God of the Paradox - The Paradox of First and Last
1 Peter 2:6-8
For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."
7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," 8 and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
God is not only master of the paradox, He is a paradox. The Epistle of Peter describes Jesus as both the most important building block and yet the biggest stumbling block. To the believer this is one more paradox from the God of the universe and beyond. The God who sits outside of time capable of knowing all, doing all, and being all inside of time.
To the unbeliever and to those who have determined He does not exist, the idea of an intentional and supernatural God who Created heaven and earth and everything in it is merely a contradiction; a parody defying logic or common sense. The paradoxical nature and capability of God is more than the unbelieving little heart of a secular humanist can bear. The very unbelief they swear by is the stumbling block to the very truth they swear about. Why would someone surrender in obedience and trust to something or someone they do not believe exists? Why would someone settle for last when all they have ever wanted to be is first? Why indeed?
To those who believe and follow Him, the evidence that God indeed is a reality is discovered within the paradox. God of the paradox leads one who diligently seeks Him to the understanding of who He is - which is the why to the unlimited capability of His creative design and purpose. To those who do not believe, or perhaps no longer believe, this is absurd since nothing is by design but by accident. And nothing can have purpose since everything is a coincidence. The contrast between Biblical worldview of the believer and the secular worldview of the unbeliever is revealed in the paradox of the cornerstone and the stumbling-block. This contrast is the central key to understanding the God of the paradox that is revealed in Christ.
One of the most profound paradoxes of Jesus is recorded in three of the four gospels. I love Mark’s direct recollection of his time with Jesus, and the day He challenged the self-serving pride of the disciples with the paradox of the first and last.
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?"
34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."
36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."
We have been culturally conditioned to the recognition, significance, and perceived benefits of being first. In the context of a competitive marketplace, gamesmanship, or athletic contest this is truly not evil. In fact, when kept in balance with the right motivation and perspective it is quite healthy and productive in the development of social and emotional intelligence. When the need to be first becomes obsessively self-serving and narcissistic then it is toxic and unhealthy - both spiritually and physically. The writer of Hebrews, and the apostle Paul illustrated the healthy need to compete, endure, and win.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
We of course in true humankind fashion have blown the healthy benefits of competition and the goal of finishing first right out of the water. The push back you all know has been against toxic masculinity with the cultural and authoritative overreach to destroy God designed masculinity and the drive to be a man's man. The lesson of Jesus is paradoxical in that being both and first and last appears to be a contradiction yet in the expectations and unlimited capabilities of God in Christ Jesus, both are true. Both are true but both are not righteous. Both are true but both are not preferred by Christ when we allow ourselves to become proud, selfish, arrogant, conceited, and obsessive about ourselves, our status and how we are perceived by others. Jesus teaches from this paradox the character lessons and spiritual value of humility and preferring others above and before ourselves for both men and women. The greatest among you is not always the first but can also be the least. If you want to be first, you must least of all and serving all.
In his biography of Jesus, this topic is recalled another time when Jesus is in a very intense conversation with the wealthy young ruler. The up and comer has decided that he wants to follow Jesus. However, Jesus quickly perceives it is for the wrong reasons and motives. These end game motives are exposed the very moment Jesus suggests to the young man that to follow Him he needs to go and sell all of his possessions and then return. Jesus does not ask the rich young man to do something he cannot do, He asks him to do the one thing He knows He will not do. The rich young ruler will not give up being first to end up being last. In the process he misses his only real opportunity in being last to ultimately become first.
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”
29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
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