When I realized awhile back that Easter coincided with April Fool’s Day, I cringed a bit and wondered what people would do with that. I’ve been listening and watching for a few months. Recently I looked up some internet memes and found some worth sharing:
- “Easter is on April Fool’s Day? I can tell the kids to hunt for eggs I didn’t hide!”
- “Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day, and Easter is on April Fool’s Day. It’s going to be a weird year for Catholics.”
- My favorite is a picture of Jesus stepping out of the tomb – stone already rolled away – proclaiming, “April Fools!”
- Then there’s one with the opposite intent, which reads, “He is risen. April Fools!”
I’m glad that this year we celebrate the resurrection of Christ on April Fool’s Day. It has gotten me thinking about the message of the gospel from a different perspective. I’m an enthusiast on apologetic issues, proving how the Christian faith makes sense. I like arguments for God’s existence and the truth of the Bible. I loved the chance to watch a young Lee Strobel on the silver screen last year as he investigated the resurrection and came away convinced that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.
But these arguments are most beneficial for strengthening the church, not adding to it. Most people don’t come to faith in Christ merely because they become convinced of good arguments. Even Lee Strobel admitted he was as much impressed by the character of the experts he interviewed as he was of their arguments. This is because our faith cannot be reduced to a presentation of physical facts. The gospel should be a result of wonder and amazement, not intellectual assent. It is less about Jesus checking off the prophetical boxes and more about him shattering the mold that confined us.
The apostle Paul put it another way in 1 Corinthians 1. That’s where we’ll be this morning. He said his mission from God was to preach the gospel but
“not with words of wisdom, lest the cross be emptied of its power.”
The power of the words, “He is risen,” does not come from some congruence with normal life experience; the power is found in the absurdity of the statement combined with the realization that it is, in fact, true. We’ve come here today to give witness to the fact of the resurrection, but we dare not stop there. We aren’t here because of an airtight argument but because of the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit in us. He brings our dead hearts back to life through the shed blood of Jesus, and only then can that blood be pumped to our brains to bring true understanding.
So we want to answer the question, “What happens when you embrace the resurrection?” Pastor Mark’s sermon series is called, “Were you there?” It’s interesting that at believer’s baptism we immerse someone and say they were dead and buried with Christ and then bring them up, indicating the resurrection. In other words, that person who embraces the resurrection can answer, “Yes, I was there. I was there represented at the cross and the empty tomb.” That person has embraced the resurrection. So what happens when we do? The answer is in 1 Cor. 1:18-31.
For the word of the cross is folly 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,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Worldly Wisdom is Exposed
Sometimes I think we forget the wackiness of what we claim to believe. A wandering man who claimed to be the hope for humanity but never held a political office was put to death in a horrific and humiliating way in a relatively non-influential part of the world two thousand years ago; without any direct physical evidence we believe he rose from the dead, is God in human flesh, and will one day fly back down from heaven to gather up the faithful. Again, there are good arguments for all of these things, strange as they sound, but our purpose this morning is to focus on the fact that the strangeness of it all – the foolishness – was all part of God’s design.
In our passage we learn that when we embrace the resurrection, WORLDLY WISDOM IS EXPOSED. One of the effects of the Fall – the plunge of humanity into sinfulness – is that our minds are affected by sin. Our very way of thinking makes us unable to simply reason our way to God. We can look around and become convinced of the truth of God’s existence, but there is an upper limit to what our own wisdom can bring. 1:21 reads,
“In the wisdom of God the world through wisdom did not know God…”
We don’t have to look far to see the flimsiness of human thinking. Philosophy Now Magazine question of the month in issue 59 asks, “What is the meaning of life?” Here are some of the responses they published:[i]
[T]here is no meaning associated with life other than that acquired by our consciousness…Meaning for one person may entail supporting a football team; for another, climbing higher and higher mountains; for another, being a parent…
Colin Brookes, Woodhouse Eaves, Leicestershire
Life is existence: … We should just be thankful that our lifespan is longer than, say, a spider… Our over-evolved human minds want more, but unfortunately there is nothing more. And if there is some deity or malignant devil, then you can be sure they’ve hidden any meaning pretty well and we won’t see it in our mortal lives. So, enjoy yourself; be nice to people, if you like; but there’s no more meaning than someone…shopping on the net while eating a Big Mac.
Objectively…life has no meaning because meaning or significance cannot be obtained without reference to some (arbitrary) belief system…Without beliefs to draw meaning from, life has no meaning, but is merely a thing; a set of facts that…are silent as to what they mean. Life consists of a series of occurrences in an infinite now, divorced of meaning …Without such beliefs, for many the meaning of life is nothing.
Raul Casso, Laredo, Texas
Talk about responses ring hollow. Most of these sorts of answers boil down to the creative – life provides whatever meaning you make of it – or to the biological – life’s meaning is in continuing life. Neither one packs that much of a punch, in my opinion. How could human wisdom ever solve the problem of sin?
Our wisdom doesn’t even last that long. The other week several young people took place in the March for Our Lives, a protest against the school violence and other gun-related crimes that have been so prevalent in our world. We all want the gun violence to go away, and let’s pray it does. I bring it up because much of the call for action that we are hearing is generational. Millennials are looking at the “wisdom” of one generation and declaring it not very wise at all. Time will tell what change comes and how it comes, but we can be sure of this: the generation after the Millennials will come along and declare something of the “wisdom” of their parents to be lacking, and they will insert a new wisdom. This will happen like the generation before them did, and the generation before them, and the generation before them. Our wisdom doesn’t last very long before someone comes along and declares it to be lacking. Sometimes good change comes, and sometimes very bad change comes. But it reminds us of how frail our wisdom is. If we had the ability to find God through our own wisdom and reasoning ability, we’d be in big trouble. Before long, someone would come along and question that wisdom and declare a better way.
God’s power is exalted
The wisdom of the top human minds is exposed as small and lacking when we embrace the resurrection. Simultaneously we see that GOD’S POWER IS EXALTED. We are able to look back as believers and see what Paul says: “The message of the cross…to us who are being saved is the power of God.” For the rest of the world, what we claim is pretty weird, but that’s because the world removes the power of the resurrection, which changes everything. There’s enough historical testimony to confirm Jesus’ life and even his death on the cross. So nearly everyone believes those facts. Where they think we are just plain kooky is when we’re willing to get up before the crack of dawn on April Fool’s Day and proclaim that Jesus rose from the grave and tells us to follow him.
“It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
God chose a message so out there that no one would be crazy enough to come up with it. We do not embrace weirdness for the sake of weirdness. If you want that, you can just go to Comic Con. Instead we embrace God because of his power on display at the resurrection. Do people think we are fools as a result? Absolutely, and let’s not be afraid to be called that. Paul was willing to call himself a “fool for Christ’s sake” (1 Cor 4:10), so we should be willing to do the same. God chose the “foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” The question is, who do you want to call you a fool? Do you want that label to come from the world or from God?
The other week someone shared an article with me by Rod Dreher, entitled, “Make Christianity Weird Again.”[ii] I don’t think we need to do anything to make Christianity weird, but Dreher’s point is that Western Christianity has spent a lot of time and energy over past decades trying to show the rest of the world how normal and reasonable our faith is. The article quotes Peter Ormerod, who states,
“Some parts of the church…have tried desperately to appear ‘normal’. But for a generation that prizes authenticity, maybe that’s just a turn-off…Maybe it needs to embrace its difference, its strangeness, its weirdness, its mystery.”
God’s power does not get exalted when we try to mimic the world around us. God’s power gets obscured when we read the Bible through our own cultural lens and attempt to scrub out the parts that don’t jive with our world while emphasizing the parts that do. This is where the words of the late Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, are timely:
“Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”
God’s Glory Grows
When we do this, our embrace of the resurrection brings something else: the increase of our boast in God. GOD’S GLORY GROWS. When the power of the gospel is stripped away from any element of human wisdom or ingenuity, what’s left is a clear understanding that this was God’s plan, executed in God’s way, by God’s power. When we understand that our salvation had nothing to do with us and everything to do with God, we understand the goal of it all, stated in verse 29:
“so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
We can live out verse 31, quoting Jeremiah:
“Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
All of this leads to an increase in God’s glory.
It is and increase which we live out. For example, I have come to critical points in my life where I see a clear, good plan and path, yet I become surprised and even grieved when God thwarts it and sends me in a different direction. I want to say, “God, what are you doing?” I clearly want this and want to serve you through it. This is good. Why would you stand in the way of it?” But if I remember that the God I’m praying to is the same God who masterminded the rescue of humanity through the tragedy of the cross, then I can trust him in my small situation. I can give him glory.
Rebecca Bitrus lived in a village in Nigeria when Boko Haram – the radical Islamic group – invaded her village and kidnapped her and her two sons. She refused to convert from her Christian faith to Islam, so during her march into captivity she watched as the soldiers grabbed her three-year-old son and threw him in the river, where he drowned. During her two years in captivity, she was forcibly married, subsequently abused, and gave birth to another son, whom she couldn’t bring herself to love. When she found a chance to escape with her two living sons, she wanted to give up her youngest son. She almost left him in the jungle, but her oldest convinced her to keep him. It took some counseling with a local pastor to help her realize that in God’s plan – difficult as it may seem – he has given her this boy, who needs her nurture. So she has agreed to raise him and remains firm in her faith.[iii]
That is the way God’s glory grows. When we take even the most difficult situations and respond in faith and trust in God’s plan, we do so to the increase of God’s glory. Heads turn and attention is drawn, not because what we do makes sense but precisely because people are left scratching our heads as to what would motivate us to stay faithful. It is there, in those moments that God receives the glory.
God’s Wisdom is Applied
As we close, I want to emphasize that the embrace of the resurrection happens as GOD’S WISDOM IS APPLIED to us. We are told that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s wisdom. Verse 30 says that Christ Jesus
“became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
Our salvation is not the result of the top human minds working on the problem. It is the revelation of God’s wisdom through Jesus. It’s about what he did, not about what we did.
The difference would be like if you lived in a dilapidated house that you wanted to repair and you found a local hardware store for some paint and nails. Compare that move instead with Chip and Joanna Gaines from the TV show Fixer Upper stopping by and saying they’d completely redesign and remodel your home…for free! Instead of you trying to figure out how to repair your home, the professionals came in and did it for you and did it more effectively than you ever could.
As we look at Jesus becoming God’s wisdom to us we see that he came and applied what we never could to our lives. He lived out the standard of righteousness and applied it to us. He set us apart, separate to God and with the ability to live for him. He bought us back, redeeming us to God through his death and resurrection. When we embrace that – when we embrace the resurrection – worldly wisdom and its futility are revealed, God’s power is exalted, and God’s glory grows. Our declaration, “He is risen,” also declares us risen with him and given wisdom by him. The missionary, Jim Elliot, is famous for the quote,
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”
Let’s give up our own self-assurance and instead embrace the resurrection and the gain that comes through it.