The Gospel of the Ugliest Dog

The World’s Ugliest Dog Contest is held the fourth week of June in Petaluma, California, as part of the Sonoma-Marin Fair.

This year’s winner is a bulldog named, Zsa Zsa. Apparently, there is no relation to Uga X in Athens. Her extra-wide stance, teeth-exposing underbite, and tongue that hangs almost to the ground helped her win the $1,500 first prize, a huge trophy, and an all-expense paid trip to New York City for media appearances. According to media reports, she is already looking forward to defending her title next year.

The only 3-time winner is a blind Chinese crested that was adopted from a rescue shelter in Santa Barbara, CA.

Even with ugly dog competitions, what we discover is that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” What is repulsive to some of us is treasured by others.

This is exactly what we learn from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. However, the object that we are going to behold this morning is not an ugly dog but a rough-hewn, blood-stained cross—a cross that I either will find repulsive or beautiful. If we truly understand the cross, there is no room for neutrality.

Let’s see how Paul develops this idea in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 and then wrap up with 5 take-aways.

18 The message of the cross is foolishness [foolishness = Gk, moros –> moronic, ignorant, unintelligent, meaningless] to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 

19 For it is written [quoting Isaiah 29:14]: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will declare baseless [without a foundation of truth – a worldview built on sand – My youngest child will be taking physics this fall. To change or alter universal moral truth is like trying to change the laws of physics or chemistry – you can try, but in the end there will only be frustration – some English translations even use that word, frustrate].”

20 Where is the wise man? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age [vs the eternal God]? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [foolish –> moraino, the verb form of moros — “revealed to be moronic”]

When I was a teenager I had a plaque on my bedroom door. It read: “Hire a teenager while he still knows everything.” This is what the wisdom of the world is like. We think we know, but we really don’t.

21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom could not know him, God was delighted through the foolishness of what was preached (about the cross) to save those who believe.[1]

22 Jews demand signs [miraculous proof—which Jesus and the apostles had already given] and Greeks look for wisdom [lit, hellene, Hellenists – those influenced by popular Greco-Roman culture], 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block [Gk, scandalon –> scandal] to Jews and to Gentiles [Gk, ethnos – nations, “ethnic”], foolishness [moros – moronic], 24 but to those whom God has called [or “summoned by name,” “welcomed” – the HINGE!], both Jews and Greeks [the umbrella of all humanity], Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

26 Brothers and sisters, consider your calling. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things [lit, the mora – the moronic!] of the world to humble the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to humble the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to upend the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

30 It is by God’s doing you are in Christ Jesus, who has become to us wisdom from God, and our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. 31 So that, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”


#1 – There are only two kinds of people.

We saw this in 18. Those who are perishing and those who are being saved.

Many of us have been on a float trip down the Chestatee River. What if you discovered that down the river were massive rapids leading to a treacherous waterfall? You’d want to know about it. You’d want to get off the river!

“Being saved” = rescued from the river current

  • Begins with a declaration –> justification
  • Continues with a process –> sanctification
  • Culminates with –> glorification (final redemption)

Jesus is all of these for us, as verse 30 states, “[Jesus] has become to us wisdom from God, and our righteousness (justification), holiness (sanctification), and redemption (glorification).”

The reality is: we ALL are perishing.

The question is: “Have I been rescued?”


#2 – We are not saved by religious or intellectual sincerity.

It was said in ancient times that all roads led to Rome. Some have said that about religion and philosophy today. The main thing is sincerity. Actually, the main thing is truth.

This is what Paul emphasizes in verses 19-25 and summarizes in 21, saying, “the world through its wisdom could not know God.”

  • Moralist – represented by the “teacher of the law” (v. 20) – saved by doing what is right (keeping rules)
  • Relativist – represented by the “philosopher” (v. 20) – saved by doing what feels right (free from rules)

Both are on a course for the treacherous waterfall.

Think about it. If you are diagnosed with a disease, you want to make sure you take the right medicine/get the proper treatment. Not just a treatment.

What a tragedy to be sincere, but sincerely wrong–about something so critical as one’s physical health… how much more one’s eternal existence.

Thankfully, the proper treatment is revealed to us in v. 21, “God was delighted to save those who believe” – not those who do something but who believe something.

This is the third way. Not moralism or relativism, but the way of grace. We are all on one of these three paths.


#3 – Salvation is not something that is achieved but something that is received.

There is an account of C.S. Lewis walking into a heated discussion among fellow professors at Oxford University…  What is unique about Christianity? Aren’t all religions just different ways to God. He said, “What’s unique? Oh, that’s easy. Grace.”

  • v. 18, those who are being saved (again, the word save implies a rescue from above – like the Coast Guard rescuing passengers on an overturned ship in a hurricane – lowered down)
  • 24, to those whom God has called (“effectual calling” – the divine summons)

This is a call to which we respond as we believe that the cross tells us that salvation is not something we achieve. It is something we receive. This is the focus of verse 21, where Paul says that salvation comes “to save those who believe.”

The application for us is simple. Am I an achiever of God’s favor or a recipient of God’s mercy?


#4 – The message of the cross is a reversal of the weak and the strong, the proud and the humble.

We see this in verses 27-29:

  • 27, God chose the weak things of the world to humble the strong.
  • 29, “so that no one could boast before him.”

In 2012, Auburn finished last in the SEC. In 2013, they went from worst to first. A totally unexpected reversal. Some called it a miracle, which was sealed by “the kick six” on Nov 30 in the Iron Bowl as Chris Davis ran back a missed field goal 109 yards to win the game. Shock & dismay vs utter jubilation! A classic reversal where the worst ended up first.

Jesus spoke of the gospel in terms of reversal—worst the first—saying, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

This means that the two kinds of people in the world are not the bad people and the good people, but the proud and the humble.

It is then from that place of humility that…


#5 – The beauty of the cross becomes a life-transforming, worship-inducing power.

This is the focus of verses 30-31.

  • 30,It is by God’s doing you are in Christ Jesus…
  • 31, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

It is this celebration of Jesus from a posture of humility that is one of the primary distinguishing marks of a true believer as we “boast in the Lord.”

If I’m still proud and arrogant, looking down on others because of their sin or because of their race or social views or political views, I may still be perishing.

The way to move from pride to humility is to have the cross become your most prized possession.

At age five, John Gilbert was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic, progressive, debilitating disease.

Every year John lost something. One year, he lost the ability to run, so he couldn’t play sports with the other kids. Eventually, he even lost the ability to speak. He was teased and harassed by classmates. Taunted and called names.

But there were highlights in his life, too. One highlight was the evening he was invited to a National Football League fund-raising auction. One item in particular caught John’s eye: a basketball signed by the players of his favorite NBA team, the Sacramento Kings. John so desperately wanted that ball that when it came up for bid, he subconsciously raised his hand in the air. Not having the funds to participate, John’s mother quickly pulled his hand down.

They watched the bidding go up and up and up, rising to an astounding amount compared to other items at the auction. Finally, one individual made a bid that no one else could possibly match, and he won the prize.

As he walked to the front to claim the basketball, instead of returning to his seat, he walked across the room and  placed it into the thin, small, weak hands of the boy who had desired it so strongly—hands that would cherish it for as long as they lived.”[2]

Some folks could care less about an autographed Sacramento King’s basketball. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Do you see the connection?

While some will despise the crucifixion of Jesus as an archaic and barbaric event, we know the cross as our greatest gift, where the greatest reversal took place as the sinless, holy one became the sinful, condemned one so that we, as the sinful and condemned, could become sinless and holy in the sight of God. Fully forgiven; and eternally treasured.

Here is what is most amazing. Because of the cross, we are now beautiful in the eyes of the beholder—beautiful in the eyes of God, who has clothed us in the perfect righteousness of Jesus.

It is the gospel of the ugliest dog!


[1] .  “delighted, well-pleased” = Gk, eudokeo – Mt. 3:17, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased.”

[2] John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them (Zondervan, 2003), p. 197.

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