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The Context of the Cross

17For Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:17-18 (ESV)

The “gospel” of verse 17 is the “word of the cross” of verse 18. The gospel is, simply put, the message of the cross. But it’s a message in context. Until we understand who Jesus is, the cross will make no sense.

Jesus is the Son of God. Not by creation, nor by adoption - rather he is co-eternal, equal with God. He was, as John 1:1 puts it, “in the beginning with God” and “was God.” He is the creator of the universe. He is God.

And yet the universe he created has rebelled against his rule. He made each of us in his image and yet we have marred that image with sin. We have rejected his authority and asserted our own right to create our own morality, rather than accept his. We have spurned his love and tried to make him surplus to requirements by trying to make ourselves like God.

As we sin, we elevate good things that God made and put them in his place. We treat them as God. We make them idols, which we then proceed to worship them, breaking God’s law, offending God’s nature, damaging God’s creation.

God could not be both good and indifferent to the evil that we visit on him, each other and his creation - so he cursed us. He pronounced judgement on sin and declared the penalty for sin would be death. Death is the judgement for sin for two reasons (1) because God himself is the source of life and in rejecting him we reject life and also (2) because God has decreed it.

But God is a good God. He is a merciful, kind, patient, loving God. And he is a saviour God.

Rather than sit at a distance as we condemned ourselves, he came near in order to save us. And he put into action a plan to save us – a plan in which he became human. He was born into this world as man. We call it the incarnation. God with flesh. Jesus.

God picked a teenage girl in northern Israel, in the middle east. A girl named Mary who was engaged to be married, but was still a virgin. He was then brought up by her and her working class husband, a guy named Joseph, in a small town named Nazareth. He grew up in obscurity, with a weight of prejudice against him: his home town was a place with a reputation like Scunthorpe.

At the age of 30, he started travelling round Israel, preaching the gospel to people, healing, caring – and urging them to repent. To turn away from their sin and turn to God.

After about 3 years, in which he became exceedingly controversial, he was betrayed by one of his closest friends. Arrested, tried on jumped up charges, beaten and then crucified – which meant he was nailed to a wooden cross – on the instructions of a mob. He died.

Three days later, he came back to life. Appeared to his disciples to prove it and then returned to heaven. His followers then went out into world and, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, they started telling everyone about Jesus. And the fact that he has promised to return.