Reflection for the 4th Week in Lent 2021

The Turning Point

Insights and ideas from this week’s Zoom Study Time.

Ancient Cities were Incredibly Sophisticated

This is Corinth in about 50AD.

It was a big cosmopolitan city with everything; a bit like an ancient Wigan. It had two ports, bringing in goods from as far as Cornwall and Arabia. This meant it had a huge market place and citizens from many different countries. There were schools and universities; and learning, and intellectual wisdom were prized.

To the south was a 2000 foot hilltop called Acro Corinth, with a Temple to Aphrodite, the love goddess. Not far from the market was a Temple to Apollo; and somewhere in there, is a small Jewish Synagogue where Paul first told people about the Messiah, Jesus.

In about 55AD there was a problem. Some Corinthian Christians were saying that wisdom and philosophy were the most important things. Paul wrote this letter to point out something more powerful……

1 Corinthians 1.18-25 (Message Bible +)

 “The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written:

I’ll turn common wisdom on its head, and expose experts as frauds.

“So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense?

“Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God, in his wisdom, took delight in using what the world considered stupid—the message of the power of Christ on the cross —to bring those who trust Him into the way of salvation.”

What is Paul Going on About?

 Remember, Rabbi Paul himself was highly educated. Fluent in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic; a Pharisee, with a sophisticated knowledge of the Torah (Law), and trained at the feet of Rabbi Gamaliel – one of the greatest minds in all Israel. After several years of tracking down and dealing with Christians, Paul’s world was turned upside down; the hunter was hunted down by Jesus.

Here, he says to the Corinthians, the heart of the whole of Jesus’ ministry was His public execution; His death on the cross. The crucifixion was not a fiendish plot hatched in hell, but the wisdom of the Father, predestined before the foundation of the universe.

A Burst of Power that Changed History

This photo was taken in the desert of Los Alamos, in the USA, in April 1945. It was the most powerful burst of energy that humans had ever created – the splitting of an atom. On August 9th in 1945, transformed into a bomb, this technology would instantaneously kill 60,000 Japanese men, women, and children in the city of Hiroshima, with hundreds of thousands dying from secondary effects. Human history was changed irreversibly.

The Power that Changed Time and Space

In April of about 30AD, the Romans crucified a Galilean man outside the walls of Jerusalem on a small mound called Golgotha.  Paul distils this event into these words:

“the cross ……… is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1.18)

 Like Los Alamos, Golgotha was the epicentre of a powerful event. The most powerful event in the history of the universe; a force that would radically alter space and time.

What Was the Power of the Cross?

In 1991, the Walt Disney Studios created one of the most sophisticated animations ever. It was “Beauty and the Beast”

One of the artists working on the project was Glen Keane, and he was given the responsibility to draw and animate the death of the Beast and to create the magic of the transformation of the Beast into the Prince.  Glen is a committed Christian, and as he was given the assignment, a verse from  2 Corinthians came into his mind, Paul’s words:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5.17)”

These words were so inspiring, he wrote them down and kept them by his drawing board while he was creating the artwork. If you have seen the sequence, you will know what a tear-jerker it is.  Glen depicts the burst of power that revives and transforms the Beast into his true self.

In this story, the Prince is cursed, and turned into an ugly creature; the spell can only be broken if the Beast can love and be loved by another. Glen’s transfiguration sequence begins as he dies and Belle cries in despair: “I love you”  Love powers the great miracle.

Paul’s Personal Experience of the Power of the Cross

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul shares his own experience of the power of the cross which transformed his life:

“The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2.20)

When Jesus gave His life for Paul, the dynamic power of the cross was not nuclear technology, nor science fiction, nor fantasy animation, but simply the selfless, pure love of the Son of God. Jesus could look beyond the Beast that Paul had become, to free him to be the precious man that God had intended him to be.

God of Life, who for our redemption gave your only begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection have delivered us from the power of our enemy: grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“O for a thousand tongues to sing

I felt my Lord’s atoning blood

Close to my soul applied;

Me, me he loved, the Son of God,

for me, for me he died!”

Charles Wesley