Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 6: New Truths of the Kingdom Aristocracy
Part 6 Introduction
Lesson 152 – Faith-Rest Drill – Acts 17 – Confronting Unbelief: Athens vs. Jerusalem
12 Oct 2000
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
I want to finish Acts 17 and review again why we’re doing this and some of the applications for us in everyday life. We handed out a tract on the faith-rest life and there was that faith-rest drill. I’m going to conclude with that after we finish Acts 17. In Acts 17 and we’ve shown how Paul in his approach to the Athenians gives us a model of how to deal with unbelief. After spending a lot of time studying this passage, I’ve concluded that it’s got a lot of tremendous material strategy wise. It represents the collision of the apostle representing Jerusalem and the people that basically lived in and around Athens, and they represent Athens. We said that there was a famous quote by Tertullian which said: “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?”
Tertullian’s point was in the early church there had been people who were already involved in syncretism, and that is taking pieces of the Greek thought and baptizing them, so to speak, and coming out with kind of a mixed version of Christianity. And Tertullian said no-no, the revelational material in Scripture coming forth from Jerusalem is sufficient; we don’t need to rely on Aristotle, we don’t need to rely on Plato, we don’t need Epicureanism, we don’t need Stoicism. Those are unnecessary. But they continually creep into our thinking and they’re still doing it today.
In Acts 17 when Paul confronted these people in a public hearing, beginning in verse 22 he started in by showing the contrast between the pagan thought, the pagan system and what Jerusalem believed. So we could diagram it by saying here’s what Jerusalem believed, here’s Athens and those two cities become the focal points for the great truths of paganism and the Word of God. Just to review, in verses 22-27 if you have a study Bible and look in the margin you will see that those are almost 100% quotes from the Old Testament. In particular you’ll notice, particularly in verse 24 it’s so obvious, that what he does is he builds on the framework. He starts out and he brings up the issue of creation; he brings up the issue of creation in order to define who God is.
The woods are full of evangelicals today wandering all over the place claiming that it doesn’t make any difference about evolution or creation as long as we stick to Jesus. The problem with that is you can’t define Jesus if you don’t define God properly, and you can’t define God properly if you don’t distinguish Him from the creation. So that kind of stuff that you hear is usually the product of a lazy mind. People are too lazy to think about it. Not that they’re stupid, they just are lazy and don’t focus in on what the Scriptures are trying to tell us. So we want to be careful that we mimic Paul.
In fact, in verses 24-25 where he says, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, [He] does not dwell in temples made with hands,” you’ll see that he begins to attack here; he begins to draw a tremendous contrast between the Bible and pagan thought. What did the pagans believe? They believed that they could construct out of finite material, i.e. out of man’s finite intellect, concepts that were sufficient to contain God. In other words, they’ve got a grasp of God, they can comprehend God. And their architecture and their art, the temple, was just a physical incarnation of their concept. So when you see a verse like verse 24, “temples made with hands,” you can translate that concepts that flow from the finite human intellect, i.e. they’re manufactured concepts, because whoever built the temple had to have an architectural plan. And they had a purpose for the architectural plan.
Don’t read through that so fast that you don’t think about the implication of what he just said. He said, “The God who made the world and all things in it … does not dwell in temples made with hands.” That utterly refutes the pagan position; that utterly challenges the idea that you and I can sit here and with the power of our own mind comprehend God, have a concept of God. It comes out today, the average person on the street, well I think God is like this. It doesn’t matter what you think God is like and it doesn’t matter what I think God is like, what matters is what He is like and what He’s told us about Himself in the Scriptures. It’s not a matter of private opinion, it’s a matter of absolute truth, and only God is qualified to tell us what He is like. So we’re still in the pagan trellis, this is not some ancient Athenian thing, it’s a modern American thing, we’re doing the same thing that the Athenians were doing.
Paul contrasts, and what we want to see is his strategy, how he contrasted point after point after point and you say why? Why doesn’t he build bridges? Why is he creating a canyon instead of building a bridge? He could have argued, according to a lot of people even in our own evangelical circles, well now you know, Plato had the idea of absolute truth, and what we want to do is just kind of add a little bit to what Plato said, and we’ll bring Jesus in somewhere along the line. So what we’re doing is we’re adding the Bible onto a base that’s already established without the Bible. Paul says no, you start with the foundation. Going back again to the illustration we’ve used a hundred times, this is not a game of interior decoration; this is total reconstruction all the way down to the foundations. Once this chasm is created, now you’ve got a difference, and guess what? That chasm is the very description and the opportunity for repentance. You can’t have repentance if there’s not a chasm to cross, if there’s not a radical change in thought necessary there’s no repentance.
The problem is the word “repentance” in our vocabulary has become to be associated with bad feelings, I feel bad about something, I feel bad about my sin. You very well might feel bad about the sin but that is not repentance. Judas felt bad about betraying Jesus, but that didn’t save him. Repentance means change of mind all the way down to your sox. That’s what repentance is about, it’s a change of mind, a change in the way of thinking, and there can’t be a change if there’s not a difference to go from state one to state two. This is why you will see Paul, you will see Elijah, you will see Stephen in the book of Acts, you will see Joshua, you’ll see Moses - all the great addresses in Scripture are antithetical in their structure. They’re always drawing a chasm down; they’re not a sales pitch. You might say in one sense they are because they’re challenging people to do something, but the way the challenge is given isn’t a bridge. The way the challenge is given is a chasm and says now you jump. That’s the way the Scriptures present themselves.
We emphasize that because when we get into that faith-rest drill that’s what goes on in our heads all the time, is that when we get confronted with a situation our first tendency is to hop on a bandwagon that’s been loaded with material from the world, and we try to solve the problem. What we have to do is stop and grab a verse of Scripture and think, “What is the background of that Scripture, why is it true, why is it trustworthy, and how can I apply it in a situation?” And this stuff that I’m bringing into the situation really has a lot of garbage with it, and it’s foolishness.
Paul is demonstrating the foolishness of paganism as he goes through here and in the outline I list things that paganism denies and things that paganism affirms. It affirms certain things; in verse 23 it believes it doesn’t have total knowledge. The problem is it arrogantly presupposes it does have total knowledge when it built the temple. We said that unbelief, over here in Athens unbelief has got to be hypocritical, and by that we mean that unbelief always has to deal with residual God-consciousness; it really does know God. At the same time it’s hiding and suppressing it by a whole group of rationalizations. So deep down there’s this tug of war going on all the time with unbelief. Unbelief is inherently hypocritical so Paul exploits that hypocrisy starting in verse 23 by pointing out what they admit. They admit that they can’t know. If they had thought through this they would have realized that if you don’t know God and you can’t know all the gods and you are limited, then it just might be possible that you have to rely on God speaking to you. That opened the door and Paul saw that, so he’s exploiting the divided house; that’s what he’s doing.
We worked our way down through verse 30. Verse after verse he’s contrasted the Greek view of man; he contrasted the Greek view of history. In verses 26-27 there is a biblical exposition of the meaning of history, which the ACLU attorneys will not permit you to say in a public classroom because they have a vested interest in putting their own secularism and unbelief in the classroom at public expense. That’s the meaning of history, verses 26-27. It is not Marxism, i.e. economics; it’s not the struggle of the proletariat to attain social prosperity. The purpose of history in verse 26 is that men come to know God. That’s the purpose of history, to make men see God. When you see catastrophes what does it do? It shatters the idea that man can rationally plan everything out. There are always surprises, some due to man’s sin, some due to negligence, etc. But nevertheless, the purpose of it all is in verse 27, “that they should seek God.” then it says “if,” and it’s fourth class in the Greek, which means if and there’s a very low probability of it ever happening, “if they might,” by some small chance, “grope after Him” as a blind man, “and find Him.”
In verse 28 he gave an illustration of what it looks like to see blind men groping by quoting two poets from the Greek literature. This is not a quote, as many interpreters think, it is not a quote of approving what those poets said; it’s a quote by way of explanation of verse 27 because verse 28 begins with “for.” Verse 28 is an illustration of the truth of blind men groping, in other words, the blind men are the Greek poets, the people are their cultural leaders, the elite of their civilization. They are the blind people groping after Him. The evidence of the groping is the fact that in spite of the fact that the quote in verses 28-29, offspring, move and exist, etc. if you look in the original Greek material that quote is talking about Zeus. The point is that even though they are blind and chasing after false gods like Zeus, nevertheless even while they are chasing Zeus and have these wrong ideas of who God is, they can’t help but admit man’s dependency. They can’t help but admit that man is derivative; he’s the offspring of the gods. That’s what Paul is talking about. He says even in their blindness they can feel and touch some of the truth, in spite of themselves.
Then in verse 29 he uses the verb “ought not.” Verse 29 is telling us that there are right ways and wrong ways to think. Have you ever heard it said, especially by so-called free thinkers and the educational establishment, that we’ve got to teach people how to think, people should think this way and we just don’t believe that men should just be passive and should just accept authority? Well, if the authority happens to be God, we’d better accept it. What happened to Eve in the Garden of Eden? God said you will die; Satan said you won’t. So joining the modern educators she thought she would do an experiment. Eve didn’t want to be subject to some external authority, she wanted to have an active mind, she wanted to test the power of her intellect, be an independent thinker. She found out. That kind of attitude is wrong if the authority is God; it’s right if the authority is man because man isn’t God and you should question that kind of authority.
In the case of the Word of God that doesn’t apply, and here in verse 29 the verb “ought not to think” is a command that there is an immoral and evil way of thinking. And it is evil to think that God “is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.” That is an evil though; that is an arrogant thought. That is a fallen, fleshly thought, that God can be thought of through the power of the human intellect. What was Athens known for in history? What was the whole Greek civilization known for in history? For their systematic thinking, their rationalism, their tremendous development of the tool of logical thought. Yet here in the very heart of the Greek civilization, Paul comes and tells the Greeks how to think. Now either the Word of God is the Word of God or Paul really is an arrogant Jew. But if the Word of God is the Word of God then he clearly is telling the Athenian and not just the Athenian ordinary street people here, who’s in the public hearing? It was the philosophers that called a public hearing to hear about this.
The interesting thing is, there was a famous quotation found in Aeschylus where he has Apollo saying … listen to this quote, preparing you for the next verse. Apollo says: “When the dust drinks up a man’s blood, once he has died, there is no resurrection.” That’s the Greek thought. What does Paul say in verses 30-31, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent,  because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” He goes deliberately, deliberately against the culture; he deliberately, so to speak, he picks a fight with it. He deliberately goes for the jugular here, there’s no being a nice guy, holding hands here. This guy goes in, right smack dab through the line; this is a frontal assault on everything that the Greek mind held sacred.
This is not what is usually taught. Christians are supposed to be nice people. Paul was a nice person, he was very gracious, but he stood for the truth. And when he saw people that were pedaling falsehoods and deceptions, it was a loving act to be tough with them and to confront them with the truth of the Word of God. Of course it starts with our own mind; we have to be tough with ourselves, that when we spot streams of unbelief and streams of fleshly thinking, it starts right at home, right in our own mind. So when you see somebody like Paul being tough, he got the toughness by his own personal struggles with the Word of God himself. Remember for years and years he had to rethink his whole view of the Old Testament, because as a Jew who got saved, now he comes back and where does Jesus fit into all this. That’s what made Paul such a wonderful exegete of Scripture. This is why you can look in the margins of your study Bible and look at what you see here, every single verse in this chapter has a reference to something in the Old Testament. There’s nothing new about this chapter, really.
When he comes to verse 30 he issues the challenge, and notice it’s not saying “therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance God invites those who think that it’s true for them.” There’s no relativism here, this is an absolute statement, it is true publicly for all men, it says “all everywhere.” Paul was the kind of guy; he would absolutely infuriate the ACLU because he didn’t believe in cultural pluralism. Paul believed in a universal gospel and it had to go to every man no matter what he was, no matter what his color was, no matter what his language was because Paul knew that God would call forth representatives from the entire body of the sons of Adam so in eternity there would be every culture and every race represented before the throne of God. That’s where there’s cultural pluralism, by the way, before the throne of God. That’s real pluralism because it has an anchor, it’s not just floating around, there’s an anchor before the throne of God.
So there’s repentance, and you’ll notice now he can bring in, [“…God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent.”] In verse 30 at the end, the verb to repent, because by verse 30 he has created such a schism between Jerusalem and Athens that there is something to repent over. He has created the difference in order to justify the repentance.
In verse 31 there’s something we mentioned last time when we dealt with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember me telling you that often times you hear the resurrection in Easter stories, people say oh, the resurrection is so inspiring, and the resurrection is just a wonderful thought, that everything is new again, and we go into this tra-la land. Verse 31 shows you how in the New Testament the resurrection is treated. Do you see a difference? Look at the emphasis in verse 31. It’s a threat, it’s not a nice message, it is a threat; look at it. “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” The resurrection is the first installment of the eternal state, and why that constitutes a threat, and there’s a reason for it, it’s not just because Paul felt nasty or something here, it flows out of the whole biblical picture.
Go back to our diagram of good and evil, here’s the evil problem. What happens at the end in the biblical view of good and evil? There’s a separation that happens and that’s the biblical answer to the problem of evil. The unbeliever has the problem, because he never can get the good separated from the evil. For him the good and the evil are always there. Death is always there, chaos is always there, suffering is always there, it’s really a thrilling picture. It’s the Bible that says evil began in a point, and evil will be eternally separated at a point, and that point at which it separated is where resurrection happens, because there’s a resurrection unto damnation and there’s a resurrection unto life and it’s eternal. These parallel lines of good and evil, how can they be parallel? Because they’re never ending; they are never ending lines. Why? Because the good is resurrected, and the evil is resurrected, and resurrection bodies can’t be destroyed. Mortal bodies can be destroyed, but resurrected bodies can’t be, and that’s one of the horrors of hell, is that there’s no escape because the resurrection body cannot be eradicated, it can’t disappear, there’s no way to dissolve it, it’s always there.
That’s why the resurrection, in verse 31, constitutes a massive threat to the unbeliever, because it’s saying not only is this going to happen, but it’s already started. The process already started 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ rose from the grave. His body exists somewhere in resurrected state, and furthermore, that makes Him, being the first one raised from the dead as representative of the human race, now He’s the judge. So Paul, in verse 31—notice something very interesting. Do you see anywhere where he’s invited some people to believe? Has he ever discussed the cross anywhere? Does He discuss Christ’s atonement anywhere? Why do you suppose this is?
This is amazing. Here is one of the key evangelistic approaches in all of Scripture, and he never gets to the cross of Christ. I’ll tell you why he doesn’t get to the cross of Christ, because until people understand who God is, they’re not prepared to hear the word of the gospel, they can’t understand the word of the gospel. Christ’s atonement on the cross is an answer to a question that they haven’t even asked, or don’t want to ask, and that is how can I be right with God. How can I cope with sin? How can I cope with evil? If they’re not asking that question, the cross is irrelevant, absolutely irrelevant. What they have to do is get a grasp of who God is and what sin is and then we get to the cross, but not until.
So here in Acts 17 Paul does not preach the cross, and I emphasize this because now we’re going to turn to 1 Cor. where he says I determine to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and we’re going to deal with well what does he mean by that. Let’s leave Acts 17 and go to 1 Cor. 1 and finish our introduction to this either/or-ness. Remember the Corinthians, just down the road from Athens, now the issue in Corinthians is they were still dealing with Greeks. And Paul is going to mention what Greek always seek. What was endemic to the Greek culture? Education, thinking, sophia, wisdom. That was characteristic of the goal of Greek culture.
1 Corinthians 1:18, and we’re going to go quickly through this danger passage that has to do with wisdom, intellectual understanding and rational thinking. I’m going through this because there is a tendency when people go through this passage to come to the wrong conclusion, that we shouldn’t ever “give an answer to every man that asks a reason for the hope that is in you,” we should just stay with the simple gospel or something like that. That’s not the point here. Watch.
1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Is the “word of the cross” meaning the content of the gospel message, the explanation for the atonement, is that phrased differently for an unbeliever than it is for a believer? Think about what verse 18 is saying. It’s saying it’s two things to two different hearers. But how can it be two different things to two different hearers if it’s the same message preached to both. Quite clearly there’s something at the receiving end that’s faulty. So, one of the major points of this passage in Corinthians is that the receiver had the problem - not the transmitter. The transmitter is Paul; the transmitter of the gospel message is the Apostle Paul, so Paul preaches the gospel, and there are two people out here, the unbeliever and the believer. This person thinks it’s a big foolish message; this one thinks it’s a very wise message. And the rest of this passage is going to explain why the receivers are screwed up, what goes on in the circuitry of the receivers.
Verse 19, here we go again, now all of a sudden we’re back to the Old Testament, he says, “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.  Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” If we had time we’d go back into the Old Testament, back into Isaiah 29, look at the context; what we would see is once again Paul goes back to God’s attributes and one of God’s attributes is His omniscience. And because God is omniscient, and man is finite, God’s omniscience has authority over the finite man’s mind. It’s an expression once again of what difference? The Creator/creature distinction. Do you see how it’s always there in all these passages; he always comes back to that Creator/creature distinction. It’s fundamental.
By the way, notice the word play. If we had time we’d do a word count, this would be a good objective inductive Bible study tool. In verse 18, going all the way down to the end of the chapter, verse 31, count how many times the word “wisdom” is used. Just skim it and look at how many times the word “wisdom” or “wise” is used, and “foolish.” Clearly verse after verse, you can’t miss it, that this is the central thought of this whole passage, wisdom. But it’s two kinds of wisdom; it’s the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world. And the fact that Paul can distinguish between sophia, there’s two sophia’s, sophia number one, sophia number two. By this we know that unbelief can be very sophisticated and very well thought out. Paul never says, and the Bible never says, that unbelievers are intellectually stupid. It says they are foolish; the word foolish doesn’t mean stupid. Brilliant people can be very foolish. Sophia one is God’s sophia, and sophia two is man’s sophia. One operates on the premise of starting with the Word of God and then thinking out with the Scriptures into every area of life. Sophia number two is man saying to himself I will do it may way. That’s sophia number two, and it can be extremely well organized.
Verse 21, “For since in the wisdom of God,” this is sort of a pun here, if you look at it, look at this sentence carefully and see if you can figure out how Paul, … at first it seems like ridicule and then you say well, what’s he saying, and then you see there’s a whole strategy involved in what he just says here. This guy really thought things through. “For since,” or “by the wisdom,” or “in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God,” now think about the implication. When it says “the world through its wisdom did not come to know God,” is there a volitional culpability there? Of course! Why would Adam and Eve not have developed the truth about who God was had they stayed in the bushes? Because they were afraid of Him, they were fleeing God’s presence. Had God not called to Adam and Eve, had He not provided a way of salvation to Adam and Eve, had He not initiated the conversation with Adam and Eve, Adam and Eve would still be in the bushes. And that’s the picture of the unregenerate mind, it’s in the bushes. It’s always under the fig leaves; it’s always hiding from any kind of a threat.
If you can grab this picture, here’s the connection between guilt and the intellect. The intellect is a tool that we use. God has given us the tool, but it’s only a tool, and it can be used for good or for evil. In the case of unbelief, the motive in the tool is to create a shelter to shelter me from the holiness of God. That’s the object of the unregenerate intellect; it has a profound basic agenda. It is to create some safe-house for a sinner in God’s world. That’s the motive of the unregenerate. It’s always the motive of the unregenerate. I can show you passages in the Big Bang Theory where the guys who devised the Big Bang Theory had a choice back when they were doing the initial modeling and they had a choice of viewing the universe as infinite or finite. And it’s clear when you read them, there’s no way that you can tell the difference by the way, so they chose deliberately to create physically in the model an infinite universe in order to avoid the question that if there was a finite universe what’s outside the universe? Ooh, the boogey-man might be out there. Yeah, a big one!
So it doesn’t make any difference how many equations you have, it doesn’t make any difference whether you’re a biologist or a cosmologist, or a physicist, or a brilliant person in some other field, you’re intellect will be used to try to hide you from the wrath of God. The more brilliant you are, the more of a maze you create for yourself. That’s what the issue here is. In verse 21 what Paul is saying is “the world through its wisdom did not come to know God,” of course not, it was programmed not to, but notice the facetiousness. When Adam and Eve fell and they began to flee and hide from God, was God’s sovereignty broken over that process? No, all things of Him, through Him and to Him; God is sovereign. Did He stop being omnipotent? No. So the very reaction to hide itself was part of God’s design of His creation. In other words He designed the system so He even knows how it self-destructs. So the irony in verse 21 is that the best and finest and greatest accomplishments of the unregenerate mind are all under God’s control in His mind. So whose mind is bigger? And whose mind is calling the shots here? In the final analysis even the structures of unbelief are created by rebellious people and wind up doing something that God has already planned for. So there’s tremendous irony in verse 21.
So he says, “God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” When he uses the word “foolishness” in the rest of this clause it is a facetious use of foolishness. Foolishness to whom? He’s already defined … look back in verse 20, how did he use the word “foolish” in verse 20? The word foolish was the world’s evaluation of the gospel, it’s foolish. So when you get to verse 21 and you see “God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message,” it doesn’t mean the message is foolish, it means that the message appeared to be foolish to the pagan. So he’s saying what God did is He constructed a plan of salvation that blows the mind of the unregenerate. He deliberately … in other words, God has a sense of humor, here’s the creature thinking he’s so great, and God’s laughing at this, Psalm 2.
So what He does, He sets up a gospel and He sets up an approach that looks stupid, completely stupid to these people, because in the unbelieving mode man has rejected God just because he’s God. He hasn’t heard about the gospel, hasn’t heard about the atonement, hasn’t heard about Christ, hasn’t sensed the call of God in graciousness, just rejected it. So God says, okay, now I’m going to come to you, the rejecter, and I’m going to send you a message, a gospel message, and it says because of My holiness you’re not going to get in My door with your good works, or all your vows, all your promises or all the rest of it; in fact guys, you don’t have anything that scores with me. I am providing a total package, but to accept the package you have to bow your knee to Me.
So we’re right back to the step where we started, and that was are we or aren’t we going to bow our knee to the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is structured to keep hitting away at exactly the issue. You get in arguments with people; well I just don’t think you can accept something on the basis of authority. Not if the authority is man, but if the authority is God, what’s your problem. Do you have a problem with that? Or do your gods that you think of don’t have any authority? The God of Scripture, what you’re basically saying is you’re not giving a reason for your unbelief; you are expressing your unbelief, not justifying it. That’s not a justification; I just don’t accept a God who demands allegiance. Well, that’s your rejection. That isn’t explaining why you reject it, that’s not justifying, that’s just saying it, it’s just another vocabulary set of words to describe I reject God. That’s all. So that’s the wisdom and that’s the foolishness.
He goes on and describes in verse 22 the specific forms in which this foolishness issue happens, when you go to Jews the foolishness comes out because they always want a miracle; when you go to Greeks the foolishness because they want some intellectual structure that allows for the (quote) “free thinking human being.” [22, “For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom;  but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness.”] Verse 24, “But those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks,” whether from Jewish culture or Greek culture, “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Notice now, beginning in verse 24, he introduces the word “wisdom” with Jesus. Now Jesus Christ becomes the wisdom of God. We can’t go into all this but what he’s talking about is the doctrines that we learned last year. He’s talking about the person of the God-man, and the fact of the matter is that there is where God and man come together. If you want comprehension of what God is, you turn to Jesus because there you have God walking around. You can’t get any closer to God than Jesus Christ. So that’s why He says Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God, go up and talk to Him.
In other words, here He is, He’s incarnate, God can’t reveal Himself any clearer than He has in the person of Jesus Christ. So Jesus Christ was born, there’s the hypostatic union, He is God and man, undiminished deity and true humanity united without confusion in one person forever. Jesus Christ in His life He showed the infallibility of God’s Word because He showed it in three dimensions. He lived it, so now men are confronted with an infallible Word from God. We found Jesus Christ illustrated the moral virtue of humility through kenosis. And He, therefore, showed that the greatest virtue in life is not love, is not courage; the greatest virtue is humility before God. So that straightens up all the little virtue lists that were floating around the ancient world and still float around today. The greatest virtue that Jesus Christ showed, according to Philippians 2, is kenosis. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death.
The Lord Jesus Christ in His death, what did He show by the substitutionary blood atonement? He showed the true intensity of the justice of God. People always cry out for justice. If they knew what they were crying out for they wouldn’t cry out for it. When you cry out for justice do you know what you’re really asking for? What usually happens, justice is something else, some situation, but not on us. But if we cry out for justice it’s a scary proposition, because we’re talking about seeing God in His holiness, in the fiery purity of His holiness, and that is very, very scary. So if people really knew, they wouldn’t cry out for justice.
Nevertheless, in each one of these things you see it involves one of these great basic thoughts. Here is the doctrine of God and man; here is the issue of virtue … [blank spot]… take a look, and here’s resurrection, God glorifying Himself. There’s the preview of where the universe is going to be here, right here, in one person’s body. So that’s why when he says “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God,” that’s what he’s talking about. Beware of not seeing all the content in these words. Then he goes on to describe the people and their background, etc.
Let’s continue into chapter 2. He says in verse 1, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.  For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Now some have thought by hasty reading of verses 1 and 2 that what that’s saying is you don’t ever argue with anybody. Some interpreters say see, Paul didn’t have any success in Athens so he walked down the road to Corinth and at Corinth he decided that’s it, I’m not going to argue any more, I’m just going to stick with Jesus. That’s not the interpretation here. What he means when he says “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” is the fact of just what He did in Athens. That’s exactly what He did in Athens. He was clarifying the resurrection of Jesus Christ so that they could get to understand His crucifixion. What he means here is I didn’t try to pull a slick slide from Plato and Aristotle and Stoicism and Epicureanism and move you over in sort of a greased slide over to the gospel. He says I confronted you, I will not accept any other authority than the Word of God. So that’s basically what he’s talking about there.
Verse 4, He talks about “and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” it doesn’t mean he yelled what he thought. There’s he’s talking about in the “words of wisdom,” remember how he’s using wisdom, he’s using it somewhat sarcastically. You have to catch it when he uses it genuinely and when he uses it sarcastically. He’s talking about oratorical wisdom, he’s talking about the classical Greek oratory and he says no, I didn’t come here with three little lines, an introduction, a body and a conclusion. I came here and my speech flowed however it had to flow to deal with wherever you were at.
Verse 5, “That your faith should not rest” in what? Verse 5 explains verse 4, whatever the words of wisdom are, the point was in verse 5 “that your faith should not rest in the wisdom of men,” that’s sophia number two, “but on the power of God.” He goes on and describes in verses 7-8 that this wisdom can only be understood through the power of the Holy Spirit. [7 “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory;  the wisdom which not of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the lord of glory.”]
Verse 10, “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.” By the way, what does that teach about the Trinity? Verse 10, if the “Holy Spirit searches all things,” and the “all things” include “the depths of God,” what does that make the Holy Spirit? God. So the Holy Spirit can’t be something less than God. The Holy Spirit is the third vital member of the Trinity. He is omniscient. If He wasn’t omniscient He couldn’t search all the things of God. So the Holy Spirit is involved in teaching. Verse 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.”
Verse 12, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God.” By the way, verse 12 introduces another sobering thought that we’ll mention in passing this year, and that is the role of the demonic. When you are talking about unbelieving thinking the Scriptures unite two words over and over, “word” and “spirit.” If we had time we could go to the rest of Corinthians, it’s interesting there’s another phrase in this epistle where Paul talks about a false gospel, like today the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism or something, except when he talks about false gospels he says, I don’t want you to receive a false gospel or an evil spirit; those two are united, in other words, meaning is a spiritual thing.
When we see the meaning of Scripture, that’s when the Holy Spirit has blessed us. People have it all wrong; they think the pouring out of the Spirit is somehow related to some gooshy, emotional holy-roller thing. Now some people may be very emotional, we’re not denying there can be an emotion, but the emotion is a response to revelation. If there’s no revelation and just emotion, it’s just fleshy stuff, that’s all it is. It’s not the Holy Spirit baptizing people. The Holy Spirit works, the Holy Spirit makes us grasp the meaning of Scripture and the revelation. So that’s what he means. We have not received the spirit of the world, the spirit of the world gives meaning also, it gives false meaning, it gives deceptive meanings, it’s the energy behind unbelief. But we haven’t received “the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, [that we might know the things freely given to us by God.]”
Verse 13, “Which things we also speak, not in words” and now notice in verse 13, the evidence that he has received the spirit of God and not the spirit of the world is involving what? What’s the subject of the whole clause here? Words. Words are related to thoughts, words are related to ideas. If you don’t like words, “not in the thoughts taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” All this has to do with revelation.
Then in verse 14 there’s another interesting observation about the human mind. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him,” remember he started out with foolishness, now by the time he gets to the end of chapter 2 he’s dug into all kinds of depths here about what he really meant back there many verses ago when he talked about the gospel is foolishness, here’s why the gospel is foolishness. The “natural man,” that is the unregenerate, the unbeliever, “does not accept,” and the word “accept” here is dechomai. It’s a connotation of not just receiving like somebody hands you a gift, it’s not that kind of reception, this is the idea of welcoming. You may be in social company and you may say hi to somebody and you really don’t welcome them you’re just going through the motions to be polite, and then a friend comes in and you really connect with them and you really welcome that person. That’s the welcoming. That’s the word used in verse 14, so it’s not saying that the natural man doesn’t listen to the gospel. It doesn’t say that even he can partly comprehend the gospel, it just says that even if he were to comprehend, it he wouldn’t like it, he doesn’t want to receive it, it’s not pleasing to him.
The “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 judged and evaluated.” Unfortunately we don’t’ have time to go into an exegesis of 1 Corinthians 2 but I think from this quick survey, from Acts 17 and 1 Corinthians 2 we realize that there are some deep things going on when we talk about the Word of God and talk about understanding it, and talk about using it.
I want to bring this to a conclusion and prepare for next time by concluding with a run through for that faith-rest drill. On the faith-rest drill we went through three points, and this is a process that we iterate hundreds and hundreds of times in our Christian life, over and over and over and over and over, drill, drill, drill, drill, drill. And half the time you do it automatically because you’re prompted by the Spirit to do it. But what we’re just trying to do is bring it out into the light a little bit, give it a label so we become conscious of it, what we’re doing.
The first step in the faith-rest drill is to get a promise, or some fragment of Scripture, whatever comes to your mind, somewhere, even John 3:16, something, get a fragment of Scripture. That’s seizing the promise, you’ve got to grab, that’s choice. So in the middle of a disaster, in the middle of a shock, in the middle of a crisis, when the whole world looks like it’s falling apart, what’s the first step in the faith-rest drill? Grab a fragment of Scripture, any fragment of Scripture, something, and the more you’ve memorized Scripture the more selection you have.
Turn to Isaiah 40:31 again, just so we can see one of these things work in action. Here’s the promise, lots of Christians memorize this promise, and it’s a great one, a great promise. Some actually memorize verses 29-30 to go along with verse 31. “He gives strength to the weary,” see it’s not God helps those who help themselves. That’s an idiot expression. I know there’s a dimension of truth in it, God helps those who trust Him and obey, but the point is, most of the time, when we’re needing to trust Him, we’re not helping ourselves. “He gives strength to the weary,” not those who help themselves. If they help themselves they’re not going to turn to Him. “He gives strength to the weary, and to those who lack might He increases power.  Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly,  Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” We went through this promise, so there’s the promise.
Let’s suppose, step one, we grab hold of a promise. The key is step two because at step two what we have to do is … our emotions don’t want us to do this, we’re upset and this is the last thing we naturally are going to try to do, but step two is to work through the process until in good conscience you can relax and trust God. That does not come automatically. I’ve been in enough personal crises to know that does not come automatically. Sometimes it does, by the way, sometimes the Holy Spirit just gives an overflowing peace, and I’m sure some of you can give testimony to that. But that’s not usually what happens. What usually happens is that we go through this big long process in our minds and our hearts over connecting the promise that we have with this situation, whatever the situation is that’s blown up in our face.
How do we connect the promise with the mess? You go through a rationale; part of the rationale is relating it back to who God is and in verse 28 there is the rationale that supports verses 29-31. Verse 28, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.” Two attributes there, one attribute, He does not become weary. That’s omnipotence. What’s the next one? “His understanding is inscrutable,” that’s omniscience. So what do we need when we can’t figure something out? We need to know first of all that there is meaning here because what’s so scary in the crises of life is does this really make sense, this seems so bizarre, so screwed up, there can’t be an answer to this thing, this makes no sense whatsoever. Once you start thinking this way, that something doesn’t make sense, your energy just goes right down the toilet, because we’re not structured as creatures to walk in a universe that doesn’t make sense. It’s debilitating, it’s like somebody bleeds you off of two quarts of blood or something. You lose it all when you really think and you get suckered with the thought that it doesn’t make sense.
You’ll notice that there’s a shield given for this promise in verses 29-31; the shield is the very attributes of God Himself. God says I know the situation, I’ve known about it for all eternity, I’ve known about it forever, and when I structured the plan of salvation, when I created you, I knew all about this situation and there are 1,502 different things that are going on right here, and I’m not going to tell you what they are and you’re just going to have to sit there and trust Me with it. That’s usually the kind of answer we get in these situations. So when we’re working through the maize remember whose promise is it? It’s the Holy Spirit. What did Paul say the Holy Spirit would do? He’d reveal these things to us. What does the Holy Spirit do? He teaches us, He illuminates our heart.
So we use a rationale and we suggested that one way, not the only way but one way of the rationale is to go back through some of the framework. Go back through and just recite some of the events and think about these. Think about creation, the fall, the flood, the covenant, think about the call of Abraham, think about the birth, the death, the resurrection of Christ, think about all of these great events that God has done in history, and He never consulted you. He did it all by Himself.
This rationale helps us get to the next point which is trust, and there’s the rest. And you know when you trust because inside, even though it can be upsetting on the outside, even though you can be tense in the sense that … an athlete might be tense because his adrenalin is flowing, but in his spirit there is a rest, he can be restful because inside his feet are on the solid ground and he knows it.
Now what we have said in this series is we want to remember that going through these rationales, this process right here, what Paul would recommend, judging from his performance at Athens and Corinth, is that we also negate the temptation not to trust by thinking how stupid can I be, if I do not trust the Word of God, what a jerk I would be. In this situation with all the promises of the Word of God, with God behind it, how could I be so stupid as to go for this gimmick over here, wouldn’t that look silly. So the trusting in the Word of God is also a negation of the opposite of the Word of God, it’s to recognize foolishness for foolishness and wisdom for wisdom.
Next week we’ll get into the new section of events and doctrine.