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Christ and the Wisdom of this World

Category Articles
Date April 26, 2011

And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead. (Luke 8:53)

These words record the reaction of certain people to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the days of his flesh. In different forms they are the words which are to be found constantly in the Gospel records of his life and ministry. Is there not something almost incredible about them? Does it not seem to us, as we read the story, almost inconceivable that anyone should be capable of reacting to him in that way? And yet that is the case, that is the fact. In spite of his being who he was, in spite of all his deeds of power and of kindness and compassion, in spite of all the grace of his personality and his words, it was his lot constantly to meet such a reception and to encounter such opposition. This happened to him throughout his three years’ ministry, and at the end of it he was finally rejected by the authorities and the masses of the people, and crucified to death. He was despised and rejected of men.

But there is a sense in which it is still more amazing and astonishing to realise that that has continued to be the attitude of mankind in general to him throughout the centuries.

Why is this? Our object in considering this text will be to consider one, at any rate, of the reasons why men so treat him. For in this text we find a perfect account and description of a particular attitude towards our Lord, and one which has been especially characteristic of the past fifty years or so and is still (alas!) characteristic of today. As we come to consider this attitude it will be well for us to remind ourselves that the precise reason for rejecting Christ is not always the same. The end is always the same, but the reason varies not only from individual to individual, but often from age to age.

There was a time, speaking generally, when men rejected Christ and his salvation in a more or less apologetic manner. They knew that he was right, and they did not dream of denying his person or the truth concerning him; but they did not yield to him for the reason that they preferred another type of life. In some cases it was a fondness for a life of sin and frivolity; in other cases it was a shrinking from what seemed to be the impossibly high standard of the Christian gospel. He was rejected in practice because of a love of sin and a lower type of life. That is the position of many today as it was the case in general of the men and women of this country until the end of the first half of the last century.

But then there came a change. As the result of the work of Darwin in this country and certain critics of the Bible and philosophers in Germany, men began to doubt and to query the truth of the gospel. The rejection began to take on a more intellectual appearance. Still it was not actual denial, but as a modern writer has put it well, ‘in the seventies it became intellectually démodé to believe; fashionable to doubt.’

That in turn was followed by the period which rejoiced in the newly coined word agnosticism. This was a stage beyond doubts and queries of what is still instinctively accepted and believed. It is a condition in which one said with Huxley, its greatest exponent, that one did not know, a state in which one neither affirmed nor denied the claims of the gospel.

But it was a very short-lived stage which soon yielded to an attitude which rejected Christ and his gospel with arrogance, assurance and contempt. This did not stop at rejecting him. It attacked him. It no longer says, as was once said, that he is right but that they cannot give up something else which they love and enjoy. He is wrong, and the whole teaching of the gospel is a delusion and therefore a drag upon the march of human progress. It is something to be ridiculed and dismissed, something which is to be laughed out of existence and out of consideration. That has surely been the attitude of increasing numbers towards Christ and his gospel for the past fifty years. That is the attitude of the vast majority of people to him today. He is rejected with contumely and with scorn, or, to use the words of our text, ‘they laughed him to scorn.’

But the analogy presented by our text is even more perfect than that. It not only describes what men do with respect to Christ, it also tells us why they did so, their reason for doing so. This additional information is not supplied by Matthew and Mark; that is why we are considering the matter together from the account given by Luke, who tells us that ‘they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.’ Their laughter and scorn and ridicule were based upon their confidence in their knowledge. What he said about the girl, and what he implied and suggested as likely to happen to her as the result of his advent was to them utterly ridiculous and fantastic, for they knew that she was dead. They were so certain of it, so confident of it, that they did not pause even for a moment to reconsider it. They did not hesitate or look at each other as if to say, ‘ perhaps after all we are wrong and he is right,’ or ‘perhaps he really can do something about it;’ no, the attitude is entirely and completely dogmatic. They are assured of their ground – self-assured. There is no need to wait until he discovers his mistake and is bound to admit that he can do nothing – at once ‘they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.’

What a perfect description of the attitude to Christ and his gospel of so many to-day! He is dismissed with oaths and cursing as being unworthy of consideration. It is no longer a matter to be discussed or debated, all it merits is ridicule and contempt. Knowledge, and especially scientific knowledge, it is claimed, has exploded the whole thing. To put it in popular colloquial terms, it is because ‘they know that there is nothing in it’ that so many reject it.

What have we to say to all this? In a word, we shall show that that attitude, which many rejoice in as being so modern and so novel, can be confuted and confounded and proved to be as superficial and as fallacious as it was nearly two thousand years ago. These people in the house of Jairus thought that their laughter and their scorn was the end of the story and that they had finally discredited him. But that, as you recall, was not the end of the story. For the story goes on; Christ vindicated himself and what he had said. The very fact that we are here tonight considering these things at all is proof positive that the story is still going on. And it is because I would disabuse the minds of any who may chance to hold like views today, and emancipate them from the blindness and the unreasoning prejudice that enslaves them, and warn them that the story will go on until he himself decides to end it, that I call your attention to this attitude of scornful, laughing, contemptuous rejection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, and his great and glorious salvation.

I propose to do so by analysing this attitude or frame of mind, and especially as it is manifested in the case of these people in the house of Jairus, the prototypes of all who reject Christ in terms of knowledge.

My first comment concerning this attitude is that it always involves an exaggeration of what is ‘known.’ This is perfectly illustrated in our text. Our Lord and the disciples arriving at the house, we are told that he and Peter and James and John and the father and mother of the child went into the house. They hear the weeping and the wailing and at once our Lord says, ‘Weep not, she is not dead but sleepeth.’ That was the way he chose to tell all that the child was to be restored to full health and life. And then comes our text, ‘they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.’ In other words, they saw at once what he was suggesting; and it was because of that they manifested such scorn. Now observe their mental process. They knew that the child was dead. So far so good. But they exaggerated that into a position in which they say that nothing and no-one could possibly restore her to life. They claim to know that also. They convert their own inference into a certainty; they exaggerate what they know quite legitimately into something which is beyond their knowledge. The result is that they end by claiming to know something which they do not know. They have confused theory with fact, they have equated hypothesis with proof. I am not suggesting that they were dishonest in doing this. Probably they were not, for the good reason that they had persuaded and fooled themselves. For this attitude is really based upon a prejudice, and people who are prejudiced often fondly imagine that they are highly rational in their position. Nevertheless that is surely the only true analysis of the case of those people in the house of Jairus. They exaggerated what they knew to the point at which it became a falsehood.

If that is true of them, how much more so is it true of their modern counterpart. They at least had the certain and the tangible knowledge concerning the dead body of the child. The ‘knowledge’ claimed by men today is, by comparison, often most insubstantial. But let us examine the case. The statement which is made is that no modern, intelligent, educated person can possibly believe the message of the Bible with its talk about God creating all things at the beginning and man being a special creation; with its story of the Children of Israel as God’s special people; with its accounts of miracles, and Prophets who actually foretold events which were to take place and did take place centuries later, and above all the claims made in the New Testament for Jesus of Nazareth. They cannot believe that he was the pre-existent Son of God, come on earth and born in a miraculous manner. They cannot accept as literal fact the report of purported miracles performed by him. And above all they cannot believe the account given of his literal physical resurrection; the entry of the Holy Spirit into the early church, and the marvellous works and powers of the apostles as described in the Book of the Acts. They cannot believe and accept all this, they say, because of what they know. Indeed such knowledge as they have, they claim, makes it utterly impossible for them to believe such things. For their knowledge proves that such things did not and cannot happen. The truth of the gospel is rejected in terms of knowledge – knowledge of science, knowledge of psychology and the new knowledge concerning the Bible itself. That is the position. Obviously I cannot deal with it in detail, for each section would require not merely a sermon but a book. And, indeed, for my purpose now that is unnecessary, as I am concerned with the principle which is involved.

Now there can be no dispute or debate about the great advance in knowledge during the past century. But the vital question is, does that knowledge really disprove the claims and the contentions of the gospel? That is the essential point. In the realm of biology there has been a great advance in knowledge, likewise in comparative anatomy and physiology, etc. Things are now known which were not known a hundred years ago, and certain correspondences in type and structure have been brought to light. That knowledge is undoubted. But it is a very different thing to say that we therefore know that man has developed and evolved out of the animal and that there has never been such a thing as special creation and that there is no Creator. Facts are facts, but theories and suppositions put forward to explain facts are not of necessity facts. We must remember that the whole idea of evolution is nothing but theory, a theory which still lacks certain proof and demonstration. Indeed we must remember that all are not agreed as to certain facts on which the theories are based.

In the same way much has been discovered about the laws of nature and their working, much that was formerly entirely unknown. And we thank God for all such advance in knowledge. But it is a very different thing to say that because we know these things that therefore such a thing as a miracle is impossible. That we do not know and in the nature of the case, we cannot know. It is but a false inference drawn by certain people who have not understood the real nature of miracles.

In precisely the same way it is of the utmost importance in the interest of intellectual honesty, apart from anything else, that a sharp distinction be drawn between theory and fact in the realm of psychological knowledge. As for facts concerning biblical history, it is now generally agreed that the latest discoveries of archaeology tend to confirm biblical history and chronology and to disprove the flimsy theories that were advanced so certainly towards the end of the last century as ‘the assured results of biblical criticism.’

It is time that the modern man paused to think and to ask certain serious questions. What do we really know? What do all the facts discovered during the past hundred years really tell us about man and his origin, about life, its nature, and its possibilities, and above all about the future life, and God? I ask, what have they taught us; what certain knowledge have they brought to us? I know all about the confident theories and dogmatic pronouncements of many who are supposed to have the detached, impartial, unprejudiced mind; but that is not knowledge. And, increasingly, leading scientists are rejecting the old mechanistic view of life and are speaking of the universe in terms of life and force and mind. A theory, however likely and plausible and probable, does not become a fact until it has been proved. And the tragedy is that those who decry Christ and his gospel in terms of knowledge are doing so purely on the basis of such theories. Has it been proved, and can it be proved that there is no God? Has it been established beyond a doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was not the Son of God and that he did not work miracles? Is it a fact that there is no future life, and has it been demonstrated as certain knowledge that there will be no final resurrection of all men followed by the judgment? ‘Science shows’ and ‘science proves’ have become the popular phrases. But what does it prove, what does it establish as knowledge with respect to these matters? Is it not perfectly clear that men today are guilty of the very thing we find in the case of these people in Jairus’ house so long ago? Christ is rejected not on the basis of what is known but because of the exaggeration of what is known, because of false inferences based on what is known.

But this attitude involves also the deliberate suppression of knowledge. Certain facts which are known are exaggerated, other facts equally known are suppressed and not considered. Let me show you this first in the case of the people in Jairus’ house. My charge against them is that when they laughed Christ to scorn they did so in spite of what they knew, and had heard, concerning him. Why did Jairus ever go to Christ and plead with him to come to see his daughter and to cure her? The answer is that Jairus had heard of Christ and all the miracles which he performed. Though Jairus was a ruler of the synagogue and therefore a member of the official class that on the whole was inimical to Christ, in his need and desperation he went to him. He had heard of the marvellous cures that Christ had performed. He had listened to the accounts and reports which were spreading throughout the land concerning this wonderful teacher and healer. Perhaps he had paid little heed to the reports, he may even have laughed at them. But he had heard them, and when the hour of his own crisis arrives he goes to Christ. It was because of what he knew concerning him that he went to him. Now obviously those people in the house were acquainted with the same facts. They knew where Jairus had gone, and they knew why he had gone to Jesus. One can easily imagine the talk in the house before he went. Further, the message which they sent to Jairus informing him of the death of the child and telling him not to trouble the Master any further proves the same thing. They knew the claims of Christ, and the facts reported concerning him and his wonderful works. Surely this knowledge should have influenced them? Surely it should at the very least have caused them to remain silent when Christ made his statement about the girl? Surely it should have produced at any rate an attitude of agnosticism on their part and a decision to say nothing until they had seen what he might or might not do? But no, they at once ‘laughed him to scorn’; and they did it in spite of what they knew concerning him. All that is dismissed and brushed aside with contempt, it is suppressed and ignored. They are guilty therefore of failure to note and to consider evidence which is directly relevant to the case under consideration.

Now what was so true of them is equally true of their modern counterpart. Christ is still rejected because men still deliberately refuse to consider and to face certain facts of vital importance. Let me remind you of some of them. Let us start with certain facts in man himself. How do we explain the universal sense of dissatisfaction in mankind, yea, the sense of guilt and of shame which we all know? How are we to interpret the sense of need which we all feel, the consciousness that we are not what we ought to be? What is the meaning of remorse and the agony of mind and of spirit when we have done wrong? Can all this be explained if man is merely an animal? Is the purely psychological explanation which is offered sufficient and adequate? And then think of the sense and the feeling of immortality which we all possess, the utter inability to conceive of ourselves as ceasing to exist entirely when we die. How is all this to be explained apart from what we are taught in the Bible? Couple this with the fact that man everywhere is a religious being and has a curious intuition of the existence of a final Supreme God. It is the greatest uplifting and moralising force in the world. Can it all be dismissed lightly? Then face the fact of the Christian church. Say what you will against her, but how do you explain her persistence throughout the centuries and all her works of charity and of power? Has it all been wrong? But come and look at her citizens and her members. Consider all the giant intellects who have belonged to her and who have given their lives to the expounding and illustrating of her truth and teaching. They include the greatest minds the world has ever known. Were they all misguided fools and simpletons? Then consider others characterised more by their piety, their holiness and their saintliness. Look at those men, the greatest benefactors mankind has ever known; men who gave up all for the sake of others, men who hazarded their lives in order to take the good news of the gospel to foreign lands and who spent themselves in the relief of suffering and need. Do they not matter, is their testimony unimportant? Is all that to be dismissed because of some theory propagated by modern man, a theory which entirely lacks proof?

Then go right back to the apostles and the first Christians, the men who wrote the Gospels and the New Testament epistles and who first put forward the facts concerning Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God. Consider those men who reported the miracles, and the fact of the literal physical resurrection of Jesus, and who established the Christian church and set her upon that work of preaching the gospel of redemption to the whole world that men might be saved. Were they nothing but frauds and liars and deliberate fabricators? Could men guilty of such actions possibly have lived and endured as they did; and could the institution which they founded ever have gained a footing in this world? Or, if you believe that they were just deluded simpletons and fools, again face the same challenge.

Should you at this point be tempted to say that all I have said can be discounted because all those men of the past lacked the knowledge that we now possess, I would remind you that we have already seen that there is no knowledge whatsoever possessed by modern man which in any way invalidates the truth of the gospel.

But above all consider the fact of Jesus of Nazareth. His has been the profoundest influence the world has ever known. His works are seen everywhere, the devotion he has inspired has known no bounds of continent, colour or clime. He on his cross ‘towers o’er the wrecks of time.’ Is he to be dismissed as a mere man, as nothing but a Jewish teacher who taught a number of excellent moral maxims, but who at the same time was the victim of certain strange delusions concerning himself and his relationship to God and to the world?

These are some of the facts. Have you considered them? Can you explain them all away? Are you content to dismiss them with a mere wave of the hand? Whosoever rejects Christ with contempt and derision does so only as the result of deliberately suppressing such facts.

But we must note also that this attitude to Christ and his gospel always leads to a condition of despair and hopelessness. This is brought out with great clarity in the incident we are considering. Already in verse 4 we are told how these people sent a message to Jairus informing him of the death of his daughter and telling him not to trouble the Master any further. Then we read of the weeping and the wailing. But above all, that hopelessness is expressed in the words of our text – the dogmatic despair that is certain and sure that there is no hope and that nothing can be done. The condition of all who reject Christ is always and inevitably one of utter hopelessness. It is something which is inherent in the very position. The real tragedy of the past 100 years is that men did not realise that. Indeed they believed the exact opposite. They based all their hopes of a bright future upon the rejection of the gospel, upon the powers of man to cure himself and his society. They were optimistic, confident and self-assured. Think again of all the books and speeches of the last century and all we were told prior to the last war and indeed during and after the last war. But who listens to that kind of teaching now? A spirit of despair and hopelessness has gripped the masses of the people everywhere. The point I would stress is that that is inevitable if Christ is rejected. The alternative to him is utter blank despair. To that extent the people in Jairus’ house were right. They were certain of the fact of death. Their failure was to appreciate the power of Christ. Their view of things as they were was perfectly right. And the first step in the direction of hope still is to realise what the position is without Christ. Take him out of life and out of history and consider what you have left. Face it honestly and squarely. Accept the modern view that has rejected him so contemptuously and see what you find. What a picture! We are told that we are but animals whose lives and activities are controlled by purely material forces such as trade and industry or else by biological factors within ourselves. Everything we have regarded as highest and everything that tends to uplift is but illusion. We spend our odd seventy years in this world in strife and misery and at the end we just die and pass entirely out of existence. All the effort and the struggle leads to nothing – just extinction. While we are here efforts are made to improve us. We are given education and knowledge and introduced to great discoveries which follow each other in bewildering succession. But they clearly do not help men to live better lives. They obviously do not increase human happiness. For the world is full, and fuller than ever, of unhappiness and strife and discord, both in the realm of personal relations and international relations. The world is full of lust and envy, jealousy and strife, separations and divorce, controversy and warfare. Are not these the facts? Has the world ever presented a more hopeless aspect than it does today? And that in spite of all that has happened during the last century. ‘But wait until the coming of peace and the new world that will follow,’ says someone. Need one really trouble to answer that and to point out how that is precisely what has been said regularly and constantly throughout the centuries. Without Christ life and the world are hopeless, and the prospect before us is one of unrelieved gloom. All our efforts seem to be useless and futile. We have nothing to which to look forward. Life is nothing but a living death and beyond it there is extinction. ‘They laughed him to scorn knowing that she was dead.’ The house was filled with ‘weeping and wailing.’ That is the position always when Christ and his gospel are spurned and rejected. It has always been such and always will be.

But, thank God, the fact of Christ changes everything. His very approach gives hope. As he comes on the journey with Jairus hope revives and continues in spite of everything. While Christ is but coming on the way and approaching he changes the whole situation. See that in the Old Testament. How hopeless would the position of mankind have been back in Eden as the result of the Fall were it not for the promise concerning the seed of the woman. Follow the history along. How hopeless does it appear to be at times! But an Abraham is called out and a promise is made concerning his seed. Hints are given by Jacob about a Shiloh who shall come, a deliverer out of the tribe of Judah. Moses speaks about a prophet like unto himself who shall rise out of Israel. Even a hireling prophet like Balaam says that ‘a star shall arise out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.’ What was it that sustained David but the revelations given to him concerning the Lord that was to come? And then read the great words of the Prophets, with their evangelical promises. ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people’ is ever their message in varied ways as they tell with their rich imagery of his coming. Take Christ out of the Old Testament and what a book of despair it would be! But the coming of the dawn is ever predicted; it was the hope that sustained the nation and all the heroes of the faith. They all journeyed ‘as seeing him who is invisible.’ They were saved by hope.

But his actual arrival does still more. Consider what it did in the house of Jairus, It is a fact, and also a parable of what his coming into the world has done. He confounded the unbelieving. He put them all forth, and by the exercising of his divine power he proved to them the utter shallowness of their dogmatic despair. He entirely explodes and demolishes their confident ignorance and exposes them to ridicule. That is precisely what he did by coming into the world. He has shaken and shocked the world. He has exposed and confounded all the wise and prudent and has made ridiculous all the philosophies. How often did he expose the arrogant unbelief of the Pharisees and the authorities. How confident they were time and time again that they had caught him and trapped him. But always he put them to utter confusion, so much so that they decided that their only hope was to kill him and to destroy him. They plotted together and they succeeded in condemning him. They crucified him and he died. At last they were certain that they had triumphed. At last they knew that he was finished. But while they were celebrating their triumph he arose from the dead and proceeded to work amongst them through his apostles and disciples in a still more astonishing and infuriating manner. How often did the early antagonists feel certain and sure that they had destroyed the church? How often during the centuries have the clever people of the world been certain that Christianity is finished? They have known it! But, ever, by revival and reawakening he has come again to his church and exposed the hollow claims. And what he has done he will continue to do.

His coming ever refutes and confounds his enemies. But thank God his method of doing so is not negative. He does it by bringing blessing. That is what he did in Jairus’ house. The enemy was confounded by his raising of Jairus’ daughter and his restoration of her to her grief-stricken parents. That is his method. His works are not merely works of power, they are works of salvation also. He comes to the hopeless and tells them that God has forgiven them. Indeed he enables them to know that as a fact of experience. He comes to the man vainly struggling with sin and temptation, the man about whom the world and all its philosophies and psychologies has become hopeless, the man of whom his own family and dear ones have despaired, and makes him a new man and, filling him with his own power, makes him more than conqueror. He brings happiness and joy and peace into life. He does the impossible. He holds out a hope of a great and glorious and wondrous life beyond this world and the grave, a life with God to all eternity. Even hanging on the cross where he seems so helpless, what he is actually doing according to St. Paul is precisely what he did to those people in Jairus’ house – He is ‘spoiling principalities and powers, making a show of them, openly triumphing over them in it.’

That is what Christ does. He confounds all who reject him by saving men. Has he confounded them in you and by means of you? Are you a living witness to his power and a proof that he is indeed the Son of God and the Saviour of the world? If not, I must warn you of what awaits you. Have you been convinced by him? Have you believed on him? Or do you still reject him as so many do? If so, nothing awaits you, as it awaits all in a like position, but what we are told happened to all the people in Jairus’ house. He put them all forth. When he comes into his kingdom you will be put forth, excluded, and with those Jews of old ‘ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out.’ But more, you, together with all others who have not believed on him as the Son of God and your personal Saviour, shall see him. Oh, yes! that is unavoidable, for ‘every eye shall see him and they also which pierced him.’ If you have not been convinced by him in life, a day is coming when you shall be convinced, when you shall see him in all his glory, and, with others like yourself, try to hide yourself in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains, and cry out to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.’ ‘For the great day of his wrath shall come and who shall be able to stand?’ The only way to avoid that is to believe on him and surrender to him now. Amen.

This sermon, preached by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Westminster Chapel, London, was printed in The Westminster Record, Volume 20, No. 10 (October 1946). It is reproduced here by courtesy of Lady Catherwood and Mrs Ann Beatt.

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