“For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
Reflect upon this one simple, profound sentence from the Bible. It tells us of one message but two groups of people.
The one message is the cross. In its simplest form it is the news that God loves you so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to come into this world, live a perfect life in which He fulfilled every righteous demand of God’s law, and go to the cross and die in your place. In those moments on the cross you were on God’s mind. He placed your sin upon His Son. Jesus was taking your place. Your sin was placed on Him and all the wrath and judgement of God that was due you, was poured out on Jesus instead. And when God’s justice was satisfied, He sent forth this “word of the cross” to you to let you know He loves you and He is willing, because of Jesus, to receive you back as His child.
There is one message—it is Jesus, His cross and His resurrection. But there are two groups of people. Wherever that message is spoken there are ever only two groups of people. There may be many different ethnicities represented in the crowd, there may be both single and married people listening, there may be religious people and non-religious people hearing that one message, there may be the rich and the poor (and the many other distinctions we make in this life)—but there are in God’s eyes really only two groups of people present.
This Scripture describes these two groups by the process they are in. They are either perishing or being saved. “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.”
One group is in the process of perishing. That means they have not yet completely perished. In fact they will be in various stages of that process—some will feel most acutely the weight and consequences of their sin while others may sense very little of it. Sin’s consequences may have so eaten away at some of their souls that society does not even want to notice them. Others may have cleverly hidden the effects of their sin from their eyes and the eyes of their friends and family, yet on the process goes. Make no mistake about it, they are all in the same process, headed for the same eternal result.
There is, however, another group in the crowd—“us who are being saved”. Noticed “being saved.” Does that sound funny? The Bible actually describes salvation in three tenses—we “have been saved” (Eph. 2:5), we “are being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18) and we “will be saved” (1 Cor. 3:15). Those three tenses help us understand what it is this message of the cross is to mean to us and how it may change us.
In one sense “we have been saved.” It happened on Good Friday and Easter. When Jesus Christ died, He did everything that would ever need done for your sin. You can’t ever add one thing to what Jesus has done to improve it. He does not ask you to enhance it by your good works or by your religious efforts. Either what Jesus did in His death and resurrection is enough for God or we are sunk. It all banks on what was done in the past.
But in one sense “we are being saved.” It is a present experience. Jesus not only died, He was raised from the dead. He is alive. He is here. And He wants to begin changing your life starting right now. We are “being saved” when we trust Jesus Christ with everything, every moment, every day. We are “being saved” when we acknowledge by faith His presence with us and bank our every moment upon His living relationship with us.
But the Bible also says we “will be saved.” After Jesus rose from the dead He promised He would come again. Every one of us will stand before Him—either after death or upon His return—and as we stand before God Almighty we will need to be saved.
What happens now and what happens in the end depends completely upon what we believe happen back then.
“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” –Timothy Keller (The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism)
“Golgotha is the converging point of all ancient history and the origin of all modern history.” — S. Lewis Johnson (“Golgotha”)
On August 31, 1894 a firestorm swept across the woodlands of northeast Minnesota, swallowing the thriving town of Hinckley and several other smaller burgs as it cut a swath thirty miles wide as it plunged northeastward. As the inferno hit Hinckley temperatures soared to as high as 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit and the wall of flame soared up to one hundred fifty feet high. The heat vortex may have ascended as much as 30,000 feet into the sky. Under the intense heat steel wheels on train cars and the tracks upon which they once ran melted and ran into pools like water seeking its lowest level. Hundreds of lives were consumed by the flames as people frantically tried to outpace the driving firestorm.
Daniel James Brown in his account of the tragedy in Under a Flaming Sky recounts the story of one particularly fortunate group of the endangered from the tiny village of Partridge.
“A few of the villagers commandeered handcars and stated pumping their way up the tracks; others simply ran along the rails behind them. The largest group, though, remaining remarkably clearheaded, set out on a road toward a logging camp where a hundred acres had previously been burned over by another fire. It was three miles away—a long haul—and there was no chance to pause or rest, as a survivor later remembered: ‘All the time the fire was right behind us. The smoke had gathered again and thickened into a grayish-black mass which rolled forward at an incredible speed with a deafening roar, whining and rumbling. We had barely reached our place of refuge when the great wall of smoke behind us split, or rather was flung asunder, and a blood-red flame of fire shot out like a flash of lighting. In a moment, every particle of smoke had disappeared and in its place we saw a sea of fire as far as the eye could scan.’” (p.122)
Jesus echoed the prophets before Him in promising a judgment by fire. On the last day He separate the peoples and “will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matt. 25:41).
Indeed, the end of the Book tells us all, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15).
But there is hope, for Jesus bore the judgment of God against our sins in His own body on the cross. In those moments the fires of God’s holy wrath swept over Jesus who stood in our place, His death accounted as ours that we might be free.
This act in which Jesus satisfied the just wrath of God against us is called “propitiation.”
Jesus is the only safe ground from the coming wrath of God. When we flee in faith to Him we find ground where the fiery wrath of God has already burned over and where the fires of judgment will never again be visited. Flee to Jesus and be saved!