True Power and Wisdom
What do you think about when you hear the word “power?” And what do you think the typical person thinks about when they hear that word? We’re in election season in the U.S. of course, and probably lots of people are thinking about political power right now. Politicians are men and women of power. Or you might think about corporate power. People who work in the “C-suite” of corporations wield power. No doubt you could name many other things that you associate with the word “power.”
How about the word “wisdom?” What associations do you have in your mind for that word? The ability to understand things. The ability to see things as they really are. The ability to apply knowledge rightly.
Now, what is the strangest, most striking association we find in the Bible for those two words, “power” and “wisdom?” The answer, without any doubt, is the cross. The Bible links power and wisdom with death by crucifixion – the death of the Son of God by crucifixion in particular. Listen to what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:
“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[a] 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.”
So there it is. Christ’s cross is the power of God (v. 18). Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God (v. 24). Think about it. Sin and death had utterly taken over our world. And yet, God defeats them through the cross. The cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
But go a step further – because the typical Christian attitude is probably something like this: “I am so glad that Jesus took my guilt on the cross. He took my sin, my punishment, my pain, my suffering. He took my place. I’m so glad that Jesus suffered so that I don’t have to.” Now at one level, that is great, glorious, essential gospel truth. But at another level it can become serious theological misunderstanding. Because the same Jesus who revealed the power of God and the wisdom of God in the cross says to his disciples – to those who would follow him – you take up your cross and follow me.
The world says, “Climb the ladder. Climb up, not down.” But Jesus comes down. And he says to his followers, “you climb down too. Don’t claw your way up. Climb down”
The world says, “Find people of influence. Get to know the movers and shakers.” But Jesus spent his time with – and he gave himself for – the weak, the broken, the hurting. And he calls us to do the same. He calls us to give ourselves up. He calls us to take on the cost of discipleship. And that cost is crosses of our own.
Here is the truth: The cross is not only atonement – although it is gloriously that. The cross is also a revelation of how God deals with, and works through, everyone he loves. And that’s where real power, real wisdom, lies.
Martin Luther said something interesting in the Heidelberg Disputation:
“19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened.
- He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.”
Why do I call these things to our attention? Well, first because they are true. But also for this reason: these are tough times. You are probably dealing with plenty of hard things right now. Be encouraged as you take it all on. This is how the power of God and the wisdom of God are revealed – not just in the life of Jesus – but in our lives too.
“The cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”