…Because Mount Barker Needs a Work of the Spirit
1 Corinthians 2:6 – 16
…Because Mount Barker Needs a Work of the Spirit
We’re not good at not understanding!
On the front page of the International Herald Tribune newspaper last week, was a story about the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which is right on the edge of our solar system, about to step off into inter-stellar space, and boldly go where no craft has gone before, to quote the famous split infinitive from Star Trek!
These craft were launched in 1977, the same year I was born as it happens. Isn’t that interesting, two things coming into existence in the same year, one of which has achieved great things for human knowledge and understanding, the other is other is a space-craft hurtling through outer space!
No, I’m just kidding!
But the reason, after 35 years, that Voyager 1, is on the front page of the papers, is what it’s encountering at the edge of the solar system, is, and I quote, what “no one expected, and no one can yet explain.”
It seems that scientists expected certain things, but what they’ve found, is almost the exact opposite of what they though
I guess that’s science for you, you make your hypothesis,
You look at your data,
You reassess your hypothesis.
But what I found particularly interesting, was the way these scientists, some of them, the most senior people in their field in the world, how they struggled, and reacted against the fact, that here was something they couldn’t know, and any kind of understanding of it was beyond their grasp.
And some of them were kind of falling over themselves to try and explain away the fact that they didn’t and couldn’t know something, while others, I think the older and slightly wiser ones, admitted, “The truth is, we do not understand. This is beyond us.”
I think it’s a universal characteristic.
We’re not good at accepting we don’t understand things.
We don’t like being told that something is beyond our comprehension!
Most of us, I’m sure, can remember being told as a child, “You’re too young, you can’t understand.”
And we don’t like that.
Being told that something is beyond our understanding just rubs us the wrong way.
Paul’s message is wisdom that is not understood by some 6 – 10a
And yet the Apostle Paul, says here in this letter to his Christian friends in Corinth, that the message he preaches, is wisdom from God, that to some people, is beyond comprehension.
Look at verse 7 for example, we declare God’s wisdom,
But verse 8, None of the rulers of this age understood it
If you were with us last week, we read in chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians, something that our own experience has shown to be entirely true:
To people who are far from God,
To people who are trying to find God, on their own terms, and in their own way,
To people who operate with the wisdom of our age, and who assess things according to the priorities and values of our age, the message of the cross, the message of a crucified saviour is foolishness.
A God who breaks into the world that he made, and stands in the place of his creatures who have rebelled against him,
Taking the penalty that they deserve for that rebellion,
That message appears foolish.
The message that says you cannot come to God, except through Jesus, God the Son, dying in your place, that message is considered foolish in the world that you and I inhabit.
We hear that from our friends and family and those we work with, don’t we?
I don’t know about you, but the fact that the Bible speaks exactly to my experience, I find that a great comfort.
If it was just that every day my friends tell me how silly I am for trusting in Jesus,
And every time I turn on the TV, some journalist or commentator is saying that belief in God, or heaven, or resurrection, is utter foolishness,
With that constant refrain, I might start to think that I’ve got something wrong!
Have I been sucked in?
Have I fallen, hook, line and sinker, for some foolish fairy tale?
But no, the Bible informs my experience, and tells me that is exactly the kind of response I ought to expect from those who have absorbed uncritically, the self-centred values and priorities of a world running head-long away from God.
To those who are perishing, chapter 1 verse 18, the message of the cross is foolishness.
But here we discover that Paul doesn’t want his readers to think that the message of Jesus, is foolishness in every way.
See verse 6, We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing., 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden, and that God destined for our glory before time began
Notice that Paul’s not saying the message of Christ crucified is devoid of wisdom, rather, the message of the cross is wisdom, it’s just that it’s not human wisdom, and those who seek after human wisdom, will not recognise this other kind of wisdom.
He’s not criticising wisdom itself! In fact, in the original language, the word wisdom stands in the emphatic position at the beginning of verse 6. “Wisdom we speak”
But it’s a different kind of wisdom.
And those who recognise the message of the cross as wisdom, are mature in contrast to those who still see it as foolishness.
It’s not that there are some Christian believers who are mature, who have moved onto this kind of higher plane, and they can understand things that normal, regular everyday Christians can’t understand.
That’s how some Christians, sadly, use this passage, some Christian leaders especially,
To set themselves up as beyond critique,
Everyone who doesn’t agree with me is obviously immature.
Clearly that’s not Paul’s point, is it?
Clearly the contrast here is between people who understand the message of the cross, not as foolishness but as the power of God, that is all Christian people, that’s the definition of a Christian!
Those people are contrasted with people for whom the gospel of a crucified savour still is foolishness.
The mature are those who understand God’s wisdom, and we’ll see in a moment how they’ve come to understand that,
And the mature are contrasted with those who still operate according to the the wisdom of this age.
But as Voyager highlighted for us, we don’t like being told that we don’t understand something,
And so you can imagine, those people Paul refers to in verse 6, the rulers of this age, not necessarily political rulers, but those who lead the philosophical outlook of the age, like I said last week, the Q & A panel, you can imagine them, kind of spluttering, protesting to Paul, trying to declare their innocence,
Trying to say, “Actually, no, no, we do follow and understand God’s wisdom”, but Paul says, the proof that worldly wisdom cannot understand the wisdom of God, lies in the fact that worldly wisdom,
Human religious efforts,
Led to Jesus being executed.
Verse 8, None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory
If you want claim to understand the wisdom of God, just make sure that you think about the cross of Jesus, in exactly the same way that God thinks about the cross of Jesus,
And if you view the cross as anything other than the most significant event in human history,
The great bridging of the divide between humanity and God,
The place where God’s wisdom is displayed most clearly,
Paul says, if anyone views the cross in anything other than those terms, they do not understand the wisdom of God.
God’s wisdom is beyond our reach
And it shouldn’t surprise us that people don’t understand the wisdom of God, because naturally, left to our own devices, God’s wisdom is beyond our reach.
Verse 7, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began
Paul doesn’t mean that God’s wisdom is a mystery like a murder mystery, something that Hercules Poirot, or Columbo, can carefully piece the clues together, and find the truth.
No, mystery in the New Testament isn’t something that’s difficult to solve, but can be figured out with the right amount of effort, mystery means something that is completely beyond our ability to comprehend, and the only way for us to understand it is for it to be explicitly stated to us.
Most of the time in the New Testament, the word mystery is closely followed by a word like proclaimed,
Or made known,
God’s wisdom is beyond our reach, but it’s not that with a little persistence, some practice and some discipline, we will be able to reach it.
In PE classes in school, you may have had to do that routine where you jump, and make a mark on the board, that records how high you can reach. And over time, with practice, the idea is that you can reach further and further.
No, God’s wisdom is entirely out of reach to the person who operates just according to the wisdom of the world,
This week I read an article by Susan Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the perpetrators of the horrific Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
The article is her reflection on trying to come to grips with the question of why her son would commit such an atrocious crime, and it’s titled “I will never know why”.
She realises that understanding that, is entirely beyond herncomprehension.
Of course the content is very different, and yet the complete inability to penetrate the unknown, is exactly what’s tied up in this language of the mystery of God’s wisdom.
The message of forgiveness, reconciliation, salvation, through Jesus’ death on the cross, cannot be understood, through human wisdom and human efforts.
And Paul drives home his point by quoting from Isaiah 64 and 65, “What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him
Which, if the story ended there, would be a rather depressing finish!
But God’s wisdom, the good news of the cross of Jesus doesn’t remain forever beyond our reach.
Those words in verse 9, the place I hear them said more than any other, is at funerals. Someone reads them to remind those who are grieving, of all the good things that a Christian person receives when they die and are welcomed into God’s presence in heaven.
But while it’s true that the great benefits of knowing God will be ours, completely, one day, that’s not actually what Paul’s speaking about.
His point is that what had been, in the past, hidden from people, unattainable, is now revealed.
Revealed to the mature, verse 6,
To Christian people.
As he says there, these good things God has prepared for those who love him, these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit of God makes the thoughts of God known. 10b – 13
How can we know the mystery of God, the wisdom of God?
Only through the work of the Spirit of God.
Have a look from the middle of verse 10, The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
How does God make known his thoughts, things that are to us, naturally unknowable? That’s the work of the Spirit of God.
In the ancient world, there was a principle first proposed by the philosopher Empedocles, that stated “Like is known by like.”
It basically meant you can only understand something if you are similar to that thing. Things that are foreign, things that are other you can’t understand.
Like is known by like.
Us, slightly less eloquent Australians, would probably translate it “It takes one to know one”!
Well Paul uses that truism, “it takes one to know one”, to show that the only way that someone can understand what God has achieved for us in the cross of Christ, is through God himself, making those things known.
That’s the role of the Spirit of God, and that’s what people in our region need, if they’re to come to faith in Jesus.
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. And the Spirit is pictured, a bit like a deep sea diver, delving into the depths of God’s thoughts, and bringing those treasures back for us.
See, I’m thinking of someone right at this moment,
But you don’t have any idea what it is, do you?
You might try and guess,
Those of you who know me very well, might have a pretty good chance of figuring out what I’m thinking about.
My wife Kathy’s got a reasonable chance, but even her guess would be just that, a guess.
And that’s with people who are, just like me!
When it comes to knowing God,
Understanding the thoughts of God who is completely different to us, and completely beyond us,
Like is known, only by like,
It takes one to know one.
If our friends and family,
The people in our region, if they’re to understand who God is and what he’s done for them,
They need God to make himself known.
One time when we were away, Kathy and I were trying to find something on TV, and we came across the home shopping channel! So we watched this promotion for one of those robotic vacuum cleaners, you know, a little round things that scoots all over your house, all on its own, guided by lasers, and GPS, and satellites, and all kind of secret military technology to stop it bumping into your furniture and falling down your stairs.
But of course these ads are filled with apparently unscripted testimonials about how great these products are, and the vacuum cleaner company had found a great marketing angle for their product, targeting people with disabilities, different kinds of frailties, people for whom regular vacuum cleaning is physically impossible.
And so they had one lady there, . talking about how her robotic vacuum cleaner, searches out the dust under the couch, and behind the desk, and into all these places, that because of her frailities, she had no hope of ever searching out herself.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God
That is, the spirit gets to the place, that we can never reach.
We can’t know the mind of God
It takes one to know one!
But God’s Spirit, of course, knows God’s thoughts
And we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us
We’ve been slowly working our way through John’s gospel, since we started our church. And one of the things that we’ve noticed is how John speaks of the cross as Jesus’ glorification,
The place where Jesus is glorified,
The place where God the Father is glorified.
Now, we tend not to use the word “glory” all that much, these days. And in fact the primary example I could think of, was when we speak of “seeing someone in all their glory”!
I won’t elaborate, but you know what I mean!
We see them as they really are!
And while it might surprise us a little, that’s exactly the sense in which the word glory is used in connection with the cross.
It’s at the cross of Jesus that we see God “in all his glory.”
We see God, as he really is.
Now, why have I diverged into talking about glory?
It’s because I want to make sure that we understand this:
Has God acted publicly in the world, in the ultimate act of revelation, and self-disclosure?
Has God shown us himself, in all his glory?
Yes, he has
But that public, never to be repeated act, on its own, is not sufficient for people to come to know God.
That public act, the cross of Christ, achieved our salvation, but in order for individuals to come to a saving knowledge of God, there must also be a private, unseen, work of God, in that person.
What is achieved at the cross,
Must be explained and brought to bear on the hearts and minds of individual men and women, boys and girls, if they are to understand that event as the demonstration of the wisdom of God.
We could say that the Son of God brings us to God the Father, through his life and ministry, his death and resurrection,
And the Spirit of God enables us to understand the good news of what the Son has done.
Last week we heard Katy Walker share something of a series of conversations she’s had with a friend about who Jesus is, and what he’s done.
And Katy shared with us, her reflections, on realising, that in order for this friend who she loves, to come to know Jesus, what was of primary importance was not Katy getting all the right arguments,
Or even, making sure her friend understands the facts, the historical reality of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.
What dawned on Katy, was the realisation, that in order for her friend to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus, the Spirit of God, had to be at work.
And so when we pray for ourselves in evangelism,
When we pray for friends and family who don’t know Jesus, we need to be praying that the Spirit will be at his work.
It takes one to know one.
To know God, you need the Spirit of God.
The Spirit reveals the wisdom of God through the gospel message
And here we get to finally finding an answer to the question we’ve set ourselves, “Why does Mount Barker need to hear the gospel?”
Well, because Mount Barker, the people in this region, need to experience the work of the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God works through the message of the gospel.
This is what we speak, Paul says, verse 13, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words
We can’t know the thoughts of God, although the Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God.
How will the Spirit of God communicate the thoughts of God to us?
Well, through Spirit-taught words,
And that makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
Words are the means by which thoughts are made known, right?
Those of you who have children, or have spent time with little kids, babies, will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, even at a very young age, babies have thoughts.
So our daughter Abby who’s not yet 2, she has lots of thoughts, and Kathy and I really wish we understood what those thoughts are!
There are times that Abby very clearly wants something. Normally at 4 O Clock in the morning! But she can’t speak! Well, not really, so we don’t know what her thoughts are.
Do you want a drink?
Do you want some food?
Do you want a toy?
Do you want your nappy changed?
Do you want to get up and get stuck into the day, even though the sun’s hours away from coming over the horizon?!
And we kind of go through this deranged game of charades, trying to guess and interpret the thought that’s in Abby’s head, because she can’t put it into words!
We look forward to the day when she can use words to tell us her thoughts.
Earlier on, when I told you I was thinking something, you had no idea what it was, did you?
But let me tell you,
Let me put those thoughts, into words.
I was thinking about having confessed my coveting of more bass guitars, a couple of Sundays ago, and in the light of the need for all of us, to give deliberately, and generously, and sacrificially, in order to fund an associate Pastor, I was thinking maybe I should sell a bass or two, go without something I really like and really enjoy, in order for that gospel goal to become a reality.
Hands up if you knew that’s what I was thinking. I won’t even waste your time! No one knew that, except me.
But now, because I’ve put it into words, we all know!
If we want to know God’s thoughts,
If we want people who we know and care about, to know God’s thoughts, God’s wisdom,
We need someone to translate God’s thoughts into words.
And the person who knows God’s thoughts, is the spirit of God,
So our friends, and us, in fact, if we’re not Christian, we need the spiritual realities of the thoughts of God to come to us in words from the Spirit of God.
We need the wisdom of God, to be made known to us, by the Spirit, in words.
And you might think, “Well, that sounds good!
Taught to us,
Spirit-taught words, verse 13,
But where do we find them?
How do we get our hands, our ears, on these Spirit-taught words?
Should I expect some random announcement from the Spirit?
Well, Paul says it in verse 13, doesn’t he, absolutely clearly and unequivocally,
Those Spirit-taught words, are the words that he speaks.
And Paul uses that same grammatical construction I mentioned earlier, highlighting a word at the beginning of the sentence, We have received, he says, the Spirit of God, a message from God.
We, meaning in the first instance we, not you.
He’s talking about the apostolic message.
The message about Jesus, about forgiveness, peace with God, the message of the cross,
The message that he himself had preached in Corinth some years earlier,
That message that is for us, now contained, in our Bibles, in our New Testament particularly, but the New Testament, as the fulfilment of the Old Testament.
That message he says, is not a message that humans came up with, words taught us by human wisdom, verse 13,
No Paul’s message, the message of the cross comes to people in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.
Do you follow his argument?
The message of the cross,
The gospel message,
For us, the words of the Scriptures, are words that come to us from the Spirit of God, and are the means by which he makes known to us those thoughts of God, that are as far unreachable to us on our own, as the dust under that lady’s couch was unreachable to her.
Why does Mount Barker need to hear the gospel?
Because the message of the gospel, the words of our Scriptures, are Spirit-taught words, that bring the otherwise unknown and unknowable thoughts of God and wisdom of God, into people’s lives,
When we speak the Word of God, the word of the gospel, into people’s lives, that’s not just a nice collection of words that the Holy Spirit had some influence in gathering together into a neat pile.
The Holy Spirit himself, spoke the words, that Paul preached,
That we read,
And that we want to see, brought to bear on lives in this Mount Barker community.
When we speak the gospel to our friends, we give the Spirit the tool that he uses, to shine the wisdom of God into that person’s life.
It’s tax time isn’t it? And so some of us are starting to think about tax returns and deductions, and all those kinds of things.
And I was talking to someone recently, who asked me what kind of “tools of the trade”, a pastor could claim a tax deduction for?
He wondered about holy water,
And then he thought probably robes would count,
And then he decided incense would probably be allowed.
I told him I hadn’t spent any money on holy water, robes or incense in the last financial year, and he kind of looked at me pitifully!
But this time of year, more than any other, we’re mindful of the tools of our trade!
The Holy Spirit’s primary tool of the trade, the one thing he can claim a tax deduction for, if that helps you remember it, his tool is the apostolic message,
The message of the cross,
The message in the Scriptures.
That is how he communicates the spiritual realities, to people,
To people in our region,
To people we’re talking to about Jesus,
To people here,
If you’re not a Christian and you want to know the thoughts of God, pick up a Bible, read the message of the cross, and pray to God, ask that he, by his Spirit, will reveal his thoughts, his wisdom to you.
Without the Spirit of God, people cannot understand the message the Spirit brings 14 - 16
And so Paul more or less returns to where he started, in the last few verses.
The great revelation of God’s wisdom through the message of the cross, and through the work of the Spirit, exposes the blindness of worldly wisdom.
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
Will you pray, with me, for a great work of the Spirit of God in our region?
Will you pray, that the Spirit of God will speak the wisdom of God, the thoughts of God, into people’s hearts and minds, making God known?
And will you speak Spirit-taught words, the message of the gospel, the words of the Scriptures, centred as they are on Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
Will you pray?
Will you speak?
And will you adopt and develop the mind of Christ, verse 16,
The cross-shaped mind of Christ, where power is seen in weakness,
And wisdom is seen in foolishness.