The outline of the message was:
1. The Message of the Cross-Centered Ministry (vv.1-2)
2. The Disposition of the Cross-Centered Ministry (vv.3)
3. The Power of the Cross-Centered Ministry (v.4)
4. The Fruit of the Cross-Centered Ministry (v.5)
1. The Message of the Cross-Centered Ministry
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (ESV)
These are sobering words not least of all because they stand in such contrast to much of the foolishness that goes on in the name of Christianity these days. The church in our day is guilty of what Michael Horton calls “Christless Christianity.” Jesus is present. He is mentioned and in some cases talked about a lot. But it is Jesus apart from his atoning work. It is Jesus as moral example. It is Jesus as therapist or life coach. It is Jesus as a nice fellow who likes us and desperately wants us to like him. But he is not Jesus the Christ who died as our substitute to satisfy the just wrath of God.
The word “crucified” in this passage is a perfect, passive participle in the Greek. The perfect tense describes actions completed in the past whose effect continue into the present. So when Paul summarizes the Gospel by writing “Christ crucified” he is saying that Jesus’ present and eternal identity is stamped by the cross – his atoning work.
The cross was not a momentary tragedy that was canceled out by the resurrection. Rather, to know the risen Christ is to know him as the crucified Savior. Any account of Jesus’ life and work that leaves out his atoning work on the cross is not the Gospel.
Paul tells the Corinthians that he came to them for this purpose: to proclaim the good news of Christ crucified. In chapter 15 he calls this message the thing he passed along to them as of first importance. No other message can save but this one of Christ and His cross. What does Paul say in Romans 1:16? “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe…”
What a remarkable and counter-intuitive statement. The power of God, Paul says, is a message. God’s power to save, His power to raise the dead to new life, His power to open blind eyes is found in the proclamation of a message. And the message is not, “Jesus was nice, you be nice too.” It is the message of Jesus Christ crucified.
Little wonder then why Paul wrote, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” This verse has been puzzling to many. But it is critical. This is, I believe, the defining statement of Christian ministry. Did Paul mean that he preached only the narrative of the crucifixion event? Obviously not. Indeed Paul reminded the elders at Ephesus that in his ministry among them he preached "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).
In saying that he knew nothing among the Corinthians save Christ and Him crucified means that Paul preached the Bible as it ought to be preached. Christ and His atoning work is the axis point of Scripture. Spurgeon famously said that just as all roads in England will eventually lead to London so all portions of Scirpture will eventually lead to Jesus. Jesus himself made it plain that He was revealed throughout the Old Testament.
Paul never preaches what Edmund Clowney used to call “synagogue sermons.” He never preached moralistic messages about how to be better persons that could just as easily be preached by someone who did not believe that Jesus was the Christ. Without the doing, dying, and rising of Christ Paul’s preaching would have made no sense. The standard that all Christian proclamation must stand up to is this: Does this message make any sense apart from Jesus Christ and Him crucified?
If we are merely culling the Bible for useful quotes or principles for successful living then we are not proclaiming a distinctively Christian message. Our message remains the same message that the apostles pressed upon their hearers: the message of Christ and Him crucified. Nothing else will do.