THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE CROSS
By Pastor Glenn Pease
The mayor and other dignitaries were looking into the vast pit dug for the new hospital to be built. The town half-wit came up and gazed into the pit, and asked the mayor what he was going to do with this big hole. The mayor decided to humor him and said, "We are going to round up all the fools in town and pile them in there." The half-wit thought a moment and then said, "Whose gonna be left to cover um up?"
Even a half-wit knows that in some sense all men are fools, but I have to confess I never really realized to what degree this is true until I studied what the Bible says about fools and foolishness. The subject is so vast, and the evidence is so overwhelming that only a fool would deny that all men are fools. This does not sound very nice, however, and so it is wise for us to see there is a positive side to being a fool. So much so, that Paul in I Cor. 3:18 urges Christians to be fools, and in 4:10 he says, "We are fools for Christ."
To add to the paradox of being a Christian fool, Paul in this passage of I Cor. 1:18-31 glories in Christian folly, and links almost everything of Christian nobility to foolishness. He writes of the foolishness of the cross; the foolishness of wisdom, and the foolishness of preaching, and most shocking of all, for it seems to border on blasphemy, Paul even writes in verse 25 of the foolishness of God. Then he says in verse 27 that God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. And the foolish things are the Christians.
So what it comes down to is this: All men are in some sense fools, but since all are not fools in the same way, we have to make a distinction between worldly fools and wise fools.The worldly fools are those who feel so wise they have no need of light from God. These fools say in their hearts that there is no God. Man is the measure of all things, and He determines His own destiny. They say science and human philosophy is all we need to produce a utopia. We do not need the Bible or God to create our own heaven.
The wise fool, in contrast, recognizes that human wisdom is so limited, and so there is a need for wisdom from above. They are seen as fools from the point of view of the worldly fool. God, however, sees them as wise, and so the two perspectives make them wise fools-that is people who seem to choose foolishness and trust in foolishness, but because it is the foolishness of God, they are wise. So what we have here is a study in relativity. The worldly wise who reject God's revelation are, in relation to eternal truth, fools. Those, however, who choose the way of God are seen as fools, in relation to the way of the world, but in fact, they are the truly wise. Type one fools seem wise to men, but are fools to God. Type 2 fools seems fools to men, but are wise to God. So wisdom and folly are relative to whose perspective you are seeing them from.
Paul's whole battle with the Corinthians was to get them to stop being wise before the world and fools before God, and to reverse that to being fools before the world, and wise before God. The goal of the Christian is to become a wise fool. The Corinthians were missing this mark because they came from a long tradition of philosophers who had all the answers. As Greeks they were considered a wise people. The result was, the church was in chaos because of all the pride of worldly wisdom. Some thought Paul was the best. Others that it was Peter, and still others that Apollos was number one. Some said they were all wrong, and we follow Jesus only. The church was divided because, in their pride, they were deciding what was best. They were also picking and choosing the gifts they felt were best. In pride Christians can set themselves up as the judge of what is wise and what is foolish, and in so doing they make their human judgment, rather than God's revelation, the basis for their value system, and this is folly.
If human reason is going to be the standard of judgment, then the whole plan of God is nothing but foolishness, and nothing is more foolish than the foolishness of the cross. Just look at the evidence of its folly.
1. The innocent dying for the guilty.
2. The folly of having a way out and not taking it.
3. The folly of having power to destroy your enemy, but letting them destroy you.
4. The folly of surrender to a foe you could easily conquer.
5. The folly of suffering when comfort and pleasure is at your command.
6. The folly of having the power to do miracles, and yet do nothing.
7. The folly of having an eloquent defense and yet not opening your mouth.
8. The folly of going to hell when you never had to leave heaven.
9. The folly of volunteering for a job that is certain death.
10. The folly of being God and yet letting mere men push you around.
11. The folly of forgiving those most worthy of judgment.
We could go on, but I am sure you get the point. The cross is pure foolishness from a rational point of view. It is nonsense, and a ridiculous way for God to go about saving man from the perspective of the worldly wise. An intelligent lost man is scandalized by the cross. He feels that only fools can be Christians if they buy into the foolishness of the cross. When Paul gave his testimony and told of the death and resurrection of Christ, the procurator Festes interrupted him in Acts 26:24 and said to him, "You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane." Paul responds in verse 25, "I am not insane...What I am saying is true and reasonable. So what we have here is the worldly fool meeting the wise fool, and each fool feels the other is a fool indeed. And the point is, both are right from their point of view.
The village screwball met a friend coming down the sidewalk, and he said, "Tell me which is the other side of the street." The friend said, "The other side is over there" pointing to the other side. "That's funny," said the screwball, "That's what I thought too, but I was just over there and the lady there said it was over here." Such a paradox of both sides being the other side can drive a screwball batty, but this is the paradox of life. Both sides of the argument of what is wise are fools from the perspective of the other side, and Paul's advice then is to be a fool for Christ. Be willing to seem like a fool for the sake of Christ. We are so concerned about being accepted that we do not like to be seen as a fool. But the more concerned we are about being respectable to the world, the less we are concerned about being faithful to the wisdom of God.
We are so easily conformed to the world, and we lose our sense of mission which is to confront the world with the foolishness of God.
In the eyes of the wise
Don't be cool, be a fool.
It may be a loss,
And you'll suffer pain,
But this is the cross
That leads to gain.
Gain that goes beyond the worldly clever,
For it is gain that lasts forever.
We are called, not just to be April fools, but perpetual fools. If we never identify with the foolishness of the cross, and always conform to the wisdom of the world, we will still be fools, but not the kind we are called to be. Christians are not beyond the risk of being
worldly fools. A pastor was leaving town, and he told the church secretary he did not have his sermon titles yet for the bulletin, so she could just put in something like, the pastor speaks. What about the evening service she asked? He said he was speaking from Psa. 14 which begins with the words, "The fool has said in his heart there is no God." The pastor told her to just make up a title. So she did, and when the bulletin came out it said-
Morning-The Pastor Speaks.
Evening-What The Fool Said.
In the light of our study, however, it does not need to be seen as embarrassing, for Paul calls himself a fool for Christ, and his ministry for Christ he calls, the foolishness of preaching.
Someone said, "You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but most of the time they will make fools of themselves." Warren Hammer said, "No woman really makes a fool of a man-she merely gives him the opportunity to develop his natural capacities." A young preacher traveling with a Gospel team preached to a Wisconsin congregation, and after the service a Scandinavian saint grabbed his hand and said, "That was a wonderful message." Trying to be humble he responded, "It was just Jesus." "No" said the saint, "It wasn't that good." It can be foolish to attribute all we do to the Lord, for if it was the Lord it would be a whole lot better.
Pastor Wally Klandrud of Phoenix tells of his first hospital call. He wanted it to be perfect, and so he studied all the do's and don'ts of hospital visitation. Nervously he entered the patients room. There was a woman in her eighty's, and the nurse had told him she was senile. He was just about to share some words of comfort when she leaped up on the bed without a stitch of clothing. He tried to keep his composer, and asked her if he could help. "Gotta go to the bathroom," she responded. The pastor ran into the hall way to look for a nurse, but none was in sight. He was in a panic, and ran back to his impatient
patient and said, "Mam, there is nobody out there, but I'll be back next week." As he fled out the door he heard her scream, "Young man I can't wait till next week!"
True stories like this are endless that reveal the fallibility that can happen even when we desire sincerely to be tools of God. Instead of tools, God gets fools. Unfortunately, not every foolish thing Christian do is funny. We have studied Peter and his many mistakes, and one of them was that he felt it was foolish for Jesus to talk about dying. The Christian can see the foolishness of the cross just like the world sees it, and that is what Peter was seeing. God's ways are so different than man's, that if we get caught up in the wisdom of the world, even as Christians, the ways of God will seem foolish and impractical.
Pastor Vajda of St. Louis tells of his organist who would always slip down the back stairs to the basement just before the sermon began, and then return just before it ended. During one of his Lenten services as the organ ceased, he stepped to the pulpit and began with a gripping illustration. At the height of a battle in the Civil War a young soldier thought the command was to charge. He leaped out of the trench with the regimental flag and started running across no mans land toward enemy fire. When the captain saw that other soldiers were following the flag bearer, he shouted at the top of his voice, "Come back here you fool!" As he paused, everyone could hear the clatter of footsteps as the organist came flying back up the steps to take her place at the organ. That was not his intention at all, but he notes that she never again left the organ during a sermon.
This is in essence what Paul is saying to the Corinthians-"Get back here you fools. You are following the way of worldly wisdom which to God is foolishness. Come back to the foolishness of God which is true wisdom. It is wiser to let the world think of you as fools,
than to let God think of you as fools." Somebody is always going to have you on their fools list, but only a fool would choose to be on God's list. Be a fool for Christ, and be on God's list of those who are truly wise. The truly wise are those who are fools for Christ, and care about people who don't care about anyone but themselves. Paul poured his life out for people who were self-centered and worldly wise, and they only rejected him and sought to kill him. Paul still cared and did all he could to win them to Christ by the foolishness of preaching.
Billy Graham tells of the first time he ever preached. It was in a little Baptist church in Florida. 32 people were there, and he thought he had plenty to say. He had four sermons he thought were 40 to 50 minutes each. But he was so nervous he preached all four sermons in 8 minutes. That was the foolishness of preaching. But one little boy in the congregation received Christ, and he realized God can use even our foolishness to accomplish the wisest things that can happen on earth. He tells of one of his evangelists who spoke at a university in Costa Rica. A student came up after and said she was a Marxist, and she laughed and scorned the message he was preaching. The evangelist said, "Before you leave do you mind if I pray for you?"
What folly, to ask if you can pray for one who is mocking you. She was shocked and said, "I guess it couldn't do any harm." So he began to pray, and as he did tears of compassion began to trickle down his cheeks. When he finished, the Marxist was in tears also. She said, "No one ever cared enough for me to shed a tear. I'll listen to what you have to say." She heard the Gospel and received Christ as her Savior.
This is the kind of fool Jesus wants. He wants those who will be fool enough to care about people who don't deserve to be cared about. It is foolishness to waste your life caring about lost people. It is foolishness to leave the 99 and risk injury, and who knows what abuse, to go after that one stupid sheep who has gone astray. Worldly wisdom would say stay with the odds; don't risk yourself for the stray. But those who are fools for Christ, who understand the foolishness of the cross, will go, for it is this kind of foolishness that saved them. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. God had the power to condemn the world, and let His Son go free. Instead He let Him die so the guilty might go free. This is the foolishness of God, and the foolishness of the cross. William Stidger wrote,
I saw God bear His soul one day
Where all the earth might see
The stark and naked heart of Him
On lonely Calvary.
There was a crimson sky of blood
And over head a storm;
When lightening slit the clouds
And light engulfed His form.
Beyond the storm a rainbow lent
A light to every clod,
For on that cross mine eyes beheld
The naked soul of God.
No man would be such a God for they consider it foolishness to suffer for the folly of others. If God was not foolish from man's perspective there would be no cross, and no way for man to be forgiven and reconciled to God. Thank God for such foolishness. All Christian celebrations are really celebrations of the foolishness of God. He had the freedom to just forget fallen man, but He chose to send His Son that they might be redeemed. To magnify the folly of God's plan, it is all based on grace. He pays a high price, and then instead of reaping a huge profit, he gives away the salvation he purchased for free. Jesus could have been the richest king that ever lived. He could have made a mile high palace with streets of gold and walls filled with jewels. He could have had heaven on earth had he charged as little as a thousand dollars each. Every living soul would slave in order to save that much to get into the kingdom.
There is no such plan, however, for salvation is free, and whosoever will may come and drink freely from the fountain of life. Jesus had the greatest money maker of all time at His fingertips, and He gave it away. From the worldly perspective this was nothing but sheer folly. But without the foolishness of the cross there is no answer to the folly of this fallen world. A Polish Jew who had been converted to Christ was asked how he could see his people killed and still believe in the love of God. He saw the blood of his dearest friends stain the streets of his town, but this was his response, "As I looked at that man upon the cross I knew I must make up my mind once and for all, and either take my stand beside him, and share in his undefeated faith in God, or else fall finally into a bottomless pit of bitterness, hatred, and unutterable despair." He was saying, unless there is a God willing to suffer for this loss world, there is no hope, and life has no meaning. But if there is such a God, as we see in Jesus on the cross, then nothing evil can do can rob us of hope.
This is why men like Jim Elliot risk their lives and die to get the message of the cross to the pagan world. He said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." May God help us to be fools for Christ and share with this lost world the foolishness of the cross.