Summary: Lift High the Cross (not your intelligence)1) The cross marks true wisdom 2) The cross contains true power
Are you smarter than a 5th grader? That’s what the producers of a new television show want to find out. I took an online quiz from the show’s website and found out that I am not smarter than a 5th grader. I didn’t know that when you mix the colors red and blue you get purple. (I thought you got green…) Did I ever tell you I got a “D” in art class?
It’s a bit humbling to admit that I am not smarter than a 5th grader. After all, we live in a society that prizes intelligence. It was that way in the Apostle Paul’s day too. That explains why some of the church members in Corinth weren’t all that impressed with Paul. As far as they were concerned, Paul didn’t speak with great intelligence or eloquence. But Paul didn’t mind being viewed as a simpleton. His goal, after all, was not to show off his intelligence but to preach Christ crucified – a message that seems foolish and weak, but, as we’ll learn today, it is a message that marks true wisdom and contains true power. Therefore the Holy Spirit urges us to lift high the cross, and not our intelligence, as we go about our business as Christians.
The Greeks were especially critical of Christianity during Paul’s day. They had no use for Christ or the cross because they were certain that if they tried hard enough, they would be able to find happiness on their own. The Greeks believed that by training the mind and the body one could get rid of undesirable qualities and achieve a god-like status. While the Greeks made advances in science, math, and government, their philosophizing didn’t lead to lasting happiness. That’s because Greek philosophers failed to recognize just how corrupt human nature is. They thought there was enough good in mankind to override our moral corruption which makes this world such a trying place to live.
Many people today still believe the Greeks were on to something. In fact Rhonda Byrne recently wrote a book (now also a movie) called “The Secret” in which she suggests that if we only had positive thoughts about ourselves, good things would happen. But that’s like saying that a car with poor alignment would stay on the road if we only spoke kindly to it and had positive thoughts about its handling. Think nice thoughts all you want, your car won’t drive straight until you get the alignment fixed! And so we can try all we want to make ourselves into better people but we’ll never achieve lasting happiness, because sin, ours and others’, will always leave a mess in our lives, like the discarded chocolate bar will always lead to a mess in the living room should the dog get hold of it.
Instead of ignoring sin, Paul says to lift high the cross and acknowledge it. Acknowledge that what put Jesus on that cross, that what made him suffer rejection by his heavenly Father was our rebelliousness. What? Admit that we’ve done wrong? Go ahead and admit it, the world says, just don’t take the blame for it. The reason you lied to your parents about where you were is because a friend asked you to cover for him. The reason you were curt with your sister on the phone is because she never asks how you are doing. You wouldn’t be so impatient if everyone was as efficient and responsible as you… No, you’re not to blame for your sins. So don’t harbor any negative thoughts about yourself. Think only positive ones and you’ll be happy.
Just as the driver who ignores his poor alignment may, as a result, get himself into a serious accident, so those who fail to take responsibility for their sin will find themselves in a serious bind come Judgment Day. Then we will no longer be able to ignore our poor alignment because God will make it public and ask why we didn’t do anything about it? Actually what God will ask is why we didn’t believe that he had fixed our alignment. He has? Yes. He did when Jesus, his Son, was crucified. You see the message of Christ crucified is not so foolish because it does not sweep our problem of sin under the rug. God exposed our sin and revealed his hatred for it when he punished his Son on the cross. But God also demonstrated his love for us there at the cross by punishing Jesus instead of us. The cross proclaims that our sin has been neutralized, not minimized. The cross is like the scar from your last surgery. It testifies that the tumor, which would have killed you, has been cut out, not ignored in hopes that it would go away.