Scripture: 1st Corinthians 1:18-31
1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1:19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."
1:20 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?
1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.
1:22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,
1:23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
1:25 For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
1:26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
1:27 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;
1:28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,
1:29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
1:30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
1:31 in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
In 1995 I lost a one of my best friends to a fast-growing brain tumor, called a blastoma. Within three months of being diagnosed, he was gone. He and I had met on the battlefield in Vietnam in 1970 and survived many close calls. He was one of the most dynamic, creative, can-do people I ever met. A very giving person, his enthusiasm for life actually drew people to him.
However, for all of his positive, upbeat outlook on life, he had a great sadness he carried around with him. His father was a preacher, pastor of a church that believed it was the only church true to Christ. His father refused to perform or even attend my friend's wedding to a lovely and loving Christian girl. My friend professed to being a Christian, but his knowledge of Christ was forever stunted, and he refused to attend any church believing, even as he said he loved Christ, that churches were hypocritical. His experience with his father's church had forever warped his Christian experience. Unity of the body of Christ was not a concept understood by his father's church, nor by my dear brother in arms.
Unity is exactly what Paul is writing about here in the very first chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church. Paul states the case plainly, there are only two groups here, the perishing and the saved. No in-betweens, no some of this group and some of that, no something less or something more. You are either among the perishing, or among the saved. And he drives the point home with the word "foolishness", parading it before us five times in eight verses. It helps to know that the word Paul is using as he writes in the Greek is the word "moria". In 1:15 is appears as the adjective "moros".
Our word "moron" comes from this word. In today's lexicon it would be properly understood that Paul was saying that to some the cross of Christ is "moronic." To some the cross is also what we translate that word to be, foolishness.
There are many in the world who look at Christian churches today and there behind the altar, there atop the church or chapel or cathedral, there hanging around the neck of the Christian man or woman is an instrument of torture, a sign of embarrassing punishment. Why do Christians do that? The very Christ they worship was crucified -- a death of indignity and shame -- on a cross like that.
The great British evangelist and world traveler Ian Thomas once preached a sermon about how difficult it was for him to "like" the cross. He spoke of the old hymn "The Old Rugged Cross", by George Bennard. That hymn begins, "On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame; and I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain."
Thomas equated it to his mother being slain with a knife, and him singing, "I love that old knife that murdered the mother I love."
He understood the necessity of the cross, and even of the death of God's Son, our Savior, bringing us back to God through the sin-covering righteousness of Jesus Christ crucified in our place. But he stumbled over loving that instrument of torture that brought such pain to our sweet Jesus.
And much of the world agrees with Ian Thomas, though for different reasons. To make an icon of a crucifixion cross is akin to lionizing an electric chair, or a hangman's noose, says the world. They do not understand it. It is foolishness. It is moronic.
Writing out of his own time, Paul pens an explanation that is as meaningful today as it was 2000 years ago: "For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,
we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."
And then right there, Paul gives us a glimpse of the mind of God. Who may know the mind of God? And yet, as God has shared with Paul, he shares with us. Paul explains in verse 25, "For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength," and in verses 27 and 28, " 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, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God."
It is not of us, not through our energy, our intellect or creativity, not of our wisdom, but of Him. He must increase and we must decrease.
Look back quickly at verse 1:18. Once again we have the two groups, the perishing and the saved, "but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
What did that say? It -- the cross of Christ -- is the power of God! This is the power that assures us that salvation is freely granted by God's grace, not through anything we have said or done, not by anything we have decided or accomplished, but by the power of God, through the cross of Christ.
And it is right here that the cross becomes an offense to men of pride. Because every one of us, beggar and millionaire, bookworm and stellar athlete, we all come to God through faith, based upon the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The ground is level for each one of us at the foot of the cross. Neither money nor wisdom nor accomplishment nor anything we can do will get us to the foot of the cross; only faith.
How foolish is that? It is said that what men and women do not earn for themselves they lightly esteem. And that is true, in this world, but the spiritual world operates by God's laws, not ours.
When I was working in Tokyo, Japan, I had the opportunity to climb Mount Fuji, an extinct volcano so huge it is visible throughout most of Japan. One of my young sons and I climbed this venerated symbol of Oriental strength with a group of young Christians beginning in the morning, and reaching the top sometime that night. We slept in a small lodge just below the summit, awakening in the morning to an amazing sight. The morning sun was bright and all around us lay a white, fluffy layer of clouds as far as the eye could see. We awoke above the clouds atop Mount Fuji! As we had breakfast and prepared to climb down, the clouds dissipated and the sight was even more awesome as the land far below us appeared as a rumpled quilt of many squares and varying colors depending upon the crops and fields of tea.
We felt very small and almost insignificant by comparison so high on Mount Fuji. It was as though we could almost touch that cobalt blue sky. The same kind of humbling dynamic takes place in our hearts when we draw near to the awesomeness of God's glory, recognizing and understanding, adoring the cross of Christ that gave us such unparalleled victory. It is beneath this cross that our differences disappear and we achieve unity in a divided church, as the body of Christ comes together in worship of God, allowed there by the Christ on the cross, the basis of our unity.
For there He hung, between heaven and earth, opening the gateway to God for you and for me. Do the words of George Bennard's old hymn not come back you.....?
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it someday for a crown.
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
has a wondrous attraction for me;
for the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
to bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
a wondrous beauty I see,
for 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
to pardon and sanctify me.
To that old rugged cross I will ever be true,
its shame and reproach gladly bear;
then He'll call me some day to my home far away,
where His glory forever I'll share.