What are your expectations in coming here? Why am I here? I have 2 kids, I have a stressful job at a small software company. I am 33 years old. What on earth is my connection with all of you? Frankly, very little. But God saved me in college at UC Berkeley and God has placed in me a heart to preach the gospel to college students.
And because I am here and I am bringing the gospel, I have some expectations. Let’s start by reading the text and seeing what expectations Paul had for the church of Corinth.
1 Cor 1:17-25
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 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. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 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. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
I have taught many bible studies over the years and I am beginning to realize that my words really don’t have power. Only God can change people. My job is to preach the simple gospel and move out of the way and let God do the rest.
The gospel is power. The cross is power. I want the power of God to be displayed in my life. I want the power of God to be demonstrated each time we gather for this bible study. The Word of God has power to transform your life. Once God gets a hold of you, you’ll never be the same.
Timothy McVeigh -the Oklahoma City bomber, who at age 33 (my age) in 1995 – bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and wounding 500 others.
In his final verbal statement, he quoted a poem by William Henley.
This is the reality of evil who to the end displayed stone-faced arrogance and not even a morsel of remorse. He was executed in 2001. And a few months later after this evil had been punished, a greater evil emerged – 9/11/2001, a day I will never forget.
I can’t believe 7 years to the day have passed already.
I am from NY. My father got his PhD from NYU so he spent a lot of time in the world trade center towers. We were on furlough from doing mission work in Tokyo and Jackie was visiting my family in NY.
It was her first visit to the east coast so we were on a tour bus toward downtown NY. It was a little before 9am and a car drove by us and said, turn on the radio, the towers had been hit by an airplane. It sounded like a cruel joke. And as we were reaching for the radio, we turned to our right side window and saw the smoke coming out of the first tower.
We pulled over to the side of the road and within minutes, the towers collapsed.
It was like a movie during its climax when the sound gets muted and everything moves in slow motion for dramatic effect. We stood there in stunned silence. Then from a distance, we heard a faint scream. Then another.
And I distinctly remember praying, Lord, have mercy on us. Have mercy on the people in the towers and their families. Lord, I commit my life to being your witness to confront evil and to preach the good news. It was a turning point which contributed to me wanting to go to seminary and become a pastor one day.
In light of it being the 7th anniversary of 9/11, one expectation I have is that each of us here would embody the power of God so that when we step out of this room, people would know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we are disciples of Jesus Christ.
The stakes are high. If you haven’t noticed, the world is becoming increasingly hostile to God. People in our day and age are spiritual, don’t get me wrong. But it is no longer one God buy many gods. In my opinion, pantheism is the most popular religious choice of our generation. You have your god, I have mine. Let’s keep a respectful distance from one another.
I have found god in yoga or meditation or New Age practices or Zen Budhism. But as soon as you say, I actually believe there is one truth, one living God and Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, people react strongly – hey wait a minute, don’t push your religion down my throat. God has become one of the taboo words in our culture and used most commonly to form obscenities. The stakes are high, indeed.
My testimony in college can be summed by Luke 7. There is a funeral procession of a widow for her dead son. And Jesus and his disciples are coming toward the funeral procession from the opposite direction and they are forming their own procession, a procession life.
These 2 processions meet at the city of Nain where the widow is about to bury her son. And at the intersection of these 2 processions — one death, one life — is Jesus, the Author of life.
My personal city of Nain where I met Jesus for the first time was UC Berkeley. No he wasn’t smoking pot and wearing birkenstocks. That campus is the last place one would expect to encounter Jesus. Sure, there are a bunch of hippies and homeless who claim to be the Messiah, but I met the One true God in college.
While I was not seeking God and I was walking in darkness, God pursued me through a group much like this and he stopped my procession of death. And though I was a church goer my entire life, the light of Christ pierced the darkness of my heart for the first time.
And it’s like the scales fell from my eyes and I saw myself for the first time, a sinner, and I saw God for the first time, His arms extended ready to embrace me.
Church was no longer a weekly obligation or duty. I saw the blackness of my heart and I NEEDED to be cleansed, I needed to be forgiven, I needed God in my life. And my life has not been the same since.
My life has taken a completely different direction — on the path toward death and suddenly changing course and following Christ toward eternal life. From that day in 1993 when I surrendered my life to him, it has been quite an unexpected ride.
As a soph in college, in Nov 1993, I said, Lord, I surrender my life to you, my life is a clean canvas, a blank slate, here is the pen, you are free to write out the script of my life, do whatever you want. And God has certainly done that. Upon graduating from Berkeley, I stayed there for a number of years as a college minister on campus. Until the year 2000 when Jackie and I got married and together we left later that same year to Japan as missionaries to reach out to Tokyo Univ students. Then 5 years ago, we returned to LA so that I could attend seminary at Fuller and I ministered to Caltech students for those years. I graduated from seminary 2 years ago and a year ago, a few of us planted a church in Pasadena and now we’re here.
If you told me when I was entering college that I would be a preacher, I’d say you’re crazy. I had no interest in God, I just wanted to have a nice comfortable life with 2.5 kids and a 3 car garage. Beach house would have been nice. But God pursued me and had a different plan in mind. So I am here to preach the gospel. That is what God has laid on my heart for USC Health Science campus. You may be thinking, I am a Christian, don’t you just preach the gospel only at evangelistic rallies?
The cross to us who ARE BEING SAVED is the power of God. Being saved. That’s an interesting grammatical construction.
In the Greek, the word is sozomenois – the verb is to save but its tense is a present passive dative masculine plural. The grammar reveals from the passive construction that we are not saved by ourselves. Rather we are the object of salvation and there is an agent outside of ourselves who is doing the saving — obviously God. Also the dative construction tends to occur when the verb indicates a state rather than an action.
So a more literal translation would be something like “to us who are perpetually in a state of being saved by an agent outside of ourselves, the cross is the power of God.”
That pretty much summarizes salvation. Salvation is not just a one-time decision. Sure, when we first professed Jesus as our personal Savior and Lord, from that moment we were saved in the sense that our eternal destinies are secure and we will be with God for eternity. However, salvation is a process where we are daily growing into our full restoration and our own bodily resurrection.
Another way to look at it is in the following manner – In heaven, when our salvation is fully realized, we will be able to worship God fully without the weight of sin weighing us down. But on this side of eternity, though we can be forgiven of our sins, we will never rid ourselves of our sinful natures. And there is a constant downward momentum caused by sin.
In that sense, after our first salvation moment, we need to undergo frequent mini-salvations where the blood of Jesus covers us again and again. As sinners, LISTEN – we will NEVER outgrow our need for the gospel. That is an important point not to forget. As sinners, we will never outgrow our need for the forgiveness of God.
So rather than the gospel being our introduction into Christian life, I think it makes more sense to call the gospel the pattern of Christian life because we need to live out the gospel message continuously.
James Wilhoit, professor of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College, wrote a book entitled, “Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community.” In it, he drew 2 diagrams.
In the first one, he drew a line symbolizing a person’s life. You have a life before Christ and underneath it you have the gospel message that is preached to him or her. Then there is the moment of salvation and the beginning of Christian life and underneath you have discipleship. So the gospel gets you to the pt of salvation but as soon as a person is a believer, church leaders often use some kind of “discipleship” program to help new converts mature.
He argues that this is a wrong picture of salvation. Instead, he argues that the same gospel message that is preached to a non-believer, the same gospel message that converts him or her to the faith, is the same gospel message that needs to be at the center of the new believer’s life so that he or she can continue to grow in Christ. Does this make sense?
There are many intelligent people in the world, but few with true wisdom. Wisdom comes from God and is reserved for those who have bowed the knee to Christ. You guys are science folks. The message of the cross and the gospel doesn’t make any logical sense, does it?
To a modern, scientific mind, it is totally illogical that God would come in the form of a man to die on the cross and to be raised up again 3 days later. It makes no sense. But this is precisely the message that Christians hang their entire lives on.
The gospel cannot be rationalized. Resurrection doesn’t fit into our logical rational knowledge systems. It can only be proclaimed and preached and then God has to do the rest to convict people of their need for Him.
We must never forget that our salvation is nothing short of a miracle. In fact, one person coming to know God is the greatest miracle that we will ever experience in this life. Period. We cannot will ourselves into salvation. We can do nothing by our efforts to earn salvation. We cannot figure it out.
1 Cor 2:14 – “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
The cross is foolishness to an unspiritual mind. Our only chance at knowing God is for God to intervene and shine his light into our darkness.
One Christian writer, Frederick Buechner, wrote that life is like a bird swooping in from the darkness into a dimly lit castle and flying out the other side in the darkness again. Darkness, dim light, darkness. This is where we find ourselves without Christ. We have no idea how we came into this world or where we are going and in this life, we flap around aimlessly down dim corridors.
Our life before Christ is like a man groping in the darkness. We stumble and we have no idea where the exit door is or what we are doing in this dark room called life in the first place. Then, God flips the light switch and we can finally see. Ah, this is what life is all about. This is reality. Salvation comes from God.
Our wisdom often gets in the way of finding our way to God. This verse describes the Jewish and the Greek mindset and how each of these mindsets was a hindrance in coming to know God.
The Jews were always looking for a miracle. Probably ever since the miraculous deliverance from Egypt through the Red Sea, the Jews had conditioned themselves to look for God in the miraculous. This desire for the miraculous and their past religious experiences became their lens to evaluate possible candidates for the Messiah. This lens represented their wisdom. They thought surely of all people, THEY would be able to recognize the Messiah. But they missed him. They saw Jesus hanging on the cross dying a criminal’s death and said, nope that cursed man is not the Messiah.
The Zealots were a Jewish sect who thought that the Messiah would come in power to overthrow Rome and establish Israel as the superpower of the first century. But Jesus died so weakly and couldn’t even save himself using his supernatural powers. And they dismissed him as a common criminal punished by God. They concluded that Jesus couldn’t possibly be the Messiah that they had been waiting for.
What they failed to realize was that Yes, God was punishing Jesus, but little did they know that it is because of their sins and ours.
Likewise, the Greeks sought wisdom or knowledge as their god. And by worldly standards, they demonstrated the heights of human wisdom, producing some of the brightest philosophers this world has ever known. Yet, they were not able to reason their way to God.
The Corinthian church placed a high premium on wisdom and they found themselves starting to drift away from the core gospel message. Corinth was a large Greek metropolitan and it is not surprising that the Greek pursuit for wisdom or knowledge had infiltrated the church. The Corinthian church had charismatic leaders and eloquent speakers such as Apollos and factions began to form depending on which leader possessed the most persuasive arguments.
As a result, the center was no longer Christ. Perhaps the message of the cross had become all too familiar so they pursued a “loftier” truth.
The actual contents of their messages are not recorded but we can speculate that whatever it was, though their messages sounded impressive, their words had no power to change the members of that congregation. There was in-fighting, even lawsuits among believers, rampant immorality to name a few of the issues they faced.
Commentators conclude that Paul was writing this letter using the Greek rhetorical style popular in his day. More than likely, the leaders of that chuch were leading the people astray using similar sounding rhetoric.
You can see how Paul was deliberately trying to shame these leaders by saying, I c
an speak like you “superapostles” (he refers to them later in the letter), but in the end, it’s not about my eloquence or my lack of eloquence. It is about the cross, the death and resurrection of Christ. Therein lies the power of God to change people.
Let me just add that if the Jews were preoccupied with miracles and the Greeks were obsessed with knowledge, then Rome’s thing was glory. The glory and power of Rome.
2 Cor 4:6 – Paul smashes all 3 of these preoccupations in this one verse – “Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Interesting choice of words. Each of these pursuits — light, knowledge, glory — are noble pursuits but they only yield partial understandings about God. Only by gazing at the face of Christ, you see the wisdom and power of God. Paul explains further in the following verses.
Gospel demonstrates the wisdom and power of God. Why is Christ the wisdom of God?
Did you ever think about why Jesus had to die on the cross? Why not die a normal death as an old man? Jesus could have spent more time on earth and taught more people. Yet he died after a short 3 years of public ministry.
Why did he die so soon and with so much suffering and brutality and shame? Read 1 Cor 2:7 – “we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”
Why does it say God’s SECRET wisdom? Why is God trying to hide his mission to redeem humanity through the cross? Or from whom is God hiding this wisdom? The answer – Satan.
If you read Revelation and I encourage you to do so because it really highlights the spiritual battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. You know the story of the birth of Christ and how King Herod was desperately trying to kill him. Revelation gives a spiritual angle to this historical event and depicts a baby Jesus fleeing from a Red Dragon or Satan. If Satan knew about God’s plan to save humanity through the cross, he would have done everything to prevent the death of Jesus on a cross. But because God wisdom was kept hidden, Satan thought that he had won the war when Jesus died.
The Jewish leaders flexed their religious muscle through their insistence that Jesus had to die for blaspheming the name of God. Rome flexed its political muscle in ordering the execution of Christ. And in the background, Satan did all he could to incite hatred for Jesus in the hearts of humanity.
What a reversal – the day when Satan had thought he had inflicted the fatal blow against the Son of God turned out to be God’s greatest victory and paved the way for us to be redeemed.
Why did God use the cross specifically? One reason is to show the horror of human sin. When God took human form, we didn’t merely kindly and politely reject his ideas. We were tired of him saying things like repent, or you have to be born again, or I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. So to silence him once and for all, we nailed him on a cross. God came to save us and we killed him.
This is the gospel and it shows us why God had to come in the first place. We were beyond repair. We needed more than a little tweaking or a band aid solution. Our condition can’t be explained away as some kind of psychological hangup from our childhood or a result of our failure to read the latest self-help book. God had to go to such extreme measures to redeem us because we were so hopelessly lost in sin.
This is the gospel. And Christ is the wisdom of God.
Christ is also the power of God. We know this because God demonstrates his power in the act of raising Jesus from the dead. And Jesus, the second Adam and the first fruit of the new creation is leading the way and we will follow him and be resurrected on that day in glory.
So I have laid it all out. Christ, through his death and resurrection, symbolizes the wisdom and power of God. So to be powerful Christians, we have to be extremely familiar with the gospel.
But let me tell you – Satan is still alive and while he may not be able to defeat you ultimately, he will try his best to render you completely ineffective in Christian life. The world will try hard to make you a powerless Christian.
What kind of advice do we hear growing up?
Don’t share your lunch, make friends with only the smartest kids in the class, above all, STUDY. Education is your path to salvation. The more degrees you have, the more prestige, the more security, the more comfort. This is the wisdom of the world.
The wisdom of the world tells me that I have no business being here. I should be spending time with my kids or spending time to get ahead in my career or finding ways to save money for my family’s future.
When I first became Christian, my parents were worried because I was so zealous. And they said, why are you trying to live for God at the prime of your life. Live your life and you can always serve God when you are 50 years old. And I answered, my faith is not a light switch that I can turn off right now and later when I am 50 I can flip the switch back on.
You may be thinking the same way. As med and pharmacy students, I get it. I know how busy you are. As a result of your schedule, you may be tempted in the next few years to put God in the backburner. Maybe not turn off the spiritual light switch but maybe just put on a spiritual dimmer. Perhaps your fervor burned brightly when you first became Christian and now your faith has come down a few notches due to all the academic pressures.
Certainly, you should be diligent in your studies, but don’t use your studies as an excuse to give God the leftovers of your heart. As soon as God is not the most important thing in your life, your spiritual life will be rendered powerless. That’s just how it works.
Don’t treat God like a compartment in your life. You have your career or studies compartment and your family compartment and your friends compartment and your God compartment. And as your studies compartment gets bigger, everything else has to shrink and take on a lesser importance, including God.
Please don’t let that happen during the next few years. We’re here to help you not let that happen.
Too much is at stake. When you look at the world, what do you see? I see the knowledge of God being lost. I see the wisdom of the world leading many people toward their destruction. I see poverty. I see social injustice. Racism, sexism. I see war. I see evil triumphing in every corner of this world.
God is still powerful. The gospel can still transform lives.
I want to end with a poem by Dorothea Day, a Christian who wrote in response to William Henley’s poem Invictus that I read earlier.
Let God be the captain of your souls. Let him be the master of your fate, of your education, of your career, of your future. Too much is at stake. Be encouraged – we have good news – though we may lose a spiritual battle or two, the victory in Christ is ours. Let’s claim it.