As we make our way to Easter Sunday this week, I share the following section of Tim Keller’s new book on the resurrection of Jesus…
Jesus’ death and resurrection not only brings in salvation but also constitutes the ultimate refutation of the world’s wisdom.
Let’s do a thought experiment. Assemble some business and political consultants who have gone to all the best schools and have worked for the best companies and campaigns and whose clients have seen the most success. Bring them together and pose this question: “I have a goal. My long-term goal is to be the most influential and famous person who ever lived. Centuries from now I want to have whole civilizations built on my teachings, and I want to be at the center of the lives of hundreds of millions of people. What should I do to accomplish this?”
Assuming the world’s greatest consultants took you seriously, what would they say? Would it be anything like this? “Be born in obscurity. Avoid ever getting involved in any of the powerful political or economic or academic networks. Be tragically killed in your early thirties, before you ever write a book?” Of course they would not give that counsel. But that’s how Jesus did it, and he makes foolish the wisdom of the world.
And consider how greatly he would have failed if he had followed the world’s advice for becoming successful. What if he had come as a philosopher with a great intellectual system of thought? Then the only people helped by him would have been the intellectuals. What if he had led a powerful movement of moral teaching with himself as the living example? Then only the people strong, able, and accomplished enough to imitate him would have benefitted.
But across both history and the nations of the world, we have seen people from all classes and conditions finding peace and power in the gospel of Jesus. Poor people do not gather in homes to discuss Plato or Aristotle, but they do to study and talk about the message of Jesus, and their lives are changed by it. Jesus did not come and say, “I’m strong and brilliant. Now pull yourself together and you can be like me.” Jesus Christ exchanged places with you. He came to live the life you should have lived and die the death you should have died so you could be reconciled to God, forgiven, and remade.
This is why the gospel message is good for everyone and its transforming power continues to grow across the face of the earth. It’s not just for the moral, the strong, and the brilliant. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done.
This is why Paul wrote this in 1 Corinthians 1:20-25: “Where is the wise person? Who is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (bold and italics added).
In the view of the world, Jesus’ death on the cross was a complete failure. “How,” asked some people, “could he help the world without becoming a great philosopher and teacher? He needed to establish a school of thought!” “How,” asked others, “could he help the world without becoming a great general and leader? He needed to set up an empire!” The crucified Messiah was foolishness to Greeks and weakness to Jews – but surely history has proven those first-century skeptics wrong. The Great Reversal is both true wisdom and true power, and it shows, ironically, that the world’s understanding of greatness is a weakness which leads to continual wars and conflicts. And the world’s understanding of wisdom – reason without God – is the most fruitless thing possible. So “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
The founders of the other great world religions died peacefully, surrounded by their followers and the knowledge that their movement was growing. In contrast, Jesus died in disgrace, betrayed, denied, and abandoned by everyone, even his Father.
Other world religions teach salvation through ascent to God through good works, moral virtue, ritual observances, and transformation of consciousness. In contrast, Christianity is about salvation through God’s deciding to us. This is the great difference between Christianity and every other philosophical and religious system.