It’s Good Friday, the day we remember the passion of Christ during His crucifixion. Today, as we give thanks for the finished work of redemption accomplished by Christ on the Cross, let’s examine how the message of the cross impacted people who heard the message through the ministry of a Jewish Rabbi whose life was radically transformed by its power.
It is the city of Corinth in Greece in the year AD 51. It is Sunday morning and a group has gathered before daylight in the house of a Corinthian man named Gaius. To Jews it is the first day of the week; to pagans and slaves, simply a scheduled gathering, all days were the same to them. The crowd is mixed with people from every possible background. A man named Paul, previously known as Saul of Tarsus, is present and looking around the room. This is not the sort of religious gathering he was raised in and through which he received his prestigious training as a Jewish Rabbi.
During Paul’s ministry, three principle urban centers would play important roles in the advancement of the Gospel. The church in Antioch would be the church that would initiate and send he, along with Barnabas, on their missionary journeys. Ephesus would be where evangelistic strategy would be developed to push the Gospel westward, but Corinth would be where the Gospel would be put through rigorous clinical trials in the laboratory of the depraved. A church would develop there and this church would receive at least two, perhaps three, personal letters of instruction, correction and guidance from the Apostle during his ministry. It was clear that there was a lot at stake in Corinth.
In a way, Corinth was the spiritual battleground for the Christian movement, being the most important city in Greece in the first century. It was where east met west geographically but also philosophically and culturally. And Corinth had problems. Corinth had issues!
Over the years it had became known for its immorality. Beyond being morally loose, it was sexually depraved. This depravity was celebrated even worshipped and taken to an extreme even beyond their Roman cousins. To this day, the common term “Corinthian” speaks of practicing extreme sexually immorality.
With that said, Corinth was also a principle slave-trading center. People taken from their native cultures throughout the Roman Empire, particularly from the east when their homelands were conquered, were brought to Corinth to be sold to the highest bidder. Slavery in its many destructive and devilish forms strips people of their freedom and dignity, and with it their identity. In Corinth slaves were traded like commodities, paraded in the markets naked after having been torn from their families and from what was familiar. The personal insecurities that sort of exploitation inflicts on the soul is mind-boggling. In Corinth, it was the norm.
The “Gospel of Jesus Christ” or the phrase Paul often used synonymously with it, “Message of The Cross”, must prove itself effective in Corinth. If a church could be planted in Corinth, it could be planted anywhere in the World. If the demons and wicked spirits, the principalities and powers of this world system, could not stop the church in Corinth, they could not stand in its way anywhere!
As the Apostle looked around the room that predawn morning, he knew full well what was at stake. He knew what many present had gone through, and the issues with which they were dealing. He knew their transformation would be turbulent and a battle, to say the least.
Most certainly, in the room there were those who were once part of the thousands of cult prostitutes who served in the Temple of Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of licentious love. And in the room were people who had once used them. Both had been devastated by the kind of twisted perversion that rots the soul.
In the room were those who had been exploited by slavery and its devastating consequences. People left wrecked in their minds, wills and emotions, without a sense of identity or personal value. And in the room were people who owned them.
And in the room were a few who had known privilege and prosperity such as Erastus, a high-ranking official in the local government. And perhaps sitting next to him was Crispus, a former ruler of the Synagogue that met next door. He, Paul had baptized personally.
Corinth, like so many cities today, was filled with broken, abused, people. People without hope, without purpose and who had lost meaning in life. Hemingway once said, “Life breaks us all.” And he was right. But, Paul knew the answer, the solution, it was Christ and His Cross.
In the early hours of that Sunday morning gathering, for a brief period of time, social class lost its distinction and division. Slaves, prostitutes, the prosperous and government officials, all broken by life, each with issues, sat together, heard the Word together, sang hymns of worship as brothers and sisters as one family, all because of one thing! It was not better systems, well-conceived programs, surveys, or technology that drew them together before daylight as the church in Corinth; they gathered around the message of the Cross!
The Apostle Paul stands to speak, so much to say, so much to deal with. As he stands to speak, his mind races to the Cross of Christ and the specific angle of his approach for his message that morning. He begins and preaches “the message of the Cross”, again.
As always when Paul preached, his message was the Cross. Without a doubt, it was his life’s message and work, to make Christ known as the Jewish Messiah, the perfect sacrifice in his death, and the first to be resurrected from the dead. He knew that it was the only thing that would work. If you study Paul’s writings you will discover that he is almost exclusive in his focus on the Cross. In fact, he is the only writer in the New Testament to use the Word, “the Cross”, outside the Gospels. It was The Doctrine of the Cross that Paul preached everywhere! He had discovered its potent power to break strongholds and the chains of sin, heal the broken, straighten the twisted and produce hope in those who had been devastated by life.
He stays in Corinth for eighteen months and during his stay he writes the Book of Romans. When you think of the content of Romans, you must consider if the content of Romans was inspired by the experience in Corinth. Later from Ephesus and reflecting of his eighteen months in Corinth, Paul would write to the church in Corinth and give us insight into why he focused so completely on the Cross:
1st Corinthians 1 Verse 18 “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…”
Verse 22-24 “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
Today on this Good Friday, let’s join with the Apostle Paul and remember not just the suffering of Christ, but what it provides. Let’s celebrate it’s incredible power to transform our lives! Today, remember that no matter how life has broken us, no matter how far its taken us from home, we can find freedom, hope, healing and strength in the message of the Cross!