1 Corinthians 1:1-2:5
What would convince the world to believe in God?
I once asked an atheist the question: “What would convince you to believe in God?” He answered:
“Until god appears before me as a burning bush or I see his picture on the front of popular science magazines I will remain a non-believer.”
It strikes me that those two kinds of “evidence” represent the two kinds of ways the world looks for God. We either want the miracle-encounter or we want the rational proof. Both would be preferable, but usually people lean towards one kind of evidence or another.
Some of us say, “It doesn’t have to make sense to me but if God just showed up in awesome wonder, if He just demonstrated His supernatural powers in some out-of-this-world miracle, that would do it for me.” Others would say, “I don’t need a burning bush, just show me the equations, take me through the logical arguments, give me the scientific proof, demonstrate that it’s reasonable, then I’ll believe.”
As Paul wrote to Christians in Corinth he recognised these two kinds of thinking. He identified the “power” people with the Jews and the “wisdom” people with the Greeks. This makes sense. The Jews were a people with whom God had been very hands-on. They were a people to whom God had shown up in mighty acts and so they were a people that came to expect miraculous signs. On the other hand the Greeks had been left to piece things together from a distance. They were used to trusting their own minds to reveal the truth. Therefore, says Paul:
“The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 1:22)
Notice that both the “power” people and the “wisdom” people are making demands of God. They are both saying to God, “These are the terms by which I am prepared to do business with you.” Yet Paul says that God is in the business of frustrating all such demands. He goes on…
“But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” (1 Corinthians 1:23)
Here is the way God shows up: In a world full of power-lovers and wisdom-seekers, He shows up on a cross. It’s not the way anyone expected. And it’s not the way anyone wants. In fact it is scandalous to the world.
The word “stumblingblock” is a translation of the Greek work skandalon. It’s something that causes you to trip up. But this is how God wants it. For a people looking up for signs in the sky, God wants a big rock laid in their path so that they stumble and fall. For a people looking down into their microscopes or fine tuning their logical arguments, He confronts them, not with something obviously wiser, but with something blatantly foolish.
The miracle-lover is given weakness – a bloodied corpse on a cross. The wisdom-seeker is given foolishness – a God who dies! It is precisely what they didn’t want. Yet it’s just what God wants preached.
Therefore those who preach Christ should be prepared to be scorned as the most frustrating, bemusing, scandalous, pathetic God-peddlers imaginable. Christian preachers simply do not give people what they want. They are forever laying before the world a giant stumblingblock.
But in the next verse, there’s a true miracle that can happen.
“But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24)
Here is the greatest miracle imaginable: someone can stumble upon the cross and say: “My Lord and My God!” In amidst this perishing world, someone can see the perishing LORD and say, “There is God’s power and wisdom.”
Because it is powerful. Immensely powerful. Any old despot can rule over people. What kind of strength does it take to serve beneath them? Any old debater can out-argue another. What kind of wisdom does it take to subvert every term of the discussion and turn the arguments right-side-up? That’s what the cross does. It shows a greater power and a deeper wisdom, not by agreeing with the world’s definitions but by revolutionising them. As verse 25 says:
“Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
There is an incomparable wisdom and strength to the cross – death defeated through dying, the curse conquered through condemnation, the devil vanquished by losing, the Son glorified in shame. It’s the wisdom that is not built upon human foundations, rather it undermines every human foundation. It’s the strength that overpowers by surrender, disarming every show of earthly force. When a person stumbles over the cross and sees it for its true wisdom and power, they are won by a very different God.
You see the living God can never be found by the earthly search for power and wisdom. Because the living God is not a super-human. He’s not like us just with a few more muscles or brain-cells. But our sinful selves would love it if He were. We have a lot invested in thinking of God as some super-despot. In many ways, that would suit us just fine because then we’d be justified in seeking to be rid of Him.
One atheist told me he’d believe in God if He made the stars to spell out the ten commandments in the sky. But what a dreadful god that would be! Such a god simply stays at a distance, pulls off some magic tricks (that are no good to anyone), and is basically interested in making us behave. If God were like that we’d have every reason to hate and run from Him.
But this is why it’s imperative to lay the stumblingblock in people’s way. If natural man is seeking a god, it can only be an idol. We must give them Christ crucified. There on the cross is the living God – the God who does not stay at a distance, the God who does not glorify Himself with cheap magic tricks, the God who is not basically concerned with keeping us moral. No, this God draws near. This God stoops and serves and bleeds and dies. And He does it not to enforce our goodness but to forgive our badness.
Never give people what they want. Give them Christ crucified. When they stumble over the cross they’ll see a God more wonderful than anything they’d imagined.