Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, August 20, 2018
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The Wisdom of God

1st Corinthians 1:18-25

 We believe that the gospel is a message for all people, in all places, at all times.  But the gospel began in a certain place, at a certain time, among a certain people, the Hebrew culture of the first century.  And as the message was carried out from Jerusalem, it encountered the two dominant cultures of the first century Mediterranean world:  The Greeks and the Romans.  And in all three of these cultures, there was something foolish, something scandalous about the gospel.

 We know from the Gospels, that Jesus experienced a great deal of rejection among his own people, the Jews.  As Paul notes, the Jews sought signs.  And apparently, Jesus failed to deliver signs in the way that they were expecting.  That might sound strange to us, since we know the gospels are full of the miracles of Jesus.  But many Jews expected big, spectacular signs, and Jesus didn’t do many of those.  For example, there was a man some years before Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah.  He claimed that at his command the waters of the Jordan River would be stopped, just as they had when Joshua led the people into the Promised Land.  Thirty thousand people went down to the Jordan to see if it would happen.  It didn’t, by the way.

 By comparison, most of Jesus’ miracles were much more “low key.”  He healed, but often he only did so in front of his own disciples or a small number of people.  Sometimes he even took people away by themselves so no one would see the healing.  He walked on water.  That was pretty spectacular.  But only the disciples were there saw it.  When Satan tempted him to jump from the roof of the Temple and be carried to the ground by angels, Jesus declined to draw attention to himself in that way.  

 But of course the real scandal to the Jews was the cross.  Deuteronomy 21:23 said that “anyone who was hung on a tree was cursed by God.”  We understand that Jesus bore the curse of sin on the cross so that he might bear the penalty of our sins and heal us, but many could not get past the idea of a Messiah on a cross.  The Old Testament foretold of a suffering Messiah, but most Jews either explained away those passages or just ignored them.  They could only conceive of their Messiah as a conquering Savior.

 To the Greek mind, the gospel was pure foolishness.  The Greeks believed that God was pure spirit.  They believed that only spirit was good, and anything physical was bad.  So the thought of God becoming a man was pure foolishness.

 They also conceived of a God who was completely detached from the world.  The idea of God suffering or feeling anything just didn’t compute for them.  

 And the Greeks also loved wisdom.  Especially, they loved sophistication and eloquence.  The gospel was just too simple to impress them.

 As for the Romans, they valued status and power above all else.  Jesus had neither.  The thought of God becoming a simple man, a peasant was foolishness to them.  And especially, the thought of God dying on the cross, an emblem of weakness and insignificance, they just couldn’t take it.  

 So all three of these cultures found something about the gospel to “trip over,” some reason it just couldn’t be true.  That shouldn’t be a surprise.  The gospel is still foolishness to many people.  It doesn’t fit with our society’s values either.

 Many people in our society believe in materialism.  They seek after success, power, and wealth.  They think these things will give them security and meaning.  And Jesus had none of them.  

 Some people in our society believe in a very scientific view of the world.  For them the Christian story becomes foolishness because the dead don’t rise, people can’t walk on water, healing comes from medicine, not prayer, and man comes from evolution, not a Creator God.  

 Some people in our society identify themselves as atheists.  Atheism is actually one of the fastest growing “religious persuasions.”  And at least my experience has been that many people who hold to atheism look down on people of any religion as foolish, backwards, ignorant.  

 Some people in our society identify themselves as agnostics.  An agnostic is someone who says “Whether or not there is a God, we can’t know, so don’t worry about it.”  They approach spiritual things from a viewpoint of doubt.  And so when we say, “You ask me how I know he lives?  He lives within my heart.”  They say, “How can you be sure about that?  Have you ever seen him in there?  Maybe you should get an echocardiogram to be sure.”

 I think maybe that the fastest growing religious persuasion in our society is what I call “soft spirituality.”  Or maybe, “cotton candy spirituality.”  You know what cotton candy is, right?  It’s soft and fluffy and sweet, but it has no substance.  That’s how I

describe the large part of our society that says, “I don’t believe in religion, but I’m a very spiritual person.”  And what I mean is that there’s no substance, no structure to their “spirituality.”  Religion is too restrictive, so they just want to be “spiritual people,” in touch with spiritual things, whatever those might happen to be.  There’s also a “smorgasboard” mentality to many people today.  They pick and choose a little from here and a little from there and put it all together.  For these folks, the message of the gospel becomes too restrictive.  “What do you mean Jesus is the only way?  I’ve found my own way.  What do you mean Jesus died for my sins?  I’m not so bad.”

 Consider this:  Can all the wisdom of the world bring us into a right relationship with God?  Paul sure didn’t think so.  Verse 21:  God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never find him through human wisdom.  

 How many different ideas of God and how many different ways to God have been conceived by the human mind?  Today there are about a dozen major world religions, plus dozens of minor ones.  And that’s to say nothing of all the religious systems that have come and gone from the face of the earth.  And it’s to say nothing of all the philosophies, humanism, communism, existentialism, and so on, that would not identify themselves as a “religion” but which nonetheless seek to find ultimate meaning.  

 That would seem to indicate that we need help from outside of ourselves.  We need help from God to know God.  If God is truly the Creator of the universe, and we, with all our intellect, understand only the smallest part of the universe, then doesn’t it make sense to think that we need a revelation from God to know God?  

 Obviously there are many things that we can understand, even about God, from his creation.  That’s what Psalm 19 is trying to tell us: The creation declares the greatness of God.  But if we are to know God intimately and personally and know the way to God, then we need a revelation from God. And the revelation from God is Jesus Christ, and Christ on a cross.  

 That may be foolishness to the world.  But it is also a powerful message about God.  God is a God of love, love that we can’t even conceive of.  We can’t learn that from looking at the stars!  We need God to show us that, and he has in Jesus.

 The cross reveals to us that the foolishness of God is wiser than the greatest of human wisdom, and the weakness of God, the weakness of God on a cross, is greater than the greatest of our strength.  No wisdom of the world has changed the world more

than the foolishness of God.  What single event, what single occurrence has changed the world more than the cross?  Has anything changed your world more than the cross?  

 Now this passage is not meant to decry human wisdom.  It’s not meant to put down our quest for understanding.  God created us with a curiosity and a desire to know and understand the world around us.  And unfortunately, there have been some Christians who have taken an “anti-intellectual” stand.  I remember hearing one time about a church where the pastor told all the people to bring all the books from their homes other than the Bible to burn them.  I don’t think that honors God at all.  God created us with minds to question and seek to understand the world around us.  

 Many of the best minds in history have been believers.  The great astronomers Copernicus and Galileo were believers.  Francis Bacon, who established the principles of the scientific method was a Christian.  Gregor Mendel, the founder of the study of genetics was a monk.  The Puritans, who are often mischaracterized for their rigor and general lack of enjoyment of life, were actually very interested in science.  Jonathan Edwards, remembered as one of the greatest preachers of pre-Revolutionary America was fascinated with the study of insects.  They believed that if God is a God of order, then we can understand the order of his creation.  

 But there are limits to human wisdom.  There are limits to what we can understand without a revelation from God.  We can understand how things happen, but we can’t understand why without God.  And if we want to understand the deep mysteries of God, we need to turn to what God has revealed about himself.  

And the greatest revelation of God is Jesus Christ on the cross.  It reveals a God who loves us so much that he would become just like us and even die for us.  The world might call it foolishness, but that foolishness has changed my life.  And I hope it’s changed yours.

As the great hymn says, “Tis mystery all, th’Immortal dies.  Amazing love, how can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me.”

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