world. It has never stopped happening.

There is a train station in London, England called Charing Cross. It refers to an actual cross placed perfectly at the geographical center of the sprawling city of London. Its arms point north and south and east and west at the geographical center of London. Once a little boy was lost in the city, and a Bobby was trying to help him find his way home. In tears he said, "Take me to Charing Cross. From there I can find my way home." You get it, don't you? The cross of Christ is that place where we go to find our way home, no matter how far from home we have wandered, no matter how lost and alone in this cold, brutal world we have gotten. At the cross we find our way home to God, for there we see how greatly God has loved the world. At the cross we see that it is "for us, and for our salvation" that Jesus Christ was crucified.

"To know Jesus and Him crucified is my philosophy, and there is none higher," said Bernard of Clairvaux. To know "Christ crucified" is to know enough, to know all you need to know about God. It is to know that "God is love," and that the way of Jesus shall always be the way of the cross, the way of suffering, serving, sacrificial love. Suffering, serving, sacrificial love is the theme of every story worth telling, and any life worth living. That is why musicians and artists refer to the death of Jesus on the cross as "The Passion of the Christ." It reveals God's passion for us, and inspires in us our passion for the world.

When Paul goes on to speak of wisdom, he is speaking words filled with irony. He is dubious about human wisdom, because as he says elsewhere, "Wisdom puffs up." That is why God's wisdom is revealed not in lofty words or complicated, impressive thoughts. God's wisdom is plain. "Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

Those who get this, who understand this, have as a gift from God, the mind of Christ. "But we have the mind of Christ," Paul writes. To have the mind of Christ is to see the cross as a way of life. It is to have the Gospel take hold of your mind and enable you to see and understand everything else in the light of it. This is what Paul did. The Gospel, the good news of God's reconciling, redeeming love for the world, which he saw in the cross, in Christ crucified, made Paul a man full of faith, hope and love. It changed everything for Paul, and it filled him with hope, and with a passion to share this good news with the world. What fills your mind? What shapes your thoughts?

I walked outside yesterday to get our little beagle, Sophie (The world's sweetest and most disobedient dog!), and I was greeted by a fresh foot-high pile of dirt, the work of an army of moles that thrive underground just under the surface of our yard. Wherever I go I see new evidence of these subterranean varmints! They are building a city under our yard! But I never see them, just unmistakable evidence popping up everywhere of their constant work.

It occurred to me that our minds function in this way. Most folks have no idea what is taking place in our minds, under the surface, as we think and mull over all manner of ideas and feelings in our minds. But what we think about all day in our minds pop up in all kinds of telltale ways. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is," says the Proverb.

Paul thought about everything in the light of the Gospel. He had the mind of Christ. Not as some possession, but as a gift. And he made every thought captive to "Jesus Christ and Him crucified." The passion of Christ was the passion of his life. What is the passion of your life?

"We have the mind of Christ." This is what Paul said. It is what enabled Paul to offer these words to the Philippians toward the end of his life. The longer I follow Jesus, the more I love them: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence; if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." That is what I want to think about all the time. How about you?

AMEN.
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