Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks, but to those who are called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God… When I came to you brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, 2:1-2
The Apostle Paul here reminds the church in Corinth of the centrality of the cross of Christ to the faith and life of the Christian Church. Corinth was a diverse place probably not unlike our current setting, with a wide array of different languages, cultures, and religions. The temptation for the Corinthian congregation, as it for us today, was to be distracted away from the truth by all of the competing philosophies, religions, moralities, and lifestyles that were present all around them. Indeed, the very same things that Paul warns about can be witnessed in our world, and are even influencing Christians and congregations today.
Jews demand signs… It was commonly assumed by many in Paul’s day that miracles and other signs from God would always accompany true preachers. Indeed, Jesus and His apostles did perform miracles to accompany their preaching, but the desire of the people to see signs usually came to overshadow the substance of Christ and His salvation. So it is among many today, those who seek signs in eclipses, calendars, natural disasters, geopolitical events, etc., desperately trying to find some reference in Scripture to give some supernatural meaning to common events.
However, what we see in reality is precisely what Paul warns about: seeking divine revelation through signs does not lead to Christ, but rather turns people away from Christ. The supposed Scriptural explanations for the eclipses and other apocalyptic harbingers depend upon a particular erroneous interpretation of the Bible (dispensationalism) that does not acknowledge Christ and the cross as the fulfillment of prophecy. Instead, it is claimed, the Biblical prophets were speaking about the Jewish people, or the state of Israel, or the end times, but hardly ever about Christ.
Greeks seek wisdom… This wisdom of the world that is sought by so many today is more commonly known as “science.” Now science, properly understood as knowledge of nature through observation, is not a bad thing, nor is wisdom itself necessarily a bad thing. However, just as the ancient Greeks sought their own wisdom apart from the self-revelation of God in Christ, so also modern science seeks a way to understand the universe apart from any acknowledgement of its Creator. And just as the ancient Greeks scoffed at the Gospel of Christ and called it foolishness, so also many modern scientists mock and disregard all religions, especially those that claim knowledge by divine revelation.
Paul responds to both of these competing groups, first by affirming Christ crucified as the heart and center of Christian doctrine. Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God for those who are called by the Gospel. Then, he makes it clear that he is proclaiming Christ, not alongside all the other popular knowledge and belief systems of the time, but that he knows and preaches Christ alone, and nothing else. He does not want to get caught up in signs and wisdom and other irrelevant matters, but rather keep himself and his hearers focused on Christ crucified.
We wish to see Jesus… This simple request (John 12:21) was spoken to the apostle Philip by those who had traveled a great distance to see the Lord. It is also a verse that historically has been inscribed on many Lutheran pulpits, as a reminder to preachers of their holy calling. It is not the task of the faithful preachers of the church to seek signs in natural phenomena or geopolitical events, nor to embrace the wisdom of the world, nor to misuse the Scriptures as mere moral lecturing, nor to direct the hearers to their own inner meditations. People are more than capable of accomplishing all these things on their own, without the preacher’s help.
The people need a Savior – they need Jesus. They need the Cross; they need the Resurrection; they need the forgiveness of sins that only He can give. The preacher’s task is to show the people Jesus, and thus give them what they truly need. May this also be our attitude when we come to the house of God: We wish to see Jesus.