The Cross…Wise or Foolish?

(The above illustration is a pen and pencil drawing by Gene Hanson that we shared during our worship time. Gene says the following about the meaning of the sketch: “The drawing as a whole depicts a sort of loneliness that Jesus must have felt as he approached and endured the cross. The broken down gate and fence represent the imperfections and brokenness of humanity. Of course, the cross is there to give us hope – a way to mend that fence.”)

I Corintians 1:18-25

The words of Paul in our text for today are familiar to many of us. They come in the form of a paradox – of upside down language. God’s wisdom is portrayed as foolishness to the world – and the wisdom of the world – is shown to be foolishness in terms of reaching or understanding God. What should we take away from this text for today, our third Sunday in Lent?

Verse 18

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. 十字架のことばは、滅びに至る人々には愚かであっても、救いを受ける私たちには、神の力です。

If I had to restate this in my own words I would probably say something like this:

The message of the cross can be seen in two ways. 1. It’s either complete nonsense (foolishness) – to those who are approaching it through merely human understanding – or human knowledge – through philosophy, mathematics, scientific research, or even theology. Or, 2. It’s the key to everything (wisdom) – the power of God in our lives! It’s the key to our relationship with God and our eternal life in God. This is true for those who have heard the gospel story and accepted it in faith.

Verse 19-20

For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 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? それは、こう書いてあるからです。「わたしは知恵ある者の知恵を滅ぼし、賢い者の賢さをむなしくする。」 知者はどこにいるのですか。学者はどこにいるのですか。この世の議論家はどこにいるのですか。神は、この世の知恵を愚かなものにされたではありませんか。

Paul is NOT discrediting or demeaning education or learning.

Philosophy, theology, scientific research – these are not considered worthless or meaningless in this text. The church / Christian faith has often found itself on the wrong end of this argument – almost glorifying a kind of  “anti-intellectualism”, as if that were more pious and devout. Paul himself spoke often in his letters of the learning and study which he received as a devout Pharisee. He did say in Phil 3 that “compared to knowing Christ” all of his learning was like a pile of dung. But that was merely a comparison. He did NOT look down on learning. For Paul, human learning and knowledge has value – but it will never be enough to connect you with God.

Verse 21

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. 事実、この世が自分の知恵によって神を知ることがないのは、神の知恵によるのです。それゆえ、神はみこころによって、宣教のことばの愚かさを通して、信じる者を救おうと定められたのです。

The cross levels the playing field!

What Paul seems to be saying in verse 21 is that God, in his wisdom, has devised a route to salvation which does NOT favor the worldly wise, or wealthy, or fortunate, etc. It is completely egalitarian. In fact, God goes farther than simply creating a level playing field. He actually, on purpose, chose a method of salvation – the cross – that appears foolish and nonsensical. The only way to see the cross as our power and means of salvation is to place our trust in Jesus himself. Everyone is required to kneel at the foot of that cross and receive healing and salvation. The good news, and again, the egalitarian part – is that ALL are welcome!

Verses 22-24

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. ユダヤ人はしるしを要求し、ギリシヤ人は知恵を追求します。しかし、私たちは十字架につけられたキリストを宣べ伝えるのです。ユダヤ人にとってはつまずき、異邦人にとっては愚かでしょうが、しかし、ユダヤ人であってもギリシヤ人であっても、召された者にとっては、キリストは神の力、神の知恵なのです。

Miracles and signs – as well as philosophy or learning can’t get you to God – only one thing can – the message of the cross.

Some people (in this example of Paul, Jews) will always be looking for the miraculous… for some sign of the divine. Other folks (again, here Paul uses the Greeks as an example) will always be depending on knowledge and philosophy in order to understand God and to understand the meaning of life. (Which are you more like?)

But we know that neither of these by themselves can lead a person to Christ and to salvation. Only one thing can do that – and that’s the message of the cross. The cross has the power to do that.

Verse 25 – the conclusion

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. なぜなら、神の愚かさは人よりも賢く、神の弱さは人よりも強いからです。

God’s wisdom is different than our wisdom

It’s simply this: that what counts for wisdom in this world is NOT the same as what counts for wisdom in the Kingdom of God. And again – the paradox: those who appear wise are often actually foolish… and those that enter into faith (with apparent foolishness) are actually wise. As we continue this lenten journey with Jesus… are we willing to once again open ourselves up to the foolishness of the cross? Will we bow at the foot of the cross to receive forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation with God? The invitation is open to all!

(The above is a summary of the message that was shared during our zoom worship time on March 7th. We concluded by viewing a video together – here’s the link if you would like to view it again: Michael Card – God’s Own Fool. )