Hedging Your Bet

(1 Corinthians 1: 18-25)


Teresa and I recently binge-watched a television series called Young Sheldon.  For those who are not familiar with it, the main character is Sheldon Cooper who is a genius born into an average American family that lives in upper northeast Texas in the fictional city of Medford.  Sheldon’s mother is a very devout Southern Baptist who makes sure her children attend Sunday School and church where Sheldon delights in challenging Pastor Jeff on the existence of God.  In one episode Sheldon makes a reference to French philosopher Blaise Pascal regarding his position that it does no harm to believe in God on the outside chance that there really is a God, as in what do you have to lose?  Pascal (1623-1662) offered up a pragmatic reason for believing in God: even under the assumption that God’s existence is unlikely, the potential benefits of believing are so vast as to make betting on theism rational.  A good bet.  Essentially, what he is saying is that if we do not know whether or not God exists then we should play it safe rather than risk being sorry upon our demise.  Needless to say, that caused quite an uproar amongst those in the field of philosophy with countless arguments and counterarguments on the existence of a higher power.  Although I’m not an actual philosopher I have used the same reasoning when talking to someone who questions me regarding the existence of God.  I’ve told them that I do, by faith, believe in God, doing my best to do what Jesus would have me do and when I die, if I am wrong, at the very least I know that I’ve led a good life and done as little harm as possible.  Actual, real faith is the key.  Unfortunately, for too many, hedging your bets on the existence of God is not the way to go.  It’s foolishness.


And that foolishness is what the Apostle Paul was talking about in our scripture reading for today.  The proclamation of Christ crucified is foolishness to the perishing who cannot comprehend God’s wisdom through worldly human wisdom.  Yet it is this foolish message that brings salvation to believers.  In Paul’s world, the cross was the most shameful way to die, reserved for slaves and political criminals who threatened Roman order.  He says: The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed.  But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved.  It is written in scripture: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the intelligence of the intelligent.”  Jesus’ brief ministry and his humiliating crucifixion baffled many of those who tried to make sense of it.  Some first-century Jews expected a messiah to deliver Israel from the occupying Romans with powerful signs and deeds from God like Moses showed in Egypt.  So, the idea of a weak, publicly shamed so-called messiah put on a cross by those he was expected to vanquish was a scandal.  And for the Greeks, the Gentiles, associating the power and wisdom of divinity with a disgraced Jew on a cross was complete foolishness.  They considered the gospel foolishness, wishful thinking at best. They did not believe in a bodily resurrection; did not see in Jesus the powerful characteristics of their mythological gods; and they thought no reputable person would allow themselves to be crucified.  To them, death was defeat, not victory.  But Paul knew that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and thereby turned the commonsense values of both Jewish and Greco-Roman culture upside down.  God took what was weak and foolish according to culture’s categories of common sense to show the world what true divine power and wisdom were.  Paul exclaims: Where are the wise?  Where are the legal experts?  Where are today’s debaters?  Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish?  In God’s wisdom, he determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom.  Paul calls out three distinct groups here.  When he refers to the wise and the legal experts, I think he is talking about the Jewish religious leaders and scholars, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who have studied and dissected God’s word.  By calling out the debaters he is referencing the Greeks who loved to get together to debate the latest hot issue.  They were great thinkers, but thinking is all they did.  And the Romans had individual gods for everything, not wanting to leave anything to chance.  Hedging their bets.  He’s saying that you can be the smartest guy or gal in the room and analyze the issue until the cows come home but you won’t get it until you come to God through the acceptance of Jesus Christ regardless of what some French philosopher says.


Paul summarizes Isaiah 29: 14 which says: I will go on doing amazing things to these people, shocking and startling things.  The wisdom of their wise will perish, and the discernment of their discerning will be hidden.  He’s emphasizing a point Jesus often made.  God’s way of thinking is not like the world’s way.  And God offers eternal life, which the world can never give.  Instead, he says, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching.  Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.  But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom.  Paul is telling them that they are over-thinking it.  He’s emphasizing that salvation is in the message of Christ, not in human philosophies.  The powerful simplicity of Christ over human wisdom negates any cause for people to boast.  Paul’s fear is that many people stumble over this simplicity because the religions of the world make the source of salvation something we do rather than a message we believe.


And that’s it in a nutshell.  We can spend a lifetime accumulating human wisdom and yet never learn how to have a personal relationship with God.  We must come to the crucified and risen Christ to receive eternal life and the joy of a personal relationship with out Savior.  A simple concept but one too many people can’t grasp.  There has to be more to it. The Good News of Jesus Christ still sounds foolish to many because our society worships power, influence, and wealth and idolizes those whom we think can give it to us, for a price.  Their problem is that Jesus came as a humble, poor servant, and he offers his kingdom to those who have faith, not to those who do all kinds of good deeds to earn his gifts, or worse yet to those who believe that Christ will give them power over the weak.  They want what the first century Jews wanted, a warrior-messiah who would bring the wrath of God down upon their enemies or anyone who stood in their way.


The message of Christ’s death for our sins sounds foolish to those who don’t believe.  Death seems to be the end of the road, the ultimate weakness, the complete failure.  But Jesus did not stay dead.  His resurrection demonstrated his power even over death.  The foolish people who simply accept Christ’s offer are actually the wisest of all, because they alone will live eternally with God because they are not hedging their bets.  For true followers of the way of Jesus Christ, God is a sure bet.


Let us pray.


Yes, we will cherish the old rugged cross, till at last our trophies we lay down.  We will cling to the old rugged cross and exchange it some day for a crown.  Yes, gracious and loving God, we accept your free and unmerited offer of a life in eternity with you.  We accept your Son Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  And we know that our belief in you, your Son, and your Holy Spirit is not foolishness.  Your message is simple so that all may understand it, and all may accept it.  Empower us through your Spirit to take your message to the unbelieving so that they too may accept it, live an earthly life of service to you, and to one day dwell in your house for ever and ever.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.

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