The Crucifixion of Strength and Wisdom

Crucifixion, Matthias Grunewald

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. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)

The crucified Messiah is a scandal to Jews and a form of idiocy to Gentiles. By all human viewpoints, such a Savior seems weak and foolish. Yet it is by this very weakness and foolishness that God reveals His strength and wisdom. Indeed, God’s strength and wisdom unveil the weakness and foolishness of supposed human strength and wisdom. The upside-down ways of God in the Messiah apocalyptically show what is truly happening in this world.

Do we turn again to other forms of strength and wisdom than that of God? Having come to God through the One Mediator, Jesus Christ, do we then set aside His apparent weakness for human strength or His apparent foolishness for human wisdom? Do we turn somewhere else and thereby say that Christ is not sufficient? Do we empty the Messiah of His true power by grasping for other types of power—power of influence, power to dominate, power of money, power of achievement, power of sensuality, power of position? By doing so we forsake Christ and our faith! Paul continues:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

So let us know where true strength and wisdom come from and not turn again to what is foolishness.. Let us not boast in ourselves—our power, strength, or wisdom—but let us boast in the Lord and His power. Let us follower where He leads us and not turn aside to that which He has unveiled as empty of strength and empty of wisdom.

Who Is Jesus?: insights from Hebrews 7

image 2 - Jesus Pantocrator

Hebrews 7:26 begins by telling us that Jesus is “a high priest [who] truly meets our need.” What does this tell us about Jesus? Well, the writer continues by telling us that Jesus meets our need in two ways, both of which are directly related to who Jesus is.

That first way that Jesus meets our need is found in the rest of verse 26. Here’s the entire verse:

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:26)

Who is Jesus? First of all, Jesus is “holy” – that means He is unlike us and He is like God. He is “the holy One of Israel”; the One whom Israel has been looking for throughout all their history. We need someone like this.

Next, Jesus is “blameless, pure, set apart from sinners.” No one could assign any sin or blame to Jesus. He is unstained and undefiled. Nothing has come into Him or gone out from Him that reflects sin or evil. He is, as it says in Hebrews 4:15, “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet did not sin.” We need someone like that.

Finally, we are told that Jesus is “exalted above the heavens.” He is no ordinary man. He is both the One “through whom [God] also made the universe” while also “the exact representation of [God’s] being.” After His death and resurrection, Jesus is now ascended and given by the Father the name above all other names. Jesus is magnificent and glorious. We need someone like that.

The first answer by the author of this letter to the question, “who is Jesus?”, is that Jesus is unlike us and beyond us. We need someone like that because, as we have seen throughout human history, we cannot bring the answer to all our wrongs merely from our own efforts and abilities. We need the answer to come from beyond us.

Now, the second answer to the question, “who is Jesus?” and how does he meet our need, though familiar to us, comes somewhat unexpectedly. Look at verse 27:

Unlike the other high priests, [Jesus] does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. (Hebrews 7:27)

All that we said before has emphasized how transcendent Jesus is – pure, sinless, holy, exalted – but this verse now emphasizes how earthy and humble Jesus is.

He is a priest offering a sacrifice. But He is not some priest who offers the sacrifice and then washes His hands and goes home. No, Jesus is so earthy, so humble, so in the midst of the muck and mire, that He actually offers Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice. John the Baptist helps us here when he says of Jesus:

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

What does this mean? Well, it means Jesus has entered into humanity’s real need to such a great extent that He has actually Himself become the offering. He has become the sacrificial offering so that God’s true blessing might come into the world. As that Passover Lamb, Jesus took judgment that humanity might live. He entered death’s captivity so we might go free.

As the writer sums up in verse 28, Jesus “has been made perfect forever.”

Who is Jesus?

The writer of the epistle known as Hebrews tells us:

  • He is sinless, even set apart from sinners…yet He is the sin-bearer.
  • He is holy and pure…yet He becomes wholly defiled for our life and salvation.
  • He is exalted…yet He is humble.

Here, the writer of Hebrews gives us a most helpful and essential picture of Jesus: He is perfectly what we need.

What is the Way to Real Life?: renunciation and realization with Jesus Christ

Celtic Cross

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show me the wonders of your great love,
you who save by your right hand
those who take refuge in you from their foes. (Psalm 17:6-7)

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39)

To take refuge in God through Jesus Christ is to forsake all other “lives” so that we might truly live in Him. The things and people we associated with those other “lives” are radically revalued in light of absolute allegiance to Christ as well as the absolutely more true love found in God through Him.

We find that all other lives were not really life as be behold the glory of the Lord and step forward to follow Jesus. “The old has gone and the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17) “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

In our daily lives, we begin the day—and continue through the day—with renunciation and realization. By faith we renounce our selves as king and realize that God is King. We renounce our will for the day—whether good or evil—and realize God’s will for the day, which is supreme. We renounce our approach to others—whether well-intentioned or wrong-intentioned—so that we might hear and follow (realize) God’s approach to others. We die to ourselves, our possessions, our relations, our dreams—whether we evaluate them as good or bad in light of God’s revealed truth—that we might live to God in Jesus Christ. We live toward His ideal life for our, our relationships, our possessions, our dreams, not our own.

First the cross, then the crown. First renunciation, then realization. This pattern defines our living minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. Any other way is not the Jesus way and, therefore, is not life. But here, in this way of the Cross, we will find what Jesus promised: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Knowing Who We Are and Who We’re Not: a lesson from John the Baptist

John the Baptist

One of the most gripping commendations Jesus ever offered was about John the Baptist when He said, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28). There was really no one quite like John, and Jesus recognized that.

Of course, the other part of that statement was this: “yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” John knew who he was and also knew who he wasn’t, and that shaped the way he lived.

At one point in his ministry, John said to a group of his disciples and gathered onlookers: “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him'” (John 3:28). John knows who he is and knows who he is not.

John the Apostle sets us up for this in the first chapter of his gospel when he says that John the Baptist is not “the Light”:

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (1:6-8)

Later on, when John is questioned by religious leaders, he knows that he is not the Messiah,  Elijah or the long-awaited Prophet:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’

They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’
He said, ‘I am not.’
‘Are you the Prophet?’
He answered, ‘No.’

Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”‘ (John 1:19-21)

John clearly knew who he was and who he was not.

Not only that, John knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he, John, was not Jesus:

  • John was not the light, but, as we read in John 1:9 – “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” – Jesus is the light
  • John was not the privileged son, but, as we read in John 1:14, “the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” – Jesus is the One and Only Son.
  • John was not the Messiah, but more than once he exclaimed to his followers when Jesus passed by, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29)

John knew that he was not the awaited one, but that Jesus was the one the world was waiting for.

So, when John the Baptist’s followers come to him feeling out of sorts because Jesus’ ministry is increasing, John is not really bothered. In fact, he knows this is the way things are supposed to be. He knows that all of what he is doing is really about Jesus.

John the Baptist is a powerful example for all of us who follow Jesus. He reminds us that not any one of us is the Messiah, and we should live accordingly. I am not the Messiah. You are not the Messiah. We cannot solve everyone’s problems, be everywhere at once, or be the one to save the world. That was Jesus’ job. Believing this and live out of this belief  is a significant part of our discipleship.

We are not here to replace Jesus, but to display Jesus in our life on earth. The difference seems slight, but it is gargantuan in practice. In our lives we are not trying to be the Messiah, we are trying to direct people to the Messiah.

John the Baptist knew who he was and who he was not, and it set him free to minister as God would have him regardless of the outcome.

Immeasurably More?: childlike faith in our great God

childlike faith

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20-21)

I often say, in reference to these verses from Ephesians 3, that I have an overactive imagination and, therefore, could imagine God’s ability to do quite a bit!

In some ways, Paul’s words here put us very much in mind of being children before our Father. With naive humility we approach the Father to ask big and bold things.

Of course, the Father may respond however He would like. He may astound us with His powerful answer. He may sift through our silly requests to do what is truly wise, right, and needful. He may gently or sternly respond to us so we learn how to ask for what He truly desires to give. Just because we imagine it does not mean it is the right or appropriate thing to ask for. However, God is always Father-like in His approach to us in prayer.

Overall, the aim of prayer here in Ephesians 3 is that believers become rooted in God’s love, know God’s love, and be filled with the fullness of God. It is out of this place that we boldly approach God as our good Father who always exceeds what we ask for.