3rd Sunday of Lent
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, it’s not simply enough to have power and strength; you also need wisdom and knowledge. It’s not enough for a football team to have strong athletes; they also need coaches and players who know how to play the game. It’s not enough for an army to have powerful weapons; they also need strategic and well-thought out battle plans. It’s not enough for a doctor to have powerful medicines, he also needs to know how and when to use them. God has both power and wisdom, but both His power and His wisdom are completely different or distinct from human power and human wisdom.
In this section of 1 Corinthians Paul is developing the point that God has no need for human wisdom or ingenuity when it comes to His plans. Apparently, what had been happening in Corinth is that people were letting their human reason and wisdom make judgments within God’s church. They were judging what they heard according to human reason and standards. So, there were divisions happening. Some said, “We’re going to follow Apollos,” other’s said, “We’re going to follow Cephas,” and still others said, “We’re going to follow Paul.” So now Paul is explaining that God has no use for human wisdom in His plans and in matters of religion God has rejected human wisdom. God’s way of doing things actually repels and perplexes human wisdom and reasoning.
This is seen in several kinds of people. “Jews demand miraculous signs.” Now try to imagine being a Jewish person about the time of Jesus. The foremost thing on your mind is being liberated or set free from these hated Romans. You are not interested in someone to liberate you from your sins, because according to your mind you don’t need one. Just listen to the Pharisee of Jesus’ day who said, “I thank you God that I’m not like other men- robbers, evildoers, adulterers- I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I have to you.” What you need is a Messiah who will free your country from Roman rule. And isn’t this what God promised? Look at the prophecies from the OT: He’s going to be God’s chosen one, He will restore the glory to God’s people, He will rule forever and even Isaiah 42:13ff says, “The Lord will march out like a mighty man, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies.” Now that part about him suffering punishments and wounds, we’re not really sure. You wrongly interpret all of the OT prophecies as mere earthly blessings and not spiritual blessings. So now Jesus comes along and doing miracles, but not the kind you are looking for. You would much rather see a Messiah come along doing miracles like Moses who sent all the plagues, split the Red Sea, and delivered the nation from the hated Egyptians. Instead, Jesus comes along teaching and preaching about spiritual things! And claiming to be the Messiah! This is all wrong, you think. Jesus does not fit the part of a conquering hero. So, carry it to the logical conclusion: what if he comes along and claims to be the Messiah and what if he tries to do what we think the Messiah should do and tries to start a rebellion against Rome? He’ll certainly fail and we’re not ready for it yet! If we try something and fail the Romans are going to come in and completely destroy us! So, the best solution is to get this Jesus guy out of the way once and for all. For it is better that one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish. So they simply dismissed Jesus because he didn’t fit the mold of the Messiah which they had constructed in their minds of who the Messiah should be.
And then there were the Greeks, “Greeks keep searching for wisdom.” Greeks were zealous for learning, they loved the advances in civilization that they had made, they loved their logic and systems of thought and were convinced that any god had to fit the mold of their reason and be “reasonable” according what they deemed to be “reasonable.” It would be reasonable for them to have a religion that challenged their intelligence and would be scholarly and learned. But this business about them being utterly sinful and corrupt and it’s only through some crucified Jewish person that they can be saved made no sense to their human wisdom.
So to the Jewish person who has a conception of the Messiah that He is to be a powerful and mighty warrior, Jesus who seemed so ordinary and died a humiliating death on a cross like he was cursed by God himself, was a stumbling block. They couldn’t get past the offense of the Messiah dying on a cross. And to the Gentile or Greek that they needed a Savior and that Savior was a crucified Jew made no sense to them, didn’t fit their mold of wisdom, and was complete foolishness.
Now this thirst for power and wisdom is very much around today as well. In a sense it is idolatry. It is putting human conceptions of who God should be and how God should act above how God has revealed Himself to us. Today people want power. They say things like, “If there really is a God, why would he allow so many problems in this world, why wouldn’t he just show his great power if I am to believe in him?” And so they stumble, they fall. Today people want wisdom. So they reason, I’ve never seen something supernatural happen so therefore it must not be possible so the God of the Bible must not be true. Since the God of the Bible doesn’t conform to the way I think He should, then he must be wrong and I must be right!” “Am I really that sinful that God Himself had to come and die a wretched death to save me?” “How could that death on the cross provide enough payment for the sins of the world?” True their arguments are absolutely absurd but finally all idolatry is. Whenever someone places what they want, what they think, what they deem reasonable ahead of and before God, it IS idolatry.
And we are certainly not immune to this idolatry either. Are there times when we, too, think we can have God nicely and neatly packed into a box that will fit into our minds? Do we at times want to be able to figure out the ways of God and make sure they are all in agreement with the way we think He should be acting or doing? Have we at times pleaded with God, “Just show me a sign, God, so I know what to do!” Are we ready and willing to let God be God and every man a liar when we hear something that contradicts or opposes God’s Word? Do we have doubts about what God tells us in His Word or question His ways in ruling this world for our good? Each one of us has a part of us that struggles with this. Yes, we want God, but we want Him on OUR terms, not on His, we want God and His ways to make sense, to be reasonable, to jive with our minds.
Now think about this for a bit. We pray the Lord’s prayer just about every week, maybe more, in it we pray “your will be done.” God promises that He wants us in heaven no matter what the cost will be for us in this life, what we will have to endure or suffer in order to keep us focused on Him. God has also promised to work out all things for our eternal good. So, God, who knows my life better than I do, knows that in the future I might face a temptation that will cause me to fall from the faith, so in his wisdom he decides it’s best for me to have a heart-attack and die tomorrow, your will be done. So, if God in His superior wisdom knows that I can handle it and wants me to be a Christian witness to those around me so He decides that its best for me to suffer cancer, I’m praying that God allows me to get cancer. If God, who knows what’s best for my eternal good, sees that my love of money may cause me to fall away so He knows it’s for my best that I lose all of my savings, then I’m praying for that to happen.
God’s ways, His wisdom, His power is far superior to ours. We see it in our lives and we trust that He knows what’s best for us. So when it comes to God and His Word our reason and our minds ALWAYS take the back seat and let God and His Word drive. Our reason and minds are always underneath God and His Word. God illustrated this by His plan of salvation. If God were to have consulted you or me with regard to how He should save sinners, we would never have come up with this. The message of Christ crucified is not only against our reason, it is rather, diametrically opposed to our fallen, sinful human reason, wisdom, and intellect. We don’t want God to be who we want Him to be, what we do want is for God to be who He is! We want God to be God! Just look at what He’s done!
God’s plan of salvation, from first to last, was completely HIS doing. God’s way of saving people goes against the way the human mind would come up with it. That God who is just in demanding payment for sins committed but also so loved the people He created so much that He found a way to satisfy both His love and His justice. He, Himself, would come, break into human time and history, not in power and might to kill and destroy, but in lowliness, in humility, in disgrace, in suffering and God Himself would go to that shameful cross and be cursed and take upon Himself the full punishment for sins of all time and die there on the cross for you and for me! So that God in Christ has now declared you innocent of all of your sins because of what He did, Christ crucified. Now there is no way a human being could have ever dreamt that up, or come up with that on their own. So the very fact that you believe in Jesus is powerful evidence that God has worked through His powerful Gospel in your heart because you could have never come up with that on your own. The very act of God that is diametrically opposed to human wisdom, human reason, and human philosophy has brought you to faith. The only reason for that is the fact that this “foolishness” in the world’s eyes is actually and truly and really God’s very own power and wisdom to accomplish what He desires most: the saving of your soul.
You see, you’re in this text. You’re the last group mentioned. You’re not the Jew looking for a sign nor the Greek looking for wisdom, you’re the one proclaiming “Christ crucified.” Christ our Savior, Christ our Redeemer, Christ our life. If God accomplished the greatest thing in the world by sending Christ to the cross to accomplish your salvation and He did so without human wisdom or genius, then He’s certainly capable of doing things in your life for your good in ways that are completely contrary to and against our human ideas. In Christ crucified we see that God has the power to work the greatest good through suffering, shame, weakness and apparent defeat. Since He has the power to do that, then you know He has the power to work all things out for the good in your life as well! Look to Christ crucified and see there God’s power and wisdom for your life! Amen.