A reasonable doctrine (4): The message of the cross

Do you have a favorite Bible verse? Most Christians would say, yes. It could be a verse that always comforts you, or that strengthens you, or that reminds you of God’s faithfulness. It could be a verse that defines your purpose as a believer. When asked, I would usually go to Job 19:25-26 (I know my Redeemer lives…) or Isaiah 61:1-3 (The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…) but the longer I spent time preaching in the Jails, the more haunting 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 became.

1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (NASB) And when I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come as someone superior in speaking ability or wisdom, as I proclaimed to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

As a professor and scientist, involved in research for almost 45 years, the ability to apply rigorous logic to problems, and to explain that reasoning, is part of who I am. Therefore, the temptation to debate those who would put down Christianity is real. Especially, when you realize that those who throw Bible verses at you, to show supposed contradictions, don’t really understand what they are reading.

But Paul would tell me, think twice before you do that… Why? Because debate and strife are ways of the world. Look at his advice to Timothy:

2 Timothy 2:22-26 …pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart. But foolish and senseless questionings avoid, knowing that they beget contentions. And a bondman of [the] Lord ought not to contend, but be gentle towards all; apt to teach; forbearing; in meekness setting right those who oppose, if God perhaps may sometime give them repentance to acknowledgment of [the] truth, and that they may awake up out of the snare of the devil, [who are] taken by him, for *his* will.

Paul is telling Timothy, first, that he will find fellow workers in those who call upon the Lord. With them he can pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. As Solomon said (Proverbs 27:17), Iron is sharpened by iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. That is how we grow in the Church, in our faith.

But, in Church and out of the Church, we are also going to find other people who want to debate, stirring up foolish and senseless questions. Why? That’s hard to tell. A lot of times contentious people do it because they thrive in chaos, or because they want to prove they are smarter than you. But nothing good will come out of engaging them in their “home turf.”

The temptation is very real to “give as good as one gets” because of our pride, because we don’t want to appear weak. Yet, meekness – appearing weak – is precisely the attitude that Paul is telling Timothy to adopt.

How much good have you ever seen come out of anger?

You see, the problem with getting into an argument is that we want to win. I know, I know… We tell ourselves that the other guy’s error is dangerous… that if anyone believes what he says they will be misled, taken in, duped, even hurt. And as my heart rate picks up, the conversation soon becomes a game of strategy: I put in a question or a comment, knowing what the most likely answer is going to be, and – aha! – I have the perfect counter argument. I am going to win this fight. I am already thinking three moves ahead… and not really listening.

Yes, the person may be mindlessly repeating the lies someone else taught them. But even then, if I listen, I might hear that person’s heart; I might get an insight into where they are coming from.

I might hear the Holy Spirit telling me what they really need to hear.

I don’t think we can hear the Spirit very well when we are “fighting mad.” Furthermore, if I win this fight, the other person loses. Is that what evangelism is all about? Isn’t the Gospel about saving the lost?

Look carefully at what Paul tells Timothy: Correct those who oppose the Truth, in meekness. Why? Because if I am no longer trying to win, then it is no longer about me… It puts the whole discussion where it belongs, in God’s hands:

…if God perhaps may sometime give them repentance to acknowledgment of [the] truth, and that they may awake up out of the snare of the devil.

Did you catch that “perhaps may” and the “sometime”? Sounds very indefinite, doesn’t it? Almost makes me want to say: “Well, God, if you are not sure you can do the job, let me at him… I’ll beat him with the truth until he accepts it.”

Think about it. Doesn’t this whole statement practically overflow with gentleness?

…if God perhaps may sometime give them repentance to acknowledgment of [the] truth, and that they may awake up out of the snare of the devil.

God will not force anyone to accept the Truth. He won’t demand that they repent now; He is God of the sometime, He has all the time in the world. He wants to give them the chance to repent on their own so that they can acknowledge, accept, own up to the fact that (deep inside) they know what the real Truth is. He doesn’t have to shock them or threaten them or scare them straight… He wants them to awaken, as if out of a dream – yes a bad dream – but a dream nonetheless… because the snare of the devil is just that: utter unreality, meaningless, powerless, useless.

And notice how Paul ends that sentence: out of the snare of the devil, [who are] taken by him, for *his* will. Those people may have been ensnared by the devil, taken by the devil, because he has a plan of destruction (his will) for them. But whose will is stronger? God’s will. And He wants them to awaken to His will.

Do you think God is being too gentle?

Yet… Isn’t that how I want Him to be toward me?

That is the lesson of like-for-like found throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount: Judge not lest thee be judged. With the same measure I measure others, I will be measured too. This is why I must first treat others the way I want to be treated. Because the way I treat others is by default the way I am telling God to treat me.

If I am weak then God is strong

Paul not only determined to let God carry the argument, he focused on the bottom line, the key point that matters when telling people about the Gospel: The cross. Why? Not only because it is the center piece of God’s plan but because it is so different from anything the world offers us that there is no way to confuse it, to subvert it.

The way the world gets you to join some group or movement is to offer you benefits, an advantage, or to tell you that you can be the hero, save the day, save the Earth. It is always enticement, a promise of reaping something desirable in this world.

But if I am true to the Gospel, I can’t offer you a better life here in this world. Look at Jesus! He ended up on the cross. And as Paul told us, the world cannot stand that truth: The cross, the fact that the Messiah had to die and die that way, was repugnant to the Jews – a stumbling block (“God would never do that!”) – and it was foolishness to the Greeks (“How is a god that cannot even save himself going to “save” his followers.”)

Not only is the cross hard to take – because we are so used to the values of the world around us (and to its definition of success) – it is scary. In this world you shall have tribulation; they will hate you for my sake; they will turn you over to the synagogues; it will be father against son, daughter against mother-in-law…All those are words of Jesus, all warnings about what awaits those who choose to follow Him. Matthew 10:34 Do not think that I have come to send peace upon the earth: I have not come to send peace, but a sword.

It is scary because it says my life in this world is not only not guaranteed, it is in jeopardy… and the only way to deal with that verdict is to accept that living this life on the world’s terms is not a life worth clinging to.

Then why was I given life? To live it on God’s terms.

The call to give up the treasures and pleasures of this life, to work for the kingdom of God, is a hard call to listen and obey… BUT we can do it by faith: Faith that stands…not in men’s wisdom, but in God’s power. This is what Paul is trying to get the Corinthians to understand by the example of his life and his teaching:

1 Corinthians 2:3-5 And *I* was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling; and my word and my preaching, not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of [the] Spirit and of power; that your faith might not stand in men’s wisdom, but in God’s power.

It would be a mistake to imagine that “God’s power” is here talking about miracles or maybe about God’s triumphal overturning of the systems of this world. Most of all, God’s power is displayed in Redemption: Everything the devil thought he captured forever, everything he thought he corrupted beyond repair, is not beyond God’s power to bring back to life.

Think of Ezekiel’s vision of Israel as a valley of corpses, so long dead that all that is left are dry bones. Yet at the command of the Word of the Lord, they became again whole, living, people. Think of the cross. At the moment when the devil and the world thought they had won, that they had completely destroyed the son of God…

Matthew 27:50-54 And Jesus, having again cried with a loud voice, gave up the ghost. And lo, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom, and the earth was shaken, and the rocks were rent, and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints fallen asleep arose, and going out of the tombs after his arising, entered into the holy city and appeared unto many.

But the centurion, and they who were with him on guard over Jesus, seeing the earthquake and the things that took place, feared greatly, saying, Truly this [man] was Son of God.

Right there on the cross, as He died, before even being put into the tomb, before rising from the dead, even at the point in time that was the darkest for His disciples and His mother witnessing it all, the Power of God poured out through Jesus onto Redemption.

The veil of the Temple was torn to show humanity that, from that point on, no one need ever be separated from God. The tombs all around there were opened and many of the believers of old, who died trusting in God’s will and plan, stepped out of those tombs as proof that God’s promised final Redemption, the ultimate Restoration of the whole world, the Resurrection of the dead was now indeed assured and irrevocable. And Gentile observers, a Roman soldiers no less, had their eyes opened to the spiritual reality that God had really sent His Son to us… to all of us, for all to know.

If God can Redeem all that, then everything else that the world has twisted and corrupted, God has the Power and the Will to set straight to its original design. That includes Wisdom.

1 Corinthians 2:6-10 But we speak wisdom among the perfect; but wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who come to nought. But we speak God’s wisdom in [a] mystery, that hidden [wisdom] which God had predetermined before the ages for our glory: which none of the princes of this age knew, (for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;) but according as it is written, Things which eye has not seen, and ear not heard, and which have not come into man’s heart, which God has prepared for them that love him, but God has revealed to us by [his] Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.

God’s Wisdom allows us to see and understand God’s plan.

And if we wonder, how could this be true about us today? I mean, if his own chosen people who knew His Word so much better than most of us, missed it so badly… so badly that they crucified their own Messiah… how is there hope for us? The answer is: The Holy Spirit; Jesus’ promise to us:

John 14:25-26 These things I have said to you, abiding with you; but the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, *he* shall teach you all things, and will bring to your remembrance all the things which I have said to you.

And this is what Paul reminds the Corinthians about:

1 Corinthians 2:11-13 For who of men hath known the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? thus also the things of God knows no one except the Spirit of God. But *we* have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which [is] of God, that we may know the things which have been freely given to us of God: which also we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, communicating spiritual [things] by spiritual [means].

If we as believers, have the Holy Spirit within us, we have access to the Wisdom of God. And it is not a Wisdom that is only accessible to us if we study hard and memorize and get a degree in Theology. Yes to receive it we must seek it BUT it is a Wisdom freely given to all of us, freely accessible to all of us because every one of us can have the Holy Spirit within us, speaking to us day by day.

The world may try to entice us with its wisdom by appealing to our pride… claiming revelations of deep secrets which only those who are worthy can receive and understand. But all that wisdom is empty:

1 Corinthians 2:14-16 But [the] natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him; and he cannot know [them] because they are spiritually discerned; but the spiritual discerns all things, and *he* is discerned of no one. For who has known the mind of [the] Lord, who shall instruct him? But *we* have the mind of Christ.

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