The Fools and the Wise at the Cross of Christ

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It was Maurice Switzer who penned the old line: “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”  No one wants to appear foolish (take it from me) and we nod (wisely) at Shakespeare, that “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

So here we are, human beings. A bit daft.

George Washington Carver (1864-1943) had a laboratory he named “God’s little workshop.” One day, Carver prayed, “Dear Mr. Creator, please tell me what the universe was made for.” God responded, “Ask for something more in keeping with that little mind of yours.” So Carver tried again. “Dear Mr. Creator, what was man made for?” Again the Lord replied, “Little man, you ask too much. Cut down the extent of your request and improve the intent.” So the scientist tried once more. “Then Mr. Creator, will you tell me why the peanut was made?” “That’s better,” the Lord said, and beginning that day Carver went on to discover over three hundred uses for the lowly peanut.

The reality is that all we human beings have peanut-sized minds. We are small and foolish and God is immense and wise. How on earth can we communicate?

In a brilliant, flashing insight, Paul suggests that for such a situation, God sends us “the message of the cross.”

“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.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

There are only two kinds of people, ultimately: “those who are perishing” and those “who are being saved.” The present tense reminds us that this is a present reality, an ongoing process. And again, simultaneously , there are only two kinds of people: the fools who think they are wise and the wise who know they are fools.

And Paul writes that those who are perishing consider the word of the cross “foolishness.”  Five times in eight verses, Paul will use a form of the word “foolishness.” The Greek word is moria. In 1:25 it appears as an adjective—moros. I probably don’t have to tell you that we get the English word “moron” from this Greek word. It has the idea of something that is ridiculous, ignorant, stupid, and contemptible. If someone were to say, “You moron!” you would be insulted, and properly so. But that is the very word that Paul uses here—and not just once, but five times. What Paul is saying is this: Most people consider the cross to be moronic!

Why is that?

God uses the foolish message of the cross to show forth His wisdom and power. In other words, God “fools” us to show Himself wise and powerful!

The cross offends our pride. The word of the cross is that salvation is freely granted by God’s grace, not human merit or intellect. Furthermore, salvation is extended to all people. This levels the ground at the foot of the cross. Everyone comes to God through faith, based upon the work of Jesus Christ. This offends man’s pride.

While the unbeliever considers the cross utter nonsense, the Christian sees it as “the power of God.” Look at 1:18 again. The word of the cross is not simply good advice or helpful information…it is the power of God! In other words, our victory in salvation and life can only be attained through the cross. The cross is everything to the Christian.

John Stott describes this “everything” in an unforgettable passage: “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I turn to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me. He set aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death.”

In 1:19 Paul quotes the Old Testament Scriptures, “For it is written, ‘I WILL DESTROY THEWISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.’” This quotation comes from Isaiah 29:14.15 The “wisdom of the wise” in Isaiah refers to political shrewdness, and Paul applies it generically to every form of human wisdom that exalts its own cleverness. The point is this: All human schemes that fail to take God into account will run aground (Isa 30:1-2). Isaiah mocks the failed scheming of the worldly-wise Jerusalem politicians who sought to ensure Israel’s safety. Their clever statecraft came to naught, because their alliance with Egypt so alarmed Assyria that it sparked the invasion they sought to avoid. The prophet reminds them that God is the Creator and humans are mere creations, and that God will turn things upside down (Isa 29:16). God’s rescue strategy opts for what appears to be weakness in this situation by allowing Jerusalem to become besieged and crushed before rescuing it. God doesn’t need human help. He set aside the cleverness of the wise.

What a picture of the cross!

So in 1 Cor 1:20, Paul launches into four rhetorical questions. He asks, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  Paul is speaking of the professional experts. God has not simply disregarded the wisdom of the world or shown it to be foolish. He has “made foolish the wisdom of the world.”

God designed His plan of salvation in such a way that sinful man could not come to know Him by human wisdom, which could only exalt man. So God purposed to save lost sinners through a means that seemed utter nonsense to a “wise” world—the cross. In the cross, we see the wisdom of God most fully revealed. In His infinite wisdom, God designed a plan that in no way compromised His holiness or left His righteousness unfulfilled. God’s wrath has been poured out on man’s sin; all the while, His righteous demands have been met, and He is now free to receive sinners into His holy presence. This ought to blow our minds.

God “fools” us to show Himself wise and powerful!

Lord, I know you’re not against knowledge, science or intellect. You call me to love you with all of my mind! You love me to be curious and inquisitive about everything. But how I lack the wisdom that interprets and applies that knowledge to life’s concerns and struggles! Lead me, this morning, to the cross of Christ, and teach me its wisdom, and fill me with its power.

 

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