Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Jan. 29, 2023.
“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..”
– 1 Corinthians 1:21
Do you believe the book of Genesis is a true historical account?
Do you believe that, years ago, God destroyed the entire world in a flood?
At the beginning of 2 Peter 2, the Apostle Peter wrote:
“Beloved, [my letters to you] are reminders to stir you to wholesome thinking by recalling what was foretold by the holy prophets and commanded by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.
Most importantly, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. “Where is the promise of His coming?” they will ask. “Ever since our fathers fell asleep, everything continues as it has from the beginning of creation.”
But they deliberately overlook the fact that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world of that time perished in the flood. And by that same word, the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”
Brethren, let us be humbled.
Let us remember that is not only men today, our contemporaries living in the last days, who scoff at those who believe the Bible records man’s true history…
The 16th century church reformer Luther reminds us that
“…when Noah built the Ark and said the world would be submerged, this was foolish talk in the eyes of men. Likewise, Lot had to be a fool for saying that Sodom and Gomorrah would perish. Moses and Aaron were fools in the eyes of King Pharaoh. In short, God‘s word and his preachers must be fools, as Saint Paul says” (WLS, 3728).
My friends, do not be fooled by those who think the church’s highest purpose is to contribute to a sense of self-empowerment or some semblance of morality in civil society….
It is about believing the message of man’s sin and God’s grace from the beginning of time.
The church’s highest purpose is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Crucified, risen, and ascended so that all men, blind and wallowing in their own corruption, might be lifted from the pit up to God once again.
And so know for certain how God will be pleased with you:
Hearing and believing the word of God is the highest form of worship!
But what are these wild words that we hear from the Apostle Paul in this week’s Epistle reading?
In sum, it is saying that it is God’s intention that worldly wisdom – even the best wisdom this world has to offer – should not and in fact cannot be the means of knowing God (from the Concordia Self-Study Bible)!
If you know God, you know God because He brought You to Himself, revealed Himself to you, and enlightened your heart with the message that you are a silly, stupid, and straying sheep and that Jesus Christ is your Good Shepherd who put Himself between you and the Wolves that would steal and kill and destroy your soul.
Again, the world’s wisdom should and in fact cannot be our means of knowing God. It doesn’t matter if that wisdom comes from Oprah, Joel Osteen, or Jordan Peterson – nobody is going to cut it.
This is why just a chapter later, the Apostle Paul will go on to make the point that
“the natural man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Alternatively, the spiritual man has the mind of Christ, and does not attempt to instruct God, but rather is instructed by Him.
Now, again, Paul’s words in our Epistle lesson this morning – and really in the first 2 chapters of I Corinthians – is not saying that preaching is actually foolish or unreasonable but that it is viewed by the world as foolish and unreasonable…
And let’s be honest.
I know, we know, this is hard.
The world is never going to see real Christians, that is those who keep His word, as anything other than foolish and unreasonable.
For they see the cross as foolish and unreasonable…
Just like they have always seen God’s commanding circumcision in the Old Testament for all his people – even 99 year old Abraham – as foolish and unreasonable.
Just as they see God’s underwhelming – at least to the naked eye – gift of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are foolish and unreasonable.
Just the other day I ended up in a discussion with a wonderful Christian colleague at work about the Lord’s Supper. He essentially said that because I took Jesus’s words “This is my body” and “This is my blood” in a simple and child-like sense – and that I said this was the Biblical teaching and historical teaching of the church – that I was being unnecessarily divisive…
Well, God often strikes us as unnecessarily divisive, doesn’t He?
I mean, should we closely examine again the way that Jesus treats the Canaanite woman?
Should we explore the practice that the Apostle Paul says exists because of the angels?
Should we closely look at and ponder just what the Bible teaches about nations, races, slavery, hierarchy, and men and women – and how what He says should impact our lives today?
Do we, like Paul – though in an opposite sense – want to cry out “May it Never Be!”
Don’t say that!
For in doing that, can one even call one’s self a Christian?
My friends, value every word of God.
Wrestle with them if you must.
Pray over them if you must.
Directly address and complain about them to God if you must…
Confess your ignorance and lack of understanding before Him.
Ask Him for help…
In that spirit let us examine our very striking text for today…
Here, we hear about how both the Jews and the Greeks reject God…
The Jews represent those religiously favored by God.
They still reject Him.
The Greeks represent the intellectual elite of the world – the best of the best.
They still reject God.
…God still rejects them.
How can anyone know the truth about God?
Some will point to having religious experiences, particularly those experiences that deeply impact us in our feelings and emotions…
In America in the 19th century, this came to be the case so much so that religious revivalists actually put together methods for bringing people to certain emotional states so that their wills would then freely choose to embrace God…
In other words, these feelings and emotions could be led, manipulated, to do the right thing.
All for the good, of course!
The problem though is that a life based on feelings and experiences such as these, will often, or at least will finally, make one wonder if one is any real Christian at all…
The experience that you need – which the world will not really consider an experience – is the one of hearing and believing the Word of God.
Trust the law.
All of it.
God’s Spirit desires this for you now!
The classical world was wiser than us experience-obsessed Americans of the early 21st century…
You see, they realized that the best mankind had to offer would involve not just feelings or experiences, but what one could know: in other words using the intellect, the mind – and not being willing to shun all of the important facts and evidences around them…
This explains the immense popularity of, and respect for, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle – and the Stoics like the Roman statesman Cicero…
These men – like the Pre-Socratric philosophers before them – were not wrong to think that the mind deeply appreciating and noticing and studying a common world was meant to play an important role in nature, or better, the creation (many of these believed some kind of Divine Mind was at bottom of things….)
They were wrong, however, to allow their concerns and insights to be isolated from a consideration of history – particularly from the most important historical circumstances testified to them by men…
…like the creation story in Genesis…
…and the story of the worldwide flood…
…and of Babel…
…and of the Exodus…
…and of the promised Redeemer of the people Israel –
… thereby, in effect making their philosophy, their “science” as they called it, the only thing…
…basically implying that men should give heed to their considered views above all else…
…and indirectly demanding – for that is just what is happening here – that the Creator be taught by them… responding to the vain imaginations of their hearts.
Which, as God’s word could have taught them, were utterly soiled and infected with sin…
On the other hand, man’s abilities to explore and understand the world, to use logic and his reasoning abilities, certainly should play a role in the Christian’s life…
In the 13th century, the great theologian Thomas Aquinas did his part to make a strong case for reason’s use – largely holding up the example of Aristotle – in the Christian’s life.
Maybe nowadays some like C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, Francis Schaeffer, and John Warwick Montgomery can help you out here a bit…
For there is certainly value in what these Christians do!
We call them Chrisitian apologists. It is not because they are apologizing about Christianity or being Chrisitians.
It is because they defend the faith not only with Scripture, but with reason, evidences, and careful argumentation…
There is much to be appreciated in, valued in, and encouraged by in their work.
When I was a young man in my late teens, I was experiencing all kinds of doubts about my faith. I wanted Christianity to be true, but heard so many conflicting messages and wondered what was really real…
I believe Christian apologetics played a role in saving my life.
I picked up my first apologetics books, some by a man named Josh McDowell. He penned a good Question and Answer book and a book about Jesus Christ called “More Than a Carpenter” that spoke to me about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and why He was truly God in a fresh way!
Sill, not everyone’s world is rocked like mine was. Not all are persuaded to become Christians…
At the end of a great sermon that the Apostle Paul gave to the propagators of Greek philosophy in Athens he says:
“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
But then what happened?
“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others…”
So some agreed with Luke about these “many convincing proofs” (Acts 1) and what Paul said elsewhere when he claimed being persuaded of Jesus’ resurrection was “true and reasonable” (Acts 26)… (and hence knowing His identity as God’s Son and Messiah is true and reasonable)…
Martin Franzmann however is correct to emphasize that:
“…when Paul speaks of God‘s judgment in the resurrection of Jesus [here in Acts 17] the Greeks are no longer interested.”
Perhaps their philosophy played a role in getting in the way of their hearing and believing?
What does reason mean?
The simplest definition of this is to give reasons to another person for why you believe or do what you do.
But according to Paul, what did it mean for the Greeks and Jews to be reasonable?
For the Greeks it meant putting God on the stand, judging him in their court: basically, at worst, not being willing to hear Him speak outright, or, at best, requiring Him or those who would defend and promote Him to convince them according to their own satisfaction.
Not even the best of the world’s philosophers could have foreseen the cross… and how a forgiveness that gives us the certainty of heaven right now could be ours…
That God wanted us to have this kind of peace with Him whatever our status or circumstances in the world!
For the Jews, it means doing the same – putting God on the stand, judging Him in their court – in a somewhat different way. According to them, in order for them to embrace the words of God’s prophet or even Messiah, the one making the claim would need to perform particular acts that they said that person should do.
In other words, they were so intent on making God dance to their particular tune that they missed all the ways He did in fact fulfill the Old Testament prophecies or predictions through His miracles.
Miracles which often did not impress people, as they lacked a certain “fireworks” quality, but were rather done because they were simple acts of love God showed to “the least of these”…
The poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those seeking to know true righteousness….
God upsets the Greeks and Jews.
God upsets us too.
We are inclined to want to run with the high-rolling rich and the powerful. Or the famous, the popular, the “influencers” as many put it today.
And then God leads a saint to reach out to those in less-than-impressive parts of town, and perhaps lend to some of them without interest…
We tend to respect those who have a special charisma and/or have a kind of magnetic attractiveness, often involving very attractive physical form or beauty….
And then God puts it in a pastor’s heart to go to the nursing home to find out if just one person there wants the Bible read to them.
We tend to defer to the person who can speak well, who speaks with winsomeness, confidence, and seems able to quickly reframe the objections of others or even quickly puts them in their place…
And God blesses the man or woman who is pulled by those who are simple, who simply receive God’s word with thankfulness, who perhaps the world simply dismisses as mentally retarded, and even tries to search and kill before they see the light of day.
We are deeply concerned about matters of place. Not just in a good sense where we deeply respect our family and home, our homeland, but in a sense in which we find ourselves seeking, or jealous, of the status that others possess in the world.
And Jesus picks up the Little Child and says that if we even want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven we must become like one of these…
My friends, the world is not reasonable. Much of what you hear, much of what they claim, much of the activity they are invested in, is B.S.
And even when it’s not, when some seek for genuine signs from God and others seek the best that wisdom has to offer…
…there is much that is left to be desired….
And here, we might think those who de-emphasize both feelings and reason and say the real key is to “just do it”!… are really the ones who are wise.
Just do the right thing!
Just do good.
What would Jesus do? Be like Jesus!
You can find God, come to know God, that way….
I am tempted to say this does not sound so bad. After all, if one really did try to do this, would they not, at the very least, almost certainly find themselves in touch with, among, participating with, Christians?
Christians who could share with them the forgiving Gospel of Jesus Christ that could enlighten and transform and embolden the hearts?
I’d caution against this, to say the least!
Because today so few Christians know the word of God well.
Because consciences in our day and age are malformed.
Because we have all learned to put up with and even get used to so much that is deeply evil.
Because the moral messages that the world now gives are often deeply contrary to the good and truthful guidance that one will often find in the Word of God….
My friends, Paul says:
“Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly and despised things of the world, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast in His presence.
It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God: our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
My friends, learn to be content to not matter.
Be content to be nothing.
One that “is not” in the language of the Apostle Paul.
Because when you find yourself thinking that this is, in fact, in some sense you…
…are very close to the Heart of the Matter, to the Kingdom of God, to the Eternally Good and Loving One who Changest Not.
Jesus Christ has been crucified for you.
And hence – with the forgiveness that He offers and delivers to you even at this very moment…
You will truly live, and live forever!
Image credit: Ryan Turnipseed.