I don’t know if this is safe or not, being that I am in the company of men I deeply regard for their holiness and intellect. But I am going to begin this message by talking about professional wrestling.
I’m sure that you’ve all seen the old episodes (even if you are too ashamed to admit it!). I caught some shows as a kid. It seemed that they had a template that they followed for every show (and a crude one at that).
You would have one of the superstar wrestlers going up against a twerp of a fellow. The no name wrestler was obviously a prop. You knew that just by looking at him. But that would never stop him from making a show of himself. When his name was announced, he would flaunt himself and act like the heavens had just trumpeted the arrival of one of the gods.
You know the routine too. As soon as the bell rang, he would spring out from his corner and immediately be pummeled by his opponent.
I have you recall that silly little episode because it so clearly illustrates what is in the passage before us this morning. If we could size up the passage we might say that in this corner we have the a towering figure. He is Lord Jesus Christ and the truth he has revealed in the Scriptures. And in this corner we have the challenger. We will call him Man-Thought. He is a twerp of a fellow by comparison, but he’s whooping it up.
In our passage here this morning the Lord wants to solidify this image in our minds. He wants us to see the Divine smack down he gives to every philosophy that exalts itself against him. He wants us to see that every philosophy that is contrary to Christ—every worldview that is built apart from the fear of God, will fail.
We often don’t see things this way. From our perspective man centered thinking often seems rather alluring. We are often tempted to conform to the wisdom of the world and not base our thoughts fully on the grounds of Scripture. But the Lord wants to remind us that we shouldn’t do that. He wants us to remember that Man-Thought has absolutely no way of winning. As a matter of fact, Man-Thought gets pummeled quite easily. It is evident in the first verse that we read.
I. Man’s wisdom is foiled by God [19-20]
Verse 19 we see how God foils man’s wisdom. Paul pulls out this awesome quote from the book of Isaiah. It says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Those of you who are of my generation may remember the old Scooby Doo cartoon. Do you remember how every episode ended? It never failed that at the end they would catch the bad guy and they would pull off the mask and reveal who the culprit was. One of the last things you heard was the evildoer saying something, “I would have gotten away with it if you kids hadn’t gotten in the way.” Scooby Doo and his gang were always thwarting the bad guy’s plans. Every scheme and every evil plan was foiled by Scooby Doo and his gang.
Well, that’s exactly what this passage says. Man’s wisdom is no match for God. It doesn’t matter how erudite he may be or how crafty he is, or how slick his plans are. God is sovereign over the affairs of the world and he enters history to demolish man’s wisdom.
That’s why Paul can go on in verse 20 to say, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” Paul is saying here that there is no one who can stand up against God. Every sage, every guru, every college professor or therapist whose worldview is built on humanistic principles better watch out. God will run their wisdom right into the ground.
Just look at any of the ideas that have come from the popes of the professional world. Standing on this side of 2-3 hundred years of humanism, we have a good view of how it has been run into the ground. How about the world of education? It’s no secret that it is plummeting. Even the secular world will tell you that it is in a tailspin. Studies say that are descending to 3rd world levels in Math and Science. A friend of mine who is in an education program said that the first thing his professor said was that the education system is broken.
Well, there’s no wonder. Our education system was fostered by guys like Jean Jacques Roussea and John Dewey—two of the most godless men we can think of. Rouseau abandoned his 5 children on the doorstep of an orphanage, and he’s the guy we look to as an expert on the education of children.
There shouldn’t be any surprises here. Even if you didn’t have the testimony of Scripture that you have here, that should be a no brainer.
But we could look at any other area and see the same results. Follow the intellectual footsteps of Karl Marx. See the paths of blood it takes you through and the ruin it eventually comes to. See the spoils of Thomas Malthus and the other acclaimed philosophers of our time.
As the passage clearly states: The humanistic mind will be thwarted. God will foil any knowledge man postulates apart from the fear of God. Even though man’s wisdom props itself up as something intellectual and grand, eventually it will become nothing other than an intellectual ruins, pointing to the all consuming power of God.
But when it comes to man’s wisdom, you will notice that God not only foils it, he frustrates it too.
II. God frustrates it [21-25]
The ironic thing is that they are frustrated because they find God to be both elusive and repulsive. Look at verse 21. It says, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom.”
Let me say that again, “The world did not know God through wisdom!” The funny thing about this worldly wisdom is that even though it is a system of thought that has rejected God, it is trying to find God. Yet, for all its work, it can’t. God keeps eluding them. Despite having all this wisdom and despite being so intelligent, they can’t find the one thing they seek the most.
Have you ever played that game Marco Polo? We used to play that at the pool all the time when I was a kid. The person who was “it” had to close their eyes and try to tag the others in the pool. What he would do though, is call out, “Marco!” Then the others would have to call out, “Polo!” to give him an idea of where they are so that he could go tag them.
But what would always happen is that someone would begin to toy with the person who was “it.” He would stand right beside the person who was it. The person who was it would call out, “Marco!” And he would be right in front of them saying, “Polo!” But he was just out of the guy’s reach. And just before he would lunge for the person they would turn to the side to elude them. And that would happen again and again. That kid was just out to frustrate the guy who was it.
Well, that is exactly what happens to those who try to build their worldview without God as their starting point. God says, “I’m going to frustrate you and show you just how foolish you are!” So they are every looking around, but never finding God.
Think about it. Every time they look into a telescope or peer into a microscope, people gaze right into the handiwork of God. They get an extreme close-up on God’s creation. And they pick and probe and theorize and hypothesize, but they never come close to capturing the real knowledge their hearts are really craving. God just keeps leading them along. He keeps letting them be wise in their own eyes. But he won’t let himself be found by their foolish contemplations.
But the elusiveness of God is not the only frustrating thing to them. They are frustrated by God’s repulsiveness too.
You will notice that God does not accommodate himself to their erudition. Verse 22 says that Jews seek signs and Gentiles seek wisdom, but what do we have to offer? We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to gentiles. They find Christ to be absolutely repulsive. They don’t want anything to do with him. They don’t want anything to do with his salvation. And they certainly don’t want anything to do with his base means of salvation.
A while back I came to the story of Naaman. Here is a good illustration of a guy who thought the means of salvation were just downright reprehensible. He was a prestigious Syrian general, but he came down with a case of leprosy. And he went to Elijah to be healed, and the prophet told him to take a couple of dips in the Jordan River. How did Naaman react? He was outraged! He said, “Surely I thought he would come out and wave his hand over the spot.” You know, a little razzle dazzle and hocus pocus. And then he was mad because he had to go to the Jordan River, a body of water that wasn’t the cleanest of places.
But that’s the way men are. They want God to be packaged in just the right way: Their way! But God doesn’t do that. He comes in the form of a lowly servant and he comes bearing a heavy cross. He comes through the baseness of a preacher. Its just too much for them to take! Those who are inflated in their pride will only be repulsed by it.
And their intellectual acumen will just make them more and more frustrated.
But there is another thing that God does to Mr. Worldly Wiseman. God not only foils his prized wisdom. He not only frustrates it. He also degrades it.
III. God disgraces it [26-31]
In verse 26 Paul points out that the Corinthians were a lowly bunch. They were not wise by the world’s standards. Neither were they powerful or of prestigious linage. But verse 27 says, “God chose the foolish things in the world to shame the wise. He chose the weak to shame the strong. He chose the lowly and despised so that he could humiliate the high and the mighty.”
This is just like something you would see on an ESPN highlight film!
Perhaps you remember the dunk by Kevin Johnson on the towering Hakeem Olajuwon. Here was a guy who was just about my size. Olajuwon stands to what looks like twice his size on the film. Johnson drove baseline and does a monster dunk right on the giant. Hakeem got baptized with by this little guy.
And they never tired of playing that clip over and over. It was bad enough that this little guy just humiliated him like that. But Hakeem was shamed again and again as they replayed the clip again and again. This time in slow motion. This time in real time. Analyze the footwork. Look at it from this angle, how about from this angle. Over and over he was degraded on national television.
That’s exactly what Paul’s talking about here. Man in his wisdom thinks he is so great. He prances around like he is something so grand and worthy of praise. But God chooses these unseemly people. And he uses this seemingly stupid bunch of Christians to make a complete mockery of man’s wisdom.
From how often it occurs in Scripture, it almost sounds like God likes degrading his enemies like this. It is almost like he keeps playing the highlight clip over and over. Back in the OT, in Psalm 8, it says, “Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” How humiliating is that! Here’s the headline on the front page: Lowly baby wards off the violence of the mighty avenger. (*snicker!)
And who did God use to change the world? Who were the ones that he made to be his ambassadors? A bunch of unsophisticated fisherman! And you may remember that story in the book of Acts where Peter and John are standing in front of all the religious leaders. What a sight. Here are the wisest men in all the land—the ivy league of the scholastics of the time. They were all sitting around in their robes which made them just ooze with sophistication. And yet, this bunch of scribes, lawyers and religious scholars couldn’t answer them a word. It had to be the most humiliating, the most degrading moment of their lives.
And that is exactly what God likes to do. He likes to make a mockery out of the lofty things in the world with the very things that the world deems foolish.
I like what Paul then goes on to say in verse 29. He gives us the reason why the Lord does this. He says, “that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” Then verse 31 says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
One of the most humiliating things is having to say, “You were right.” Better yet, when a boxing match is done you know what they always do? They always make the two contestants come out and stand in front of everyone. Then the referee raises the victor’s hand. And the loser has to stand there in front of everyone. He not only has to face the humiliation of defeat, but he has to acknowledge that the other is the victor and deserves all the glory.
That’s exactly what God does in the gospel. He disgraces man’s wisdom by silencing every lip. And, at the very same time, he makes abundantly obvious to all the world that Christ alone is where true wisdom is to be found.
With all that is said here regarding the fate of man’s wisdom, I hope you find great comfort.
I know that you are looked down upon in today’s society. And your are there in the trenches of the battle against the humanistic spirit of the age.
As the world runs faster and faster after the foolishness of human philosophy, you can bet you are going to be treated with more and more contempt. You are going to face those situations where you’ll say something to the effect of, “Well, that’s because the Bible says…” and the person will look at you with eyebrows raised and a silly smirk on their face as if to say, “Oh, you are one of those!”
But just remember that they are the fools and it will only be a matter of time until their foolishness is foiled and completely disgraced.
In the meantime we must do our best to hold fast to Christ and his word.
[The above message was delivered at the meeting of the Ohio Presbytery.]
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.