3rd Sunday in Lent – March 4, 2018
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
When the Apostle Paul first wrote to the Christian church in the big city of Corinth, he asked a couple rhetorical questions. “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?” Well actually, they were everywhere. It seemed like wherever Paul walked, every city he preached the gospel in, everywhere he sailed he found people claiming to be “wise” scholars and philosophers.
Some cried out that Paul’s God isn’t powerful enough – and they demanded God proved himself with signs. And that’s true – that happened. The philosopher Epicurus once wrote, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is God able to prevent evil, but not willing? Then he is evil.” Does that sound familiar? It is the same argument people make today against Christianity. “If God is so good, then why do bad things happen?”
Paul ran in to others who demanded a sign of power from God. One anonymous quotation audaciously commanded: “If god doesn’t like the way I live, Let him tell me, not you.” I suppose the person who originally said that meant that a booming voice from the clouds could be the only thing that could stop him. And as far as we no, that man never heard a booming voice.
But that wasn’t all. Paul also ran in to people who called themselves scholars. They laughed at God’s wisdom. And men have been attempting to look down on God ever since. A man considered to be one of the greatest writers in American history, Ernest Hemingway, once wrote: “All thinking men are atheists.” What condescension! To think that the only way a person can be intelligent is to not believe in God! The famous historian Edward Gibbon agreed with Hemingway. He stated: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.” Quite a cynical approach to religion.
To make matters worse, not only were these objections waiting for Paul in every city he traveled to, but Paul’s message sounded like the least logical of all. I’ll let him tell you why: “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.” And you can imagine how that went over among the “scholars” of Paul’s age.
Here’s one example. On one occasion, Paul found himself among the most revered philosophers on earth. He was in Athens. And they actually invited him to come and speak. Paul certainly would not refuse the opportunity. So he went and preached law and gospel. Now hear what happens at the end of that sermon: “‘[God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.’ When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered.”
Paul had preached about Jesus’ death and resurrection – and no intelligent philosopher could accept it. It offended every sense. It stood against every known law of logic. Paul understands that.
This morning he summarizes the situation: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
And I bet you already knew that. In our hyper-charged, politically correct culture, the more you talk about Christ, the more you get yelled at. Try bringing up Bible verses in a college classroom and you are laughed out of the building. Speak with some of the most intelligent people of our age, and pretty soon you realize that they have no time for God, no time for faith, and no time for Christ crucified.
“These are not the musings of modern-day philosophers. These are the stories of Sunday school teachers!” Isn’t it frustrating? Maybe “frustrating” isn’t a strong enough word. Isn’t it maddening? The world calls what you believe, “foolishness” and refuses to listen to any explanation you have to give to the contrary.
But there is an even greater danger lurking in the shadows. This wisdom of the world can sometimes be so very enticing. When we find ourselves sharing God’s Word, we have to admit there are teachings that can be difficult to defend to our present culture. God’s roles for men and women don’t sound like they agree with 21st century America – and sometimes I’m tempted to wonder if God got it right. God’s laws against homosexuality are clear as day in Scripture, but they are considered hateful by our world.
These and all the other teachings of God continue to be “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” And that was most apparent when God himself stood among those Jews and Gentiles. After he was captured and brought before the Jewish rulers, men considered to be the wisest in Israel, they asked him for truth: “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” And Jesus responded, “Yes, it is as you say.”
So they whisked Jesus away to the Gentile governor, Pontius Pilate. He too questioned Jesus, looking for truth in wisdom. Finally, Jesus stated, “For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Pilate responded like every scholar, like every wise man, like every doubter ever responded: “What is truth?”
It looked so foolish of God to send his Son into a world that hated him. It looked ridiculous for Christ to hand himself over to Judas, then the Jews, and then the Gentiles. What person, especially our omniscient God, would allow such a thing to happen to himself? To suffer? To die? It offends all reason! It stands against logic itself!
“Christ crucified [is] a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” There is no getting around it. “But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Let the world have their “wisdom.” It is no wisdom at all. The haughty philosophers and the wisest scholars can look down on Christian children and Sunday School teachers all they want. The truth remains, those little ones are some of the wisest souls on earth – in God’s eyes. And here’s why: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
Share that wisdom of God. Live those wise words. “Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!” Amen.