When someone tells you that they hate you, tell them you hate them too. When someone assaults you, assault them back. When you experience dishonesty, tell a lie to match the lie that you hear or go even bigger…tell a more outrageous lie.
These are the behaviors that we are taught. Strike back, leave no challenge unchallenged, respond to fire with some more fire. Don’t turn the other cheek and offer it to your attacker for them to hit. Hit them back on their cheek…harder!
I write this and then I think about Jesus, about the lessons He taught and how He behaved in His short life on this earth. I think about His encounter with Satan in His days of fasting after His baptism, His days in the wilderness. Satan tempted Him with promises of magnificent power several times but each time Jesus told Satan to go away. Could Jesus have deployed angelic assistance in ridding Himself of Lucifer, showing He had all of the power He needed. Of course He could but He did not. I think about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He questioned God about His impending death, asking if this cup [suffering and death] could be avoided. God offered no reprieve and Jesus accepted His fate with the simple words “Thy will be done.” He knew His punishment was not deserved. When Pilate asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews, Jesus responded “It is as you say.” When Pilate asked Jesus if He knew of the things that people were saying about Him, Jesus said nothing. Again He could have protested; He could have asked God for help. He knew what He had to do and He quietly did it.
When someone hits you, hit them back…harder! That rule hardly applied to Jesus. Turn the other cheek, do not be vengeful, let go of offenses and extend grace to others. Those were some of His humble, peaceful lessons for righteous living.
We have considered in recent posts the messages that the cross communicates about God. I commented on John Stott’s idea that the cross reveals God’s glory. I wrote about the cross as a revelation of God’s justice and last week I wrote about the cross as a means to communicate God’s love.
Today we wrap up Chapter 8 in The Cross of Christ by discussing how God reveals His wisdom and power in Jesus’s time on the cross and it is very hard to understand how He does this.
The confusion is caused by God’s and Jesus’ rejection of the world’s standard for wisdom and power.
How is it wise for Almighty God to send His “Son” [Himself] to earth to suffer ignominious suffering and death on the cross? Would it not make more sense for Jesus to be born of royal parents in some palatial setting? Would it not make more sense for Jesus to be schooled in the finest schools and grow up to be a powerful leader who clothed Himself in the most expensive and ornate armor, picked up a bejeweled sword, and marched at the head of a huge army. He would then rid His native land of Roman oppression in a series of magnificent battles. He would be the mightiest warrior of them all. He would be idolized by all in His world.
Instead, God’s unusual plan was the opposite of this. Jesus was born in a stable, lived an ordinary life as a carpenter’s son and learned carpentry as His trade. He had a divine knowledge of Scripture [no training needed] and surrounded himself with very ordinary men who believed in His improbable mission to save mankind. He had none of the trappings of power or status. Today powerful people would have to have the latest designer clothing, several ultra-expensive automobiles and multiple mansions [worth millions and millions of dollars]. Jesus said “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath nowhere to lay His head.”
What is God trying to tell us with this scenario?
John Stott seems to think that worldly trappings of power are folly; power really does not come from “things” or from flamboyant acts. Power comes through humility, servanthood and human weakness. “The gospel of the cross will never be a popular message because it humbles pride of our intellect and character”. We don’t understand this wise approach to God’s plan on this earth: “God deliberately chose what the world regards as foolish and feeble people in order to shame the wise and the strong; He chose even the lowly, the despised and the nonexistent to nullify what exists. His goal in this was to exclude human boasting” . He was sending the message that God engineered the salvation of mankind; it was not done by mankind alone. It was God [in the form of Jesus] who united humans to God, bringing justification, holiness and the promise of redemption. “Therefore, as the Scripture says, if anybody boasts, he must boast neither in himself, or others, but in the Lord alone” . If any Christian bears good fruit, they should not take credit, but give the glory to God. As I have written in other places*, “It is not me” would be the appropriate response to someone who asks how you did something beyond your normal means, for God has used you to accomplish His tasks.
“The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”** When Jesus went to the cross He turned earthly conceptions of wisdom and power upside down. If we cling to human conceptions of wisdom and power we will never understand what wisdom and power mean to God. We are easily tempted with the earthly promises of fame, power, wealth and the good life but those will not give us the life we really seek, a life of righteousness, a life devoted to God.
Our Creator has the power and wisdom to satisfy our longing hearts. “Jesus is the bread that will satisfy our hunger. He is the living water that makes us thirst no longer” [Pieter Theron***]. Ordinary human existence would tell us to look to things we can see, taste, feel or smell but those “things” will soon enslave us. Human objects of power will become idols and we can easily become addicted to the outward signs of earthly status.
It is so hard to comprehend but in Jesus’ dying, we have a chance to live. We know that the Apostle Paul preached that dying daily to our sins leads to a life with Christ. He knew that if we turn to the power and wisdom of God we have a chance to celebrate a new life that is free of the burden of sin, a new life extended to us by God’s grace alone. We don’t have the wisdom and power to do this on our own. He makes us new creatures through His love.
I close this post with words from the Apostle Paul who summarizes the message of the cross [regarding wisdom and power] in First Corinthians 18-25: “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. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 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. 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 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.”****
*for example March 18, 2022 in St. John Studies.
**from First Corinthians 1: 25.
***Grateful acknowledgment or additional discussion goes to Pieter Theron, “The Cross in the Power and Wisdom of God” accessed on April 4, 2020.
****First Corinthians 1: 18-25 [bolding, italics and underlining mine].