Category: Sermon


Paul’s teaching in the first half of the chapter dealt with marriage and divorce.  He closed out his discussion by addressing husbands and wives with unsaved spouses.  Moving on to a new thought, but with that context in mind, Paul shifts to address the idea of contentment.  There were some among the Corinthian believers who were not happy in their present state.  There were married members who wished to be single, single members who wished to be married and even slaves who longed to be freed.

This section is a pause in the overall thought of marriage and singleness, but one that addresses the root of the problem that had taken over the hearts o the believers in Corinth.  The underlying problem in Corinth was one of contentment.  People were simply unhappy with where they were in life, whether married or single, and seeking to change their circumstances.

The Corinthians failed to realize what many of us today fail to realize – our circumstances are not as important as our obedience to God.  The priority of life must be living a life of faith that trust completely in Almighty God and is obedient to His Will in all things.  Paul even tells Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).  So join this morning as we examine this passage and struggle with the idea of contentment and the struggle each of us must endure to live contented lives.

I.        Teachings Concerning Our Enjoyment in the Christian Life (v. 17)

A.       Individual Application—“But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk.”

1.        Priority of Application—“But as God”—This section is the application portion of what Paul has been previously teaching as I have mentioned.  Paul can teach whole Scripture, but unless there is an application of those teachings it means very little.

Pastors can preach the truth of the Gospel and the Christian life, but unless you make it a priority to live this truth when you leave church this afternoon it accomplishes nothing.  The amazement of pastors and Christian leaders, and I speak from a decade of experience, is not that sinners do not come to church or even the various acts that sinners commit.  No, the shock comes from professed Christians who darken the doors of churches yet never change anything in their lives.

2.        Providence of Assignment—“God hath distributed” and “as the Lord hath called”—You are not in a position in your life that God has not allowed to come.  If you are in the face of trial, God has allowed it to come to you for a purpose.  In the midst of trials, God is seeking to prepare you for what lies ahead. It may be a more difficult task or it may be as a counselor to one who will be facing a similar trial.  God has a plan for your life and your priority should be discovering that plan and preparing for it each and every day.

3.        Particulars of Appointment—“as the Lord hath called, so let him walk”— This is a very important lesson for every one of us to remember.  Do not despise how God called you and when God called you.  My wife and I have very different testimonies and ways in which we came to know the Lord.  She was raised in a Christian home and came to know God at a very early age.  Many of the temptations and sins that I struggled with before becoming a Christian, my wife has never known.  Why did God place me where he placed me and why did He put my wife in her situation?  I do not know the answer to that question, but I do know now that I am a follower of Jesus Christ my command is clear—be like Jesus.

God called me early in life from a Christian home—be like Jesus.  God called me from a life of horrible sin—be like Jesus.  I came to know Christ at a very late age—be like Jesus.  However you came to know Christ, the command is still the same—be like Jesus.

B.        Universal Application—“And ordain I in all churches.”—Paul is not giving an isolated teaching.  He is declaring the apostle’s doctrine, therefore the Lord’s doctrine to Corinth.  This was the expectation in every church that he Apostle Paul established.  This is the expectation of every Bible-following church in existence today.

II.       Teaching Concerning Our Ethnicity in the Christian Life (vv. 18-20)

A.       Our State at Salvation (v. 18)—“Is any man called being circumcised?  Let him not become uncircumcised.  Is any called in uncircumcision?  Let him not be circumcised.”—People have a tendency to focus upon the outward, even when we know the reality of the spiritual life is on the inside.  Paul’s charge here is that it does not matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile because those outward signs mean nothing in comparison to true conversion.

B.        Our Command to Sanctification (v. 19)—“Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.”—This is where the rubber meets the road in this particular discussion.  Circumcision, that most sacred rite of the Jews, means nothing in the great spiritual reality of Christianity.

What is Paul truly saying here?  Was every circumcised Jew a true follower of God?  The answer is no.  Is every one that is baptized a true Christian?  The answer is no.  If these outward signs are not an indicator, how can we separate the false professors from the true possessors of the Holy Spirit. Luckily, Paul gives us the answer by saying one who keeps the commandments of God is the true follower.

It did not matter if one was Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, male or female, black or white, etc.  None of these things mattered.  All that matters is are you following the commandments of God?  Have you believed on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ?  Have you repented of your sins to God and accepted His gift of eternal life through His Son?  Are you living a life

C.       Our Calling to Vocation (v. 20)—“Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.”—If God called you to dig ditches, be the best ditch digger you can be for the glory of Christ.  Did He call you to be a supervisor, CEO?  Be the best that you can be for the cause of Christ.

What this is NOT is a statement supporting a caste system such as some religions follow.  Paul even says, if you can improve your condition and situation by all means do so, but do if you cannot, be content with where you are and serve the Lord.

III.      Teachings Concerning Our Economics in the Christian Life (vv. 21-24)

A.       Reaction to Our Economy—“Art thou called being a servant?  Care not for it:  but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.”—The gospel is the medicine we need to make it through situations that are less than ideal.  We cannot relate to the concept of slavery in our present day United States, but it was a reality for many nearly 150 years ago and is still a reality for some around the world.

Slavery, lower class, poor, down-trodden, etc.  It does not matter what categories we use because the message of Scripture is still the same.  Our reaction in the face of such things should be obedience to Christ.  Wherever you find yourself, obey Christ.  But some will say, “Pastor, my situation isn’t the best.”  You need to obey Christ.  “Pastor, you do not know what hardships I have in my life.”  True, but you are still to obey Christ.  Our circumstances should not determine our contentment.

I know this flies in the face of what the world teaches you because worldly wisdom says your circumstances determine your happiness.  It says you cannot be poor and content.  You cannot face tragedy and have joy.  If you do not know Jesus Christ, you are correct, there is no contentment in poverty or trials, but neither will you find it in riches or success.

Sinner, you are never going to be content outside of Christ.  You will never have enough material and money.  You will never have an inherent joy of knowing your sins are forgiven and you can stand justified before the Great Judge in the last days.  Saints, your reaction to your present state is a very telling fruit of your Christian life.

B.       Reality of Our Economy—“For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman:  likewise also he that is called being free, is Christ’s servant.”— If the gospel is the dose of medicine one needs to perform menial jobs and endure bad situations, then the gospel is also the antidote needed to combat pride in highly desired jobs.  It sounds like a paradox, but Christ frees the slave and enslaves the free.  Simply put, the ground is level a the foot of the Cross.  There is neither bond nor free, male or female, Jew or Gentile.  There is only sinners saved by the wonderful grace of God.

C.       Rate of Our Economy—“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.”—Salvation is free, but it is not without cost.  A farm boy ran home one day to his father and exclaimed, “Daddy, they gave us free milk at school!”  His father patted him on the head and reminded him, “Someone had to milk the cow.”  Salvation did not cost us anything, but there is still a value attached to it.  Paul states it both positively and negatively in this verse.

1.       Bought with a Price – This statement takes the Corinthians mind back to the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Salvation is free to the world, but costly to Christ.  He gave Himself for the Church and it is through His death, burial, and resurrection that we can gather today in the power of the Spirit.

2.       Be not ye the servants of men—This is a spiritual charge for the Corinthians not to be under the subjection.  MacArthur says Paul is warning us against becoming slaves to the ways of the man, the world, and the flesh.

John MacArthur—“That is the slavery into which many of the Corinthian believers had fallen, the slavery that caused their divisions and strife and their immaturity and immorality. . . God allows us to be where we are and to stay where we are for a purpose. Conversion is not the signal for a person to leave his social condition, his marriage or his singleness, his human master, or his other circumstances. We are to leave sin and anything that encourages sin; but otherwise we are to stay where we are until God moves us.”

D.     Rejoinder to Our Economy—“Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.”—This final phrase is a reminder that Paul has given twice before.  If God will move you, trust in Him and move.  However, if God has called you to stay, be content where He has placed you and seek to serve God to the best of your ability.

There are some very exclusive clubs around the world if you take the time to look for them.  I found a few clubs with some very odd entry requirements.  Here are a few of them:

  • Goldfish Club – Group started in 1942 for servicemen that have crashed landed into water and survived.
  • The Silky Club – For membership, one must catch a bonefish using a fly reel, take a 30 meter (98.4 feet) dive from a cliff, and then kiss a silky shark in its natural habitat.
  • Cordon Rouge Club – Members must be invited and also have accomplished a great exploratory feat such as climbing Mt. Everest, reaching the South Pole, or sailing solo around the globe.

These groups may sound silly or adventurous, perhaps even dangerous, but they highlight a very important aspect of many groups—qualifications for admission.  There are certainly other groups, honors, and institutions that come to mind when we think of qualifications for admissions.  Young people often think of colleges when you speak of admissions, while adults tend to think of organizations, usually job related to which they do or should belong.

I remember a few years ago when I was preparing for college that I had made a list of things I needed to complete.  I had to go through the whole admissions process—submitting test scores, transcripts, and all the paper work that goes along with the application process.  I had to endure interviews.  I had to write essays.  There was so much to do that I had to make lists of documents, requirements, and tests that I needed because each college admissions requirements were different.

In this particular portion of 1 Corinthians, Paul is dealing with a problem in the Corinthian church that follows along this line of reasoning.  The Corinthians had lists of things they believed to be important such as wisdom, wealth, and influence.  They foolishly thought God had a list as well and it looked strikingly similar to their list!  As we explored their foolishness previously, we discovered they were wrong.  They didn’t grasp the purpose, the person, or the power of the Cross!

  • They replaced Christ with human wisdom
  • They replaced the Cross with their own ability
  • They replace Grace with worldly status

It is a very prideful statement for us to say we know the mind of God.  We know nothing more about God than He reveals to us in His Word.  All the knowledge we have of God has come from God.  In the verses before us this morning, God shows the Corinthians just how wrong they were in that line of thinking.  He wants us to know that human pride has no place in His plans.  So this morning, we are going to look at how God destroys human pride.  How does God insure that there is never a question of His greatness and work in the lives of men?

I.             The Fact is Stated (v. 26)

A.            Their Position “For you see your calling, brethren,” – Paul is using the Corinthians as the perfect example of what he is saying.  He reminds them to think of themselves when God called them.  The “calling” here refers to this position in the world when they heard the Gospel.  There were not that many educated among them or noble.  If you remember, Corinth did not have nobility as some of the other cities because it had been destroyed and resettled by Romans.  The Apostle is in effect holding up a mirror to the believers and asking, “What do you see?”  If they were honest, the majority of them were ordinary men and women saved by the grace of God.  They were ordinary, but made extraordinary by the saving power of Jesus Christ.

B.            God’s Preference “not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble” – I know many people would look at such a statement and not find it very flattering.  God takes the weak over the strong, the forgotten over the famous, and the nobodies over the some bodies.  There are no exclusions in the kingdom of God, the Gospel is to “whosoever.”  Yet, it tells us here that human pride keeps many from responding to those sweet words of life, but God is not discouraged.  God’s purposes are not prevented because the prideful reject His precious gift of eternal life.  No!  God takes those the world chooses last and saves them to the uttermost.  God takes those that the world deems as useless and makes them useful.  God takes the broken, the addicted, the dirty, and immoral and He remakes them into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

II.            The Reason Given (vv. 26-29)

“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”

A.            God’s Illumination – The Countess of Huntingdon said that she thanked God for the letter M in the word many.  If God has said “not any” instead of “not many” it would have excluded her.  There will always be those of wealth and power that will come to know Jesus Christ as Savior.  The early church had its Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus, and Erastus, and through the ages there have been many others; however, as John Philips points out, the rank and file of the church through the ages has been made of fishermen, slaves, freedmen, and artisans.  The Sanhedrin mocked the apostles because they thought them to be “unlearned and ignorant” (Acts 4:13).  Though the ages, God has delighted in using the nobodies to accomplish great things.

1.            He does not call many sophisticated people – “not many wise after the flesh” – Sir Isaac Newton rocked the world in which he lived with his works, founding mathematical schools still used today and scientific theories that are the foundations of modern physics.  Newton was also a devout follower of Jesus Christ.  Yet, not many such as Newton answer God’s call to salvation.

2.            He does not call many self-sufficient people – Perhaps the greatest illustration of self-sufficient is David of the OT.  He was a mighty man of warrior, a proficient leader, and yet one who trusted in God’s direction for his life.  From the time he faced Goliath until he drew his final breath – David’s self-sufficiency paled in comparison to God’s amazing grace.

3.            He does not call many society people – There are few Queen Victorias and Count Zinzendorfs in the church’s history, but they do exist.

B.            God’s Illustration

1.            He does call the foolish to confound the wise – The wisest counselor David had was a man by the name of Ahithophel.  Unfortunately, Ahithophel was also a vengeful man and when Absalom rebelled, he turned his back upon David.  While fleeing from the Jerusalem, David prayed for God to make the “counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”  God answered that prayer by using the foolishness of Absalom.

2.            He does call the feeble – Read Exodus 2:1-6, with a special emphasis upon 2:6.  All it took for God to overthrow the power of Egypt and free His people from bondage was the cry from a baby.

3.            He does call the failures – Our text says God takes the “base things” of this world.  This literally means without family or descent.  He has chosen those with no family or friends, no illustrious lineage, no powerful kinsmen.  He has chosen those things which are despised, literally things “counted as nothing.”  He takes those with no fame or fortune.  He has chosen the things which are not to bring to nought the things that are.”  The phrase here is in the Greek subjective.  It signifies things that men regard as nothing, non-existent, non-entities.  God has chosen things with no face and no form.

        • Left-handed man (Judges 3:21)
        • Ox-goad (Judges 3:310
        • Feeble woman (Judges 4:4)
        • Nail (Judges 4:21)
        • Millstone (Judges 9:53)
        • Pitcher, Lamp, and Trumpet (Judges 7:20)
        • Jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:16)
        • Sling and Stone (1 Samuel 17:49)
        • Little maid (2 Kings 5:1-3)
        • Insomnia (Esther 6:1)

He used snowflakes to halt the armies of Napolean and Hitler, altering the history of Europe.  He used a miner’s son in Martin Luther, a shepherd’s son in Ulrich Zwingli to change the world during the Reformation.  D.L. Moody was an uneducated shoe salesman and William Carey the missionary was a cobbler.  God can take the base and make it great.  God can take nothing and make it something.

III.        The Purpose Explained (vv. 30-31)

“But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”

A.            Relationship to Christ – “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus”

B.            Resources in Christ – “made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption”

1.            Wisdom Transforms Our Minds – Instead of relying upon our own minds, we can draw upon the infinite wisdom made available to us in Jesus Christ.  He is the embodiment of True Wisdom.  All others, even the wise Solomon, pale in comparison to Christ’s omniscient wisdom.

2.            Righteousness Transforms Our Morals – The world’s standards of right and wrong are relative, cultural, and accommodating.  The world calls wrong right and right wrong.  God’s standards are absolute, universal, and inflexible—based upon His absolute holiness.

3.            Sanctification Transforms Our Motives – The Greek word for “holiness” means to set apart for God.  It stands for the kind of life that belongs to those who are separated from the world around it.  Righteousness has to do with our standing, while sanctification has to do with our state.  Righteousness meets the demands of the Law; sanctification meets the demands of the Lord.  Righteousness is imputed by Christ; sanctification is implemented by the Holy Spirit.

4.            Redemption Transforms Our Members – While we have redeemed souls, we do not yet have our redemption bodies.  Our present bodies remain susceptible to disease, death, and decay and, all too often, are the instruments for carrying out our sinful desires, just as they are the instruments for carrying out the will of God.  However, there will be a final redemption that will transform us wholly into the image of Christ and eradicate the sin stain that is now upon us.  The Apostle John put it the most eloquently when he said, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1Jo 3:2 KJV).

Protagoras (490 BC – 420 BC), an ancient Greek philosopher, is credited with the saying, “Man is the measure of all things.”  Though this sounds like a very new and humanistic statement, Protagoras spoke these words over four hundred years before the birth of Jesus.  The modern mind mistakenly believes that opposition to God is a new force in the world.  However, human wisdom has always been at enmity with God.

  • It was human wisdom in the Garden of Eden that trusted the false promises of the serpent over the commands of God.
  • It was human wisdom that turned a deaf ear to the preaching of Noah of a coming judgment.
  • It was human wisdom that sought to build a tower to the heavens and challenge God.
  • It was human wisdom that trusted in the army of Egypt over the power of God against the Assyrians (see Paul’s quote of Isaiah 29:14 in verse 19, as well as Isaiah 30:1-3)
  • It was human reason that took the Prince of Heaven and nailed Him to a cross because Jesus came in humility rather than power.
  • It is human wisdom today that rejects God in favor of self and secularism.

Atheism has always been alive and well in the world since Adam and Eve first bore children.  Agnosticism, the doubting of a supreme power but the lack of conviction to deny it, is nothing new in the world of men.  No dear friends, human wisdom has reared its ugly and deceitful head for almost as long as there have been humans in this world.  Though the secular world would have you believe that we have improved through the centuries and learned so much as a result of this progression—we are still lacking in the one area it all matters, which is the application.

I want to focus our thoughts on the Wisdom and Power of God from 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.  This focus will show the superiority of God’s wisdom and power by noting the failure of human wisdom and power.  Though it promises great rewards to anyone who will embrace it, human wisdom is severely lacking in the matters which are most important.  Namely, human wisdom lacks an understanding of God’s purposes and the power of God as revealed by Scripture.  It is incapable of understanding God and His plans.  It is incapable of understanding the Savior and His works.  It is incapable of understanding the Christian and his or her power.

I.  Human Wisdom is Incapable of Comprehending the Purpose of the Cross (vv. 18-20)

A.  It cannot comprehend humanity’s past sin—According to Paul’s words in verse 18, there are two groups in the world—the saved and the perishing.  Human wisdom is incapable of comprehending the purpose of the Cross because it cannot grasp man’s sinful state.  Sin and its continuation through the human race is an observable fact.  There is no need to teach a child to get angry, covet, or even lie.  Unlike batteries with many products you buy, children come with sin included because of their human nature.  The sin nature was passed down from the parents, as it has been since Adam and Eve.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Rom 5:12 KJV)

Man fell from perfection to sin and it continues to this day.  Human wisdom does not comprehend the fallen state of man, even though the evidence surrounds us on a daily basis.  The news is filled with stories covering the evils of this world, yet man continues to turn a blind eye toward a sinful nature.  They give a collective shoulder shrug to the atrocities of humanity, saying we do not truly know why people do the things they do.  I can tell you quite plainly this morning.  Man sins because man is born with a sinful nature.  God has revealed this tragic history to us in His Word, but human reason refuses to accept God’s Word.  If man cannot accept he is a sinner, he cannot comprehend the purpose of the Cross.  A preacher once said that, “You have to get people lost before you can get them saved.”  While not eloquent, it is 100% correct and to the point.  If there is no realization of sin, then the concept of a Savior is lost.

B.  It cannot comprehend humanity’s present slavery—If man does not understand his past sin, it comes as no surprise that he does not understanding his present bondage.  Sin enslaves humanity under its dreadful power.  It is a dangerous to belong to such a master because sin brings about only death.  In speaking of sins payday, Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death . . .” (Rom 6:23a).  The flesh will tell you pleasure is the only result of sin.  If this were the truth of the matter, what need would there be for salvation.  The pleasures of sin last only for a season (Heb 11:25).

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Rom 6:6 KJV)

C.  It cannot comprehend humanity’s future sentence—If sin is in your past, denial in your present, then only death awaits you in the future.  Human wisdom will keep you focused upon human elements.  Human wisdom will tell you to mind the things of the flesh and give no thought to your future or to spiritual matters.  Paul tells us as much in Romans.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. (Rom 8:5 KJV)

You can keep your attention and affection on the things of this world, but you will be in for a great surprise when you stand face to face with the Great Judge of the Universe.  All the time, effort, and energy you invested in this world will be for naught as you look ahead into eternity.  All those hours you worked in neglect of your spiritual exercise will come back to your mind.  All of the lost opportunities to hear the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus will flood your thoughts.  And finally, the fear and reality of God’s everlasting wrath, unleashed in the Lake of Fire, will be with you for all of eternity.

What is at stake in the battle of God’s Wisdom versus Human Wisdom—your past, present, and future!   Can you come to terms with God’s revelation of who we are as sinful creatures, born with a nature that is opposed to God?  Have we asked ourselves the serious question, who am I serving this day?  And lastly, do you know your future?  Where are you going when you draw your last breath here on this earth?  Is it secure in Jesus Christ, assured by the Holy Spirit inside of you?

A final aspect I must point out here is that man’s failure in his own salvation is not only inherent in human wisdom, but it is determined by God.  These verses (19, 20d) speak to man frailty and God’s superiority.  These verses say plainly that man’s wisdom fails because God wills it to fail.

II.  Human Wisdom is Incapable of Conceding to the Person of the Cross (vv. 21-23)

A.  It will not concede to a suffering Savior—The stumbling block that Paul talks about in this verse is directed toward the Jews.  Paul, as a Jew, understood the expectations that were upon the Messiah.  Under the yoke of Roman oppression, the Jews were awaiting the day when God’s Messiah would arrive and re-establish the throne of David and rule for all eternity.  They expected a conquering Messiah, one who would bring to bear all the powers of the Almighty and destroy the enemies of God.

What did they get?–A baby born in a manger in an unknown barn in Bethlehem.  Jesus was raised in the town of Nazareth, his human father a carpenter by trade.  Already this story is running contrary to nearly every Jew’s expectation of their Messiah.  It is further complicated when Jesus spoke of love and forgiveness for one’s enemies.  He taught of “turning the other cheek” and “rendering unto Caesar what was Caesar’s.”  No, no, no.  This is all wrong in the mind of the Jews!  You are not to love your enemy, but punish them!  You give nothing to Caesar!  There were numerous other problems, but those suffice to show that the Messiah of God was not what the Jews were looking for nor wanted.

B.  It will not concede to a resurrected Savior—What was a stumbling block to the Jews, was folly to the Greeks.  The idea of resurrection was silly to the Greeks, who by this time had cast aside their old mythologies in favor of philosophy and more sophisticated mythologies.  They could accept a humble Son of God, but you entered into the realm of ridiculous asserting that a man could be raised from the dead.  It was inexplicable by anything the Greeks accepted as wise.  Their human reason prevented them from accepting that a god would allow himself to be sacrificed in such a shameful manner as crucifixion.  And if the thought of a god dying for the sins of humanity was not foolish enough, to imply he rose from the dead was just the pinnacle of absurdity.

C.  It will not concede to a reigning Savior—At the root of the stumbling block and folly is the issue of pride.  The Jews and Greeks both, though for very different reasons, rejected the Messiah.  In the grand scheme of redemption, it does not matter how you reject the Savior, but only that you did reject the Savior.

The pride issue rears its head in every generation and rests at the heart of many sins.  It was pride that caused the downfall of Lucifer.  Pride has destroyed both princes and paupers.  It rest deceptively at the heart of all men and women and has a way of asserting itself often.  I dare say the greatest hindrance to salvation is human pride!

It is a pride that tells a man or woman they do not need a savior.  It is human pride that tells one they have all the time in the world before they have to deal with this eternity “stuff.”  It is pride that rests in the heart of men that tells them they can be good enough or work hard enough to earn the favor of God.  And dear friends, it is pride that will send many to a fiery hell this morning.

Human wisdom will keep you from declaring Jesus the Lord of your life.  It will twist and turn the Word of God to conform to whatever lifestyle you wish to lead.  If you want to live immorally, human wisdom can make it happen.  You want to be a drunkard or drug addict, human wisdom can twist and turn just the right amount with the Word of God to make it okay.  If you do not wish to serve in the local church, evangelize the lost, attend church regularly, or murder an unborn innocent, human wisdom is there to serve you.

But, if you want to be a Christian, human wisdom is not going to do anything for you.  If you want to be a Christian, you have to set aside the pride.  You have to confess that you cannot work into God’s grace.  You cannot reason yourself into God’s good graces.  You have to take the Word of God and you have to believe its testimony of Jesus as the Christ of God.  You have to take this precious Word of Life and read, study, but most importantly you have to live it.  This isn’t you working for your salvation.  This is you living the Spirit-filled life God said you will live if you belong to Him.  Human wisdom cannot explain, but the evidence is clearly there for all to see.

III.  Human Wisdom is Incapable of Connecting to the Power of the Cross (vv. 24-25)

A.  Connecting to the Plans of the Father—Human wisdom is at enmity with the wisdom of God.  In most cases, the picture of God that is constructed with the human mind is little more than a sinful human with super powers.  This assumes they even bother to believe in something beyond this physical existence.  Even more tragic are those who turn to the God of the Bible with human wisdom and human expectations placed upon the Almighty.  They like to invoke the verses of Scripture that make them feel good about what is happening the in the world around them such as Romans 8:28.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28 KJV)

But, even as they give lip service to the idea of God the Father as the Sovereign God, they deny Him with their rejection of His Word.  This hypocrisy at one time was predominant outside of the Church, but in this age, we have accepted a watered-down, non-biblical view of God and put the stamp of Christianity upon it.

One can pray they will one day set aside human wisdom and embrace the biblical Father and His Word; however, the current trend appears to be going in the opposite direction.  People are not becoming more spiritual; they are becoming more humanistic.  If you cannot preface your doctrine with the statement, “The Word of God says . . .” then you are adopting human wisdom.  God help us all if it continues to prevail in the American Church with little to no opposition from the pulpits and pews.

B.  Connecting to the Blood of the Savior—To reject the wisdom of God is to reject the Savior of God.  To know God is to know Christ, and to know Christ is to know the Father.  God’s plan of redemption was not through the agency of human wisdom, but the shed blood of Christ upon Calvary’s Cross.  Human wisdom does not embrace this concept, calling it foolishness, yet it is only through the shed blood of Christ that God forgives the lost sinner.  Human wisdom adds sacraments and works, but this is not the plan of God.

Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon That Memorable Night on Exodus 12 and 13, said, “It must save alone. Put anything with the Blood of Christ, and you are lost; trust to anything else with it, and you perish.”

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. (1Co 1:17 KJV)

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Mat 26:28 KJV)

C.  Connecting to the Power of the Spirit—There is much talk about feeling the presence of God and knowing that God is with us at all times.  This is a product of the Spirit of God within us.  Human wisdom cannot help us possess the Spirit, only knowing Jesus as Savior and the Christ of God is sufficient.  This means we have accept God’s wisdom above our own, God’s plan of salvation as the only one, and only then can we say we are never alone because God is with us.  Only then can we say we possess the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26-27 KJV)

Following is the beginning to a study I have started with my congregation at Grace Bible Church.  I will be preaching through the epistle in the weeks to come.  I plan to post those completed sermon notes and thoughts on this blog in the hopes that it will be of help to my brothers and sisters in Christ who do not attend Grace Bible Church in Gloucester, Virginia.  I will note sources as I use them, but just in case I miss any documentation my key sources will be the following list of books, which will be supplemented with various theological journals as I progress through the series.

Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing, 2005.

Fee, Gordon D.  The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987.

Garland, David E.  1 Corinthians.  Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein, editors.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic Publishing, 2003.

Thiselton, Anthony C.  The First Epistle to the Corinthians.  The New International Greek Testament Commentary.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000.

Author

Apostle Paul (1:1)

Audience

Corinthian Believers (1:2)

Purpose and Date of Writing

The epistle was written approximately AD 54 while Paul was at Ephesus.  Paul’s purpose is multifaceted, yet generally speaking, the letter addresses the application of progressive sanctification in a carnal world.  Or to frame it as a question, how can spiritual people live and thrive in a hostile and carnal world?

Corinth—City

  • The foundation of ancient Corinth is dated circa 900 BC.
  • After a rebellion, Rome destroyed the city in 146 BC.
  • Julius Caesar re-colonized the city in 44 BC.  It is this Roman colony that will be the backdrop for the Apostle Paul’s visit to Corinth.
  • With its key location on the Corinthian Isthmus, the city quickly flourished to become a commercial and political powerhouse in the region.
    • It controlled over-land trade between Italy and Asia.
    • The city bridged the Peloponnese to the Greek mainland.
    • Corinth was the home of the Isthmusian Games (an athletic contest second only to the ancient Olympics).

Commentator Gordon Fee says, “Paul’s Corinth was at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world.” 

Corinth—People

  • The city was re-colonized by Roman “freedmen” and tradesmen.
  • There was no landed aristocracy in Corinth since it was previously destroyed by Roman forces in 146 BC.
  • Due to the cities commercial success, the rich became the unofficial nobles in the city.
  • Evidence shows that while the city was located in Greece, practices were dominantly Roman at their core.

The people of Corinth had a famous reputation in the ancient world.  Unfortunately, it was not a virtuous reputation.  The Greek writer Aristophanes (446  – 386 BC) coined the term korinthiazo [kori,qiazw] or “to act a Corinthian” which meant to commit fornication.

Corinth—Religion

  • 2ND century traveler Pausanias describes Corinth as having 26 “sacred places” referring to temples, groves, and possibly synagogues.
  • The Roman/Greek pantheon was extremely popular in the city with temples to Apollo (wisdom), Poseidon (sea), and Asclepius (healing).  A large temple to Aphrodite also rested upon the mount known as the Acrocorinth, but there is debate as to whether it was still in use during Paul’s visit to the city.
  • Since Corinth acted as a bridge between East and West, it was a melting pot for beliefs from both regions.  The mystic religions of Egypt and the Far East found their way into the city, as well as the Roman Imperial cult (emperor worship).

How is 1 Corinthians Relevant for the 21ST Century?

  • Status inconsistency – great division between rich and poor
  • Religious Pluralism—many religions claiming to hold the “truth”
  • Cosmopolitan immigration and commercial trade—culture wars
  • Priority in market forces in business and rhetoric—money was king
  • Emphasis on recognition and perception of honor and shame within a socially constructed world—spin doctoring in the ancient world

Psalm 33 is a bit odd because it is one of four psalms that do not have a title (Psalm 1, 2, 10, and 33).  Some people even believe it is a continuation of Psalm 32.  While both share the theme of praise, their contents vary in the direction of praise.  Psalm 32 praises God because He forgives sin; Psalm 33 praises God because He is Sovereign.  The call to rejoice in the Lord is one that is unique in Scripture.  It is a call that is only given to believers, in both the Old and New Testaments (Psa. 33:1, 97:12; Joe. 2:23; Hab. 3:18; Phil. 3:1, 4:4).

Rejoice in the LORD, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. (Psa. 97:12)

Rejoice in the Lord alway:  and again I say, Rejoice. (Phil. 4:4)

Since we are given this special charge as believers, it is imperative that we understand praise and how it fits into our Christian life.  It is an aspect of our priesthood as believers (Rev. 1:6).  Vance Havner said, “Every Christian is a priest, not offering a sacrifice for sins – since that has been done once and for all – but offering his person, praise, and possessions.”

Righteous’ Call to Praise God (33:1-3)

Call of Comeliness (33:1) – The world has a different standard of beauty than that which is described in Scripture.  The world promotes immorality and lust and slaps the label of beauty upon it.  The psalmist says that beauty is praise unto God from His people.  It is a picturesque scene when the people of God turn to their Lord and magnify Him for His goodness and greatness.  Praise offered from the tongues of those who do not know the Great God does not compare to the majesty of righteous joy.  Spurgeon said, “No jewels are more ornamental to a holy face than sacred praise.  Praise is not suitable from unpardoned professional singers; it is like a gold jewel in a pig’s snout.”

Call of Completeness (33:2) – There is much to be said about a believer that gives his or her all to God.  Giving only one part of your life to God will leave you with an incomplete understanding of God’s graces to us as believers and an imperfect appreciation.  The focus of verse two is not the diversity of the instruments, but the completeness of the praise.  All the notes are to be given to the praise of God.  Every fiber of our being is to cry out with a “joy unspeakable” (1 Pet. 1:8).  Matthew Henry says, “What we win by prayer we may wear with comfort, and must wear with praise.”

Call of Creativity (33:3) – If verse two is a call to give every area of our life over to God as praise, verse three is a call to use every blessing in our life to praise.  I believe there are two features of creativity in praise that need to be addressed.

1.  Freshness of Spirit – You are a new creature in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  You do not offer praises to God with the old spirit of the flesh.  You are the Temple of God and the Holy Spirit dwells in you if you are a child of God (1 Cor. 3:16).  It is not the old man praising, it is the new man!

“Put off oldness!  You know the new song.  A new person, a New Testament, a new song.  A new song does not belong to the old; it belongs to those renewed through grace.  This is the kingdom of heaven.” (Augustine 353-429)

2.  Freshness of Style – Do you have a regular routine for prayer and Bible reading?  Do you have a regular “method” prayers you offer up to God?  Routines are not bad per se, but when we become more attached to the routine than the communion with God it is time for a new routine.  By way of personal illustration, from time to time, I will change the way we pray on Wednesday nights.  There has been nothing wrong with the ways we were praying previously, yet it sharpens our attention or refocuses our minds when the regular schedule is interrupted.

Now that we know WHAT we are called to do in regards to praise, the question must be asked—WHY should we do it?

Righteous’ Cause to Praise God (33:4-12)

Worthy Because of His Personality (vv. 4-5) – All that God does is good.  The universe was created in the perfection of God’s person and when He looked upon it He saw that “it was good” (Gen. 1:31).  All creation was perfect before the Fall of Man in Genesis 3.  The anomalies and discrepancies we see with our human eyes in creation are not the product of a faulty God, but a sinful man.  I quote Spurgeon once again who said, “Earth might have been as full of terror as of grace, but instead it teems and overflows with kindness.”  God’s work is an outgrowth of His word.  God is truth.  God’s word is truth.  God’s work is truth.  There are no lies in God’s words and there is no evil in His works.  Truth abounds in all that God says and does.

Worthy Because of His Power (vv. 6-9) – The atheists and agnostics rage today as if God is dead.  Sadly, many professors live their lives from day to day as if God is dead too.  They forget the power of God that makes Him worthy of praise.  I often pray to the Lord and merely kneel in awe of His power.  Psalm 32 praises God for the work He does for sinful man.  Psalm 33 calls for the believer to rejoice simply because God is.  It is in this facet of praise I believe many people are lacking, including true believers at times.  What I mean is this—if God had never sent His only begotten Son into the world to die for our sins, He would still be worthy of praise.  If God did not demonstrate to us daily His loving kindness and long-suffering, He would still be worthy of praise.  If God had offered no plan of redemption to sinful mankind, He would still be worthy of praise.  But I thank God Almighty that I praise God for who He is and for what He has done!

Each description that is given of God in these verses are displays of His great power.  Truly, God’s power transcends our human understanding, but the psalmist offers us these pictures as a means of envisioning God’s omnipotence.  Our God did not mold or shape the worlds into being – Scripture declares “. . . He spoke, and it was done” (Psa. 33:9).

Worthy Because of His Providence (vv. 10-12) – Providence is the unseen hand of God.  It is not the miraculous intervention we witnessed upon Mt. Carmel as Elijah faced the false prophets.  It is the subtle and the workings of God in the lives of His people (e.g. Esther).  Two elements are important to note here:

1.  The Unfaithful – Verse 10 declares that God’s plans will succeed regardless of anyone else’s plan.  This psalm was written at a time when Israel was surrounded by enemies that longed for their destruction.  Much like today, Israel was small in comparison to the great super-powers of the ancient world; however, God’s hand was upon them.  For the Christian, this verse speaks of God’s sovereignty and His absolute control over the affairs of men.

Isaiah 46:10-11 — Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: 11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

Psalm 135:6 — Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.

Many are bothered by such statements in Scripture because as sinful, prideful creatures the thought that someone else is more powerful and in control of their lives.  As a Christian, I take comfort in the fact that my Father is in complete control and there is nothing mysterious to His all-knowing mind and nothing outside His ever-watching eye

2.  The Faithful –The same word translated “heathen” in 33:10 is the same word used of nation in 33:12.   This means there is not a variation of content, but a variation of substance.  A nation that follows God will be blessed.  A nation that does follow God will be brought down.

Righteous’ Comfort to Praise God (33:13-19)

Comfort in God’s Awareness (33:13-14)—The picture of God given here is of Him seated high and exalted above all the earth looking down upon the affairs of men.  It reinforces the idea of God’s omniscience, His all-knowing nature, but it also serves as a reminder in the affairs of men.  There are no secret places in the world that can be hid from the eyes of God.  There are no secret places in the mind and heart of man that can be kept from Him.

Comfort in God’s Alertness (33:15-17) – We are well aware of the atheist movement in our world today.  USA Today released a report this week (July 29, 2012) that stated 1 in 5 people now declare themselves atheist, agnostic, or some other form of “none” in regards to belief in God.  We expect people such as this to live their lives as if God is not watching from Heaven; however, there is a silent movement that is thriving among those who claim to know the God of Heaven.  These groups of practical atheists, as I like to call them, give lip service to the Almighty; yet live their lives as if He does not exist.

God sees the lives of men and these verse only reiterate what has been stated throughout this entire psalm—God is in control.  The emphasis here though is that even though God is fully aware of all that goes on in the world, He is also interested in all that is happening in the world.

Comfort in God’s Affection (33:18-19) – The closing verses of this psalm are some of the most comforting you will find in Scripture.  It has declared to us that God is worthy of praise because He is Sovereign.  He deserves our devotion because He is Almighty God who created the entire universe.  It is with this in mind that he psalmist then draws our attention to God’s loving-kindness toward us; his intimate relationship with His children.

I know that I’m quoting Spurgeon a great deal, but he puts this thought so well that I will close with it:

“The Lord’s hand goes with His eye.  He sovereignly preserves those He graciously oberserves.  Rescues and restorations hedge about the lives of the saints.  Death cannot touch them until the King signs the warrant and gives his leave, but even then, his touch is not so mortal as immortal.  He does not so much kill us as kill our mortality.”

A shift in person that takes place in verse 20 highlights the intimacy of God with His children.  From the beginning of the psalm, the writer has been sharing his thoughts as an outside observer, watching God’s dealings with mankind.  However, it is here that he shifts to the first person.  He is not an observer in the workings of God, the psalmist is a partaker in God’s goodness.

When it comes to rejoicing, are you an observer or a partaker?  Do you watch as others give God the glory He deserves?  If you are a child of God this morning, you have an obligation to honor your Heavenly Father.  I do hope that if you are a child of God that you have more than an obligation, but a strong desire to give glory to your Savior.

This portion of Scripture is often called the “Magnificat” after the first word in the Latin translation.  It is an adoration song that is given by Mary to Elisabeth upon their meeting.  The Christ child has yet to be born, yet creation is jumping with anticipation at news of his soon-arrival, including the unborn John the Baptist (Luke 1:44).

There are no less than 15 allusions to the OT in these few verses.  While I am convinced of Mary’s inspiration at the utterance of these words, I’m also confident in her familiarity with the passages in question.  Many of the allusions come from the Psalms, so they were perhaps sung by Mary in the synagogue and at the Temple.  You will also see a parallel between Mary’s Magnificat and Hannah Song in 1 Samuel 2.  The circumstances are completely different, but the praise unto the Lord and His mercies are very similar.  A heart of thankfulness to God permeates through both of these songs to the Lord for His greatness and kindness.

I call them allusions because they are not direct quotations of the OT text, merely parallel thoughts and snippets that Mary sings in her joy.  It is as if Mary is so steeped in Scripture that as she breaks into the praises of God, these words come naturally to her lips[1]  I want to take a few moments this morning and look at the Magnificat or the Canticle of Mary as it is also known and glean from it the humility and thankfulness she pours forth to God.  It is my hope that by hearing Mary’s praise, the Holy Spirit will attune our hearts to praise the Lord, not only in this holiday season, but in all seasons.

God’s Present Blessings Upon Mary (vv. 46-49)

The Depths of Her Praise (vv. 46-47) – “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” – Martin Luther believed there was a categorical distinction between soul and spirit as it is used in these verse.  I do not see any indication that Mary was making such a point.  I do believe we see the outpouring of thankfulness and praise from a heart that is at peace with God.  Mary’s heart is lifting up the Lord to the utmost heights and her spirit is rejoicing in this relationship between Creator and creation.  This is not a superficial praise, but an admiration that springs from the very depths of Mary’s being.

Psa. 34:2-3 – My soul shall make her boast in the LORD at all times:  his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.

The Direction of Her Praise (vv. 46-48) – “. . . the Lord” and “. . . in God my Savior.” – There is a misconception among some that Mary is heaping praises upon herself and her blessedness.  They use verse 48 as their ammunition where Mary says, “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”  In doing this, they ignore to whom Mary addresses her praise from the very beginning of this song.  Note with me what she says again.  “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”  There are to be no misconceptions here.  Mary’s praise and adoration is not for herself, but to an Almighty God.  She finds nothing to boast of in her own condition.  She even recognizes and states here station before God.  She notes her own “low estate” and calls herself the handmaiden or servant of the Lord.

Martin Luther describes Mary “Hence she does not glory in her worthiness nor yet in her unworthiness, but solely in the divine regard, which is so exceedingly good and gracious that He deigned to look upon such a lowly maiden, and to look upon her in so glorious and honorable a fashion. They, therefore, do her an injustice who hold that she gloried, not indeed in her virginity, but in her humility. She gloried neither in the one nor in the other, but only in the gracious regard of God. Hence the stress lies not on the word “low estate” but on the word “regarded.” For not her humility but God’s regard is to be praised. When a prince takes a poor beggar by the hand, it is not the beggar’s lowliness but the prince’s grace and goodness that is to be commended.”[2]

Psa.  138:6 – Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly:  but the proud he knoweth afar off.

The Declaration of Her Praise (v. 47) – Sometimes as Fundamentalists, we are afraid to say too much about Mary.  The Roman Catholics have venerated her to realm of perpetual purity, sinlessness, and assumption.  You will find none of these elements in the NT.  Mary did have more children according to the NT, she did sin, and she did die as a natural death.  We have little time to discuss all those issues, so we will just tackle the one discussed in this song.

In an exegesis of the passage, Curtis A. Jahn states, “Mary found her highest joy in God her Savior. The genitive pronoun “my” is objective. Mary is applying the gospel to herself; she sees herself as the recipient of God’s saving work. What does Mary see God saving her from and saving her for? From the context of her song, the angel’s message to her, Elizabeth’s greeting, and the broader context of the Old Testament Scriptures’ plan of salvation, it is clear that Mary looked to the Lord as her Savior from sin, from the curse of the law, from death and damnation, and from all the evil brought upon his world because of sin.[3]

Psa. 35:9 – And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD:  it shall rejoice in his salvation.

Hab. 3:18 – Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

Luke 11:27-28 – And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the papa which thou has sucked.  But he said, Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

God’s Promise of Future Blessings Upon Humanity (v. 50)

Promise of Salvation — “And his mercy is on them that fear him . . .” – God’s mercy is upon those that are continually following Him.  The idea of fear here is not a horror-filled reality that should fill the heart of the unbeliever, but it is a child-like reverence and awe that is to be possessed by every child of God.  It is respectful and solemn concerning the person of God and the work of God.  Mary is singing because she knows of the mercy and grace of the Lord.

Psa. 98:1-3 – O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvelous things:  his right hand, and his holy arm hath gotten him the victory.  The LORD hath made known his salvation:  his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen.  He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel:  all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Promise of Continuation – “. . .  from generation to generation.” – God’s mercy is not a radiant sun that shines bright one day and dims the next.  His mercy and grace continue on and on.  Mary understood that the mercy and grace she had received of God would continue to bless those that came after her.

Psa. 103:17-18 – But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.

She knew from the announcement of the angel Gabriel that the child she now carried would save his people from their sins (Mat. 1:21).  We now have a better understanding of this promise to Mary and how far-reaching the Word of God was to become.  Not only did Jesus offer salvation to the nation of Israel, but to the entire world.

God’s Past Testimony of Blessings for Abraham (vv. 51-56)

God Showed His Strength (v. 51) – As I have researched this month for the Christmas season, I have been surprised at the number of times the term “arm” has appeared in the various texts I studied.  The coming of the Christ in prophecy, description, and promise is filled with references to the “arm” of the Lord.  This is a show of strength to the watchful nation of Israel.  They do not quite understand how this strength will be unleashed in the form of Jesus, but they are looking for it.

Isa. 40:10 – Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him:  behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.

Isa. 52:10 – The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

God Supplied the Need (vv. 52-54) – Often when we think of God supplying needs, we always think in the positive.  This is certainly a reality, but have we ever considered that sometimes God supplies our true need by what he removes.  These verses show both the positive and the negative means by which God supplies for needs.

  • Scatters the Proud
  • Put Down the Mighty
  • Exalted the Low
  • Filled the Hungry
  • Emptied the Rich

God Secured His Promises (vv. 55) – Do I believe that Mary understood the far-reaching implications of Jesus and His mission?  No.  She understood only as far as God gave her understanding.  As the church, we also have a limited understanding of God’s complete mission in redemption of creation and the salvation of man.  We understand as much as God has revealed to us through His Word.  Mary was not giving a theology lesson with her song, not intentionally.  She was singing the praises of her God and his faithfulness to her and His people.  Mary’s song is pregnant with theological truth and timeless truth concerning God, but Mary did not approach Elisabeth with the intent of giving a discourse.  Everything Mary said and knew about God was based upon one simple principle—God kept His promises.

Gal. 3:16 – Now to Abraham and his seed were the promise made.  He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.


[1] John Piper, Meditation on the Magnificat, sermon preached 12-7-1980, found at http://www.soundofgrace.com/piper80/120780.htm, accessed 12-17-2011.

[2] Martin Luther, “The Magnificat,” Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 21 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1956), 314 (Op. Cited from Curtis A. John).

[3] Curtis A. Jahn, “Exegesis and Sermon Study of Luke 1:46-55,” (City Unknown:  Publisher Unknown, 1997), 4.

On August 21, 1911, an Italian immigrant took his revenge upon the nation of France.  Vincenzo Peruggia moved from his native Italy to Paris in hopes of joining its art world.  Peruggia eventually did make it into Paris’ most renowned art museum, the Louvre; however, it was as a handyman and not an artist.  From some reports, Peruggia  was verbally abused by some Parisians, calling him ‘sale macaroni‘ or ‘dirty macaroni,’ an overt and racially charged insult.

As one considers the various avenues of conflict resolution, there are some old standards that come to mind.  First, you can speak with those with whom you have an issue.  This is the peaceful solution to any problem and is the first step with most peaceable and civic-minded citizens.  Noting that Peruggia exacted his revenge in 1911, one might first jump to the conclusion that the Italian immigrant resorted to violence.  If you chose either of those options, sadly, you are wrong.  So how did Peruggia seek revenge upon the people and country that scorned him and made him long to return to his beloved Italy?  He stole the Mona Lisa!

No, your monitor is not displaying that wrong.  Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa.  Believing that Napoleon had stolen it from Italy (he didn’t by the way, da Vinci sold it to Francis I when he moved to Paris to become the court artist), suffering from homesickness, and just a general dislike for the French, Peruggia walked out of the Louvre with da Vinci’s masterpiece hidden under his smock.  The theft is not the most interesting aspect of the story.

Before being stolen, the Mona Lisa was a famous masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci.  It was well-known in most art circles.  Beginning around 1860, it was beginning to gain interest from art critics and art lovers, yet Mona had not reached the iconic status she enjoys today.  Author and historian James Zug states, “The ‘Mona Lisa’ wasn’t even the most famous painting in its gallery, let alone in the Louvre.”[1]  Peruggia’s theft transformed da Vinci’s work from a well-crafted portrait into a world-famous masterpiece overnight.  People rushed to the Louvre and the museum’s attendance steadily rose.

The painting would not return to the Louvre for nearly 2 years.  Peruggia would eventually try to sale the painting and be arrested for the theft.  Mona would take a tour of Italy before being returned to the Salon Carre and reclaim her place on the wall.  In the course of those 2 years, more patrons visited the Louvre to see a blank space upon the wall than had come to the museum in the previous decade.

I read the story of the Mona Lisa and Peruggia in disbelief.  The crime did not surprise me, though I was a bit taken aback with the motive.  My disbelief came from the people’s reaction to the theft.  They marched into a museum filled with masterpieces, yet it was a blank part of a wall that drew their attention.  There was not a drop of paint upon this bare spot.  No brush strokes to analyze, no colors to discern, and certainly no scene to envision.  The people had been drawn by the grandeur of the event.  They did not quite understand it, but they knew it was important.

As I tried to put this into a more modern context, I thought of the church.  Here during the Christmas season many churches see an influx of visitors.  Acquaintances and friends who barely have the time or spiritual inclination to make an appearance show up during the Christmas season.  The allure of the event is too much to be ignored.  But I have to ask, are we missing the big picture?

I believe the answer is a resounding yes.  One of the least offensive narratives of the Gospel story is the birth of Jesus.  His poor earthly father and mother travel in hardship to Bethlehem.  The trip is made especially more difficult because Mary is pregnant and nearing her delivery time.  The story’s tension grows as they reach Bethlehem and find there is no place for them to stay.  Either in greed or mercy, an innkeeper gives them his stable to rest in for the evening.  We assume Joseph and Mary are surrounded by animals, hay, and dirt when the child is born.  They wrap the child in strips of cloth and place him in an animal trough.  Angels sing, shepherds praise, and a star shines in the heavens.  The call comes for peace on earth and goodwill toward all men.  It is an upbeat story.  A beautiful story.  It is also only part of the story.  We are missing the big picture.

Why did Jesus come?  Why did he take on “the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men?” (Phi. 2:7)  While Matthew and Luke go on to answer these important questions, the prophet Isaiah had already painted a beautiful picture that answered these questions.  I shared this portrait with my congregation on Sunday, December 11, 2011.

I.             The Portrait is Made Public (Isa. 53:1-3)

His Coming Announced (v. 1)– Isaiah’s proclamation appears to imply that the coming of this servant has been alluded to before to the nation of Israel.  As NT believers, we know this to be an accurate statement as we look back upon the OT and see the various declarations of God concerning the coming of His Messiah.  Beginning in Genesis 3, the Lord has been promising a Savior for sinful man.  The prophet is making the public proclamation and describing the Christ.  Even in the proclamation, there is an element of foreshadowing concerning what is to come.  The word “arm” that is used in this passage is the Hebrew word zeroah, also used to describe the shank of the lamb that was eaten during the Passover.  Already, this Messiah is being portrayed as the Passover Lamb—a substitutionary death.

His Charm Annulled (vv. 2-3) – I can only imagine how shocked the people were when they first heard Isaiah description of the coming Messiah.  Surely, anyone that God will send will be glorious to behold!  His beauty will radiate, His riches will enthrall, and His life will be the envy of all whom see Him.  Sadly, this is not the picture that Isaiah is painting at all.  Notice the words he uses, “no comeliness; no beauty; despised; rejected; sorrow; and grief.”

Matthew Henry says, “No where in all the Old Testament is it so plainly and fully prophesied, that Christ ought to suffer, and then to enter into his glory, as in this chapter. But to this day few discern, or will acknowledge, that Divine power which goes with the word. The authentic and most important report of salvation for sinners, through the Son of God, is disregarded. The low condition he submitted to, and his appearance in the world, were not agreeable to the ideas the Jews had formed of the Messiah. It was expected that he should come in pomp; instead of that, he grew up as a plant, silently, and insensibly. He had nothing of the glory which one might have thought to meet with him. His whole life was not only humble as to outward condition, but also sorrowful. Being made sin for us, he underwent the sentence sin had exposed us to. Carnal hearts see nothing in the Lord Jesus to desire an interest in him. Alas! by how many is he still despised in his people, and rejected as to his doctrine and authority!”

II.            The Portrait is Marred (Isa. 53:4-9)

In the classic book The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde tells the fanciful story of young Dorian Gray.  He is attractive, rich, and is quickly becoming the talk of London.  Having been corrupted by a hedonistic noble, Dorian begins to believe that beauty is the only worthwhile aspect of life.  After seeing a portrait of himself, Dorian wishes for the portrait to grow old, but for himself to remain forever young and beautiful.  His wish is granted.  The picture begins to change and reflect the sinfulness of Dorian’s life and ways.  The book is a lesson that everything beautiful is not good and vice versa.

Isaiah has not painted what many would consider a very flattering portrait thus far.  He has described the Messiah as one who is without beauty, rejected, and despised.  However, we must continue reading to find the true beauty of this picture.  Before we get there, we must first see how the portrait is marred.

The Servant is Sin-Bearing (vv. 4-6) – These verses recognize that the Messiah was to die for the sins of others and not His own iniquities.  All the punishment that is received is undeserved if the Messiah’s actions are taken into account.  It is our actions that are being considered though, and unlike this servant of God, we are not without sin.  Isaiah states that people will look upon His suffering and assume that God is punishing Him for his own transgressions.  As we think to the scene at the cross, the Jews shook their heads, mocked, and cursed Him just as Isaiah describes here.  They thought God had brought judgment upon Jesus for his own actions, when in reality, God was pouring our sin upon Him.

The Servant is Silent (v. 7) – Though He was innocent, He spoke not a word.  Jesus is recognized as the Lamb of God in the NT (John 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 5:6), and here more detail is added to the picture.  The Messiah will be the sacrificial lamb of God.  He will resemble that sacrificial lamb that was introduced in Exodus (Exo. 12:3, 6); who through sacrifice and substitution was able to save lives.

The Servant is Slain (vv. 8-9) – So there is no mistake as to what is implied in the text, Isaiah tells us, “he is cut off from the land of the living.”  The death of this servant is a certainty for there is no other way to pay the harsh penalty of sin.

 III.          The Portrait is Magnified (Isa. 53:10-12)

The Seed of the Servant – What is the seed spoken of here?  It is the effect of Messiah’s labor and work.  Offspring will be produced through this righteous work.  And He will see that fruit of his labors.  This is a foreshadowing to me of the resurrection.  Isaiah has already told us that he was cut off from the land of the living.  And now, He will witness His offspring/seed.

The Satisfaction of the Servant – Not only will He see the fruit of His labors, but He will be satisfied.  If    the death that took place in verse 8 were permanent, then these final verses would be illogical.  Something miraculous is going to have to take place if the Messiah is going to see His offspring and be satisfied with the redemption of humanity.

The Spoil of the Servant – There is a reference to great victory in this final verse of chapter 12.  Perhaps you are familiar with the old adage, “To the victor go the spoils.”  This is in reference to the winning army taking the treasures of the defeated.  The servant is said to “divide the spoil with the strong.”  Will the Messiah be victorious?  The answer is a resounding yes!