Fools 'R' Us
As many of you know, Lise and I were in Montreal a few weeks ago, where I conducted a funeral for a sister in Christ that we had known for many years, who had asked me to return to Canada and do her funeral when the time came. She asked me when she was, I think, 86 or something like that. Will you come and do my funeral, wherever you are in the world. I said, sure. I'll come back and do your funeral. Well, she lived until she was 99. She nearly outlived me. So it was fine to go back there and do that. Her name was Helen LaChapelle, a wonderful sister in Christ. Even though Helen had been a faithful Christian, it struck me how her family and friends wanted reassurance that she was now safely in heaven. Even though we all knew she was faithful to the end, praising God to the very end of her days, the family that was there, they needed to know, are we sure she is there? Is she okay?
The experience of this funeral reminds me that when death comes, as it so often comes into all of our lives, it makes our busy, run around life and our planning, and our building, and our posturing, all kinds of useless. It all stops, bang, like that. No need to plan over here, or to switch that, or I got to get my muffler changed. All of that just stops instantly. It instantly becomes meaningless. When death comes, the only hope that we have is not in the doctors, or the technology, or our wealth. When death comes, the only hope we have is in God. We see that especially at funerals, people who only go to church buildings for perhaps a wedding or a funeral. That'll draw them. It's always a very sobering thought to them.
There are many who desire and believe in an afterlife, but there are many who will hope so in vain. The only hope that will be realized is the hope centered in Jesus Christ. And, in a way, it's a good thing we have funerals, because we're able to remind people who never hear the gospel. At a funeral they get to hear that message, that the hope is in Christ. And if the funeral is for a faithful Christian, they get to witness how Christians deal with the passing of a brother or sister in Christ. And the reason that we have hope, the reason that we can sing songs of joy at these occasions is because Jesus rose from the dead Himself, and promised the same for all of His disciples, (John 6:39).
I've said this before, no other religion has a resurrected savior as their leader. You can have a million people kneeling down and facing the east, you can have a hundred thousand men running around a piece of stone once a year, but none of them are worshiping and none of them can call on a leader in their religion that has risen from the dead. Only Christianity has that. And this hope is kindled in us, how? Well, through the gospel message. It's kept alive in us as we continue to believe and proclaim this message of life and death and resurrection of Jesus. One of the reasons for regular church attendance is that it is through this experience that we keep our faith, the flame, if you wish, of our faith nourished. It is a way that we proclaim to the world that we believe and await the return of Jesus, when we have communion. If we don't say any words, that action proclaims that reality and that belief of ours to the world.
While somebody else is polishing their car on Sunday morning in the driveway, as you drive by - I see this in our neighborhood, neighbors are out there Sunday morning, mowing the lawn, doing stuff, and they're in there with work pants and shorts and stuff like that, and Lise and I, me with a jacket and a tie and carrying our Bibles, and getting into the car. Yeah, I say, bye, see you. Have a nice day. And they're waving away, and what do you think is going on in their minds? They know where we're going. I didn't say to them, Jesus is Lord and Jesus has risen from the dead. But they know that while we're piling into the car with our Bibles, heading to church to have communion, they know what we are doing. We are making a witness, period, just by our action on Sunday mornings.
The strength of our faith, the sureness of our hope, and consequently the degree of peace and joy that we experience because of this hope, is directly related to how firmly we hold on to and we proclaim the message of the gospel. The more we believe, obey, and proclaim the gospel, the greater our joy, and the greater our peace, and the greater is our love for God and for one another, and especially for the lost. This idea is explained by Paul to the Corinthians, or to the Corinthian church.
This group here was beginning to doubt the message and its effectiveness in changing their lives. And this doubt was being reflected in their lives through divisiveness, immoral living, and reliance on their own strength and wisdom to guide them. When Christians begin to practice immorality, usually it's because they're believing less in the message. If I start doubting the message, if I start doubting the resurrection, if I start doubting that the Bible is true, if I begin to doubt, the more I doubt, the better the world looks to me. And so, in I Corinthians 1:18-25, Paul the apostle reestablishes the basis for true wisdom. The glasses through which they should look at the world, so they could truly understand both life and death.
The Corinthians came from a culture that prided itself on its ability to think, it's wisdom. Corinth was an important Seaport. It was also the seat for the Roman governor in Southern Greece. The city was wicked to the extent that in that particular culture to Corinthianize something meant to literally pervert it. If you were to pervert an idea or a thing, it was like, they would use the word, well you've just Corinthianized that thing. The temple of Aphrodite stood eighteen hundred and seventy-five feet on the Corinthian acropolis, overlooking the city of five hundred thousand Greeks, Romans, and Jews. The city of Corinth took pride in its philosophical heritage, as well as its immoral sexual practices. Into this city, Paul established a church in the autumn of 50 AD, while on his second missionary journey. And the church there prospered at first, but slowly began to deteriorate.
And one of the major causes of this was the fact that they began to move away from the notion that the power to save man from sin and death, as well as the power to transform man, lay in the work of Christ on the cross. And the message of that power was the gospel itself. In other words, they began to think, really? Is this gospel thing, is that - I mean, is that a solid thing? Can we base our life on that? Isn't there something better? Perhaps they thought they were smarter than God. Perhaps they thought they could improve it or change it, or do away with it, or accomplish the same things using different methods. Their efforts failed, and as a consequence they were divided, they were immoral, they were confused about death and the resurrection. And so, Paul begins by reestablishing the gospel as the basis for their thinking and he challenges what they see, what they were perceiving, as wisdom. So there's a little setup there for the passage that we're going to look at.
18For 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
Paul says the gospel message seems like nonsense to one who doesn't believe it. I mean, think about it for a minute. It isn't logical that God becomes a man. Where's the logic in that? And it doesn't make sense that God would die and then resurrect. It isn't wise to base your life now on what is going to happen after you die. Only fools do that. Conventional wisdom rejects the gospel of the cross.
The Gospel message has been preached for 2,000 years right? And it has stayed vibrant for 2,000 years. People continually being converted, churches continually being planted, millions and millions of people continually coming into Christianity every generation. And yet, on every news channel and on every news source that you can get, on television, on radio, especially on the internet, is anyone reporting anything about the gospel of Jesus? No. We only talk about it at Easter. And then they'll get some stock footage of the pope blessing everybody in St. Peter's Square. That's about the only attention they pay to the gospel, at Easter time perhaps. I mean, the gospel, that's not a serious thing. A serious thing, European parliament, that's a serious thing. Yeah. A serious thing, nuclear weapons, North Korea, that's a serious thing. That's worth talking about. That's going to have an effect on your life. The gospel? Jesus? We don't do that. We do real things. We don't do superstitions. I mean, we're like that today.
Well, that's what was happening to them back then. And yet, Paul says, this same message has the power to transform lives, the power to bring insight, the power to fill one with joy and hope and courage, even the power to die with courage, for the one who believes the message. For the disbeliever, it is dismissed as foolishness. But for the believer, it is the input that directly accesses the power of God filling his life. Now, for these Corinthians, they had begun to disbelieve the message. And they were in a mess as a result.
So in verse 19 Paul continues. He says,
For it is written,
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside."
Here Paul quotes Isaiah the prophet, to underline his point that it has always been a struggle for a man in accepting God's wisdom over his own. He's saying, this is nothing new, that man thinks that God's word really has no power. This passage here, that he quotes, refers to a time during the reign of Hezekiah. When Hezekiah's advisors were scheming and plotting to escape a Syrian attack without God's interference or help. They wanted the king to align himself with Egypt. They were saying to Hezekiah, don't look for protection from God, from the Assyrians up north, a world power. Go and make an alliance with the Egyptian king and their army and they will protect us. In the quote, God says, He will save His people, without these plans, but in His own way, with His power, and His wisdom.
And we read in II Kings 19:35, when Sennacherib and the Assyrian army attacked, God wiped out a hundred and eighty-five thousand of their soldiers in a single night using only one angel. The idea is that man's wisest plans are never any match for God's ways and God's means. Who would have thought - wonder if anyone had thought, how is God going to get us out of this mess with the Assyrians? Oh, I got it. He'll probably send one angel to destroy almost two-hundred thousand. Nobody would have thought of that. That wasn't a plan. In verse 20 he says,
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 gives some examples, that they may be familiar with this, in this context. People who profess to be wise, but were made to look foolish by God. The wise men who guided the Assyrian Kings and the pharaohs and all the enemies of God's people, he says, where are these people now? Where are the Assyrians now? They're not a factor anymore. They're gone. And the scribes who advise the Jewish Kings, who plotted their own schemes to save the people without God's help?
History shows how God brushed away their plans and instituted His own plan. He's saying, where are these guys? Where are these wise people now, and their plans. And the debaters, and the philosophers of this age, who offer their own ideas on the eternal questions and solutions to man's problem. How do they compare with God's revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ and the final solution that it brings? Did Nietzsche, the philosopher, come up with a better plan than the gospel? Any of the French philosophers? Any of the British philosophers, any of them come up with a solution that is better than the gospel, that has not been replaced by someone else's philosophy today? In every instance, has not God made man's most wise plans and ideas look foolish when His own ideas and wisdom were placed beside them? And so, with all of this wisdom, man has failed in his most important task, and that is, finding God and saving his soul. So God, through a method which seems offensive to the Jews and foolish to the Greeks, has made Himself known to man, for his salvation.
We read - back to the book, verse 21, he says,
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
In other words, man through his various plans - wisdom, ideas - could not even find God, let alone be saved. But God, however, through the method of preaching, not only reveals Himself to man, but saves him, as well. Isn't that what Paul says in Romans 1:16?
The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.
Paul establishes the idea that the power is in the message, not the messenger. This is contrary to human wisdom, that puts so much importance on the messenger and his ability and his credentials, even what he looks like. There was a photo spread about the Canadian prime minister. I'm not going to knock the Canadian prime minister, but what they talked about were his socks. He was wearing the latest socks in men's fashion. That he was cool-looking, that he skies, that he snowboards. They were so in awe of his modernity. He just understood. He knows how to use the internet, he texts, he's cool.
My only question is, how will he react if the Russians decide to cross over the north and attack Canada? We'll see how, what kind of socks he is wearing on that day. That's when a leader is tested through the fire. The fact of the matter is that it is the contents of the message, and I say this about, again, the prime minister, again, not wishing to disparage him, but it's the contents of his character that will decide what kind of man he is in the future. Not what kind of socks he's wearing. The content of the message that is important, regardless of who is speaking it.
The announcement that God became man, and died on the cross for men's sins, was resurrected three days later and offers all those who believe and are baptized in His name forgiveness and eternal life. This announcement, this good news, pierces men's hearts and changes them profoundly. No matter who is making the announcement. Whether the speaker is a Jew named Paul in the first century, or an American from Canada named Michael in the 21st century. Makes absolutely no difference at all.
And in this, is seen the foolishness of men and the wisdom of God. That a Jew in the first century and an American/Canadian preacher in the 21st century are speaking the exact same message to people and transforming their lives in exactly the same way - who here can come up with a wiser plan than that? In verse 22 Paul continues. He says,
22For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
So for the Jews, the idea that their savior would die on a cross, that was distasteful. They saw the answer to their salvation in a mighty liberator who would free them from Roman domination and re-established their glory days, like in the days of Solomon, not in a poor Nazarite nailed to a tree. They didn't see the need for anyone to die for their sins. They were children of Abraham. They were already acceptable to God by heritage.
And if you don't believe that's true, I have had a discussion with a Jewish woman in Montreal. We happen to be talking about faith and she was Jewish and she knew that I was a Christian preacher, and she said to me - I mean, it was right out of the book - she said to me, I don't need anybody to die for my sins. I said, really? Why? Because I don't have any. I obey the law. I mean, this was not in the first century. It's not some Pharisee here. This was a college-educated, Jewish woman, living in Montreal, 20th century, actually. It's when she said - I had never heard anybody actually vocalize that idea. And she said it to me. I don't need your Jesus to die for my sins. I was like, huh? I get the idea of tearing your shirt. Ah!
The Greeks, well they balked at the idea of bodily resurrection. They tried to create the new man through various philosophical systems. Each generation coming up with a new and better formula. Any talk of coming back from the dead without imperfections, to live an eternal blissful life, that was foolishness. You people are nuts. And yet, for those among the Jews and Greeks who believed the message, the reality of God's forgiveness and His transforming power to change men and women could be experienced. Thus identifying to whom belongs the true wisdom and the true power. Experience is the best proof.
I don't know about you, but I am not the same man I was in 1979. And you would not recognize me, if you met me in 1969. You certainly would not recognize me by my speech. That's for sure.
For believers of the message, it was evident that what man considered foolish and powerless, was indeed God's method of saving them. Well, things have not changed much since then. We're past the halfway mark of 2017. Isn't that amazing? We're having the end-of-summer ice cream thing. The end of summer already. Thinking now about 2018. And yet, heading into the year 2018, people are still relying on a variety of ways to find God and save themselves and improve their lives. Some rely on technology and science to find a way for us to be happy and live eternally. Some radio stations, if you just have the right education, if we just educate people they'll be okay. It'll be a utopia, if we can just educate poor people, people on drugs, violent criminals. They just need more education. That's their solution. We have others who look within, in order to find peace and balance with their universe. They think the answer is within. Just look into your heart. Just follow your heart. Find out who you are. Yes, sure, that'll be the answer. And then some, like the Jews, look for signs. Imposing and ecclesiastic organizations, the bigger the church, the closer to God. Or they look for a millennium and an outward triumph of the gospel over the evil in the world, as it exists. Yes. When good triumphs over evil in this world. Not going to happen. Not going to happen.
All the education and law enforcement in the world is not going to transform the evil world into a good world. Not going to happen. Ever. All we do is mitigate. That's all we do.
Religious people looking for any kind of sign where the supernatural is winning over the natural, it's not what Jesus taught us. And yet, when the simple message is proclaimed, they scoff at this. Oh, it lacks evidence and basic logic, say the inventors. Too simplistic, say the thinkers and the people who have the latest philosophy. It's too simple. What? If you believe in Jesus and you're baptized, you have a new life, and you go to heaven forever? That's it? Too simple. Or perhaps, not exciting enough, or too plain and dull, reply the merchandisers of modern religion. But for those who have believed and repented and have been baptized, the gospel of the cross is the power that brings them into an intimate relationship with God, and gives them strength for this life and hope for the next life. Hope for the next life.
And that brings me full circle back to the beginning of my of lesson. The people at the funeral, many were not, nevermind church goers, were not believers at all. And some who were nominal churchgoers of some religion or other, and then there were the brethren. One thing that was common to all these people, as I spoke to them afterwards - hope. The non-believers wondered where she was. And they said, well, I hope she'll be okay.
And the believers, they knew where she was and they knew that her hope had finally been realized. So, I ask the question, which camp are you in this evening? Are you still looking toward something sensible, logical, technical, philosophical, emotional, to change or to save your soul? That's not where to look. Or are you ready to accept God's foolishness as the way to find peace and joy and hope, assurance of eternal life. As it was then, and is now, and will be until He returns, those who respond to God's foolishness will find the wisdom and the knowledge they have searched for and the answer to what they need. And so my appeal for you, become foolish. Become foolish. Accept the cross as your answer, by repenting of your sins and being baptized today, so you can see the wisdom of God in Christ.
And for Christians, and I believe most of us here are in that category. For Christians, please accept the cross as the ongoing payment for your sins, as you confess them and abandon them and move on to greater service. I need to cross every single day, because as I look to the cross every day in my prayers, I recognize that my salvation is there, along with the sins that have been crucified there along with Christ. Every day I see it. Every day I'm thankful for it. It's the last image I wish to see in my own earthly life as I close my eyes and anticipate to open my eyes and see the living Lord before me, and not the cross that He died on to save me. So, accept the cross for the ongoing payment for your sins, as you confess them and abandon them and move on to greater service. So if you have a response, I can't name every single thing that somebody might respond to, sometimes people say, well, he didn't mention my thing, so I guess I should just stay here in the pew.
But if you feel the need to respond in some way, it's okay. Send a card forward, come forward, talk to one of the elders, take a step forward in your faith. Whatever your needs, Johnny's got a song ready. I think we've already marked it in our books. Let's stand, let's sing that with all our hearts as we expect those who are to come forward, to do that now.