Jews and Greeks and Wisdom Part 5 of 7 (series: Lessons on 1st Co.)
by John Lowe
22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
For the Jews require a sign
The Jews had always been the recipients of miracles, so they were used to them; miracles confirmed the mission of the prophets sent to them, and therefore, they insisted on a sign by Jesus that would ensure them that He was the true Messiah. But Jesus showed them signs and wonders, and still, they would not believe; and though miracles were created in great numbers, even greater than any man ever did, they remained unconvinced, and persisted in demanding a sign from heaven, and that it is done their way. It was then that Jesus told them that no other sign would be given to them, except for one, the sign of the prophet Jonah, by which was signified the resurrection of Christ from the dead. This was given to them, but they refused to believe in it, and they continued to insist on a sign; nothing but miracles would do it for them, and they must be the types of miracles that pleased them. (See note below).
There never were a people in the universe more difficult to be persuaded of the truth than the Jews: and if their religion had not been indisputably proved by the most striking and unquestionable miracles, they never would have received it. This slowness of heart to believe, added to their fear of being deceived, induced them to require miracles for confirmation of everything that professed to come from God. This was the characteristic of the Jewish people. God had manifested himself to them by miracles and wonders in a remarkable manner in past times, and they greatly prided themselves on that fact, and always demanded a sign when any new messenger came to them, professing to be sent from God. They expected a Messiah that would come with the exhibition of some stupendous signs and wonders from heaven above; they looked for the displays of amazing power in his coming, and they anticipated that he would deliver them from their enemies by mere power; and they, therefore, were greatly offended by the simple doctrine of a crucified Messiah. They were a wicked and adulterous generation, continually seeking signs, and never saying it is enough. But the sign which seems particularly referred to here is the assumption of secular power, which they expected in the Messiah; and because this sign did not appear in Christ, they rejected him.
After saying all this that appears to condemn the Jews for asking continually for miracles, I ask “what is wrong with it”. It was wrong for a couple of reasons: First; they did not ask for them for a good reason; and second, they did not use them in the right way. For, while faith ought to have been helped by miracles, their only concern was how long they might persevere in their unbelief. While miracles should lead us to an acquaintance with Christ, and the spiritual grace of God, they served as a hindrance or you might say they were a stumbling block to the Jews. On this account, too, Christ scolds them, “And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation” (Mark 8:12). A perverse generation seeketh after a sign. After all the miracles they had obtained, they appeared to have gained no advantages from them.
Note: the Alexandrian copy, and some of the oldest manuscripts, and the Vulgate Latin version, has "signs", signifying many signs. The singular was a later correction from Matthew 12:38, “Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee”; Matthew 16:1, “The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven”; And John 2:18, Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? The signs the Jews craved for were not mere miracles, but direct tokens from heaven that Jesus was the Messiah; Luke 11:16, And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven.
and the Greeks seek after wisdom;
By the term Greeks, in my opinion, Paul doesn’t mean Gentiles or the Greek people, but has in view those who had the polish of the liberal sciences, or were distinguished by superior intelligence; that is to say, men who possessed such wisdom, or philosophy, as they found in the writings of Cicero, Seneca, Plato, which was written in the beauty of the Latin and Greek languages. The Greek culture valued the pursuit of wisdom—the wisdom of the world, natural wisdom, philosophy, the reason for things, the flowers of rhetoric, the ornaments of speech, the beauties of oratory, the justness of style and diction; usually expressed in high, academic, philosophical terms. They did not value the wisdom expressed in the message of the cross. Their desire for wisdom was not bad, but their rejection of God's wisdom was. In a sense they practiced idolatry by their concept of God as ultimate Reason, meaning of course what they deemed to be reasonable. As for doctrines they regarded none, except for those they could understand and account for with their carnal reasoning; they despised everything else. We often read of "the Grecian wisdom", or wisdom of the Greeks; which, the Jews say, consisted of metaphors and mysterious sayings, which were understood only by them that were used to it; the Jews were forbidden to study Greek philosophy, though some of their Rabbis were conversant with it
Christianity does not begin with solving intellectual difficulties, but with satisfying the heart that longs for forgiveness; that's why the theocratic Jews were the chosen organ for spreading revelation, instead of the refined Greeks. Hence, intellectual Athens (See Acts 17:18-21 ) received the Gospel less readily than commercial Corinth. The Greeks seek after wisdom is a declaration that the preaching of the Gospel is foolish. It is foolish, he says, to those whom God has not endowed with new light; that is to say, to the Jews who require miracles, and the Greeks who need philosophical arguments, which they may comprehend by their intellect and wisdom: and therefore they do not believe the Gospel, and like to mock it. Nevertheless, there is the great power and wisdom of God in this foolish preaching of Christ crucified. God showed plainly, that even when mad men think He is foolish, he is far wiser than they are, and that he triumphs over all their might and power, when he uses the most vile and wretched things, such as sinful men, as His instruments for the preaching of the Gospel.
Acts 17:18-21 (KJV) Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But we preach Christ crucified
Regardless of the sentiments and opinions of Jews and Gentiles, of what the one required and the other sought after; and in opposition to all their senseless and groundless criticism, the apostle and his fellow ministers continued preaching the doctrine of salvation by a crucified Christ, and him only. This doctrine met the demands of neither group. It satisfied neither the expectations of the Jews, nor the requirements of the Greeks. Instead of giving the Jews and Greeks what they demanded in deliverance and wisdom, God gives them something unexpected: a crucified Messiah. Christ (Messiah) meant power, splendor, and triumph. The word crucified meant weakness, defeat, and humiliation. Christ crucified was the ultimate oxymoron, and this was what Paul preached!
If the cross doesn't seem strange to you, then you either don't understand how the cross was seen in Jesus' day, or you don't understand who Jesus is. You don't understand the tension between Christ and crucified. The great Roman statesman Cicero said: "The cross, it speaks of that which is so shameful, so horrible, it should never be mentioned in polite society." If we were witnesses to the trial of Jesus, when the crowd was shouting out "crucify him, crucify him"; if we had our wits about us, we would have shouted back, "Don't crucify Him! If you must execute this man, do it honorably. Let him die the death of a dignified man. But don't expose Him to the horror and the humiliation of hanging on a cross." But God wanted Christ crucified, and if we don't embrace the cross, even with all its strange contradictions and demands, then we are lost. We preach Christ crucified because the cross is central to the Christian religion; no person may be a true follower of the Lord who is unwilling to take up his cross and follow the Master (See Matthew 16:24). Despite the Jewish law which declared, "He that is hanged on a tree is accursed of God" (Deuteronomy 21:23), the cross was the instrument of Jesus' atonement for the sins of the whole world. It was the place where God, having entered our earthly life as a man, paid the penalty for human transgression, bruised the head of Satan, and purchased the church with his own precious blood. The glory of the cross is seen in what it denied, what it declared, what it accomplished, whom it defeated, and whom it saved. All the human wisdom of all the ages is powerless to achieve the most infinitesimal fraction of the redemption that was achieved to the uttermost on Calvary.