Bible Book: 1 Corinthians  1 : 18-25
Subject: Cross; Crucifixion; Jesus; God

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (KJV)

In May of 1972, a group of men broke into the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate headquarters, stole copies of top-secret documents, and bugged the office’s phones. The wiretaps failed to work properly, so in the morning hours of June 17, 1972, the group returned to the Watergate building. As they were preparing to break in with a new microphone, a security guard noticed someone had taped the building’s locks. The guard then called the police, who arrived just in time to catch the intruders red-handed.

An extensive investigation revealed that these prowlers were connected to President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign. While historians are not certain whether Nixon knew about the Watergate spying operation before it happened, he did take steps to cover it up afterward, raising “hush money” for the burglars, trying to stop the FBI from investigating the crime, destroying evidence, and firing uncooperative staff members.

On August 9, 1974, after his role in the Watergate conspiracy had finally become known, the president resigned. Although Nixon was never prosecuted and was pardoned by President Ford, the Watergate scandal changed American politics forever—going down as one of the darkest scandals in this nation’s history.1

Well, almost 2,000 years ago, there was another scandal-making headline we could call—CROSSGATE. This scandal was making waves in the church at Corinth. In that day, if you picked up a copy of The Greek Tribune or The Corinthian Times you may have read this headline—“Crossgate: Senseless or Shame!” You see, the symbol of the cross in those days had become offensive and even scandalous. In Galatians 5:11(ESV) Paul even refers to the “offense of the cross.” Now the Bible makes it clear that there will always be something offensive about Jesus and the cross. In fact, Paul talks about that very matter in this passage, and he has three remarkable things to say about the cross.


It is through the cross of Jesus that God’s power of salvation shines through. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, KJV). The word preaching literally should be translated “word.” The word of the cross is the power of God. Now this word is not what we say about the cross—it is the word of the cross. That is, it is what the cross says to us.

The word of the cross is God’s first word and God’s last word of salvation. It is God’s first word because Jesus was slain before the creation of this world. But it’s also God’s last word for this is where God has finally and forever provided a way for people to be saved and go to heaven.

You see, there is no “Plan B” for salvation. The only highway that goes to heaven runs right through Calvary. You cannot bypass the cross if you want to go to heaven. You cannot detour around the cross if you want eternal life. Hebrews 9:22 (HCSB) says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

That’s why the world hates the cross so much. We like to be in control—to do things for ourselves. But the cross leaves no room for human merit, no room for human achievement, no room for human goodness. You may say, “I don’t like the way of the cross. I like my way better. I prefer going to church. I prefer being baptized. I prefer living a good life. I prefer earning my way into heaven.” Well, Proverbs 14:12 (KJV) says, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” You see, the cross is not a good way to heaven or a better way to heaven. It’s not even the best way to heaven. The cross of the Lord Jesus is the only way to heaven.

Years ago, a Christian television personality appeared on a talk show was asked this question: “Is a Jew without Jesus Christ lost and in need of salvation?" Well, this well-known Christian spokesman began to stammer and stutter, waffle this way and that way, and finally muttered, “Well, the Jews have their way of going to heaven, and the Christians have their way of going to heaven.”2 That may be the worldview, but that’s not God’s view.

The cross is not your way of going to heaven or my way of going to heaven. It is God’s way of going to heaven. Jews are lost without Jesus. And Gentiles are lost without Jesus. No matter how much we care about someone—our parents, our children—without Jesus, they are lost.

Paul goes on to say, “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24, KJV). Now Scripture divides people into two spiritual groups: The saved and the lost. The wheat and the tares. The sheep and the goats. The “saints” and the “ain’ts.”

The Bible also says there are only two national or ethnic groups—Jews and Greeks, or Jews and Gentiles. Every person in this building is either a Jew or a Gentile. It doesn't matter what color you are, what language you speak, what country you were born in . . . you’re either a Jew or a Gentile. When the Bible speaks of Jews and Greeks, it’s just the biblical way for speaking of everybody.

The cross is not just the Gentile way of salvation, or the Western way of salvation, or the Baptist way of salvation. It is the way of salvation for everyone. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV).

Everyone needs both the power of God and the wisdom of God. That is a universal need. We all need to know what is right, and we need to do what is right. We need the wisdom to know what to do and then the power to do it. Jesus Christ is the only One who gives both the wisdom and the power. He is all we need!

That’s why Paul, almost stubbornly, says in verse 23 (KJV), “But we preach Christ crucified.” Now that is rather interesting. He wasn’t going to focus primarily on the birth of Christ or the resurrection of Christ. He was going to focus on the death of Christ. By the way, it’s incredible to think that Jesus never asked us to remember His birth or His resurrection, but when He instituted the Lord’s Supper, He specifically said to remember His death. Three things separate Jesus Christ from every other person who has ever lived—the cradle, the cross, and the crown. His virgin birth, His vicarious death, and His victorious resurrection.

Without the cradle, the cross would be useless. If Jesus had not been born of a virgin and lived a sinless life, He could not have taken our sins upon Him because He would have had sin within Him. Without the crown, the cross would be meaningless. Why? If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, that would have been positive proof that He was a liar and not the Lord, not the Son of God. But without the cross—both the crown and the cradle would be pointless.

In the cradle, Jesus was born the Son of God. At the tomb Jesus was raised King of kings. But it was at the cross that Jesus became the Savior of the world. You see, we need not only a risen Lord—we need a crucified Savior. It is Christ crucified, not Christ at the cradle, not Christ in the tomb, not Christ in the marketplace who saves. It is Christ on the cross who is the power of God to all of us being saved.

That is why preaching the cross and preaching Christ crucified must take precedence over anything else. Paul tells us in verse 21 (KJV) that “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Now it is not foolish preaching that pleases God. There is enough foolish preaching going around today. But, it is the foolishness of the message preached that saves people.

That is one reason I admire the apostle Paul so much. He could have easily compromised the message. He could have thought, The message of the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, so I will change it, tone it down, polish it up, and make it more fitting. But he didn’t do that. Paul knew that it is only in Christ crucified that we can have Jesus Christ, the power and the wisdom of God.

I once heard Dr. Billy Graham describe this incident from early in his ministry: After preaching one night to a great crowd in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, there was very little response to his message. As he was leaving the platform, an old saint came up to him, put his arm around him, and said, “Billy, you didn’t preach the cross tonight. Your message was good, but you didn’t preach the cross.”

That great evangelist went back to his hotel room, wept, and resolved to make a change. He prayed, “Oh God, so help me, there will never be a sermon that I preach again unless the cross is central.”3 That should be the heart and soul of every Christian: never be ashamed of the cross of Jesus Christ.


“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 KJV). The cross can not only save you, but it can also separate you. You see, the cross is the great divide. People don’t mind religion. They don’t mind the church. They don’t really mind the Bible. But if you want to divide a group of people, lay down the cross and watch them scurry to one side or the other.

Paul speaks here of those who are perishing and those who are being saved. Some people look on the cross as foolishness, but we should look on the cross as the ultimate example of God’s power at work. Some are “perishing.” The word perishing here literally means “to be cut loose.” Some people come to the cross and are deterred by it, so they just drift away from God. Others come to the cross and are drawn by it, so they come into fellowship with God.

The way you see the cross determines whether you are perishing or being saved. The way you respond to the cross of Jesus Christ determines whether you are headed for heaven or for hell.

There are three basic approaches people can take toward the cross. Some reject the cross. In verse 23 (KJV) Paul said the cross to “the Jews [was] a stumblingblock.” Our word scandal comes from the Greek word for stumblingblock. The cross was a scandal to the Jews. It was appalling to them. It was repulsive to speak of a common criminal being crucified by a Roman Empire as a “Savior.”

Furthermore, in verse 22 (KJV) Paul said, “The Jews require a sign.” That is, they were looking for wonders. They were looking for a political Messiah. They were not looking for a suffering servant or a crucified Savior. They were looking for someone who

would storm up on a white charger, sword drawn, ready to restore the lost glory of the kingdom of Israel and triumph over the Roman Empire.

Even the disciples, after the resurrection of Jesus, asked Him this question in Acts 1:6 (NIV): “Lord, are you at this time going restore the kingdom to Israel?” The Jews were continually looking for signs, wonders, and miracles of the coming Messiah. Well, God did give the Jews a sign—but it wasn’t the sign they were looking for. It was the sign of the cross, and it was the only sign they needed to be saved. Yet, instead of rejoicing over the cross, they stumbled over it. Have you ever been looking for something and all the time it was right under your nose? Well, that is what the word stumblingblock refers to.

Someone once wrote this true account to Dear Abby: A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was a custom in their affluent community for parents to give their graduating children a new car. The boy and his dad spent weeks visiting one dealership after another. The week before graduation, they found the perfect car. The boy was certain it would be in the driveway on graduation night.

On the eve of his graduation, however, his father handed him a small package wrapped in colorful paper. The father said the package contained the most valuable gift he could think of to give him for his graduation. Thinking it was a box holding the keys to the car, he excitedly ripped the paper off the box. Pulling off the lid, he saw not keys—but a Bible. The boy was so angry he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house. He and his father never saw each other again.

Several years later, the news of his father’s death finally brought the son home again. Following the funeral, he was sitting alone one evening, going through his dad’s possessions he had inherited. He came across the Bible his dad had given him. The one he had angrily rejected years earlier.

Overwhelmed by grief, he brushed away the dust and cracked it open for the first time. When he did, a cashier’s check dated the day of his high school graduation fell into his lap—it was the exact amount of the car they had chosen together. The gift had been right there under his nose the entire time, but he had turned away.4 That young man had allowed his resentment to become a stumbling block between him and his father.

Now some ridicule the cross. Paul says in verse 23 (KJV) that the cross to “the Greeks [was] foolishness.” You see, to some the cross is a joke. It’s a laughingstock. In fact, the word foolishness gives us our English word “moron.” In effect, the Greeks said only a moron believes that you have to go through the cross of a crucified Savior to go to heaven.

You see, the Jews sought wonders, but the Greeks sought wisdom. The Greeks were known for their great philosophers and their exceptional knowledge. They had come to the point where they literally deified wisdom. They worshipped at the shrine of science and the sanctuary of knowledge.

Some people today say, “If you can’t put it into a test tube or into a mathematical equation, we will not believe it.” Well, you can’t put the cross in a crucible, and you can’t put faith in a formula.

The Greeks just could not make sense of the fact that God would come down in a human body and die on a cross. Their approach was, “If we can’t understand it, we will not accept it.”

You know, there are people every day who look at the cross of Jesus and hear the plan of salvation—but see it all as just a religious joke. They mock and even harass those of us called “fundamentalist Christians” who dare to believe God’s Word and share our faith in Jesus Christ. Well, I’m here today to proclaim that the cross is no laughing matter. Friend, you can joke your way into hell, but you cannot joke your way out.

That’s why Paul said in verse 20 (KJV), “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” Heaven is full of wise men; hell is full of wise guys. God is too wise to let people come to know Him by their own wisdom. What people do not understand is that they will never solve their problems because they will never acknowledge their source—which is sin. Therefore, they will never know the solution—which is salvation. God is so wise that He is not going to let anyone come to Him by his own wisdom.

Paul tells us this in chapter 3, verse 19 (NASB): “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, ‘He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS’.” And in verse 25 (KJV) he says, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” In other words, if God were capable of a foolish thought—even that thought would be far wiser than the most intelligent thought any human ever conceived.

I heard about a young man who made an “F” on an examination. He went in to see his professor and said, “Sir, I don’t believe I deserve this ‘F’ you’ve given me.” The professor looked at the paper and said, “I don’t either, but it was the lowest grade I could give.”5 I believe that is how God feels about our wisdom. Jesus said in Matthew 11:25 (NIV) that the things of God are “hidden . . . from the wise and learned, and revealed . . . to little children.” If you are going to come to God, you’ll have to come as a little child.

Then there are some who rely on the cross. Paul says, “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24, KJV). Do you want to understand God’s plan and be saved? Here’s what you need to do. Lay aside your desires. Crucify your prejudice. Die to your intellectual approach. Humble yourself. Recognize your sinful condition. And rely solely upon His death on the cross.

Understand that the cross separates. It is either foolishness to you or it is the power of God. The cross is in the middle and you are on either one side or the other. You are either on the hell side of the cross looking toward heaven, or you are on the heaven side of the cross looking toward hell. The cross stands either between you and heaven or between you and hell. Think about it. Which side of the cross are you on?      


Paul makes an interesting comment in verse 18 (KJV). He says the word of the cross “is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” Notice that phrase “unto us who are saved.” Actually, it should be translated “unto us who are being saved.” That is important for you to grasp. Paul doesn’t say, to those of us who are saved. Or to those of us who have been saved. He says, to those of us who are “being saved.” Now what does he mean by that?

Well, understand that the Bible speaks of salvation in three tenses. A Christian can say, “I have been saved . . . I am being saved . . . and I will be saved.” I have been saved from the penalty of sin. One day I will be saved from the presence of sin. But right now, I am being saved from the power of sin.

I have been saved from the penalty of sin—that is justification. I will be saved from the presence of sin—that is glorification. But in this life, I am being saved from the power of sin—that is sanctification. That is what Paul is dealing with in verse 18.

Salvation is a decision followed by development. You see, our problem is that we are inclined to leave the cross in the past when actually the cross should be a part of our everyday life if we are a Christian.

I don’t know about you, but three things still bother me even though I have been saved for over twenty years. Sin still bothers me, Satan still bothers me, and self still bothers me. Every day I need to be saved and am being saved from the power of sin, the power of Satan, and the power of self. What does that mean? It means I come to the cross for pardon, but I am to get on the cross for power. Now I know that is difficult to comprehend, so let me try to explain.

There are two principals in your life—Christ and self. If Christ is on the cross, self is on the throne. But if self is on the cross, Christ is on the throne. The key to having power over sin in your life is to die to self.

I have heard people say, “I want to be a Christian, but it is too difficult to live the Christian life.” Well, let me give you some good news. It is not difficult to live the Christian life—it is impossible to live the Christian life. The only way you can live the Christian life is to let the power of Christ and the person of Christ live through you. You do that by being crucified daily on that cross.

Paul said it this way in Galatians 2:20 (KJV): “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” This is how the plan of salvation develops in my everyday life: Jesus died for me; I died with Him. As I die to me, He lives in me. When He lives in me, I can live for Him. That’s why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:31 (KJV), “I die daily.” That is the power of the cross: not only to save you, and not only to separate you, but also to sanctify you and make you all God wants you to be.


Many years ago, a young pastor went to visit a renowned scholar—a scholar with a reputation for being extremely wise. The young pastor entered the scholar’s study and looked in amazement at the thousands of books lined row by row on huge bookshelves. Sitting down, the pastor looked at the scholar. “Sir, people tell me you are a wise man, and I’d like you to share with me the one most important thing you have learned.”

That intellectual scholar leaned back in his chair and, without hesitation, said, “There are really two things I would say. First, I have learned that I am a great sinner. Second, I have learned that I need a great Savior.”6 Friend, you will never find God through human wisdom or knowledge. You will never find God through a magnificent display of signs and wonders. You will find God only through the message of the cross. While that message may appear offensive and scandalous to this world, to those of us who are saved—it is the power of God!


1 “Watergate Scandal.” (November 7, 2015).

2 James Merritt, God’s Prescription for a Healthy Christian  (Atlanta: Baptist Literature Board, 1990), 13.

3 Merritt, God’s Prescription for a Healthy Christian, 15.

4 Charles Swindoll, The Finishing Touch (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 269.

5 John Hagee, Financial Armageddon (Lake Mary: FrontLine, 2008), 110.

6 Jerry Vines, The Corinthian Confusion (Woodstock: Jerry Vines Ministries, 2005), 37.