Wednesday, 26 March 2014
For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 1 Corinthians 1:22
This verse expands on what was just said by Paul, that “it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” The term “for” means “since” and therefore this is less of an explanation than a continued rendering of the same idea. In this then, he details the categories of those who would reject “the foolishness of the message preached” and why they would reject it.
The first are the Jews. They “request a sign” in order to believe a message. However, the term “request” doesn’t fit with our concept of what the word means. When we think of “request” in modern English, we think of someone asking for more soup in a polite way. What the Jews wanted in a sign was more of a demand. In essence, “We will believe you only after we see a sign.” This is seen several times in the gospel records, such as in Matthew 12:38 – “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.'”
By receiving such a sign, they certainly felt that it validated their status as a people before God as much as it validated the authenticity of the one to provide the sign. As the covenant people, they had the oracles of God, the prophecies of a great future kingdom, etc. They could refer to the great signs and miracles of the past which showed that they were God’s favored. And so they expected them to be shown as continued evidence of this. However, a sign from a person, if a true sign, is ultimately a sign from God. If it is, then what the one who reveals the sign proclaims is expected to be listened to and acted upon.
In Jesus’ ministry, He performed a specific group of signs, beginning with turning water into wine and culminating with the resurrection. And yet, despite this proof, they rejected the message that accompanied the signs. Paul, and all of the apostles, preached the message of the cross. The cross implies that there was a sin-debt to be paid before one was right with God. But the Jews, believing that they were already right with God, rejected their crucified Messiah – the message was “foolishness” to them. Thus, the signs that accompanied the message were rejected. Because the signs were rejected, the One (God) from whom the signs came was also rejected.
Unlike the Jews, the “and Greeks seek after wisdom.” The Greek approach to enlightenment was to go deeper and deeper into the heart of a matter, searching out the nature of things. New ideas were constantly received and evaluated. This is seen in the book of Acts when Paul went to Athens. There Luke records, “For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” (Acts 17:21)
Ever in search of new things, new ideas, and new concepts of the workings of the world around them, the Greeks sought out answers to everything in exacting detail. This is equivalent to the world of scientists today. They are looking for the exact details of the Big Bang, they are searching for the “God particle,” they want to know everything about everything because they believe that through knowledge alone, they can identify the meaning of life and the reason for our existence.
Because of this, the message of the cross is utter foolishness. How could everything be so intricately balanced, so marvelously timed, and so exactingly researchable and yet require an act of grace from God in order for us to be made right with Him? If He existed at all, then certainly He would find us acceptable because we have spent our time searching out His creation so carefully. Wouldn’t He?
But searching out creation is not the same as searching out God. The creation declares the glory of God, but it is separate and distinct from Him. We don’t worship the Creator through His creation, we worship Him because of it and because He is the Originator of it. As the psalmist said –
“Of old You laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You will endure;
Yes, they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will change them,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will have no end.” Psalm 102:25-27
The Greeks, like the intellectuals of the world, search after wisdom through the creation and miss the One who gave the creation. The message of the cross has no place in their minds because it doesn’t fit with their presuppositions about how things should work in a universe which is so organized and seemingly understandable.
In both approaches, the problem is a misunderstanding of self. Sin is a barrier to the message of the cross. For the Jew, sin is discounted because of Jewish-ness. For the Greek, sin is discounted because an orderly universe demands an orderly answer to all things in a way which is reconcilable apart from God.
Life application: The message of the cross is God’s way of telling Jew and Greek that sin is a real problem and that it can only be fixed by Him. Don’t over-analyze the situation to the point where you miss the grace. And don’t expect the grace to be granted through a miraculous sign. Accept the grace and be reconciled to God.
Lord, I love the message of the cross because it takes away my need to correct the mess that I am. If evolution were true, then I’m at the top off the ladder – as a mess; that is a depressing thought. But Your word says that I’m a mess because of sin and You have handled my sin-problem all by Yourself. I accept the premise, I receive the payment, I choose Jesus. The sinless Lamb of God has proved that the mess I am is healed and headed for an unmessy future. Hallelujah to the Lamb. Amen.