March 8, 2015
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
It’s what we’re up against. It’s what the church has always been up against, from day one, more than two thousand years ago. What we do as Christians and what we say as Christians is nothing more than a cart-load of foolishness to those who do not believe. We are oddballs and strangers in this world. There is very little about us that makes any sense at all. And deep down, we know this is true because we encounter people every day who are willing to remind us about it. They ask us, “Why in the world would you get so worked up about some guy who lived and died two thousand years ago? None of that stuff is true, its all made up. Its fake. Can’t you see that?”
And so it goes, with probably a million more variations. There are, most likely, as many variations on that theme as there are people who do not believe. It seems as though everyone who does not believe has a reason why it is so foolish that we do believe. And really, there’s not much we can do, sometimes, to convince them otherwise. Not much, that is, except to proclaim the Gospel whenever and wherever and however we can.
It helps us to know, however, what we’re up against, and the Apostle Paul is definitely the one who is most qualified to tell us. He says, straight up in verse 18, that “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.” Paul knows that the message of the cross is foolishness, because he once believed that it was foolishness with all of his heart and soul. Paul, whose name was once Saul, was mortified by the Christian Church, and its rapid rise to popularity. He could not imagine that sane thinking, intelligent people would ever consider even pondering the possibility of becoming Christian. Christianity was a dangerous, ignorant and heretical cult that was based on a poorly crafted lie. As far as Saul was concerned, Christianity needed to be stopped, and it needed to be stopped as quickly and as decisively as possible. And so he dedicated his whole life and mission to the stamping out of this foolish and ignorant cult that was brainwashing people into believing a rather obvious lie. We don’t know how long Saul conducted this crusade against the Christian Church, but we do know that while he may not have personally killed any Christians, he certainly imprisoned many, and he consented to the death of a least one that we know about. Saul, who eventually became Paul, was as rabidly committed to destroying the Christian faith as he was later in promoting it.
And it was this whole business of the cross, and everything about it, that so angered and incensed Saul. He was absolutely convinced that the message of the cross was foolishness. This line, in verse eighteen most likely was one of his talking points when he was on his crusade against Christianity.
What made Christianity so foolish was its insistence in putting its faith in a man who died the death of a criminal on a Roman cross. And what’s more, this man was not your run-of-the-mill criminal. He was not a thief, he wasn’t an insurrectionist or a terrorist; he had been tried and convicted on the charge of blasphemy and heresy, by his own Jewish peers. And in spite of all of this, people were still putting their faith and trust in him. How absolutely and utterly backwards is that? People who, until recently, had done their best to trust in God, people who had tried hard to obey God’s law, people who had been faithful in their religious observances, were now, very foolishly, throwing all of that out and putting their faith in this man, who very clearly was a heretic and a blasphemer. For Saul, all of that was just wrong. Faith in a crucified, dead criminal was just plain foolishness. The Scriptures clearly indicated that if anyone died on a tree, that was evidence that they had been cursed by God. But, it seemed, the Christians were very carefully avoiding and evading that little factoid.
And not only that, the Christians were making loud claims that this convicted criminal was the long awaited Jewish Messiah! For Saul, that bit of information was most easily disproved, because it was utter foolishness, and obvious to anyone who gave it even the tiniest bit of consideration. Messiah’s aren’t criminals, Messiah’s don’t die. Messiah’s have a mission, and that mission is to restore the glory of the nation of Israel. The first thing on any Messiah’s agenda would have been to abolish Roman rule and oppression; it would have been to re-establish the throne of King David in the city of Jerusalem. But, obviously, Jesus did none of this. He was dead. At least according to normal-thinking people he was dead. But, to add to the foolishness, the Christians were making this wild assertion that Jesus was not dead; that he had somehow risen from the dead. Problem was, the only people who claimed that they had seen him alive, were the same ones who were making the wild assertion, that he was alive. Their cover story was that he had appeared alive to a select few, and then he had disappeared into heaven, making the promise that he would one day return. Can you see how foolish the message of the cross is? Can you see how utterly ridiculous it sounds to those who are perishing?
And yet, this is our story. This is what we proclaim with full hearts and with full faith. This is our life. It is our only hope. It is our joy, but most importantly it is our salvation and our promise of eternal life. The message of the cross is only foolishness to those who are perishing. To those of us who are being saved, the message of the cross is the power of God. I like that. That which appears to be foolishness is actually a demonstration of the power of God.
But how do we make the transition from foolishness to power? We still live in a world, we still live daily with people, where the message of the cross is only so much foolishness. For too many people in this world, the message of the cross just doesn’t make any sense at all. And yet, we are commanded to proclaim it. The answer, I am convinced, can be found in the story of our friend Saul, but more importantly, it can be found deep within each of us, in our own stories, and in our own life’s journey.
When we first met Saul, he was on a crusade. He had a mission. He believed with all of the power of his heart and mind that the Christian faith was not only evil, but that it was craziness and foolishness to boot. He even believed that he had a mandate from God to do everything that he could to destroy this heretical cult. But then something happened to him. He was busy doing his job, when he ran smack hard into the power of God. He met Jesus. Saul’s conversion was rather dramatic, because it needed to be. Saul was a powerful man, and he might very well have done irreparable damage to the proclamation and the message of the cross. He needed to be stopped with the same powerful intensity that he was putting into stopping the spread of Christianity. And so one day, God stopped him. Jesus stood literally in his way, and Saul could not get around him. Let’s just say that Saul could not “see” his way around Jesus.
And if we honestly look back over our lives, can’t we identify a time, or a moment when Jesus stood in our way, and we couldn’t get around him? Isn’t there a time when the power of God surrounded us, and who Jesus was and what he had done for us started to make sense? Wasn’t there a time when what seemed to be only so much foolishness began to fade away and was replaced with wisdom and truth? I suspect so. That was the work of the Holy Spirit. It may have been prompted and motivated by the words and the life of another believer, but only the Holy Spirit can change our perceptions of foolishness into wisdom and power. Our conversions may not have been as dramatic or as sudden as Saul’s, but as the Apostle Paul reminds us in these verses, salvation is a much a process as perishing is. Salvation is a matter of putting to death those things about us that are perishing, and bringing to life those things that glorify God. Salvation is living in the power of the resurrection. Salvation is living as if we have already been raised from the dead, because we have been raised from the dead. In Christ, we are a new creation. Our old perishing selves are passing away, and by the power of God, our new, eternal selves are coming to the forefront. Our salvation will be complete when Jesus returns and we hear those wonderful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
If, this morning, the message of the cross still seems to be only so much foolishness; if it seems strange that one man’s death has the power to forgive sins and provide eternal life, I encourage you to open your heart. Nothing I say this morning can change your mind. I can preach until I am blue in the face, and the only thing that will happen is that I will get blue in the face, and somebody, hopefully, will call an ambulance, But if you open your heart, even with the smallest of cracks, you just might find Jesus standing there in your way. And you will feel the power. And that’s OK. Because along with the power, you will experience the love. And you will experience the love, because Jesus did all that he did for love. And that love is unimaginably wonderful.