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Gospel centred sermons, based on the lectionary often in advance.

Jul 31, 2021

Study 2: This Strange Design 

for series links  and files click HERE

Opening Prayer

Almighty God, our Father,

as we reflect upon the words of Scripture,

we pray that you will grant us the gift of the Holy Spirit,

so that we may learn the truth that is written there,

and be able to live by that truth day by day,

for Jesus’ sake.  Amen. 

Verse 2

‘Tis mystery all!  The Immortal dies:

who can explore this strange design?

In vain the first-born seraph tries

to sound the depths of love divine.

‘Tis mercy all!  Let earth adore,

let angel minds inquire no more.


God’s strange design

The staggering fact upon which the Christian faith is based is that Christ, the Word of God who became a human being, died upon a Roman cross.  On the face of it it is totally inappropriate – and surely impossible – for God to die.  No human being could possibly have imagined such a thing.


In the famous scene at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16: 13 – 20) where Jesus confronted his disciples with the question, ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter was inspired to reply, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’, and Jesus affirmed him, saying, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, you are favoured indeed!  You did not learn that from any human being; it was revealed to you by my heavenly Father.’ (REB)   However he then ‘gave his disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah’.


But in the very next paragraph we read (verses 21 – 23):


From that time Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem, and endure great suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes; to be put to death, and to be raised again on the third day.  At this Peter took hold of him and began to rebuke him: ‘Heaven forbid!’ he said.  ‘No, Lord, this shall never happen to you.’  Then Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Out of my sight, Satan; you are a stumbling block to me.  You think as people think, not as God thinks.’


Why do you think Jesus gave Peter such an abrupt answer?

Imagine yourself in Peter’s situation.  What are your feelings?  Can you reconcile yourself to what Jesus has just said?  If so, how?


God’s actions show us how God thinks


Read 1 Corinthians 1: 18 – 25


In this passage St Paul is describing two different responses that people make to life:

  • looking for signs that will help us understand our human condition and give us direction in life [’signs’]
  • making a serious effort with our minds to understand our human condition, with the idea that if we have a true understanding that will give our lives the best direction



From his experience of first century communities, Paul characterised (a) as ‘Jews demand signs’ and (b) as ‘Greeks desire wisdom’.  Whether or not this is true of the different racial groups is really just a side issue for us today.  However, we do need to note that when Paul said in Galatians 3: 13, ‘It is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’’‘, he was quoting directly from Deuteronomy 21: 23.  For Jewish people the death of Jesus on a cross would have been a negative sign. 


Looking at Jesus’ death upon the cross from a purely human point of view:


            in what way is it a stumbling block to believing in Christ?


            how foolish does it seem as a way of reconciling us to God?


However, we, like the Corinthians, are those ‘who are being saved’, and we are trying to think the way God thinks, so for us:


            how does the cross express God’s wisdom?


            If, like the ‘Jews’, we are looking for a sign, of what is the cross really a sign?


We can trust God’s way of thinking and acting

If we had read and thought about all the words of Second Isaiah, the prophet of the Exile who spoke God’s words of forgiveness and hope to his people, perhaps we might not have been so startled by the idea that God would give his own life for us?


Read Isaiah 55: 6 – 11

This passage reminds us that God is so different from us, his human creatures, so far above us and so holy, that we should not expect to automatically know how he thinks or how he will act. 


At the same time it assures us that God’s word always accomplishes his purpose.


            What was God’s purpose in dying for us?  How has it been achieved?


Even after we have thought about it, it still remains extraordinary that God should give his own life


It is so extraordinary that even angels cannot understand it.  While seraphs and angels are not strictly speaking exactly the same, Charles Wesley is using the words synonymously to make the point that even heavenly beings cannot comprehend the depth of God’s love for humanity.  And if heavenly beings cannot do it, how much less can we?  So when we human beings contemplate the cross of Jesus, all we can do is adore.


We conclude by praying for the grace to be able to think and act in God’s ways, not ours.


Closing Prayer


God be in my head, and in my understanding;

God be in my eyes and in my looking;

God be in my mouth and in my speaking;

God be in my heart and in my thinking;

God be at my end and at my departing.


TiS 549

Richard Pynson’s Horae B.V.M. 1514