What the World Doesn’t Know
I Corinthians 2:6-9
October 26, 2003 | Ray Pritchard
“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Corinthians 2:6-9).
Underline one word in this passage and pay special attention to it because Paul repeats it four times. It’s the word “wisdom.”
There is the “message of wisdom” that Paul shared with others.
There is the “wisdom of this age” that really is no wisdom at all.
There is God’s “secret wisdom” that is really “hidden wisdom” that the world has never understood and does not understand now.
Wisdom comes from one of two places—God or the world. God’s wisdom leads us in one direction, while the world’s wisdom leads us in another direction. God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom stand forever at odds with each other. You can have one or the other, but you can’t really have both at the same time. This principle explains so much that happens around us. It tells us why unbelievers think like they do, and it helps us understand why they sometimes ridicule what we believe. Put simply, they lack the true wisdom that comes from God. There are some things the world simply does not know. Paul mentions at least two of them in this passage:
1. The world doesn’t understand who Jesus is.
“None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (v. 8). Let that thought hang in the air for just a moment. “They would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
If they had known . . . If they had understood . . . But they didn’t!
This means that Pilate didn’t know who Jesus was. Yes, he had heard the stories, the wild rumors about healings and miracles and people brought back from the dead. You could hardly keep things like that private. The news had spread like wildfire. When you read the gospels, Pontius Pilate appears as a kind of tortured soul—a man caught between the demands of his job and a genuine curiosity about Jesus. “What is truth?” he asked. It was not an idle question. He really wanted to know the truth. I do not doubt that he wanted the crowd to choose Barabbas over Jesus. When he washed his hands with water, he was trying to say, “I did the best I could to save this man but I couldn’t. His blood is now on your hands.” It didn’t work, it could never have worked. Pilate stands guilty of a terrible crime—crucifying the Lord of glory. Only he didn’t know he was the Lord of glory. Exactly who he thought Jesus was, we cannot say for certain. But this much we know—he didn’t know, didn’t understand, and so he ordered him crucified.
A beloved spiritual says it this way:
Sweet little Jesus Boy,
they made you be born in a manger.
Sweet little Holy Child,
didn’t know who You was.
Didn’t know you come to save us, Lord;
to take our sins away.
Our eyes was blind, we couldn’t see,
we didn’t know who You was.
The world didn’t understand Jesus when he walked on the earth, and the world still doesn’t understand him today. That fact ought to give us patience when we talk to unbelievers. Sometimes when lost people say foolish things that are rude and unkind, we may be tempted to retaliate with unkind words of our own. That’s almost always a bad idea. It’s like cursing a blind man because he can’t see the color green. The lost are not only lost; they are also spiritually blind. Consider the words of 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Note three important facts from this verse: 1) It is the work of Satan to blind unbelievers to the truth of the gospel. He has a personal interest in keeping the lost blind and confused so they will continue to serve him. 2) This blindness occurs in the realm of the mind so that unbelievers remain confused about the truth of God. The blindness is mental, moral and intellectual. The light shines all around them, yet they stumble along in the darkness. 3) As a result of this moral blindness, unbelievers literally cannot “see” the truth of the gospel. That why when a person says, “I just don’t see what you’re talking about,” that’s not an excuse, it’s the literal truth. They don’t see it because they can’t see it because Satan has blinded their mind.
This helps us in several areas: First, it saves us from the folly of thinking we can argue people into the kingdom. We can’t and it’s generally a waste of time to try. (When I preached this on Sunday, I noticed quite a few people nodding in agreement.) The danger of arguing with unbelievers is that when our ego gets involved, we start to take things personally. We get red-faced, we raise our voice, we get angry, and start to insult the other person, as if by cruel comments we can convince them that God really loves them.
Second, this truth humbles us because it reminds us that salvation is entirely the work of God from beginning to end. Yes, we are commanded to preach the gospel to the whole world, and we are to speak the truth in love and to tell the world that Jesus saves. But it is not our words that will save people. It is the power resident in the gospel itself. Even though we sometimes talk about “winning” people to Christ, in the final analysis, we don’t win anyone. We preach and pray and share and talk and discuss and answer questions and we become all things to all people so that we might by all means win as many as we can. But our efforts amount to a big fat zero apart from the mighty working of God’s Spirit.
Third, this truth frees us to be bold because everything depends on God and not on us. One hundred and thirty years ago a man named William E. Blackstone wrote a book called “Jesus is Coming” that is still in print today. It was the first widely-popular book on Bible prophecy. Based on his study of the Bible, Blackstone became convinced that one day the Jewish people would be regathered to the Holy Land that a Jewish state must someday be re-established in Palestine. He was one of the first Christian leaders to say those things publicly. He was a contemporary of D. L. Moody and was one of the most respected Christian leaders of his generation. In 1891 he wrote the “Blackstone Declaration” that was signed by 413 Christian and Jewish leaders in the United States. The document, presented to President Benjamin Harrison, was the first public declaration in favor of a Jewish state in Palestine. Mr. Blackstone also had a great burden for world missions and gave over $6 million to the Lord’s work. He founded the Chicago Hebrew Mission—now called the American Messianic Fellowship. His interest in Bible prophecy led him to support the establishment of the nation of Israel and to support missionary endeavors to reach the Jewish people with the gospel. He truly loved the Jewish people and labored to see them have a homeland of their own. And because he loved them, he did all he could to bring Christ to them as well. He was considered by some to be the “father of Zionism.” By the time of his death in 1935, he had stirred the conscience of the nation on behalf of the Jewish people, had written the first popular work on Bible prophecy, and had raised millions of dollars for missionary work.
His service for the Lord began in the early 1870s when he found himself scheduled to speak at a church one Sunday night. As a layman, he felt unqualified but in prayer God gave him his text, the words of Jesus in Mark 9:19, “Bring him unto me.” Though trembling with fear, he addressed the congregation that night on the truth that though he himself had no ability, God had given him the responsibility to bring others to the Savior so that God could deal with them. He declared that he was only “God’s little errand boy.” That phrase became the motto of his life. When he wrote his autobiography near the end of his life, he called it, “God’s Little Errand Boy.” When you hear of the nation of Israel, you should think of William E. Blackstone who was one of the first Christian leaders to see the need for a Jewish homeland. But there is one important part of the story I am leaving out.
He was a layman, an author, a student of Bible prophecy, a supporter of world missions, and a fervent Christian. He also lived in Oak Park and was a member of the First Methodist Church of Oak Park. But do you know where he lived? William E. Blackstone lived in a house on Lake Street that is now the west parking lot of Calvary Memorial Church. Very old photographs show a house where our parking lot is today. He lived there for many years and raised his family there. There is a close connection between our church property and the great events happening in the Middle East today. Part of the story starts right here, less than a hundred yards away from where I stand today, in the heart of a man who understood that he was only “God’s little errand boy.”
When you understand that truth, and when it grips your heart, when you know that the power rests with God and not with you, then you are free to speak up and free to step out in faith even though others may misunderstand and some may oppose you. You can be bold because it doesn’t depend on you anyway. It all depends on God! You’re just God’s errand boy.
Our text suggests a second thing that the world doesn’t know.
2. The world doesn’t understand who we are.
The world has its own wisdom. It has a worldview that systematically leaves God out of everything. That’s why the elite media called General William Boykin “ignorant” for connecting his Christian faith to the war on terrorism and for saying that the real enemy is Satan. He has been called foolish, small-minded and bigoted. It seems that if you are a Christian in a public position these days, you dare not open your mouth about your faith or you risk public ridicule and perhaps the loss of your job.
But what else should we expect from people who do not understand Jesus and therefore do not understand the followers of Jesus? When Paul says the rulers of this age are coming to nothing, he means that in the end, they will be exposed as having been wrong about the most crucial fact in the universe. A few days ago I did a radio interview for my book “He’s God and You’re Not.” As soon as we got started, the host wanted to know why I had written a book with that title because, he said, everyone knows what I’m trying to say. He was almost asking why I bothered to write a book about something so obvious as, “He’s God and You’re Not.” I gave him the obvious answer: I wrote it because the world is full of people who don’t know who’s God and who’s not. But when you miss that fundamental truth, everything else in your life will be messed up. I recall something that one of my seminary professors, Dr. Robert Lightner, said at the end of a class discussion on creation and evolution. “Men, don’t get angry at the evolutionists. It’s the best they can do.” He’s absolutely right. Apart from God, how else do you explain the universe? Where did it come from? Evolution at its heart isn’t about science; it’s all about religion. It’s a religious worldview dressed up as a science and put forward by people who want to explain everything in the universe without ever referring to God. Why get angry with people like that? Apart from God, what else would you expect people to believe?
But there is something else the world doesn’t know about us. The world doesn’t know or understand what God has promised us. That’s the real meaning of verse 9, a verse often quoted at funerals, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” The world is wrong about Jesus. They are wrong about God. They are wrong about us. And they are wrong about heaven. Have you noticed how nervous lost people get at a funeral? They don’t really want to be there at all. They come late, they hang around in groups, they go up to the casket, take a quick look and then get away from there as fast as they can. Everything about death makes lost people nervous. When they come to a funeral, they don’t understand the hymns, the Scripture, the prayers or the sermon. It’s all a mystery to them. Why? Because apart from God they literally can’t see it, they can’t hear it, they can’t conceive of what heaven is like.
I saw this last Sunday afternoon when we did the Billy Sunday presentation at Forest Home Cemetery. I say “we” because it was me plus Andrew Irvin plus the “Billy Sunday Singers.” We were part of the “Tale of the Tombstones” sponsored by the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest. I stood in front of Billy Sunday’s grave—literally stood six feet above where he is buried—and presented his amazing life story to over 600 people in 16 different presentations. This was the 8th year I’ve done it. Here’s what I’ve noticed. You can always tell who the Christians are. Always. It shows on their faces. They smile when they hear “Brighten the Corner” or “Since Jesus Came into my Heart.” And they nod when I tell the story about Billy Sunday going to the Pacific Garden Mission to hear the gospel. When I recite his conversion prayer – loudly—and then tell the crowd, “Folks, I got up from that altar a changed man, saved and redeemed by the blood of Jesus,” they love it. True believers love to hear about Jesus. That’s one mark of genuine conversion. They love to hear the gospel. They love to hear about people being saved. They love to hear about heaven. But last Sunday I noticed not everyone was happy. Some people looked puzzled, some seemed troubled, and a few seemed angry. During one presentation, some people walked off after I finished telling about Billy Sunday’s baseball career and started telling about his conversion. They just didn’t want to hear it. Believers rejoice to hear the gospel told. Lost people don’t know what to do with it because they don’t understand it. And it shows on their faces.
Notice how Paul puts it in verse 6: “But we speak a message of wisdom” and again in verse 7, “We speak of God’s secret wisdom.”
We know things the world doesn’t know.
We speak things the world doesn’t understand.
How do we know these things? It’s not because we’re smart and the world is dumb. Paul has already said that God chooses the weak and foolish and despised things of the world to make up his family (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). It’s not because we have high IQs and lost people are stupid. The people of the world are no dumber and no smarter than we are. How is it that we ended up with this incredible wisdom from God? Verse 9 says that no eye sees, no ear hears, no one understands these things. But that’s not the end of the story. Look at verse 10: “God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” Everything we know, we know because God has revealed it to us. We didn’t discover it or figure it out through human logic. Everything we know about God and Jesus and the gospel, all that we know about heaven has been revealed to us by God. And ponder the next sentence: If God had not chosen to reveal these things to us, we would not know them.
We would still be blind.
We would still be deaf.
We would not see, we would not hear, we would not understand.
There is one difference, and one difference only, between us and the people of the world. That difference is God! He has revealed the truth to us by his Spirit. Now we see. Now we hear. Now we understand. It’s God and God alone who deserves the credit. All praise to him. None to us, not now, not ever.
But to say this is to say nothing more than what we learned to sing a long time ago:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found.
Was blind, but now I see.
There is no room for boasting, and no need for it either. We should never be surprised at what the world says or does. They don’t understand because they can’t understand. They don’t see because they can’t see. They don’t hear because they can’t hear. They are truly lost—and they don’t even know it. If you are among those who can see and hear and understand the truth, do not take any credit for it. Get down on your knees and thank God for opening your eyes. Thank God for rescuing you from the pit of despair. Thank God for turning your life around. Thank God for giving you eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand his truth.
And then pray like crazy for those who are blind and deaf and without understanding. Ask God to do for them what he has done for you. And then speak up and tell them the truth because it is the truth that sets people free. Do not despair if they do not understand. There was a time when you did not understand either. And look what God has done for you. Who knows what God may do for those who don’t know what they don’t know? With great hope we preach and pray and sing the praises of our gracious God. Amen.