Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services
Reading: Isaiah 64
Text: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16
Isaiah 64 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Prayer for Mercy and Help
64 [a]Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down,
That the mountains might quake at Your presence—
2 [b]As fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil—
To make Your name known to Your adversaries,
That the nations may tremble at Your presence!
3 When You did awesome things which we did not expect,
You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence.
4 For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.
5 You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness,
Who remembers You in Your ways.
Behold, You were angry, for we sinned,
We continued in them a long time;
And shall we be saved?
6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on Your name,
Who arouses himself to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us
And have [c]delivered us into the power of our iniquities.
8 But now, O Lord, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all of us are the work of Your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord,
Nor remember iniquity forever;
Behold, look now, all of us are Your people.
10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness,
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and beautiful house,
Where our fathers praised You,
Has been burned by fire;
And all our precious things have become a ruin.
12 Will You restrain Yourself at these things, O Lord?
Will You keep silent and afflict us beyond measure?
1 Corinthians 2:6-16 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9 but just as it is written,
“Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”
10 [a]For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, [b]combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
14 But [c]a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually [d]appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
The Cross and the Holy Spirit
Manuscript of this sermon:
The Cross and the Holy Spirit
Reading: Isaiah 64 Text: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16
A prominent theme in the first two chapters of Corinthians is the Cross of Christ. In the first chapter Paul encourages the congregation to find their unity in Jesus Christ rather than in their favourite preacher. From verse 18 and following the cross looks weak to those who are perishing but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. Therefore the weakness of God is stronger than men because no man can save himself. No one can be saved and gain eternal life other than through the cross of Christ.
Here in chapter 2 Paul answered the question, “who understands the message of the cross?” Who can grasp the significance of the cross and understand what Paul said earlier about God choosing the weak things of the world to shame the strong. What does it take? It takes two things maturity, and the Holy Spirit.
Paul wrote (vs 6) “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature”. What does Paul mean by mature? Well it has nothing to do with age or wisdom generally. Someone may be old, astute and have a lot of knowledge on a wide range of subjects and yet not be mature according to 1 Corinthians 2:6. Neither is Paul speaking about gradations of spiritual maturity in the sense that someone might be more or less mature depending on how well he knows and applies the Bible to his thinking and living. This is not about more or less mature Christians. Paul deals with that further on in his letter.
The maturity Paul is describing means coming to terms with the cross of Christ. He elaborates on that in the verses which follow. He calls it a special kind of wisdom. “Not the wisdom of this age nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away”. The rulers of this age are could be seen as those who are looked up as leaders and who have influence over people’s thinking.
In Paul’s day these rulers were the emperors and governors of the Roman empire. Those whose word was law. You could also include the leaders of the Jews; the Rabbis and teachers of the law who did not understand God’s wisdom; that the cross must precede the crown. They included men like Pontius Pilate and the men in the Jewish Sanhedrin who crucified Jesus.
Those who influence people’s thinking today and who would fit Paul’s category of ‘the wisdom of this age’ are men like Charles Darwin. Until the advent of Social Darwinism the mind-set of Western Society was that history progressed under the sovereignty of God and that the gospel about Jesus Christ was the message that brought civilisation and true faith to an increasing number of nations around the world. Darwin helped change all that with his theory of evolution. According to his theory history and life progresses from a mean past to an improving future due to the forces of natural selection, advances in education, government, business, science and the ability to share information through improved media methods; from news papers through TV to the internet. The assertion is: that evolution has given us the intelligence and technical skill to control our own destiny. So there is no need really of God.
Since Darwinism has been taught in schools and universities as gospel truth for decades Darwin (and other men like him including Karl Marx etc).; their influence has permeated western society to a large degree. They are a modern day example of the rulers of this age, the wise man, scholar and philosopher of chapter 1:20. However because they oppose the message of the cross their wisdom is ultimately of no value. It is passing away.
True wisdom is what Paul called God’s wisdom in a mystery. It is hidden wisdom predestined before the ages. Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah to explain what he means. Isaiah 64 begins with the prophet praying “that the heavens would open and that God would come down to earth to reveal himself.” However then Isaiah says “no ear has heard and no eye has seen.” The way Paul uses this prophecy is to say what was hidden for ages has been revealed in Christ but like many in OT times the scribe, debater and scholar have failed to perceive the wisdom of God even when he came in the flesh, in person! The prophecy from Isaiah also shows us that God’s wisdom seen in the cross of Christ was always in God’s plan and so for some Corinthian Christians to adopt the philosophies of Greek and Roman culture, a culture that did not know God; that was foolish!
Today too it is foolish to give our allegiance to the opinion makers of the day if they are blind to the truth about Jesus Christ and the cross of Christ because such opinions (such as Karl Marx’s dialectic materialism or Darwin’s theory of evolution) are passing fads. What is important for all people is to know God and be reconciled to Him through the cross of Christ. What is most important is to discover the solution to our deepest problem sin and find forgiveness and freedom in Jesus Christ.
So knowing and believing in Jesus is what distinguishes the mature from the people and rulers of this age, in other words it’s a distinction between believer and unbeliever.
And being mature because we see and accept the truth of the gospel has nothing to do with brilliance or special spiritual insight. It has to do with the Spirit of God. If we are thankful to God for the gift of his Son and for sins forgiven then we should also be thankful for the Holy Spirit who makes this possible
2. That brings me to the second point, knowing the truth about God’s way of salvation is only possible through the Holy Spirit. In verse 10 Paul wrote “God revealed them through the Spirit for the Spirit searches all things even the depths of God”. We can understand what Paul means here by looking at the contrasts he makes in verse 12 and 14 between the spirit of this world and the Spirit of God and then the natural man and the man who is spiritual.
There is a lot in our world that we can know for example the results of experiments in a chemistry laboratory. We know about historical events or about people and places but it is something else to know God. God is far greater than we are. We are sinful and because of sin may distort the truth about what we see around us. If we are deeply affected by the wisdom of the world or if we are rebellious then we are very likely to distort the truth available to us about God
For example it says in Romans 1:18-20 that though God’s power and wisdom is clearly seen in what has been made men suppress the truth. Why do people suppress the truth about the evidence of intelligent design in creation? Because of sin.
We cannot really know God truly because of this sin unless….. He reveals himself to us. The agent who brings this revelation to us is the Holy Spirit.
That means if anyone is to know God and think his thoughts after him he or she will have to receive the Holy Spirit. We simply cannot find God by ourselves. Jesus said “You must be born again; born of the Spirit!”
So it’s a comforting thing brothers and sisters, that we Christians have received the Spirit of God. We have not received the Spirit of the world as Paul puts it in verse 12 but the Spirit who is from God.
Because that is so we understand what the cross of Christ is all about; that through Jesus death on the cross we are reconciled to God. Our obtuseness, our self-centeredness our love of power or prestige would not have allowed s to understand and accept the cross of Christ. But by the power of the Holy Spirit we have overcome sin rather than be dominated by it. We know that we have been redeemed by Christ’s ignominious death. We can understand with deep thankfulness what God has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ.
There is one more contrast in the text which Paul uses to drive his point home and that is in verse 14-16 the contrast between the natural person and the spiritual person. So just as the man without the Spirit is not mature is under the influence of the spirit of the world so also the man without the spirit is a natural man. Paul says that this man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God. Not only does he not understand the message of the cross but he simply will not accept it. This makes him or her culpable because though God made everyone to be in a right relationship with God people run away from God. They don’t wasn’t to know God. In fact according to Paul in Romans 8:7 the natural man or woman is hostile towards God.
Some in that category can talk about the cross of Christ know about the crucifixion as historical fact but they think it’s a all a bit gruesome and barbaric and find it hard to believe that Jesus rose again from the dead anyway. So they construct a brand of Christianity which focuses on the ethics of Jesus on gentleness and tolerance. In such cases (and liberal churches have many of them) they have bought into the so called wisdom of the world; a wisdom which filters out the centrality of the message of the cross of Christ.
The reason for preferring the world’s wisdom rather than God’s is once again waywardness, self-interest and alienation from God. It is a refusal to recognise how lost and sinful we really are. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the power to understand the message of Christ crucified and make the cross of Christ central to our religion.
This is the approach of the spiritual man as opposed to the natural man. We understand the message of the cross. Christ died for sinners. He became sin for us and clothed us in his righteousness and so we sit here as forgiven sinners.
Furthermore this understanding and acceptance of the cross of Christ gives us a certain ability which the natural man does not have. In verse 15 Paul wrote he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. This can also be translated ‘he who is spiritual judges all things’. That doesn’t mean that Christians are not ever subject to any man’s judgment or that Christians are part of a spiritual elite who can make judgements about scientific legal medical things about which he may have no knowledge. This has to be read in context of religion. What it means is that while the natural man cannot understand holiness the spiritual man or woman can understand both holiness and evil. So the ‘all things’ in the verse means the whole range of spiritual and moral experience; from the basest form of godless living to what it means to be a Christian. The Christian lives in both worlds and can make right judgments about good and evil from the perspective of God’s word. But the natural person cannot properly assess what goes on in the spiritual world any more than a colour blind person can distinguish the different hues in the rainbow or in a sunset;.. or any more than a deaf person can comment on the quality of Pavarotti’s voice or the harmonies in Bach’s musical compositions.
For example I’ve recently had a few discussions with non Christians about who God is and what true religion is and the opinions I’ve heard include “god is an impersonal force”, (we probably have star wars movies to thank for that), and another; “ I think I go along with the Ancient Greek and Roman ideas about god” In other words there are many god’s, and from someone else “I don’t think religion is about rules but about loving people.”
Others claim that Christians in western society are ignorant narrow and incapable of understanding the real world. According to today’s critics of Christianity we are some or all of the following, superstitious, bigoted, homophobic, misogynist, flat earthers. Well, Paul says the opposite. Christians are as capable as other sinners of understanding the complexities of sin and understanding the many ways in which those who wander away from the truth reason away their sin with fine sounding arguments . Furthermore because we have received the spirit of God it says in the last verse “we have the mind of Christ” That means we can say things which are wise and true about the problems in this world. We can provide God’s perspective and apply his solutions to sin in the world . We can talk about the beauty of holiness and about God’s plan of salvation and reconciliation with God through the cross of Christ. We can talk about forgiveness and forgive others because we have been forgiven. We can explore what a truly Christian society is like we can trace the progress of Christianity in history and see clearly how the message of the cross of Christ has made a powerful impact for good in the world down through the centuries .
On the other hand the narrow perspective is held by those who reject the word of God and have never tasted the grace of God’s forgiveness through the cross. They suppress the truth about God, distort the facts in history, apply false philosophies to all areas of life; philosophies which do harm rather than good. What good does it do to believe the philosophies of Karl Marx or Charles Darwin? What good does it do worship the creature rather than the creator whether that be a river, a mountain or whoever your idol is? . What good does it do to legalise and celebrate homosexuality or admire the worlds transient stars rather than the Lord Jesus Christ crucified for our sin risen for our justification and ascended as king of kings, Lord of our lives.
That this doesn’t mean that we can never learn anything from non Christians that Christians are always above correction or rebuke even from unbelievers, far from it! What Paul is saying is that as Christians we have the mind of Christ which is alien to an unbeliever.
In conclusion then the gulf between the spiritual person and the natural person is immense. Like the chasm between the rich man in hell and Lazarus in heaven its is an unbreachable chasm apart from the Spirit of God.
The evidence that we have the Holy Spirit is that we believe the word of God and find our salvation in the atonement ; that we accept the cross of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and to be reconciled with God. As Christians this must be our main point of identification because this is what God’s plan of redemption centres on. Our main point of identification cannot be our denomination, style of worship, whatever moral issue we are fighting, home-schooling etc., these are all important and they are applications of the word of God but must not be allowed to obscure or minimise in any way our main point of identification and that is that we are not our own but belong body and soul to our Lord Jesus Christ who has purchased us for himself with his precious blood shed on the cross for our forgiveness and reconciliation with God.