Posts Tagged 'Christ'

1 Corinthians, Part 3

This is what man's wisdom looks like to God:  Foolishness.

This is what man’s wisdom looks like to God: Foolishness.

That the Corinthians were in trouble is clear near the very beginning of Paul’s first letter to them –

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV)

It’s not that Paul expected the congregation at Corinth to be in 100% agreement all the time about everything, but on the essentials of the faith they needed to be for the sake of their testimony in an unbelieving world.

The apostle was upset with the various cliques and schisms that had developed in the Corinthian church. There were groups that were fans and followers of Peter, others of Paul, and still others of Apollos. But that kind of thing was out of place in the church. Their loyalty shouldn’t have been to people but to Jesus Christ. No man died for them save the Son of God and Man, Jesus Christ. The Cross of Christ was what should have been uniting them, and that Cross is what unites all believers, from all time, from all over the world. In fact, the most effective way of dealing with just about any problem in the church is to do what Paul did: Deal with them in light of the Cross and Christ’s great love.

The power of the Cross

Human beings tend to be attracted to educated and eloquent humans. We exalt the latest popular preacher or teacher because we are impressed with their words and ideas. That’s what was happening in Corinth. There were these divisions in the church caused by loyalty to men, rather than loyalty to God. As far as Paul was concerned, he was sent by the Lord to preach, not his own ideas or philosophy but the word of the Cross.

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17 NIV)

In truth, Paul baptized only a few people, not because he thought baptism was unimportant but because he had foreseen this very situation at Corinth. The last thing he wanted was having his converts identify themselves with him. His mission – his whole reason for existence – was simply to preach the Gospel of Christ. His ministry was free from any kind of outer ritual or ceremony.

The power to save a soul doesn’t lie in man’s wisdom but in the preaching of the Cross. God designed it like that so that no man (like Paul or Peter or Apollos) could boast about “the souls he’s saved” in his preaching. It’s never “his preaching” that saves a soul, it’s the Cross – which is the wisdom and power of God.

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. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 19 NIV)

It’s strange, this power of the Cross. Its message saves some and causes others to reject its message. That’s what happens when people hear the salvation message of the Gospel – either the listener accepts it or rejects it. In verse 19, Paul introduces a quotation from Isaiah 29:14 to show how much God deplores and dismisses the wisdom of man as a means of salvation. The whole context of the Isaiah quote is interesting –

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” (Isaiah 29:13, 14 NIV)

This is what Paul saw happening at Corinth. The lines were being drawn; there were supporters of this preacher or that yet their salvation was the result no preacher but rather the word of the Cross.

That message of the Cross, by the way, sounds like nonsense to “those who are perishing.” In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Robert Hughes asks a pertinent question:

How could something that seemed so foolish to most people be salvation to a few?

The answer is very simple and goes back to the Isaiah quote. In terms of what was happening in Corinth, it’s not exactly what was going on in Isaiah’s day, but their worldview was essentially the same as that of the ancient Israelites. They exalted man’s wisdom. In the Isaiah passage, the prophet showed how temporary man’s wisdom is – it vanishes with time, and sometimes it’s God Himself who causes it to vanish. It doesn’t matter how clever or well-spoken a man may be, that man and his teachings will eventually come to an end.

In a rather triumphant tone, Paul asks a question designed to answer itself –

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? (1 Corinthians 1:20 NIV)

While no longer quoting Isaiah directly, he is alluding to things the prophet wrote. Things like this…

In your thoughts you will ponder the former terror: “Where is that chief officer? Where is the one who took the revenue? Where is the officer in charge of the towers?” (Isaiah 33:18 NIV)

In this verse, the prophet is describing the peace that would follow when the terrors of the Assyrian danger had passed. People would be astonished; what they thought would never end or change, did. Here’s another quote –

Where are your wise men now? Let them show you and make known
what the Lord Almighty has planned against Egypt. (Isaiah 19:12 NIV)

We all remember what became of Pharaoh’s wise men and magicians – they were made fools of by the power of God.

The pattern of history proves Paul’s case: God disposes of man’s so-called wisdom one way or another. The Corinthians were obsessing over something temporary and of no consequence. The only wisdom that stands the test of time is God’s wisdom.

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 NIV)

And here’s why man’s wisdom is useless in knowing God: It’s God’s purpose that man’s philosophies will always come up short. There is just no way to know spiritual truths in a non-spiritual way. Now, it is true that some aspects of God’s character may be discerned through natural creation, but salvation can only happen as a result of the preaching of that which some think is foolish: the Cross of Christ.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18 – 20 NIV)

Two groups of people

Paul has been contrasting human and divine wisdom (or power). He introduces another contrast with verses 22 and 23 –

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles… (1 Corinthians 1:22, 23

These were the members of the Corinthian church, converted Jews and Greeks who should have been glorying in the Cross, yet both groups clung to their cultural notions of what wisdom looked like. For the Jews, they were a superstitious lot always looking for signs and the Greeks insisted upon rational explanations for all things. Both groups were trying to squeeze God into their particular world view. Paul would have none of that though; all he would do is preach Christ crucified. In other words, he stuck only to the simple truth of the simple Gospel.

To the nationalistic Jews, whose idea of a Messiah was a political leader, the very idea of a crucified Messiah was, well, a stumbling block many could not get over. The Greeks were looking for a world of peace and harmony and beauty, so the Cross with its violence and ugliness just didn’t fit in with their ideas either.

but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:24, 25 TNIV)

And here’s the rub. Those who had responded to the call of God also discovered what Paul knew: Christ is the “power” of God and the “wisdom” of God. The order of that is not insignificant. We discover the redeeming “power” in salvation from sin before we discover the “wisdom” from God. That’s precisely why the unsaved (the Jew or the Gentile) make no sense of the Cross of Christ. They need to experience it first before they can hope to understand it.

Preaching: God’s means of deliverance

To help drive home his point, Paul asked his readers to remember where they came from. They weren’t the smartest or most educated when God called them. Intelligence had nothing to do with their salvation. Of course, this doesn’t mean God only calls ignorant people; He calls all people to repentance. In fact, Barclay makes some interesting points on this:

There was Dionysius at Athens (Acts 17:34); Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Crete (Acts 13:6 – 12); the noble ladies at Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:4, 12); Erastus, the chamberlain, probably from Corinth (Romans 16:23). In the time of Nero, Pomponia Graecina, the wife of Plautius, the conqueror of Britian, was martyred for her Christianity. Flavius Clemens, the cousin of the Emperor himself, was martyred as a Christian. Toward the end of the second century, Pliny, the governor or Bithynia, wrote to Trajan the Roman Emperor, saying that the Christians came from ever rank in society.

And, of course, let’s add Constantine who, in 312 AD, formally accepted Christianity as his religion.

But the great mass of Christians was made up the rank and file of society – slaves and freedmen, simple and humble people. And in Corinth, Paul pointed this out. And he pointed out, brilliantly so, that God often chooses to use the simple things (people) to get the job done.

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. (1 Corinthians 1:27 – 29 TNIV)

So we’ve come full circle. God uses the very people we’d least expect Him to use for His glory so that nobody can boast about their great talents or station in life. Wise and educated, wealthy and influential may be able to steal God’s glory (though certainly not all of them do). In contrast, though, Christians – especially of the type Paul is writing to here – may glory in Christ because in Him they have experienced true wisdom and true power. By the world’s standards, they may be nonentities, but through their choice of the Cross they have demonstrated the highest wisdom and experienced the greatest wisdom and power the universe has ever known.

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. (1 Corinthians 1:30 TNIV)

This is a powerful verse that shows how truly blessed believers are. Christ is wisdom to us because He reveals and imparts wisdom, counsel, and the purposes of God to us through prayer and the Word. Through our ongoing relationship with Christ, God manifests more and more of His expansive character, allowing us glimpses of His splendor and mind, giving us a deeper and more profound appreciation for what He did for us. W. Grosheide, in his commentary of 1 Corinthians, put it like this:

What we are and have, we are and have received from God through Christ. United to Christ we are righteous and holy, since all those blessings are founded in His work. Redemption, often used of the liberation of slaves through the payment of a ransom, indicates the way Christ delivers us…by His sacrifice, His death on the cross. In surrendering Himself, He brings us knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.

Christ: God’s Final Word

A Brief Exposition of Hebrews 1:1-4

As we read the epistles in the New Testament, we notice a common theme: believers are exhorted to remain faithful “in the last days.” The letter to the Hebrews does this in a powerful way and its message is relevant today, a day that is marked by apostasy in the Churches of Jesus Christ. Unlike Jude, for example, which goes into great and extended detail about false teachers, the writer to the Hebrews chooses, instead, to dwell on the excellencies of Jesus Christ and how superior He is to any man or any angel or any created thing.

We call it The Epistle to the Hebrews, and yet this letter doesn’t resemble any of the other letters in the New Testament. The usual greetings and salutations are omitted, but the author writes in an intimate style, using the personal pronoun often. Though the names of the recipients are not mentioned, we do know that it was written to a specific congregation originally, but was intended to be circulated among the congregations of the day. As Kistemaker wrote in his commentary:

The message conveyed is addressed to the church of all ages and places. If there is any epistle in the New Testament that addresses the church universal in the days prior to Jesus’ return, it is the Epistle to the Hebrews.

1. The Prologue, 1:1-4

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (TNIV)

In the original language, the first four verses are actually one long sentence that make up the prologue, or the introduction, to the letter. The structure of this sentence is significant; the subject of the first verb is “God,” for He is always before the author. In fact, the word “God” appears 68 times throughout the epistle, once every 73 words. No other New Testament writing speaks of God so often.

The very first thing we notice about God in Hebrews is that He is active and His activities in the past had a purpose: to reveal Himself to all men. The first divine activity mentioned is that in the past, “God spoke to our [Hebrew] ancestors.” This is not referring to a general revelation of God’s Person in nature, like Paul writes about in Romans, but a specific revelation to a specific group of people: the ancestors or forefathers of the Hebrews. God spoke in a variety of ways to these people:

  • He spoke to Moses in the burning bush, Exodus 3.
  • To Elijah in a still, small voice, 1 Kings 9.
  • To Isaiah in a vision in the temple, Isaiah 6.
  • To Hosea in his family circumstances, Hosea 1:2.
  • To Amos in a basket of summer fruit, Amos 8.

God also spoke through dreams and visions, through angels, through the Urim and Thummim, through symbols and signs. through natural events and even through smoke. And God’s speaking to man was not limited to one location. He spoke in Ur of the Chaldees, in Haran, in Canaan, in Egypt, on the edge of the Red Sea, and in the middle of the desert. Certainly God is a God of variety who met man where man was; He did not wait for man to find Him. Hebrew history can be said to be the history of God pursuing man.

The author in the opening words of his letter is referring to how God spoke in the past to the previous generations of Hebrews in order to show how He continues to speak to people today, in a different way, through His Son, Jesus Christ, a point he will drive home in a few verses. The word translated “fathers” and “forefathers” is probably more accurately translated “ancestors,” as in the TNIV because the thought is that God did not just limit his speaking to the patriarchs only, who were men, but also to women, like Esther, Ruth, and many others.

God’s self-revelation was progressive throughout history in that the words of the prophets and the writings of Moses, for example, were cumulative. As Richard Taylor noted,

As a small stream becomes a mighty river, so did the Word of God become massive and full-orbed, sufficient to prepare the Jews and confirm these Hebrew Christians if they had had eyes to see and ears to hear.

F.F. Bruce put it another way:

The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond Him.

The many fragments of God’s progressive revelation to man in the past, if pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle, would reveal the Son; who Himself taught that the Old Testament was a adequate witness to Himself, John 5:39-47.

The finality of God’s revelation in Christ is brought to the fore with verse two and its contrast between past revelations of God (“in the past”) and the revelation of “these last days.” That phrase comes from the LXX, the Greek Old Testament, and there it refers to the days of the Messiah. The author to the Hebrews applies it to the coming of Jesus Christ in the world as the Messiah. The word “but” is important because it serves to distinguish the Son of God from the ancestors and prophets of the past. In other words, Jesus Christ is not just another in a long line of prophets to whom God revealed Himself. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, by coming into the world of man has inaugurated a “new age,” a Messianic Age, where He is the final Word of God to man.

The first two verses, then, contrast the prophets, who were specially chosen by God to convey His word to the people, and the Son of God, who surpasses all the prophets because He is the Son. This is brought out in the Greek where the emphasis in verse two is on the word Son. So the thought is this: God began speaking to man through the prophets and finished speaking to man through the Son.

With verse three, the contrast between the prophets of the past and the Son of the present changes to a comparison between the Son and the Father. How favorably is the comparison? There are five main points that deserve quick consideration.

  • The Son is the radiance of the Father’s glory. The word translated “radiance” or “reflection” is a difficult word in the Greek. It may refer either to a either a radiance of brightness bursting forth from within or a reflection of light from without. Or perhaps it means both, since in Christ we see the Son of God, His own Person, and we see God the Father as being the Son.

Jesus Himself hinted at this in John 8:12 where He declared that He was the “light of the world” and that in Him there is no darkness at all. Hughes observes,

Jesus’ radiance is not so much the glory of the Son’s deity shining through His humanity, but the glory of God being manifested in the perfection of His manhood completely attuned as it was to the will of the Father.

  • The exact representation of his being. The word translated “representation” is from an unusual Greek word, charakter, occurring only here in the whole New Testament. Originally, it described a tool used to engrave or stamp an image onto something. Used here, it could denote God stamping His perfect image upon His Son so that the Son is completely the same in His being as the Father. Nevertheless, even though an imprint is the same as the stamp that made the impression, both exist separately. So the Son, who bears the image of the Father and the stamp of the Father’s nature, is not the Father but proceeds from the Father and has a separate existence. And yet, as Jesus explained, whoever has seen Him has seen the Father, so exact is the image (John 14:9).
  • Sustaining all things by his powerful word. The Greek pheron, translated “sustaining” means “to carry along.” The author does not mean to suggest that Jesus is like Atlas, merely holding up the world like a piece of dead weight. The thought is that Jesus is carrying the world along, toward a predetermined goal; the word is dynamic, not static. This is an important distinction becaue many people, including many believers, view God as being real, but uninvolved in the working of the world. Their idea of God is that He created all things, including man, then set them on them on the world like actors on a stage, with God sitting afar off, watching what man does. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as the author to the Hebrews writes. God, through Jesus Christ, is literally carrying the world along to the destiny He ordained for it. Notice the scope of this: the Son carries “all things,” the universe is seen here as a single unit. And He does this all by a mere word. The Son of God, the ruler of the universe, utters a word and all things listen in complete obedience to His voice.
  • [H]e had provided purification for sins. This is Christ’s work on behalf of sinners. Literally, the word “purification” comes from a term used in the New Testament of “ritual cleansing,” but here it refers to the complete removal of sin. Implicit in this statement is a statement that describes the awfulness of sin: it defiles and stains. But Christ has completely removed that stain. The verb “provided” is in the aorist tense, meaning the cleansing done on our behalf is a completed act, based on something Jesus Christ did at a fixed point in history.
  • [H]e sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Sitting is the posture of rest, and the position, at the right hand, denotes a place of highest honor. Having completed the task assigned of Him, the Son returned to Heaven to take His place, once more, at the helm of the universe, by His Father’s side. Of course, the expressions “sit down” and “the right hand” are more symbolic than literal. The point the author is making is that the Son of God’s saving work is complete, nothing more can be added to what He has wrought, not even by Himself. Everything necessary to secure the salvation of man is in place, awaiting a response from man himself.

2. Our response

What is man’s response to what Jesus did for him? For believers, when we study these verses we should be filled with a sense of holy gratitude for the work of the Son. And that gratitude should motivate us to praise Him and exalt His Name. But more than that, what He did for us should inspire us to live lives that glorify Him and please Him.

For those who don’t know the Jesus we know, the knowledge of the gospel makes little sense to them. But as they learn more of the wondrous love God has for them, we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will draw them to Himself and that they will receive a gift of grace to reach out in faith to believe and accept this glorious salvation.

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