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Foolish Cross

Date: Apr. 1, 2018

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Key Verse: 1 Corinthians 1:18

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.

I want to start off by welcoming everybody who came today. It is the second day of our Easter event and if you came to our first day, I want to thank you for returning today, so you can get the rest of the story. If you weren’t able to make it to the first day, but are here for our second, we are happy to have you and I am certain that you will not get lost today. You see, today is Easter Sunday, but it is also April Fools’ Day. In honor of April Fools’ Day, I am going to make a bit of a fool of myself, by telling a few jokes. Are you ready? If anybody here is ever cold, just stand in a corner for a bit. They are usually 90 degrees. Let’s talk about some current events. We’re in a big city and there is quite a bit of crime, but did you hear about the two guys who stole a calendar? They each got six months and their days are numbered. Does anybody here like going out to the woods and do some hiking and camping? There are all those trees around, but I have a question for you. Why do you never see elephants hiding in the trees? They’re really good at it. At the beginning of the year, I took my kids to the Field Museum, they really wanted to see the dinosaurs. In the main they had this flying dinosaur hanging from the ceiling, but it got me thinking: why can’t you hear a pterodactyl going to the bathroom? Because the ‘P’ is silent. It’s spring now and I have started to hear and see the birds returning to the area. I’ve seen some robins and red cardinals. There was one more; help me out with this. What is orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot. Just last week, I was behind a funeral procession on 31ststreet and it reminded me of the last thing my grandpa said to me before he kicked the bucket. He said, “Hey, how far do you think I can kick this bucket?” Last year, I went to Malaysia. It is a beautiful country with lots of green forests and jungles. But do you know what’s the stupidest animal in the jungle? A polar bear. Not too long ago, I have a few people ask me what is the difference between ignorance and apathy? I don’t know, and I don’t care. Since it is also Easter, my last joke has a biblical bend to it. One of the things about Easter is that Jesus died to give us eternal life. And the Lord said to John, “Come forth and receive eternal life.” But John came fifth and received a nice toaster. Thank you! That concludes are Easter worship service. It is time for lunch, and today we are having marshmallows and ketchup. Who’s hungry? April Fools’! Combining April Fools’ Day and Easter is a wonderful thing. Most of the world already thinks that it is foolish to follow Jesus, and having our God die on the cross is dumb, but to those who believe, it is the power of God.

Yesterday, we heard from Sam that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He died so that we could live. Jesus was an innocent man, condemned to death on the flimsiest of evidence, and killed in the most gruesome way possible. Jesus was forsaken on the cross, abandoned by God the Father, as he became sin for humanity. He died, was buried and even had a guard posted to make sure no one would take the body. On the third day Jesus rose again. Death could not keep him. It is an amazing thing that happened, and it can be hard to believe. For some people, the gospel is so hard to believe that they think it is foolish. Which brings us to our passage today. “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.” (18) Have you ever felt ashamed of believing in God or specifically Jesus? Have you ever felt afraid to let your friends or coworkers know that you are a Christian or interested in Christianity? Do you think that they will think of you as strange and believing in fairy tales? It is common for people to think that, if we believe in God, we might as well believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and there are people out there mocking with a little FSM on their cars, like some Christians have the fish on their cars. Believing in Christ is seen as idiotic as believing in Jedi.

People want to believe in what they see and feel. Their experiences drive their knowledge, but experiences can be lacking. The things we see and feel can give us an incomplete picture. We get a lot of information, but somethings elude us. We don’t know everything and that can lead us to come to some wrong conclusions based on that incomplete information. In math, if you are trying to estimate the type of curve based on the data, you need a certain amount of data. If you only have two data points, you can only estimate the curve is a line. That is all you can do. With an incomplete picture you cannot find the true shape. With three data points, the most you can estimate is a parabola, and if your data points are too clustered together, you can’t even estimate that. That is simple math. In the real world, things are much more complex. The equations that govern fluid mechanics are so complex that they are unsolvable without making certain assumptions. You have to discard certain parameters because they are insignificant for certain cases, and you solve a reduced equation that is very limited. That complexity is ever so much greater in life. Our lives affect each other, and the weather affects our mood. What we eat and drink affect how we grow. What we see is based on a series of things that have to happen in concert before they even get to us. For example, we are all here at our Easter event, but before he got here, there were weeks of planning for this Easter event, with lots of moving pieces. Life is complex, and we don’t know everything. Our own experiences only provide us with a small window in to existence, and we have to accept that fact.

When we don’t accept that fact, we become proud, but God is always there to remind us of how limited we are. “For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (19-20) Because our wisdom, our knowledge, our intelligence is so limited, it is easy to destroy it and frustrate it. Some people think that science and God are opposing thoughts, but they are not. Science is the pursuit of knowledge and, ultimately, with an open mind, it should lead us to be amazed at God and we learn more about him. Unfortunately, when we make pursuit of knowledge about personal glory, we get frustrated because there is no end. There are so many scientific studies that contradict each other. Coffee is good for you because of one thing, but bad for you because of another. So, is coffee good or bad? Raw meat can make you sick, but well-done meat can give you cancer. Lately, it sounds like everything you eat can give you cancer. It can be maddening to keep it all straight. Even in other areas, what we think we know is time and time again proven false. A few weeks ago, some data from the Juno probe that is going around Jupiter was analyzed, and the results were unexpected. Jupiter is a gas giant, so it is mostly helium and hydrogen. There are all these swirls of gas and storms on the surface that we can see. Those storms are atmospheric and follow similar patters to weather here. It was assumed that this weather pattern only continued a few kilometers into the planet, but the probe found out that the weather pattern extended 3000 km into Jupiter, far deeper than anyone expected. Our understanding of planets has to be rewritten because of it, as will any computational model. We are constantly finding out that we don’t know everything.

The same goes for the thoughts on who we are. Our philosophy and morality are constantly being shown their limitations. We talk so much about diversity and many things being fluid, but much of what we talk about are fringe cases, not the norm. We say bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people, but that does not account for the suffering that exists planet wide. Karma is an interesting concept, but it is lacking. Also, survival of the fittest makes no sense. If survival of the fittest rules, then the poor, downtrodden, injured and sick should just be left behind. Instead, we take care of those who need help and invent ways to improve the lives of those who are lacking. We create prosthetics for those who are missing limbs, and we find medicines to alleviate pain and heal. None of that makes any sense. This wisdom of the world is in many ways, just foolishness.

Unfortunately, we humans are blind to our limitations. We think that we can do anything and that we know everything. We are like a proud kid that thinks they know it all. They are boisterous because they are insecure, but do not want to admit it. Because of our pride and insecurity, we are unable to come to God. Our passage says, “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.” (21) In order for us to understand what Jesus did and why, we have to, first, let go of what we think we know. We have to accept our limitations and drop our pride. We don’t know everything. Even the collective knowledge of humanity is just a small portion of all knowledge. Salvation from this world comes by simply believing what was preached, the gospel that we heard.

Now, that gospel message can be hard to believe. Sam told us that message and this passage says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (22-24) The Jews, Jesus’ own people, were a very spiritual people. They wanted proof of divine power through miracles and Greeks, which is a term to mean the rest of the world at the time, were very logical. They sought insight into the inner workings of things in order to better humanity. The Jews sought salvation through divine power and the Greeks sought salvation through human efforts, but the gospel is Christ crucified, which is just a stumbling block to both of those ideas. To the Jews, they were looking for salvation by a conquering hero. The might of God would flow through is veins and would create a new political power to rule the earth, but instead, they were faced with a king dying on the cross. A man who looks defeated by the very people he was supposed to conquer. The Gentiles thought that good people had good things done to them and evil people got what they deserved, but they, too, faced a savior on the cross. To them, it was unfathomable that a savior could die a gruesome death. He could not have been a good person. These two thoughts are still prevalent today. There are so many people that get caught up in the fact that Jesus is not a conquering hero, nor that a good, innocent man and even God could be killed in such a horrendous manner, but we have to suspend our disbelief and look deeper into the matter, because Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

This is an amazing thing to think about. We heard a bit of it yesterday and you might have talked about it in your group studies. Jesus’ death on the cross was something that God was preparing for a very long time. All the way back to when the first man and the first woman first sinned against God, God promised that there would be one to crush the head of the serpent while the serpent attacked the heel of the man. This is referring to Satan, the devil, attacking a man, while the man would crush the devil. Satan’s attack was to make sure Jesus was crucified, but Satan was crushed by that very act, because if Jesus did not die, he could not rise and conquer death. We might think that the best way to get rid of evil is to get rid of all the evil people and keep the good ones, but God showed us that doesn’t work when he did that. He wiped out the whole earth, except the one good person and his family. But, after everyone else was gone, sin was still there, because sin still exists even in the best of us. So, God promised never to do that again, because it doesn’t work. Instead, God had a better plan, a more powerful plan and a wiser plan: Jesus. God started planting clues to his plan throughout history. He had special servants write down what his savior would go through. He would experience anguish and pain. He would be crushed and despised. He would be alone, mocked and shamed. God would have so much detail written down, centuries and millennia earlier, that there would be no doubt that he was orchestrating the whole thing. Even minor details, like Jesus’ clothes being divided among the soldiers by casting lots or not a bone in Jesus body was broken was written down a thousand years before it happened.

When we plan things, we have a Plan A and maybe a Plan B and C, too, but inevitably, Plan A will have complications or will fail. Many times, we expect the plan to fail, but God only has one plan and it will not fail. Our sinful nature and the devil try to put a wrench into the plans, but God even uses those things to further his plans. God showed Israel that the punishment for sin is death and atonement is only made through a perfect sacrifice, blood for blood. Our sins required our death or a perfect sacrifice. But the Bible mentions, “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:13-14) The sacrifice system could only, at most, make us outwardly clean, it could not fix our internal problem because an animal is not worth the same as a person. However, a perfect person could do that. The blood of Christ is powerful enough to cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death. Therefore, Christ had to die for us all to be saved. Satan thought that he was getting a victory by sending Jesus to the cross. Satan thought that he was getting a victory because he had God killed, but it was all a part of God’s plan to save us. Satan was being used as a tool, even though he didn’t know it! That’s power! How powerful you must be to use your enemy’s supposed victory as your own victory over him!

Not only was Jesus’ death a victory, it continued on to Jesus’ resurrection. God died, but God did not stay dead. The punishment for sin is death, but Jesus became sin for us and died for us, but he did not stay dead. He went through death, back to life and opened the door for us to follow suit. Since he died for us, we rise with him to a new life, one where we are changed, improved, healed and powerful. This is God’s wisdom and power at work. Sometimes, it can seem silly to us, but “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (25) God at his worst is better than we are at our best. We may marvel at our knowledge of how something works, but God created that very thing.

It is at this point, that the author of this letter, a guy named Paul, turns his attention to his readers, “Brothers and sisters, 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.” (26) Now, when you read that it sounds like Paul is throwing a little shade at his readers. He’s calling his readers dumb and useless. I don’t know how you would feel if I started calling you names, pointing out that you are the type of people who would go into the corner when they are cold, because corners are mostly 90 degrees. What sounds like an insult is Paul just saying that his readers were ordinary people. They were all ordinary, average people, like us here. Chances are that none of us will be Nobel prize candidates or win the NBA MVP and the championship. None of us, by our own efforts, will be world changers. Chances are that we won’t become the president or the next Billy Graham. Chances are that we will be ordinary people, with ordinary jobs, doing very ordinary things, but that’s God’s point.

The passage continues, “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. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (27-29) God chose the fools to shame the wise. God chose the weak to shame the strong. He took the low and the worst just to show everybody that our efforts do not matter. You are a fool. Did you expect to hear that on Easter? You, you who are sitting here, are a fool, but that is useful to God. We have to be fools to believe such foolishness, according to this world. How can something that happened two thousand years ago help us right now? How can a man on a cross take away your pain and suffering? How can Jesus be the answer? How is the cross the power and wisdom of God? How can we be saved and healed by just believing something that happened so long ago? It makes no sense, but if we could just accept it, then we can see it.

The passage says next, “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.” (30) God is the only one that could show us the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection. I could speak to you until I am blue in the face, but I can never change your heart. It is only something that God can show you. God is the only one who can show you that we have to accept Jesus as our righteousness, holiness and redemption, but we have to take the foolish step. The world tells us that we need to put our best face forward. Social media is all about curating the perfect life, selectively leaving out the nasty details, but being a fool for Jesus means admitting the wrongs we have done and how much we need Jesus.

I have been standing up here, giving messages on a rotation for nearly ten years now, but it wasn’t always that way. I didn’t grow up as a Christian and I never went to church as a kid. The first time I attended church was as a grad student. Prior to that time, I, too, focused on scientific truth and sought to quench the thirst of my mind. I thought all knowledge about God was silly or unnecessary. It was foolish to believe in God because there was nothing to gain in it. But as I went through my life, I was constantly frustrated. All my efforts to further myself were frustrated. For all my supposed intelligence, I was a failure that amounted to nothing. My grades didn’t automatically lead to success. In fact, I didn’t have a practical way to turn my intelligence into something real. Even when I started to study the Bible, I was resistant for years not learning anything. But God humbled my heart and showed me that I am a sinner. I have been so racked with sin, that I am dripping with it. I was too proud to see it before, but God opened my eyes. He convicted my heart and I could finally see my need for Jesus. I became a fool by the world’s standard, but really, I was always one because I refused God. I still struggle with sin, but because of Jesus and the cross, some of the greatest pain that I had has given away to peace. My life is still filled with stress and frustration, but God is changing me in how I deal with it. He is showing me that he is always watching out for me, because if Jesus was willing to die for me on the cross, surely, he will help me to deal with whatever I am going through.

And it is no different for each and every one of us here, with no exception. Your sin, pride and disobedience made you a foe of God, but he still fought for you. And, he relentlessly pursues you until one day your eyes can be opened to how much he loves you. It might seem foolish for God to love you so much that he would be willing to die for you, but that is his power, the power of the love that he has for you that he will willing to do anything for you, even die on the cross. So, that is what he did, and just when it looked like he was defeated by death, our God has robbed the grave. No matter what the enemy tries to disprove the resurrection, God has used it as proof of his return. The guard that was to stand watch at the tomb became witnesses of the risen Jesus, so much so that they had to be bribed to keep quiet. So many people knew that he died, and so many people knew that he rose again. It is not foolishness that Christ’s death gave way to victory, but it is a brilliant way to show that death has lost its power and that Satan is impotent. In fact, that power flows through those who believe, and we are being brought back to life because of it. In the strength that Jesus brings to us, we don’t have to be fearful or ashamed because we know the truth. If other people want to call us fools for believing in Jesus, let them. Wear that as a badge of honor, because in God’s foolishness there is more strength, power and wisdom than in the entire wisdom of the world and God wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s be fools, it’s just our day.

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Amos 6:1-14

Key Verse: 6:8b

The Lord GOD has sworn by himself, declares the LORD, the God of hosts:

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