March 1, 2015 by Pastor Ben McIntire
1 CORINTHIANS 1:18-25
“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.” 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 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. 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. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
It is March, a month named after the Roman god of war: Mars. In the Greco-Roman pantheon, Mars (or Aries in Greek) was the fiercest warrior that a nation could call on for divine assistance when going into battle. It’s from Mars’ name that we get lots of military words such as MARch, MARtial law, and the MARtial arts. This highly favored warrior god is what the Romans, Greeks, and even the Israelites probably imagined when they thought about a god of power and might.
We know that Israel was looking for a Messiah, a Savior to restore the Kingdom of David to its former glory, during the time when the Romans controlled their land. Herod was still the King of Israel, but his power was subordinate to the Roman governors. And let’s face it, Herod was no kind of warrior or powerful king, and he certainly was not a good man—having all the infant boys slaughtered at the time of Jesus’ birth because of the threat of competition for his position on the throne. No, Herod was definitely not the Messiah.
But then along came this man, Jesus. He was humble, lower-class in the Jewish society, from a small town in the rural part of the country, and he associated with the very dregs of the population: sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He preached about the Kingdom of God coming near, and he spoke with authority in the synagogues, yet he didn’t embody the Mars-Warrior-God kind of Messiah that Israel looked for. In fact, Jesus preached a “turn-the-other-cheek” approach to conflict.
Ultimately, as we remember during the season of Lent, Jesus allowed himself to be MARched along the road to the cross. As the Son of the True God, Jesus could have saved himself at any time. Yet he did not. Instead he went to the cross and let humans put him to death. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “to the Jews this is a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles this looks like foolishness.” But God doesn’t operate according to how we think he should. God’s power is displayed in weakness, and it is by submitting to the violence of humanity that God overcomes it. By going to die, Jesus put our sins to death. And by raising Jesus from the dead, God showed his power over the grave and also shows that “His ways are not our ways.”
This reminder that God works in mysterious ways and not according to the wisdom or expectations of humans is a great comfort to me. The fact that the God we worship is unusual among all the deities worshipped throughout history lends itself the ring of truth that is missing in other religions. We might expect God to act like Mars and crush all the opposition. We might expect God to strike down sinners with bolts of lightning like Zeus. We might expect God to demand sacrifices to appease his wrath like Baal and Molech (Canaanite gods). We might expect a God like Allah, who requires strict obedience and observance to a huge set of laws. But instead, we have a God of love. Our God shows his power in a sacrificial love for us, even though we’ve sinned against Him. Our God promises eternal life if we desire to be in relationship with Him. If any gods truly exist, is there any other god than our God that is worth worshipping anyway?
Whenever you feel lost, hurt, confused, or in doubt remember this: God loves you, God saved you, and God has a place prepared for you. Jesus was crucified and died, so that he might destroy the power that death holds over us. We will still die, but death no longer has the final word. Instead we will share in Christ’s resurrected life forever. Thank God for what seems like foolishness, in the cross of Christ, and may the season of Lenten reflection find us ready to praise God’s wisdom on the morning of the Easter resurrection!
Heavenly Father, you consistently turn our worldly ideas and assumptions upside down. Help me set aside self-centered living to live for you instead by trusting you more and sharing your love for humanity in word and deed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.