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The Implausibility of the Gospel and Why It Is Not a Problem

 

PRAYER OF CONSECRATION

Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. 

Jesus, I belong to you.

I lift up my heart to you.
I set my mind on you.
I fix my eyes on you.
I offer my body to you as a living sacrifice.

Jesus, we belong to you. 

Praying in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. 

Acts 17:24–34

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was  Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

CONSIDER THIS

The gospel of Jesus Christ has one limit: plausibility.

The gospel is not plausible and it is a waste of time to try and make it so.

In Athens, Paul seems to be engaging the people at the level of ideas.  

Remember, yesterday’s text gave us this interesting parenthetical comment: “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (v. 21).

For years I have heard preachers marvel at the brilliance of Paul’s approach to sharing the gospel with the Athenians. In that famous plenary address on Mars Hill, Paul waxed eloquent. He made object lessons using their idols. He cited their poets. He referenced “God,” but he never named Jesus, referring to him only as “the man.”

We so want the gospel of Jesus Christ to pass the plausibility test, to make perfect sense to present-day hearers who are caught up in the ideas of the age (which are ironically just rehashed versions of the old ones).

The gospel is not plausible. A man who claims to be God who dies for his own people in order to save them is not only implausible; it is borderline insane. This same God-Man rises from the dead, ascends into heaven, and then gives birth to an organization two billion strong and still growing two thousand years later—this is absurd. 

So how did it go in Athens? 

Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

I find it interesting how Luke refers to them as becoming “followers of Paul” (v. 33). I doubt we see that phrase again in Scripture. Next week, we will travel with Paul to Corinth, another seductive metropolitan culture where Paul will take a seemingly decidedly different approach. 

He will speak of the gospel as the “foolishness [of the cross]” (1 Cor. 1:18). Sounds like the implausibility approach, doesn’t it? Here’s what Paul will say to the Corinthians:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Cor. 2:1–5)

He goes from “the man he has appointed” to “judge the world with justice” to knowing “nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

If we are going to go with that gospel—Jesus Christ and him crucified—it will require the crucifixion of everything else in us save that. All of our wisdom, gifts, abilities, talents, eloquence, knowledge, and persuasiveness must be traded for “weakness with great fear and trembling.”

So what of all these good things we traded in? It’s not that talent and skill don’t matter. They do. They must, however, pass through the sanctifying crucible of the cross. Only what dies can be resurrected. What before were human qualifications, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, become holy love; the demonstrative power of God.

Later, from Corinth, Paul will write the celebrated letter to the Romans where he will finally arrive at the crucified and risen place he can honestly say: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16).

The implausibility of the gospel is not a problem. It’s actually the genius of its solution. 

THE PRAYER OF TRANSFORMATION

Lord Jesus, I want to be your witness, a real Christian. To that end, 

I receive your righteousness and release my sinfulness.
I receive your wisdom and release my foolishness.
I receive your lament and release my outrage.
I receive your faith and release my fear.
I receive your hope and release my optimism and pessimism.
I receive your love and release my self-interestedness. 
I receive the simplicity of the Cross and release the sophistication of all I think I know. 

Come, Holy Spirit, transform my heart, mind, soul, and strength so that my consecration becomes your demonstration; that our lives become your sanctuary. For the glory of God our Father, amen.

JOURNAL PROMPTS

Why do we (you and I) want the gospel to be plausible? What about us makes us uncomfortable with the implausibility of it all?

Where are you in all of this? Do you see how human skill and talent become exponentially more than human talent and skill if utterly surrendered into the hands of Jesus? It’s not about sacrificing talent, but surrendering it.

THE HYMN

Today we will sing “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name,” (hymn 2) from our Seedbed hymnal, Our Great Redeemer’s Praise. Get your copy here.

For the Awakening,
J. D. Walt

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

4 Responses

  1. The overall lesson for me in today’s readings is this : If we are to become truly functional disciples of Christ, we must take His call to deny oneself and pickup our crosses daily more seriously than we currently do. Our ultimate goal should be as Paul once wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Jesus died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:20-21) The misconception that we build the Church through our own clever strategies and power, along with God’s help of course, needs to die. Jesus clearly said, “And I also say that you are Peter, and on this rock (Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God) I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

  2. Inner Implausibility

    I love to continually experience the demonstrative presence of Christ and His redemptive process working in and through me. He causes me to see life differently and many people think I’m a fool. But that’s okay because the fruit that Jesus produces within me fills me with His healing balm and restores my soul.

    Christ working in me is beyond anything I could ask or imagine. He bypasses my mind and my desires. He continually takes hold of my heart and tenderly twits and reshapes it to His will, breaking the thought patterns that have held me in bondage. It’s a life-long process. He never stops boldly and lovingly showing me where I’m off His track. He re-tunes me to set aside my cherished discordance so that I can better sing His song in harmony with His living reality and with His will.

    Jesus passes beyond my mind and my analysis so that I can directly experience His still small voice speaking within me and connecting me heart-to-heart with Him. As my chains shatter and fall off in Christ’s presence, I often weep the sweet tears of being stunned by His supernatural compassion.

  3. Thank you for your comments about hymns! I have just been having this discussion with our pastor and worship leader, who think only old people want to sing hymns. They are attempting to slowly remove all hymns from our worship service, but I have tried to explain that these can be very inspirational and speak to all ages.

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