1 Corinthians 1:18-31


An Activity

This classic science trick is a great demonstration of power, using the ordinary-looking to produce something extraordinary. It is messy, so is best done outside or in a non-carpeted room.

You will need:

  • Film canister or a similar small container with a pop-on lid. NB do not use a glass container or a screw-on or clip-on lid.
  • White vinegar
  • Bicarbonate of soda / baking soda
  • Tray

Look at the white powder and the clear liquid. They don’t look special. What do people think they might be? Salt perhaps, or sugar? Water or lemonade?

They are just ordinary cooking ingredients that most people have in their kitchens. Nothing special. Many people thought that Jesus was nothing special, but he was God’s power!

Pour about 2 cm of vinegar in the canister, and put a teaspoonful of baking soda on the lid. (The reaction works faster with warm ingredients, so you might like to place the vinegar on a radiator beforehand.) Put the lid on, making sure it is properly shut, and quickly put it lid-side-down on the tray.

And stand back…

The baking soda and vinegar will react to form carbon dioxide. As the gas pressure grows it will eventually blow the lid off, sending the canister flying upwards. It can reach 10m, so be prepared to go hunting for it!

If you are interested, the science bit is:
Sodium hydrogen carbonate + ethanoic acid -> sodium acetate + water + carbon dioxide.

NaHCO3 + CH3COOH -> NaC2H3O2 + H2O + CO2

(Sodium acetate is the stuff in hand warmers, and the salt-and-vinegar flavouring in crisps!)

A Reflection

Between the Old Testament and the New Testament is a silent gap of 400 years. The Romans invaded Israel, and the Jewish people longed for their Messiah to come and bring back the golden age of King David. There were some supposed messiahs during this time, but their revolts and uprisings were efficiently quashed by Rome. Then John the Baptist broke the silence and declared that Jesus was the one who would usher in God’s kingdom. No wonder the Jewish people were interested. Was this, finally, the one they had been waiting for?

And then he was crucified. Oh. Not only was that a shameful, degrading death, but (as they read in Deuteronomy) a sign of God’s curse. That Jesus guy could not have been the Messiah after all. Just another jumped-up wannabe.

But the message about this jumped-up wannabe spread, and it reached Corinth, a major city in Greece. While the Greeks were not looking for a messiah to save them from Rome, they were interested in all the latest ideas, the top celebrity speakers and the hottest trends in philosophy. Hello Magazine back then would have had features on ‘Sultry Socrates’ Summer Style’ and ‘Top Tips for Dazzling Debates’.

This new religion that Paul brought to them was right up their street. Or it was until they found out that the star of the show was dead. Well, that’s no good! You can’t make a Hollywood blockbuster about a champion who gets the chop. And it wasn’t even an heroic death, like Samson or Gandalf. It was just dirty, small and humiliating. This didn’t make sense to the logical, reasoning Greeks.

And so Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth. They were just ordinary Joes and Jo-annes – mostly shelf-stackers and olive-pickers. They were not highly educated, not rich or important, not famous, powerful or anything that the Greek culture would value.

We’re not so different today. Western culture values the rich and famous, it values reason, technology and image, it values power and prestige. Jesus was nothing like that. In today’s culture he would be a complete nobody, and the Greek culture of Corinth thought the same.

So the Greeks had a problem with Jesus. How could a dead person be God? How could such a powerless nobody have the power to save? That just didn’t make sense.

And the Jewish people had a problem with Jesus. They were looking for God’s Messiah, but Jesus had gone about it all wrong. God’s plan could not feature a cursed cross. That was just stupid. Even the Jesus’ own disciples hadn’t understood that the kingdom he spoke of was not to do with swords and having the best place in heaven.

The cross – a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, yet God’s dynamite!

The word ‘power’ here is δύναμις, ‘dynamis’ from which we get our word dynamite. A stick of dynamite does not look like much, but it contains hidden power. A jumped-up wannabe dying under the curse of God looks like the ultimate failure. No so.

God’s (seeming) foolishness is wiser that our (illusory) wisdom. God’s (supposed) weakness is stronger than our (imagined) strength. In this weakness and foolishness, God accomplishes all that we could not with our wisdom and strength, riches, fame, technology and power: he cancelled the power of death itself!

And God still chooses the unimportant, by the world’s standards, to do his mighty work. I’m not rich or famous or powerful. I’m guessing you’re not either. Good. That’s exactly the qualification.

Our Response

I wonder how you feel about the cross.Weird? Embarrassing? Confusing?

Bible Text

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 New International Version – UK

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’

Where is the wise person? Where 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.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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