"For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)
"Those who receive the gospel, and are enlightened by the Spirit of God, see more of God's wisdom and power in the doctrine of Christ crucified, than in all his other works." -- Matthew Henry (1662-1714) (Ref. 1, Ref. 2)
This lesson describes what the Apostle Paul meant by the phrase, "the word of the cross." God loves us so much that Jesus Christ died on the cross for us, and purchased the forgiveness of our sins. We will also study why for some people, the word of the cross is foolishness and for others, it is the power of God.
Consider. When the Apostle Paul wrote the phrase, "the word of the cross" (1 Corinthians 1:18), what did he mean? In your own words, how would you explain "the word of the cross" to someone else?
Definition of "word." The Greek word for word in 1 Corinthians 1:18 is logos. Logos means something said, a message, reasoning expressed by words, and instruction (Ref. 3). Acts 13:26 and 2 Corinthians 5:19 provide examples where logos is translated as message.
Definition of "cross." The Greek word for cross is staurós. Staurós has both a literal meaning and a figurative meaning. Christ was crucified on a literal Roman cross (Ref. 4). According to HELPS Word-Studies, "Staurós was the crosspiece of a Roman cross; the cross-beam was placed at the top of the vertical member to form a capital 'T' (Ref. 4). "This transverse beam was the one carried by the criminal" (Ref. 4, Matthew 27:31-32, John 19:17). In addition to the shape of a capital "T," researchers also discuss the cross in the shape of a cruciform ("†" or "✚") and as a vertical stake (Ref. 5). Most Christian denominations present the Christian cross in the shape of a cruciform (Ref. 5, Ref. 6).
Staurós also has a figurative meaning. Jesus spoke about the cross each believer bears to be his true follower (Ref. 4, Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). Thayer's Greek Lexicon describes the figurative cross as an expression used by "those who, on behalf of God's cause, do not hesitate cheerfully and manfully [courageously] to bear persecutions, troubles, distresses — thus recalling the fate of Christ and the spirit in which he encountered it" (Ref. 4, brackets added).
What is meant by the expression, "the word of the cross"? The word, or message, of the cross is that God loves us so much that his Son, Jesus Christ, was crucified and died on the cross for us. Through his sacrifice, Jesus Christ has purchased the forgiveness of our sins. Through Jesus Christ, those who believe in him receive salvation and eternal life.
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Foolishness to those who are perishing. The Greek word for foolishness is mória. Mória means folly, absurdity, foolishness (Ref. 7). The Greek word for perish is apollumi which means destroy utterly (Ref. 8). HELPS Word-Studies further defines apollumi as "to die, with the implication of ruin and destruction" (Ref. 8).
Why would Paul write that the message of the cross "is foolishness to those who are perishing" in 1 Corinthians 1:18?
1. "To the Jews 'the cross' was the tree of shame and horror; and a crucified person was 'accursed of God' " (Ref. 9, Deuteronomy 21:23). To the Jews, the thought of "a crucified Messiah" seemed "a revolting folly" (Ref. 9).
2. To Paul's Greek audience, the cross was the punishment for slaves and murderers (Ref. 9). The cross meant shame and agony. To the Greeks, worshiping "a crucified malefactor" was superstitious (Ref. 9).
3. Paul explains, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Corinthians 2:14). The natural man, who is "not truly enlightened and renewed by the Word and Spirit of God, and therefore has no other way of obtaining knowledge but by his senses and natural understanding … does not understand or apprehend the things of the Spirit of God" (Ref. 10).
To us who are being saved it is the power of God. The Greek word for saved is sózó, which means rescued from destruction and brought into divine safety (Ref. 11). The Greek word for power in 1 Corinthians 1:18 is dunamis. Dunamis means (miraculous) power, might, strength (Ref. 12).
The cross is much more than a decoration. "The cross is God's saving power" (Expositor's Greek Testament, Ref. 13). For us who are being saved, the cross is the means by which Jesus has forgiven our sins and rescued us from the path of destruction. By the cross, God offers us the gift of eternal life when we believe in Jesus Christ, God's Son. When we share the "word of the cross" with others, we share not a fable but God's mighty plan for saving people.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).
Apply. God gives us only two choices. Either we are on the path of perishing or we are on the path of salvation. On which path are you? If you do not know Christ, put your faith in him today, and receive from him forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life. If you do know Christ, thank him for his sacrificial death on the cross to forgive your sins, and for his power working in you each day.
5. (Ref. 5 begins on the next line)
"Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child" (Luke 2:4).
This article explores the story behind and the scripture allusions in the hymn, "Once in Royal David's City."
Hymn Text Writer
Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) was an Anglo-Irish hymnodist and poet. Mrs. Alexander's hymns and poems though her lifetime number nearly 400 (Ref. 2). She is best known for her hymns, "All Things Bright and Beautiful," There is a Green Hill Far Away," and the Christmas carol, "Once in Royal David's City" (Ref. 3).
As an adult, Cecil Frances Alexander wrote primarily for children. She felt that the truths of Christianity could best be taught through hymns (Ref. 4 below). In 1848, Cecil Frances Humphreys (her name before she married) wrote a series of hymns to teach children about the Apostles Creed (Ref. 4, Ref. 5). She wrote "Once in Royal David's City" to explain to children the phrase from the Apostle's Creed that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:34-35 KJV, Ref. 4, Ref. 5).
Hymn Tune Composer
Henry John Gauntlett (1805-1876) was an English organist and songwriter (Ref. 6). He was also, in turn, a lawyer, author, organ designer, and organ recitalist (Ref. 7). He composed over 1,000 hymn tunes. His most famous tune is "Irby," the tune to which we sing the Christmas carol, "Once in Royal David's City" (Ref. 6).
I suggest that you refer to the attached hymn sheet music (Ref. 8) for the following discussion of Scripture and the four verses of hymn text.
"Once in royal David's city" (hymn, verse 1). In the Bible, the words, "city of David," refer to two locations. In the Old Testament, the city of David referred to the area of Jerusalem that David captured as described in 1 Chronicles 11:4-8. David built houses there and lived there (1 Chronicles 15:1). David was buried in the city of David (1 Kings 2:10).
In the New Testament, Luke refers to David's ancestral home, Bethlehem, as the city of David (Luke 2:4, 1 Samuel 17:12). Luke also tells what the angel said when the angel appeared to the shepherds and announced Jesus' birth. "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). After the angel had spoken to the shepherds, the shepherds were clear that the location they were to go visit was in Bethlehem (Luke 2:15).
"He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all" (hymn, verse 2). The words, "He came down to earth from heaven" refer to the incarnation of Christ. The Gospel of John says, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
"He feels for all our sadness, and he shares in all our gladness" (hymn, verse 3). Jesus was fully God and fully human (John 1:1, John 1:14, Colossians 2:9, Ref. 9). As a human being, Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15-16). For example, Jesus knew grief and sorrow (Isaiah 53:3, John 11:33-35). Jesus knew joy (Hebrews 12:2).
"He leads his children on to the place where he has gone" (hymn, verse 4). Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all" (Luke 18:17). The Gospel of John tells us, "But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12).
The hymn's words, "He leads his children," speak to me both of Jesus leading and we who believe in Jesus Christ following him (Ref. 10). Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). We know that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven (John 14:2-3). Once we put our trust in Jesus Christ, he leads us and we follow him through life to his eternal home.
Listen and watch The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, UK sing "Once in Royal David's City." Click here for the YouTube link - Ref. 11. To see and follow the lyrics for the six verses sung in the video, click here - Ref. 12.
Thank you, Jesus, for coming down from heaven to earth to become a human being. Thank you, Jesus, that you know our emotions and that you strengthen us when we are weak. Thank you, Jesus, that when we believe in and accept you, you lead us through life to your eternal home.
4. Robert K. Brown, Mark R. Norton, "The One Year Book of Hymns," Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1995
12. (the link begins on the next line) https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/once_in_royal_davids_city.htm
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life." (John 6:47 NASB)
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life." (John 6:47 KJV)
"Amen, amen I say unto you: He that believeth in me, hath everlasting life." (John 6:47 Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA))
"Whenever we read in the text of Scripture our Lord giving a statement that is prefaced by the double 'amen,' it is a time to pay close attention." -- R.C. Sproul (Ref. 1)
Consider. When Jesus Christ, the Son of God, began a statement with "Truly, truly," what did he mean? What is special about the expression, "Truly, truly" or "Verily, verily"?
As we will see towards the end of the lesson, when Jesus introduced a statement with "Truly, truly," he was calling attention to the importance of the words which follow.
Definition. The English words truly, truly are translated from the Greek words amén amén (Ref. 2). American theologian R.C. Sproul referred to these words as the "double amen" (Ref. 1, Ref. 3). The Greek word amén means truly, and is also translated as verily, most assuredly, and so be it (Ref. 2).
In modern usage, the word amen is typically used at the end of a prayer (Ref. 4). In the New Testament, the writers frequently closed their letters with Amén (Romans 16:27, 2 Timothy 4:22 KJV, 1 Peter 5:14 KJV, 1 John 5:21 KJV, Jude 24-25, Revelation 22:21). "Placing the word amen at the end of a statement is a way of accepting, agreeing, or endorsing what came before" (Ref. 4).
Jesus frequently said "Amen" ("Truly") to preface a statement (as compared to saying "Amen" at the end). "Leading off with amen not only implies that what follows is true but also that the person making the statement has firsthand knowledge and authority about it" (Ref. 4, italics added).
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus used a single Amen (Truly, Verily) to introduce over 50 statements of truth (Ref. 5 below, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance). Consider these references: Matthew 5:18, Matthew 18:12-13, Matthew 25:11-12, Mark 9:41, Mark 11:23, Luke 18:17. To the criminal on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
When Jesus says "Truly, Truly" (double Amen) at the beginning of a statement, he is telling us that the following words are extremely important. When Jesus begins a teaching and says, "Amen, amen, I say to you," our listening ears should be fine-tuned to take note instantly of what our Lord is going to say, for it is of the utmost importance (Ref. 1).
Consider the importance of these examples where Jesus introduced his statements with "Truly, truly" (double Amen):
John 3:5 - Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
John 5:24 - "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life."
John 6:47 - "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life."
The "Truly, truly" (double Amen) expressions of Jesus occur only in the Gospel of John. In John, Jesus provides 25 statements that begin with "Truly, truly." Click here to see all 25 of Jesus' "Truly, truly" statements.
"Whenever we read in the text of Scripture our Lord giving a statement that is prefaced by the double 'amen,' it is a time to pay close attention and be ready to give our response with a double amen to it. He says "amen" to indicate truth; we say it to receive truth and to submit to it." -- R.C. Sproul (Ref. 1)
Apply. I encourage you to read (re-read) the 25 "Truly, Truly" Statements of Jesus. For which statements are you most thankful? Which statements are the most challenging? Thank Jesus for his words of truth.
5. James Strong, "The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible," Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995 - note, based on the King James Version of the Bible
"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3)
"Life eternal, then, is not mere conscious and unending existence, but a life of acquaintance with God in Christ." (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, Ref. 1)
This lesson describes the biblical definition of eternal life. This lesson primarily uses the Scriptures about eternal life in the Gospel of John. In the next lesson in the series, we will focus on who receives eternal life and how to receive eternal life.
Consider. Think for a moment. How would you define eternal life? How would you explain eternal life to an inquisitive unbeliever, or to a new Christian? For believers in Christ, eternal life certainly includes living with God after our physical death (John 11:25-26). However, the Bible has much more to say about the characteristics of eternal life.
Eternal life is a free gift of God to believers in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul states, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). In this verse, the Greek word for gift is charisma. Charisma means a gift of grace, an undeserved favor (Ref. 2). Thus, eternal life is not something we deserve or earn. Eternal life is an undeserved gift of God's grace and favor. "In spite of your sanctification as Christians, still you will not have earned eternal life; it is the gift of God’s grace" (Ref. 3).
Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:27-28).
For the believer, eternal life begins in the present, the here and now. Jesus described eternal life in the present tense. Thus, eternal life is not just in the future, but is a present possession of the believer which continues into the future.
John 3:36 - "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
John 5:24 - "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
John 6:47 - "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life."
In John 5:24, note the importance of hearing Jesus' words. Jesus said, "He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life."
For believers in Christ, eternal life continues with God after our physical death. Jesus said to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26).
To the thief on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:42-43).
Jesus said to his disciples, "In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2-3).
Jesus defined eternal life as knowing God experientially. "Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, 'Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:1-3).
In John 17:3, the Greek word for know is ginóskó. Ginóskó means to know, especially through personal experience (first-hand acquaintance) (HELPS Word-studies, Ref. 4). Knowing God experientially requires knowing Jesus who is the truth (John 14:6), as well as knowing and living the Word of God on a daily and life-long basis. "This life eternal, then, is not mere conscious and unending existence, but a life of acquaintance with God in Christ" (Ref. 1).
Eternal life is a quality of life, not just the duration of life. The Greek word for eternal is aiónios, which means perpetual, unending, age-long (Strong's Concordance, Ref. 5). Aiónios includes the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting (Ref. 5). "Aiónios does not focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age it relates to. Thus, believers live in eternal life right now, experiencing this quality of God's life now as a present possession" (Helps Word-studies, Ref. 5).
Summary. Eternal life is a free gift of God to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Eternal life begins when we put our faith in Jesus. As believers in Christ, eternal life continues with God after our physical death. Eternal life is the quality of life that results when we know Jesus Christ by experience, on a first-hand basis.
Apply. Think for a moment. In your own words, how would you describe eternal life? Write down your description of eternal life in a few sentences. What Scripture verse would be your key reference?
Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." (John 18:37)
This article is the fifth and final in the series, "About the Truth."
Consider. In today's scripture (John 18:37), Jesus was facing Pilate, the representative of the highest political authority on earth (Ref. 1). Jesus courageously and nobly said to Pilate that he was born to be a king and came into the world - to bear witness to the truth. Ellicott's Commentary says the natural interpretation (based on Greek verb tenses) is "To be king I have been born, and to be a king I have come into the world, in order that I may bear witness to the truth" (Ref. 2).
Pilate asked Jesus, "So you are a king?" (John 18:37). However, Jesus' kingdom was not a kingdom in the political sense that Pilate inferred (Ref. 1, Ref. 3). Jesus' kingdom was a kingdom in the spiritual sense (Ref. 4). Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
Jesus said he came to bear witness to the truth. Let's look at the meaning of the words for bear witness and truth. The English words bear witness are translated from the Greek verb martureó, which means bear witness, give evidence, testify, give a good report (Ref. 5). The Greek noun for truth is alétheia, which means reality, the opposite of what is false or illusion (Ref. 6). Jesus came into the world to show and tell mankind that God's truth is reality.
Consider these statements where Jesus bears witness to God's truth.
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6).
"If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:31-32).
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
These statements, and the entirety of the Holy Bible are God's truth and are reality (Psalm 119:160, John 17:17). Believe in Jesus. Believe God's truth.
Jesus said, "Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." To whom is Jesus referring when he says "Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice"? (John 18:37) To be of the truth means to have root in it and to draw life from it (Ref. 7). People who have root in Christ and who draw life from him hear his voice.
In John 18:37, the Greek word for the verb hears is akouó (Ref. 8). Akouó literally means to hear (listen); figuratively, to hear God's voice which prompts Him to birth faith within (HELPS Word-studies in Ref. 8). Thayer's Greek Lexicon adds that hearing Jesus' voice prompts obedience (Ref. 8). Those who are of the truth hear Jesus' words, have faith in him, and yield obedience to him.
Jesus said, "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock" (Matthew 7:24).
Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27).
Apply. Are you rooted in and drawing life from the truth of Christ?
Are you yielding obedience to Christ?
Mr. Whitney V. Myers. Christian. For more information, please visit the Author Page.
I plan to provide postings every two weeks on Sunday evenings at 9 pm eastern U.S. time.
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