Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Open Eyes and Soft Hearts (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)

“For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22–25, NASB95)

For some people there is no satisfactory answer to, “Prove it!” I went to an online dictionary to look at the common American meanings of the word “proof” and found a long list of meanings. Some of them I set aside because they dealt with the percentage of an item in a product such as metal or alcohol. But even there I thought about not being so quick to set them aside because that percentage might in reality reflect the relative percentage that man applies in his own mind when “proofs” are given. In the metal or the alcohol or even in mathematics the proofs can be calculated with a significant certainty. But once we step away from some of these we find that the acknowledgement of “proofs” tend to rest more in the view of the person receiving them than the person making them.

Consider for example a court case, where in a legal sense the word “proof” means “all the facts, admissions, and conclusions drawn from evidence which together operate to determine a verdict or judgment” (Collins Dictionary online). Notice that the proofs presented are used to determine a conclusion concerning guilt. There have been countless cases in the history of our judicial system where to most of us the evidence for or against someone might seem overwhelming, but the jury has decided contrary to how we think it really should have gone. For these jurors there was either some fact or possibly even more likely some bias that colored their opinion. Is there ever 100% incontrovertible evidence that demands that everyone who sees or hears the facts must agree with them as absolute proof? Our culture has grasped onto this in a big way, and the tendency to question “proofs” and to speculate something else unseen has become rampant, leaving many shaking their heads in the wake.

Paul wrote, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom….” For these people, there was not going to be enough proof. In the history of the people of Israel, God had a long track record of proving Himself through miraculous works. A big one, which is represented in the beginning of their religious year, is the Feast of Unleavened Bread when YHWH (G_d, Yahweh, the LORD) set His people free from Israel. But when Christ stood before them and performed miraculous works in front of their very eyes only some of them believed, while the rest took Him to the cross. For these hardhearted people who wanted something else, there were not going to be enough signs.

The Greeks, on the other hand, who were big in their own philosophies and cult practices were used to a preponderance of deities and competing thoughts. For them, the discussion and the collection of wisdom could even be seen more as an issue of pride than the legitimate seeking to grow in understanding. Consider the parenthetical words of Acts 17:21 just before Paul speaks to the men of Athens in the midst of the Areopagus, “(Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)” (Acts 17:21, NASB95) In speaking to them about their “UNKNOWN GOD” who they worshipped in ignorance, we read, ““Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”” (Acts 17:30–32, NASB95)

Paul preached the simple straightforward truth of the gospel. He preached Christ crucified and resurrected. When Jesus was requested by scribes and Pharisees to prove Himself by showing them a sign, Jesus answered them saying, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. “The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:39–42, NASB95)

Sings and words were not going to be enough for the Jews and the Greeks or anyone else. There was only one proof spoken of that would be adequate, and that is the message of the crucifixion of Christ and the great proof of its veracity through His bodily resurrection. This is what Paul preached because he knew that it was the only message that being believed would bring salvation to man. And, this message carried with it the greatest proof that would ever be given—the resurrection of Christ. It was this message that Paul used to bring this letter to the Corinthians to an end. It is that important.

Jumping ahead again to chapter 15 we read, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8, NASB95)

There was enough proof and information for someone to hear, believe, and be saved. But we read that for the Jews these proofs were a stumbling block and for the Greeks they were foolishness. The problem is not in the proof, but in the heart of the juror who has ruled differently. It was in response to this that Paul added, “but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, “Christ crucified” is “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

What seems so foolish to those who are lost is the greatest truth concerning God that man can ever know. I am so thankful to God for opening my eyes to see and softening my heart to hear.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”” (Romans 1:16–17, NASB95)

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