1 Corinthians 1:22-24
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:…
The Cross is the preacher's theme. In all ages and lands this theme of the apostle has lent to the preacher's voice the most thrilling tones, and to his spirit the deepest earnestness. Preaching is man's wisdom as well as God's. It is the simplest, wisest, most natural, and most effectual way of lodging our beliefs in the hearts and consciences of men. But among all preachers in all ages the preachers of the Cross stand pre-eminent. The Cross stirs the heart, chains the spirit, as no other theme in this universe can do.
I. "THE JEWS REQUIRE A SIGN, AND THE GREEKS SEEK AFTER WISDOM." "Jews and Greeks." These are not names of the past. The world still divides itself thus in its moral aspects.
1. The Jews require a sign. Two thoughts were ever clashing in the Jewish mind. The earlier splendours of their national history, and their present bondage and shame. The restorer of the kingdom of Israel was the national description of the expected deliverer; but when they saw that the only empire Christ cared for was over the hearts and consciences of men — that there was no chance of a national restoration, they turned from Him. But He knew how little earth would be helped by the establishment of such a society as the Jews were dreaming of. There is many a man in a popular tumult who will throw up his cap and shout "Liberty!" whose notion of liberty is the grossest licentiousness or the sternest tyranny. And many a Jew would attend a triumphal progress, and rend the air with Hosannas, who, when he heard of an inward moral reformation as the first act of obedience, would change his cry to "Crucify Him!" I take the Jewish "seeking for a sign" as the representative of that seeking for an outward regeneration of society which has lived in the hearts of the men of this world in all ages. Socialism is its most modern manifestation. The hope that if society were rearranged, property redivided, and a fair start given to all, man would be blessed. "The difficulty lies not there," say the preachers of the gospel: "your hearts need the cure, not your circumstances." The Jews "sought a sign," a hint even, that Jesus was anything like what their fancies pictured; and when He gave no sign but His shameful Cross, they shouted, "Better Caesar than He." And the world is full of sign-seekers. Men looking for redemption, but misconceiving utterly its nature. French republics, New Jerusalems, all mean the same thing. Men expect that God will begin from without instead of from within.
2. The Greeks seek after wisdom. The Greeks represent those who try by searching to find out God. Greek intellect was hopelessly baffled in the search. Blank atheism was the result of it in all the philosophic schools. An altar to the unknown God kept up the memory of the effort in the mind of the populace; but every thinker on earth had been brought, in the absence of revelation, to the bewildered question of Pilate "What is truth?" Some said, "There is such a thing, but man can have no hope of finding it." Some said, "Tush! there is no such thing in the universe at all." That a tale of a crucified man in an obscure and dishonoured country should be what they had been fruitlessly seeking for ages was an insult to their understandings. In them was the same radical indisposition to accept a gospel which demanded an inward and spiritual change. It was only after long battles that intellect, with broken wing, fell bleeding on the bosom of revelation, and healed her wounds and renewed her life at the once hated symbol of the Cross. But intellect is essentially restless. In every age the battle is renewed, and has to be fought out with varying success. And in this age the wisdom-seekers are rampant, proclaiming that not from God, but from man must be asked the question, "What must I do?" — that our own nature, honestly treated, will supply all that is needful; that the Cross is an insult to the wisdom and benignity of the Father; that Jesus is the first of men — an admirable pattern, but that they dream who say, "He is made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." Far easier, far pleasanter to the eye is it, to seek after wisdom than to seek after holiness.
II. WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED. Read Romans 3:21; Romans 5:1-11; Romans 6:3-11; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18; Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 Corinthians 15:45-57. In Christ crucified the following facts are set forth as the gospel —
1. The love of the Father in the sacrifice of the Son. Philip had a much deeper meaning than he was perhaps conscious of when he said, "Show us the Father." None of the gods of heathendom contented heathendom, for they could not show the Father, they did not know what fatherhood meant; but those men had a mighty gospel who could say, "God so loved the world," &c. We tell you not what God ought to be or do, or may be expected to do, but what God has done. "Behold Christ Jesus and Him crucified!" There God unveils His character — reveals His heart. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." Jew seeking after a sign, Greek groping after wisdom, turn hither — "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us." Is this truth folly or wisdom? Is it weakness or power? Is life worth less to the man who knows that the Father loveth him, or is it worth more? And the world, is it better or worse for the belief that God loves it, and will, by love's sure purpose, redeem it to Himself? Get that belief into the heart of the world, your dream is fulfilled — your golden age is restored!
2. The redemption wrought by the work of the Son. The picture of humanity which God beholds is that of bondsmen, bound to an alien and usurping power. The evidence of this condition, it meets us everywhere. Sin had entered into the world, sin had mastered it; God entered into it to break the bonds of sin and restore the world to itself and to Him. Is it nothing that the preachers of this gospel should cry to souls hopeless of victory, Liberty! a man has conquered, a man has lived free from sin; a man whose spirit can so chain your spirit by its living attraction as to ensure to you the victory too? The public justice of the universe is satisfied, its law illustrated and magnified, and the sinner, conscience-stricken, but beginning to cherish the hope of restoration, is satisfied that a God of holiness, of justice, will still be honoured, while he, the guilty, is saved! Men laughed, and called it folly; but hell trembled, Satan cowered, for they understood the attraction of the Cross. Satan's Conqueror cried out, "It is finished," and committed to such hands as Paul's the standard of the Cross, who cried, "I preach Christ crucified," &c.
3. The glory won by the suffering and Cross of Jesus, which is to illumine heaven eternally (Philippians 2:6-11). The sun is the centre of the world of nature; the Cross, of the world of spirit. But here is a strange contradiction. The sun is the most glorious object in creation, it fills all heaven with its splendour; but the Cross is to all men naturally an object of dread and aversion, and is associated with shame, agony, and death. But just as the sun has for ages proved itself the centre of our world of nature, the Cross has proved itself the centre of the world of spirit, has chained the most mighty and onward spirits to its orbit (Revelation 5:6-10). Here, mark you, is the most splendid picture of heaven which is anywhere painted; yet this must mean that the Cross, far from fading from sight when the veil falls over earth's sad history, remains the object of interest, the centre of attraction through eternity. That this must be so will appear to us if we consider —
1. The Cross must remain for ever the manifestation of the depth, the tenderness, the mightiness of the love of God.
2. While the Cross shall be to the saints for ever the bond of fellowship with their risen and glorified Lord, the Lord Himself, while He remembers the Cross as the instrument of His agony, beholds it as the fountain of glory and of bliss.
(J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: