Giving Thanks For God's Foolishness
1Corinthians 1:18-25
Rev. Bryn MacPhail

We call this day Good Friday and, while this day is indeed good for all of us, we must not lose sight of the grim set on which the most crucial act in human history played itself out. After a thorough scourging and beating, Jesus was led to a place called Golgotha.

Golgotha comes from the Hebrew, meaning, "skull-like mound"--and was well-named in light of the bloody business conducted there.

Jesus, after being severely beaten, was crucified publicly as a state criminal. The Scriptures tell us, that Jesus died on the cross for our sake. Jesus dying on the cross, though tragic on the one hand, was a part of God's eternal plan. Every person who has put there faith in Jesus Christ, has, at that moment, had their sins forgiven and "nailed to the cross " forever(Col. 2:14). Jesus, by dying on the cross, atoned for our sins. This is the "good news", God's plan for salvation.

It is hard for those in the christianized West, where the cross for almost nineteen centuries has been the primary symbol of the faith, to appreciate how utterly mad the message of a God who got Himself crucified by His enemies must have seemed to the first century Jew or Greek(Fee, 1Corinthians, 76). The apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, confesses just that--"the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God "(v.18).

If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that the cross stands in contradiction to human wisdom . As one theologian has said, "No mere human, in his or her right mind or otherwise, would have ever dreamed up God's scheme for redemption--through a crucified Messiah. It is too preposterous, too humiliating, for a God"(Fee, 1Corinthians , 68). But this was God's plan. God says, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside "(v.19).

The second member of the Trinity incarnates Himself, lives a sinless life, and offers Himself like a sacrificial lamb for our sins. As a result of believing in Him, we gain eternal life. The apostle Paul, mocking the wisdom of his day, states that "the world through its wisdom did not come to know God "(v.21).

We all know, from experience, that what Paul says is true. We live in an age of brilliant minds. This century has seen advances in human wisdom unparalleled by any previous period in history. The 20th century witnessed the first airplane, was the first to understand the theory of relativity, witnessed the invention of television, witnessed the first successful trip to the moon, witnessed the discovery of penicillin, witnessed the invention of the computer, witnessed the discovery of a polio vaccine, and the list goes on and on. But I think it is safe to say that "through its wisdom ", the great minds of this century "did not come to know God ". Though we have made many significant technological advances, none of them have brought us closer to knowing God.

Paul says that "God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe "(v.21). The message of the cross is not sophisticated or complex. This, Paul says, was "a stumbling block " to both Jews and Greeks. For the "Jews ask for signs ", and the "Greeks search for wisdom "(v.22).

The Jews and the Greeks represent for us the two basic idolatries of humanity. Like every age before us, the people of our day pursue, with great vigour, power and wisdom . Consumed by our own pursuit of power, many expect God to manifest Himself in a powerful, and unmistakable way. Consumed by our thirst for wisdom, many expect God to work in ways that "make sense" to the rational and "informed" mind. Besides, "God gave us a brain for a reason", didn't He?

Unfortunately, our intelligence can actually be a stumbling block when it comes to the message of the cross. This is because the message of the cross doesn't exactly "make sense"--at least not to the rational mind it doesn't. Paul says in verse 23, "we preach Christ crucified ". "Christ crucified "--is this not the ultimate divine contradiction? Christ , Messiah , has connotations of power, splendor, and triumph; crucifixion , on the other hand, means weakness, humiliation, and defeat. It shouldn't be hard to imagine why both Jews and Greeks were scandalized by the Christian message.

Paul says that the Jews wanted "signs ", and when you look at their history, it is easy to see why they would ask for such a demonstration. God had, on many occasions, intervened powerfully on behalf of the Jewish people. When the Hebrew people fled Egypt, God intervened by parting the sea to ensure their escape(Ex. 14:21-25). God's powerful interventions had enabled the Hebrew people to seize Jericho by making the walls fall down(Josh. 6:1-21); God's power enabled a young David to defeat the giant, Goliath(1Sam. 17:45-49); God supported the public prayer of Elijah by sending fire down on his offering(1Kin. 18:37, 38), and the list of God's miraculous interventions in history goes on and on. To anyone familiar with the Old Testament, we are not surprised at this request of the Jews for "signs ".

Neither are we surprised by the Greeks insistence on "wisdom ". The zeal the Greeks had for learning has been well documented throughout history. They, like many today, wanted rational, verifiable, evidence. And if the Christian message could not be empirically verified, it had to at least surpass the "brilliant" philosophies of their day.

The Jews wanted "signs ", the Greeks wanted "wisdom ", but Paul preached "Christ crucified ". The doctrine of the cross is, unashamedly, simple--Paul even admits its appearance of "foolishness "(v.21)--but for us, the cross represents "the power of God "(v.18).

The reception the world today gives the message of the cross is no different. The demand for "proof" is as strong today as it ever was. And when people think of the brilliant minds of our day, they don't think of preachers and theologians such as B.B. Warfield, C.S. Lewis, or Billy Graham. In examining Time magazine's issue featuring "The Century's 100 Greatest Minds", there is not a single mention of those Bible teachers who have changed thousands of lives for eternity.

The magazine not only highlights individuals whose intelligence had tangible results on society, but also recognizes more subjective disciplines such as child psychology and recognizes pessimistic philosophers such as Bertand Russell.

I am grateful for those who discovered penicillin to fight infection. I am relieved that a vaccination for polio is now available, but what about those who are concerned for our eternal health? What about those who are preaching the message of the cross?

The reason we are here today is to give thanks for the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. While we are mortified by the fact that sinful humanity caused His death, we are grateful that Jesus loved us enough to submit Himself to die for us. By worldly standards, this message may not make much sense, but be assured friends, this message is indeed "the power of God ". This message is the key that unlocks the door to eternal life.

May we come to the cross today, and everyday, giving thanks for the "foolishness of God "--for verse 25 reminds us of something we must not soon forget: "the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men ". Thank-you Lord, for loving us. Thank-you Lord, for dying for us. Amen.