All who have shared the gospel know what it feels like to be rejected. Not everyone who hears our message responds with faith. This is not necessarily due to any failure on our part. We may have preached the gospel clearly and even effectively when this happens. In 1 Corinthians 1:21–25, Paul explains that the gospel has a different effect on those who reject its message than it does on those who believe. For those who believe, it is a message about “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (v. 24). For those who do not accept the gospel’s promise, the same message is both foolishness and a stumbling block.
These verses describe a power that does not correlate with our own powers of persuasion, nor do they imply that the words of the gospel are a magical incantation. This power is the power of God to save through the surprising means of the cross. Christ’s humiliation, suffering, and death seemed entirely unexpected to the Jews; they expected their Messiah to appear as a conquering hero. The Savior’s suffering and subsequent resurrection seemed equally absurd to the Greeks; they considered the twin themes of human suffering and bodily resurrection too coarse and incompatible with what one would expect of God.
God chose not to accommodate either culture when shaping the plan of salvation, because He wanted everyone to know that the power was His. The unlikely events that we retell every time we share the gospel underscore the fundamental truth that salvation comes from the Lord. Only He has provided a satisfactory remedy for our sin. He alone has the authority to forgive and grant new life.
These verses also underscore the central place that the cross has in the church’s message and its mission. Although we are concerned about justice, we do not preach a gospel of social justice. We want to see people’s lives improved, but we do not preach a message of personal fulfillment. Any message that does not give first place to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only remedy for our sin does not have the right to be called a Christian gospel. The gospel proclaims that the wisdom and power of God are displayed through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
To learn more, read The Heart of the Church: The Gospel’s History, Message, and Meaning by Joe Thorn (Moody Publishers).