Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, July 24, 2021
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Foolishness

1 Corinthians 1:18-29

I think one of the hardest things to do in life is to be willing to make ourselves look foolish. We hate to do things that are embarrassing. We want to put on an appearance of being sophisticated, intelligent, and “cool.” Some of us are really bad at that, but we want to try anyway.

Here’s the thing: The gospel is always going to be foolish to the world. From beginning to end, there will be many people in the world who will say that what we believe is foolishness. The very existence of God is foolishness to many. The idea of creation, that God made everything with a plan and a purpose is foolish to many. The very idea of sin is foolish to many. We make up the rules of right and wrong, not some imaginary God. The Incarnation, God becoming a human being? Foolish. The sacrificial death of Christ? Jesus dying for my sins? Foolish. The resurrection? Really foolish. The second coming, the New Creation, eternal life? All foolishness to many people in this world. There are many people who will call every part of what we believe foolish. I know this, in part, because I thought it was all pretty foolish at one point. There was a time in my life when I thought Christians believed in nonsense. God changed my mind on that one.

Twenty first century minds, informed by a scientific view of the world, influenced by a relativistic understanding of truth, are likely to call the gospel message foolish. First century minds were just as likely to do so. The gospel was foolish in the first century, too.

The Jewish people thought it was foolish to speak of a Messiah who did the things Jesus did. Most obviously, Jesus died. They expected a victorious, conquering Messiah, not a dying one. And Jesus died on a cross. He couldn’t be the Messiah. Deuteronomy 21 said that anyone hung on a tree was cursed by God, so Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. Besides, he didn’t do miracles like they expected. I know, I know, Jesus did a lot of miracles. But not the kind that were expected of the Messiah. Jesus’ miracles were often “low key,” often only seen by his own disciples or small numbers of people. Yes, he walked on water, but not for everyone to see. There was an expectation that the Messiah would do big, flashy miracles. One man who claimed to be the Messiah said that he would stop the waters of the Jordan River, like Joshua had done. Thousands of people went down from Jerusalem to see if he could. They were disappointed, but that was the kind of thing people expected of Messiah.

The Greeks thought the gospel was foolishness. In the Greek mind, God was unmoved and uninvolved in human affairs. The idea of a God who loved humanity, a God who would lower himself to become one of us? Foolishness. And they couldn’t conceive of the resurrection. The gospel was too simple to be true. They wanted a grand and complicated message.

The Romans were fixated on power and status. The message of God becoming a man and dying on a cross, an instrument of death reserved for slaves and poor people? Foolishness. The cross was a SKANDALON, Paul says. You don’t need to know Greek to know what that word means. The cross is a scandal. One of the most basic ideas of the gospel is scandalous: God dying on a cross to save a sinful world. A Roman writer of the second century described the Christian way of thinking like this: “If any man is ignorant, if any is wanting in sense and culture, if any man is a fool, let him come boldly…. (Christians are) the most uneducated and vulgar of persons.”

But we believe this message because it comes from God. And if we are going to know God, it must be because he makes himself known to us. Paul says, “God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom.” As the prophet Isaiah said, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so my ways are higher than yours.” We can’t know God unless he makes himself known.

Many people think of God on their own terms. They say things like, “I like to think of God as ____.” That’s an idol. That’s a god of your own making. How many different conceptions of God have people made? Which one is right? If God is so high above us and our understanding, then we can’t know him unless he reveals himself to us. Divine revelation, like the gospel, is always going to be greater than human wisdom.

I do think a word of caution is necessary here: Christians should not be anti-intellectual. We should be thoughtful people. We shouldn’t be anti-science, which some Christians are. Science is neither good nor bad. The word “science” simply means “knowledge.” Knowledge isn’t good or bad. It’s all in how it’s used. Science can be used to make life-saving vaccines or city-destroying nuclear weapons.

And we should point out that science has its limits. Science can answer many questions, but some of the most important questions in life are outside its scope. Science is typically pretty good at answering the how questions, not so much the why questions. Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing? Why do I think about these things?

We must also resist the temptation to reduce Christianity to having the right ideas or the right opinions. Our standing with God comes from our relationship with Christ, not from thinking the right things.

The gospel is always going to be foolishness to the world. But if it is a message that comes from God, through his Son, then it is the only way that we can truly know God. Foolishness or not, I intend to hold onto it for the rest of my life.

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