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.” (1 Corinthians 1:18–24, ESV)
Reflecting on today's reading and some of the things that I have seen in the media and the recent hit job on Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame by MSN (though he has said some things that maybe could've been better nuanced, this last criticism from listening to the interview and the calling it a rant is truly unfair), it is continually revealed how intolerant our society has become to the orthodox, biblical, Christian worldview. Islam, which has a greater intolerance to much of the modern views of modern society and worldview, is left, pretty much alone in the media and often protected, but here we are faced with the cross and we find it to be the greatest struggle. It's nothing new and that is almost amazing that in the almost two thousand years we still find it to be a great stumbling block in our "enlightened" state. It seems foolish to think that the death of one upon a cross would be able to bring salvation, yet when we look to the Gospel for this Sunday we are reminded of the most often quoted verse of the New Testament, John 3:16 (ESV), "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Sometimes it seems there are those that overlook the word "believes" and want to paint it in a universal light, especially when paired with verse 17 which speaks of the desire, the will of God that Jesus came for the salvation of the world through his sacrifice and not meant to bring condemnation. What most fail to realize is that, in the end, it is not God who brings the condemnation, but ourselves in our failings and attempts to do God's work.
As a pastor, I can not save anyone and the same is true for every Christian. We can only carry the promise of salvation, the gift from God, and trust in it, cling to it, and walk in the hope of it seeking God's grace and forgiveness for our failures and shortcomings. We can not force anyone to believe or scare them, but we can witness and love them and pray for them as we pray for all whom we love and for our own forgiveness. I only know my sin and because of that sin, I am in need of a Savior, I can't do it on my own. That is the reality of who we are. I can't truly point to anyone's sin with a condemning view, but in the view of one judged that desires others to not be under judgment and the punishment that comes with it but with hope because of the redemption that I have received and the sanctification that comes through salvation. I can not justify my sinful nature and, at the same time, I am unable to do the same for another, but through grace I am made just and my sin is taken from me by my Lord, Jesus Christ. I can't demand it nor can I earn it, but I receive it openly like an infant receiving milk from his mother's bosom.
The simplicity of the Gospel is that it does not require of us any work, but once received it places in our hearts a great sense of duty and obligation to live it out well. Not for salvation's sake, but for the Spirit's sake. It isn't hard, but it is difficult because it humbles. What I see continually is what Paul warned Timothy about, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3–4, ESV) Today and throughout the millennia we see this lived out over and over again, when we hear things that we do not like because they challenge our comforts it is easy to become offended at the one speaking the truth instead of ourselves. Phil is just a simple, yet intelligent man with a profound faith and he speaks very plainly about what he believes without nuance or fear and it is hard because the Word is hard, as it is described as a double edged sword and it strikes to the core, but that is simply too much for some. One thing I do respect about him and his nature is, if you truly listen to him, he is not speaking as one who has not fallen and is without failure, but as one who has hope in the One that is the only bringer of hope. Like him or not, he speaks truth in its most basic form, he may not always get the right verse, but thankfully he knows it is in the Word. Let not the cross be a stumbling block to you, but when you hear something that stings seek out the balm that heals all wounds, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.