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Recognizing the Risen Lord: Part 4

            One of the major mistakes in the history of philosophy and theology is to define man primarily as a being consisting of compartments such as reason, will and desires.  This error leaves us with the pleasing illusion that our reason can grasp objective truth with some effort on our part to free it from our desires.  The Bible will have none of this, most clearly when it calls us to recognize the risen Lord as the crucified Christ.

            Jesus castigates the disciples on the road to Emmaus for being foolish and “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke” (Luke 24:25).  Here, as in much of the Bible, the heart refers neither to the physical organ nor to the seat of the emotions only, but rather to that which directs the thoughts, emotions and actions.  Biblically, instead of thinking that there is a part of us that reasons, a part that decides and a part that feels, we should realize that it is we, as a total persons, who reason, decide and feel. Thus, we reason, not separately from who we are, but rather according to who we are.

            The implications of this biblical perspective are enormous and explain why “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18).  We can reason objectively about mathematics and geometry because they do not challenge our self-image.  The message of the cross, however, is offensive to the natural human conception of oneself as righteous.  The cross condemns our pretentions to righteousness and shows the depths of our depravity.  It exposes us as liars about ourselves, and so as those who live falsely.

            Faced with the offensive message of Christ crucified, human reason rebels.  We fight tooth and nail against the message of the cross that attacks our self-confidence and self-image as good people.  We arrogantly call it unreasonable foolishness because we do not want to admit the truth about the depths of our sin.

            Therefore, believing the message of the cross involves humbling ourselves with our pretensions to self-righteousness and greater wisdom than God.  Independent human reasoning is repented of, and under the grace of God reason is nurtured by faith—a faith focused on the foolishness of God in the cross that is wiser than men (1 Corinthians 1:25).  Right reasoning can be done by those who in God’s mercy are new people (2 Corinthians 5:17) and believe that the cross is “the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

            The Christian church needs to hear anew the message of the cross.  Reason in service to faith in the wisdom of God revealed in the cross unites. Reason in service to the sinful human heart causes division, as happened to the Corinthian church.  It is no different today.  There is nothing to unite people when everyone seeks to satisfy their contradictory desires.  As in Corinth, division results from seeking leadership and preaching that tickles our fancy rather than follows the cross.

            The humbled believing and reasoning heart does not value worldly models of leadership that focus on strong personalities that dominate others and cause division.  The believing heart seeks leaders who have been humbled by the cross and lead as those who are led by the Son of Man who came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:44-45).

            The humbled believing and reasoning human heart also learns to desire a different kind of preaching.  No longer does the believing heart look first for flashes of wit and eloquence, but rather for the message of the cross.  Still less should the believing heart seek entertaining stories and flashy technology.  It’s not that poorly thought and awkwardly expressed preaching is recommended.  Paul’s criticism of worldly wisdom is one of the most brilliant pieces of rhetoric in the whole Bible, but the believing heart wants to hear the cross, understand the cross, and follow the cross. 

            In a culture dominated by managerial leadership styles, techniques to wow people to grow the church and the desperate urge to be accepted through adopting worldly wisdom, the offensive and foolish wisdom of the cross seems hopelessly powerless.  Yet it must be remembered that it was precisely reason shaped by faith in the cross, preaching of the cross and leadership that bore the cross that the gospel spread and continues to spread throughout the world.

            For the church to be truly of Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ it must no longer allow itself to be held captive to the philosophy of the perishing that view the word of the cross as folly.  The church must remind itself again and again that in its heart of hearts it must believe that the word of the cross is the power of God.  Christians, let us return to the cross.

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