Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Word of the Cross Is the Power of God

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Many Christians have had the experience of feeling like strangers to the world we live in.  We discover that the things we value- and the God we believe in- are rejected by more and more people.  We can’t figure out why everyone does not believe what seems so obvious and important to us.  But they don’t.  The Bible says:  The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing…
What is this “word of the cross” that Paul is referring to?  It is the basic proclamation of the Christian church:  that Jesus of Nazareth was God in human flesh and his life, death, and resurrection are the only way for sinners to have a life with God.
So why does the world around us reject this “word of the cross” as foolishness?  It is because this “word of the cross” cannot be seen in nature- and it cannot be discerned by our intellect- and it cannot be measured scientifically. 
It cannot be known in any way except by revelation from God—and that is the height of foolishness to the unbelieving world around us.  And yet for us Christians, the “word of the cross” defines:  who we are- and why we’re here- and where we are going when this life is over.  For us, the “word of the cross” is the power of God.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ has rescued us from sin and death and made us God’s children. 
How can there not be a division between those who believe this message--and those who reject it?  The truth of the matter is that God has ordained this very thing:  that man cannot “think” or “reason” his way into heaven.  God says:
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 
            These words are a quote from the prophet Isaiah and Paul uses them to make the point that God has ordained that our human intellect is an insufficient means of knowing him as he desires to be known—as a God of love and mercy. 
You see, not only has sin rendered us incapable of having a life with God on our own terms—but our Creator has placed limits on our intellect so that we can never “think” our way into heaven. 
The human mind is a great gift from God.  The breadth of human knowledge is vast.  The technological achievements of mankind are staggering.  But all of it together still cannot bring us to God.  And that has been proved true again and again down through history. Paul writes:
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
            There is a division between those who believe the message of the cross and those who don’t and that dividing line cuts across human religions and human philosophies.
Hinduism and Islam and Judaism look very different from one another-- but at their heart they are exactly the same:  they are religions that tell their followers that they can have a life with God-apart from Christ- based upon their own efforts. 
The various moral philosophies of mankind have the same message.  And they leave their followers in exactly the same place—alienated from God—incapable of knowing God as he desires to be known. 
No matter how pious these religions might be—no matter how earnest the followers of some human philosophy—no matter how subtle and sophisticated their arguments:  God counts it all as foolishness because they cannot do what he has done through the cross—and that is to reveal himself as the God who loves us.  Paul writes:
Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
That there is a division between those who believe the message of the cross and those who don’t—that it is impossible for mankind to come to God on the basis of his own works or intellect—is not an accident.  God in his wisdom has made sure that we cannot have a life with him on the basis of human wisdom. 
Certainly we can know some things about God:  we can know that he exists by looking at the creation around us—we can know that he loves good and hates evil by the testimony of our conscience to our actions. 
But we cannot know him as he truly is-- and desires to be known.  That has to be revealed to us in what Paul calls “the folly of what we preach.”   
When Paul calls the word of the cross “folly’ he is talking about the judgment of the world about the message of the cross.  He recognized the same thing that we recognize as we interact with the unbelieving world around us:  that what we regard as the highest wisdom--the world regards as the worst kind of foolishness. 
And yet… believing that message is the only way to salvation.  Right there is the great dilemma and difficulty for mankind—the human roadblocks to faith.  Paul writes:
Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The dividing line between Christians and the world is nothing new--Paul experienced it also.  Jews didn’t believe in Jesus because they wanted some indisputable sign that he was the Messiah.  And even though he did miraculous sign after miraculous sign—they weren’t the signs they wanted.  They wanted the Romans overthrown and Israel restored. 
For Greeks it was unimaginable that God would take on human flesh and die.  They believed in the immortality of the soul, but a bodily, physical resurrection was seen as ridiculous.  And so the “word of the cross” was a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles. 
But it was also true that the Christian congregation at Corinth was full of both Jew and Gentile believers.  As great an impediment to faith as was the demand for signs and the human intellect—the wisdom and power of God to save them was even greater.  Paul writes that: 
The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 
In the years since these words were written, mankind has plumbed the depth of the atom and unraveled the building blocks of life and stood upon the moon.  The wisdom and strength of mankind is great indeed! 
And yet, in all those years, no one has come to God in any other way than by the cross.  What we cannot do in our wisdom-- and what we cannot do in our own strength—the foolishness and weakness of Christ crucified can do, and has done, in bestowing the title “child of God’ upon the lowliness of men.  Paul writes:
Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
            The true power and wisdom of God that is found in the weakness and foolishness of a crucified Jew could be clearly seen in the members of the Corinthian congregation.  Very few of them were wealthy or powerful.  They were just regular folks God had chosen to make his children through faith in Jesus.
So it is today.  Those who have great wealth and great power and great intellect are more often found outside the church than within.  There are exceptions of course and those folks have the ability to do great things for the cause of Christ.  But by and large-- power and wealth and great intellect are hurdles that have to be overcome to have a life with God-- rather than helps to faith in Christ.
That is because power and wealth and intellect lift us up rather than bring us low and that is what God has to do to save us.  So long as:  we are trying to come to God on our own terms—based on our own knowledge and strength, we still don’t know the way of salvation that comes as a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus.  Paul writes:
Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
God the Father has chosen us form eternity to be his own.  He has sent his Son Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  And his Holy Spirit has worked faith in our heart through the Gospel so that we can believe in Jesus and be saved. 
He is our wisdom—the only way that we can truly know who God is.  His holy life is our righteousness before God.  He is our sanctification—his resurrection life within us that is the ongoing power to live a holy life.  And he is our redemption—the one who has paid the price, in his own blood, to set us free from sin, death, and the devil.

There simply is no room in God’s salvation for the boasting of mankind.  But there is a place for boasting in the Lord!  The rest of our earthly life and all of eternity is not enough time to sufficiently thank God for the power and wisdom of Christ crucified for us—but we can begin today to serve him and praise him as he deserves.  Amen.   

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