"For 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. 19 For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." n
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 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. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 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. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
Where does true power lie?
Does true power rest in armies and weapons, in might,
or in symbols and customs,
or in conviction and strength of mind and character?
And who is the really powerful person?
The one who can stand over another and compel them to do what they want them to do: whether through threats or promises?
Or maybe real power lies with the one who can inspire or persuade people to believe what they believe
And who has true power?
Prime Ministers, Presidents, generals, multi-national business leaders, academics, visionaries or even terrorists, with their deadly mix of fanaticism and high explosive?
Our reading from 1 Corinthians talks about true power. And it makes the most shattering claim.
It claims that the ultimate power in the universe is seen in an event: a man dying naked and helpless, jeered by his compatriots, abandoned by his friends, nailed to a plank of wood like a piece of meat.
V23: "We preach Christ crucified - Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God"
To the Jews of the time, it was sheer madness to make such a claim.
They looked for power in the astonishing: the miraculous, the triumphant. Power belongs to the one who can zap others, whether through physical strength or intelligence or money or personality
And they certainly did not consider a man hanging on a cross a sign of power. It is a sign of weakness. Indeed the Old Testament tells us that a person who is hung on a tree is a person is cursed by God.
And to the Greeks, it was sheer madness to make such a claim. They looked for a wisdom that would unlock the secret of the universe. For them, true power would lie with the philosopher who was able to understand ultimate reality.
So an event in history (a man dying on a cross) for them could never be the key to understanding reality. You had to go beyond, above history to understand reality, and the only way to do that was through separating yourself from the world and through contemplation.
And we are no different to the Jews or the Greeks
If I am going to follow a God, then I'm going to choose a God who offers me wealth and power and success and status
I am not going to choose a God who ends up being crucified.
- No wonder the disciples ran away
- No wonder there is some Roman graffiti of the early 2nd century. It shows a person kneeling down before a crucified figure. The crucified figure has the head of a donkey. Underneath someone has written, "Alexandros worships his God"
- No wonder men and women have ridiculed Christianity
- No wonder Nietzsche described Christianity as the religion of slaves: that values the quality of 'pity', the quality that cherishes all that is weak and insignificant and, in Nietzsche's system, is worthy of death.
"Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction; it fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life; by maintaining life in so many of the botched of all kinds, it gives life itself a gloomy and dubious aspect". Nietzsche, The AntiChrist.
So why? Why preach the cross?
Why claim that a crucified man is THE DEMONSTRATION BEYOND ALL DEMONSTRATIONS of the power of God?
1. The cross is the supreme act of love.
We often talk on these occasions about the love that is shown when a person gives their life for their country.
That happened in the Battle of Britain. And today we celebrate the heroism that saw the men and women of the RAF willing to give their lives to defend their country in the face of overwhelming odds.
And that love has been shown many times before and since: when men and women have chosen to serve their country, even to death.
And when the final history of the world is written, from the perspective of eternity, I suspect that we will discover that such acts of genuine service and self-sacrifice will be shown to be far far more significant than acts of self-gratification or of domination over others.
- It will be the story of the family who chose to foster or adopt a child who no one else wants
- It will be the story of the little old lady who spent her time in fasting and prayer
- It will be the story of the person who chose to devote themselves to care for someone severely handicapped
- It will be the story of the man who stands up for a young recruit who is being bullied
- It will be the story of people who choose to run clubs for young people, who visit the housebound, or who open their homes to strangers
- It will be the story of people who give and not of people who get
We preach the cross because the cross is the supreme act of love:
1. Jesus did not just give himself for his friends and his family. Jesus gave himself for his enemies. He gave himself for the people who rejected God, who rejected him, who rejected his way for living, who rejected everything he stood for, and who crucified him.
2. And the cross is the supreme act of love, because on the cross Jesus did not simply go through awful physical pain and death.
He alone took onto himself all our selfishness, guilt, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, pride, unforgiveness and cruelty.
He took onto his shoulders the condemnation for all the sick things that we think or do.
And Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had been with God from all eternity, was separated from God.
Most of us know, to some degree, what it is like to be abandoned. I was hearing from one parent about her son who is training as a pilot in the RAF. He went on one of the exercises when they fly you to the most God forsaken part of this planet, give you 20p, drop you and tell you you've got to walk across 500 miles of tundra. He said to his mum afterwards, "I really thought they had done it this time. I thought they had killed me".
Some of you may know that kind of abandonment.
Others will know other kinds of abandonment: failure, separation, bereavement, shame.
But however much we have felt abandoned, nobody - this side of death - have ever known abandonment by God. Even if you do not believe in him. Even if you cannot see him. Nobody has known abandonment by God apart from Jesus.
Jesus, on the cross, was - uniquely among men and women - dropped into the pitch black icy cold pit of utter abandonment. He became, the bible tells us, "Sin for us".
And God did something that God has never done before. He walked away from him.
And Jesus did that for us. He took onto himself our sin, so that God does not need to walk away from us, so that we can be forgiven, so that we can be given new life.
And actually the cross does demonstrate where ultimate reality and power can be found: not in might but in love, not in dominating over others but in serving others, not in getting but in giving.
2. The cross is the supreme act of power
A man crucified.
From our perspective it is weakness.
But we need to be willing to look at the cross not through our glasses, but through God's glasses
Because as Jesus went to the cross, as he hung on that gibbet, he was defeating the most powerful force in this universe: sin and death.
We know this power of sin: this power that makes us do things that we know are wrong, and that we do not wish to do. And we know this power of sin that separates and divides human being from human being; that separates and divides human beings from the world in which we live.
Some time ago we were told that the problem in our society was that children did not know right from wrong. I disagree. I think most of us know the difference from right and wrong. The problem is that although we know what is right and good, we are unable to do it.
And we also know the awesome and fearful power of death. It shatters dreams; It annihilates identity; It destroys relationships. It takes love and rips it apart.
Jesus on the cross, not only dealt with the consequences of sin; Jesus actually defeated sin.
Satan did everything to stop Jesus going to the cross. Jesus was tempted in ways we cannot begin to imagine. He knew exactly what God wanted him to do, what it would involve, and he did it. That is why, just before he dies, Jesus cries out, 'It is finished'.
It is a cry of triumph: the job is done. It is accomplished.
And because of that, Jesus on the cross defeated death. He looked death smack in the face, walked into it and - unlike anybody else - walked through it. He conquered death.
The death of Jesus on the cross: a picture of human weakness and yet the demonstration of the ultimate power of God.
WHAT ABOUT US?
How do we react to this teaching about the cross?
1. An example of both human cruelty and also human weakness and shame.
Islam, for instance, cannot accept it was Jesus Christ who died on the cross. It appears that the Koran states that someone was substituted in his place at the last moment. How could a prophet, let alone the Son of God, die on a cross? It is a denial of anything that is godlike.
And in this matter, Islam is no different from civil society. Our society today cannot worship a man who is crucified. It looks for conquering gods: heroes on the battle field and stars on the sports pitch. It worships the powerful, the successful, and the wealthy.
2. The supreme act of love and of power?
Are we prepared to worship a man on a cross?
If we do so, then we will begin to understand what real power is and who has real power.
- Real power is the power of love
- Real power is the power that can transform sin enslaved men and women, men and women who would love to love but find themselves unable to love,
- Real power is the power that can implant the seed of love in the human heart.
- Real power is the power to make the weak, the inadequate, the fearful, the broken, people like you and me, into sons and daughters of the living God, and heirs of eternity.
Real power is the power that can turn sinners into saints
And who has this divine, earth shattering power?
Each person who turns to Jesus on the cross and who begins to receive his love.
It is said that Karl Barth, who was without doubt the greatest theologian of the 20th century, and who wrote a million word treatise called Church Dogmatics, was once asked what the most profound thought was that he had ever heard. He replied without hesitation, using the words of a children's song:
'Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so; little one's to him belong. They are weak but he is strong.'