A few weeks ago, as I was preparing a pre-Easter message for my church, Paul’s words in verse 18 here struck me.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
I’ve been a Christian all my life, so the message of the cross is something that I’ve just always taken as “normal.” I was taught it, so I believed it.
But I must admit, if someone were to start preaching, “Your salvation is found in the message of the electric chair,” or “Your salvation is found in the hangman’s noose,” I’d probably think you were out of your mind.
Yet that is exactly what many Jews and Greeks thought of Paul’s message. Paul said,、
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (22-23)
The Jews were looking for the power of God to save them, just as he had done in Egypt by sending plagues upon the Egyptians and parting the Red Sea for them. Because God had done things that way in the past, they were expecting their Messiah to do the same. But here, Paul preached salvation, not through Christ’s overcoming the Romans through signs of power, destroying them, but through Christ’s submission to the Roman cross. Of getting beaten, whipped, and crucified by them. And so they stumbled over the idea that Christ was the promised Messiah.
The Greeks, meanwhile, were impressed with human reason. They were looking for what ideas Jesus might have that might stimulate their way of thinking. But when Paul preached to them in Athens, he instead preached Christ’s death and resurrection, at which point most of them blithely dismissed anything he had to say. “Who wants to listen to this kook?” (Acts 17:31-32)
Which shows the problem of coming to God with our own set ways of thinking and in our own wisdom. We expect God to meet our expectations, that all he does and all he says will match what our logic and “wisdom” tell us he should do. And when he doesn’t we dismiss what he actually does say and do as foolishness.
But Paul says,
For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (25)
I will be the first to admit I can’t understand all that God does and why. How is it, for example, that Jesus’ work on the cross can pay for our sins? How exactly does that work? How can one person’s act provide justification for us all? I don’t know. I’ve heard and used illustrations that explain it to a degree, and so I have an idea, but at the same time, I can see why people would have trouble accepting it and think it’s simply foolishness.
But what we consider foolish, God will prove to us wise. What we consider weakness on God’s part, he will prove to us strength.
And ultimately, as Paul quotes, God will, “destroy the wisdom of the wise, and frustrate the intelligence of the intelligent.” (19)
So Paul asks,
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (20-21)
We will never find God on our own terms, based on our own human wisdom. Our thinking is too limited. Too narrow. If we are to find him, we must yield ourselves to him and his wisdom. And that starts with acknowledging Jesus as Lord, because this Jesus who was crucified is to us now both the power and wisdom of God. He is the power of God to save us. And he is the wisdom of God incarnate that puts to shame all of our wisdom.
Won’t you yield to him today?