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04/13/97 and 11/28/04
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1, and follow along as I read verses 20-24.
20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
About a year ago, my mother bought a new couch. Her old couch was totally worn out and needed to be thrown away. So, she asked me to do that little chore. My son Wesley and I each grabbed one end of the couch, worked our way out the door, down some steps, across the yard. I had the front end, and I was walking backward, occasionally glancing over my shoulder to see where I was going. We moved along at a pretty good clip. We turned at the carport and started toward the driveway.
I cannot imagine why but a concrete block was sitting there in the path. I did not see it. I found out what a stumblingblock is, the hard way. I tripped over it and fell down and the couch fell on top of me. Fortunately, I was just bruised up a little and nothing was broken.
In our text today, the Apostle Paul says the crucified Christ is a stumblingblock to many people. They are going along their heads mired in clouds of speculation, and they trip over, fall over, the cross of Jesus.
They are going their own way in their relationship with God. They think that we are born into this world, and by our various trials and tribulations, we learn piety and godliness, we become better and better, and then we pass on to eternal life. They think the human race as a whole will just keep getting better until one day we shall be good enough for Jesus to come back and establish his kingdom among us.
This sounds good, but people are not getting better. Our knowledge has increased, our power has increased, but knowledge and power do not make people good. Knowledge and power may just enable us to mess up on a larger scale
The most serious nuclear reactor failure in the United States occurred on March 28, 1979, at the Three Mile Island (TMI) reactor near Harrisburg, Pa. The cause of the accident was that human operators misinterpreted what their computers were telling them. On April 25, 1986, the world’s worst nuclear accident happened at Chernobyl. The accident happened because the operators, in the course of testing a reactor, ignored numerous safety procedures.
Before I was in the ministry, I worked for seven years in the field of computers. It was a common joke that most of our troubles had to do with the people operating the computers, not the computers themselves. Any machine is only an instrument, and the problem is that the instrument has a flawed master.
Furthermore, knowledge and power may simply enable us to do evil on a larger scale. Can we forget that Adolf Hitler came to power in an advanced, well-educated, industrialized, western nation, and bought about the Holocaust that destroyed the lives of six million Jews and seven million Gentiles? Can we forget that in the 1970s another Holocaust occurred in Cambodia when the Communist Kymer Rouge killed one third to one half of the entire population of Cambodia? There was still another Holocaust in Tibet where the Chinese Communists, concealed from the view of the world, killed perhaps a million Tibetans.
People are not becoming more moral. People are about as moral as they have always been, no more and no less. In the Old Testament, when Israel went to war with Amalekites, they tried to kill them all—men, women, children, dogs, cats, chickens, everything. That is genocide. That is what Hitler tried to do to the Jews. When you start thinking about our blood-soaked history, no evidence exists that people of other generations were more moral or better than people today. They were, and are, sinners.
We have something in us of the image of God. In a spiritual sense, God made a mirror of himself when he made a human being. But the image has been all messed up by sin, and sin has blinded us to our spiritual nature.
The universe is like a vast theater that shows us God, but we can no longer see well enough to profit by what is before our very eyes; therefore, our loving and merciful God has chosen another way to bring us to him.
God calls us by faith in Christ. This faith appears foolish to unbelievers, and they invent other ways to God. The Apostle Paul says “the Jews require a sign” that is they require miracles. “The Greeks seek after wisdom.” That is they want logical reasoning. In other words, people wish to determine for themselves how they will accept God. But whether they accept God is not the point. The point is whether God accepts them. God has prepared a way for us to come to him. He has prepared this foolish way of faith in Jesus. The gospel is a scandalous thing to us because we do not want to accept the free gift of salvation. In our pride, we want to somehow earn it, we want to somehow deserve it. That is why Christ Crucified always is a stumblingblock to the world.
John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist church. Once after he had preached a blazing sermon on how we are saved through the free grace of God, a lady said to him, “There is something evil about a religion that preaches that you do not have to do anything to please God.” You see, that lady wanted to come to God on her own terms, consequently, the gospel was a stumblingblock to her. She believed, and most people believe, that good behavior is the basis for getting into heaven.
When a person dies, the first thing that most people say, even people who have gone to church all their lives, is that he or she was a good person. I cannot think of how many funerals I have been to where people said, and sometimes even the preacher said, “I know this person is in heaven because this was a good person.” And the person may have been good, compared to other people, but human goodness is not a basis for getting into heaven.
That is the stumblingblock of the gospel. We have had the gospel for 2000 years, and it still is an astonishment to us, and because it runs counter to what we think God ought to do. Had we been God, this is not the way we would have gone about saving people, but this is the way God did go about saving people.
The first chapter of the gospel of John teaches us that life was in Christ from the beginning of time. He was Logos, light, and life. He made the world, but the “world knew him not.” The world still does not know Jesus. Thus, God “made foolish the wisdom of the world,” and gave his kingdom to those believe on the only-begotten Son.
That being true then, we should adore Jesus. Some years ago, a young woman lay on the operating table in a hospital. She had cancer of the larynx, the voice box, and the surgeon was about to remove it. Now I know that today we can do wonders in restoring voice function, but at that time such wonders were not available, so the doctor said, “If you wish to say anything, say it now, because this is the last opportunity you will have to speak.” We can readily imagine that such a statement would cause anyone to pause. Those in the operating room leaned forward in anticipation. What words would she count so significant that she would make them her last words? The young woman said, “Thank God for Jesus.” That young woman was one for whom the gospel was not a stumblingblock. To her it was “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Those of us that have been in the church a long time sometimes take our Crucified lord for granted. That is why the movie by Mel Gibson, The Passion of Jesus Christ was such a shock. The Passion dwells on every detail of the pain and suffering of Jesus. We see his flesh torn by the lash. We see the nails driven into his hands. People came out that movie saying, “I could not stand to watch it.” After I saw the movie, some folks asked me, “Did you like it?” I replied, “It is not that kind of movie.” No one enjoyed seeing the Passion, but the movie did show us something of value. It showed us what Jesus suffered for us. It showed us how Jesus hurt for us.
He did it to bring us back to God. Here is the problem. God’s majesty is too lofty for us. We need a mediator to connect us to God.
Dwight L. Moody was a famous evangelist of an earlier generation. During one of his evangelistic campaigns, he was staying with a family overnight. He had walked out of the house without his briefcase and his umbrella, and so he asked the eleven-year-old son of the family to return and retrieve these things. The boy gladly complied, but on his way back, he experimented with different ways to carry the things. He put the end of the umbrella through the briefcase handle and put the umbrella on his shoulder. About that time, he stumbled, and the weight of the briefcase broke the umbrella. The boy felt awful. D. L. Moody was one of the most famous men in America, and he had broken his umbrella. The boy was afraid to approach the great man and tell him what happened, so he went to his mother. He knew that mothers were more approachable than other people on things like this. His mother told his father, and his father in turn told Moody.
“Come here young man,” said the great evangelist sternly, and the boy with some hesitation came over to him. ”You broke my umbrella, didn’t you?” said Moody. The boy nodded. “Then you got your mother and father to tell me about it, didn’t you?” The boy nodded again. Moody smiled and said. “Forget about the umbrella, but remember that all of us are in the same position you were with regard to God. We are sinners, which makes us afraid of God. We need a mediator, like mom and dad were for you. That is to say, we need someone to go between us and God. We need Jesus Christ.” So D. L. Moody turned a broken umbrella into a lesson about the great mediator.
Our sins are like a cloud between us and God. Our sins make us strangers to God. Who then will bring us back to God? Not a human being, because all human beings of all time are sinners. In Genesis, after Adam sinned, he was terrified when God approached him. When God came down to Mt. Sinai to give the law, the Israelites were overcome with fear and would not approach the mountain. They were conscious that they were not worthy to come near God. Nor are we. We are not worthy to come near God. Thus, it was necessary that the Son should become one of us to show us that God will come near to us.
Jesus Christ was a human being. He was flesh like our flesh. He was also God incarnate. As I Cor. 1:24 has it, he was “the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” We can believe that we are children of God because the power and wisdom of God became a human being. We are assured of the kingdom of heaven because the king became one of us and adopted us as brothers and sisters.
A devout Swedish lady took her pastor to task one morning because he declared in his sermon that Jesus was a Jew and spoke Aramaic. “How foolish can you be,” she said. “Obviously Jesus was a Swede and spoke Swedish.” The pastor said, “Dear lady, you may have some difficulty proving that.” “Not at all,” returned the lady, “I have proof right here.” She opened up her Swedish translation of the Bible and showed him that the words of Jesus Christ were in Swedish. Now we may smile at that lady’s innocence, but in a spiritual sense, she was correct. Jesus Christ was a Swede, and a Chinese and an African. He was one of us. He was second Adam who took the place of sinful first Adam. He took upon himself human flesh to pay the penalty we ought to have paid.
Therefore, let us give thanks for the power and wisdom of God who is Christ our savior. Praise his name. Praise him forever. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 12/10/04