Foolish Stumblingblock but Powerful Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1)

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Service Notes

  • Liturgical Date: Third Sunday in Lent – March 8, 2015
  • Order of Service: Prayer & Preaching
  • Hymns: LSB #435, 451, 781, 422, 427

Theme Verse

For the Word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Sermon Text

In the Christian Church, we preach nothing “except Christ and Him crucified.” The Word of the Cross is a foolish stumblingblock to everyone. Including Christians. Jesus hanging dead on a cross is not the image we want to see. Victory cannot be achieved through death. Or so our sinful nature thinks. But this is the central Christian message. A message of great power for believers.

“For the Word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing.” Who is perishing? Who is dying? “The soul who sins shall die.” Have you sinned? Then you are perishing and dying. Therefore the Word of the Cross seems foolish to your ears. You want to say, “I got myself into this mess. I can get myself out.” How's that working for you? Are you getting yourself out of your sinful mess? Or are you digging yourself further and further into your mess? The more you dig, the further away you are from the top of the hole. You are perishing because of your works.

So, to those who are perishing, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” Both Eastern and Western culture have problems with Jesus' crucifixion. We'll see it in our sermon hymn in a little bit: “Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, see Him dying on the tree! 'Tis the Christ, by man rejected; yes, my soul, 'tis He, 'tis He! 'Tis the long-expected Prophet, David's Son, yet David's Lord.”

Jews and Gentiles naturally reject Jesus' crucifixion because it is the exact opposite of the way we think. The natural idea of a Savior, in both cultures, was one of victory. The Jews had dreams of a warrior-king who would eliminate the Romans. The Gentiles had the legends of Hercules and Aeneas. Human nature expects a Savior with heroic qualities. But Jesus comes as a Suffering Servant. He comes to die. Definitely not what anyone expects. Man stumbles over such foolishness.

“In the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom.” “Greeks seek wisdom.” Those who seek God through wisdom seek Him through philosophy or sociology or psychology. They want Jesus to be a good Teacher. The rich young ruler approached Jesus, addressing Him as “Good Teacher”. But Jesus responds, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” The only good, the only wise, is God alone. No one else is good or wise. The rich young ruler asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus directs him to the Law. If you want to save yourself, seeking teaching will only send you back to God's Word. You must fulfill it all. God's Word looks like foolishness and not wisdom. Human wisdom will only take you away from God. True wisdom does not go towards God. True wisdom comes from God.

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” Just as God created the world out of nothing, God chooses what seems to be nothing to bring about the revelation of His grace.

This revelation shames the wise with its foolishness. God calls the foolish to serve Him. He calls everyone to serve Him. Among the Corinthians, not many were wise “according to worldly standards.” They were likely slaves and the lower class. Just like their Savior. He was raised in the backwater town of Nazareth. He was the epitome of what the Pharisees and Sadducees thought of foolishness. They thought, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” If Jesus were from Jerusalem, He would have had the chance to gain great wisdom at the feet of the rabbis. But no good rabbi dwelled in Nazareth. No good school of theology in Nazareth. But this backwoods, hick carpenter left them speechless on every occasion. His wisdom was simple. They had overcomplicated the faith. He came, with foolish fishermen as disciples, to bring back the simple faith in God. Seemingly foolish in the sight of the wise, but shaming them at every turn.

It shames the strong with the weakness of the cross. Adam and Eve thought they could make themselves like God by eating the forbidden fruit. Ever since, people have believed that they can make themselves acceptable to God. Offering sacrifices. Saying certain prayers. Giving their hearts away. All their works. Their strength. But Jesus takes none of them: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” People do not choose Christ. Christ chooses people. Brings them to faith in Him through the Word of the Cross. To strengthen you, He became weak. Gave Himself up to death so that you might live. The Jerusalem elders and chief priests thought they had gotten rid of Him when the Roman soldiers nailed Him to the cross. But Jesus rose from the dead. They had to pay off the guards so that their failure would not be discovered. In the weakness of His cross, Christ defeats death, Hell and Satan.

It brings to nothing everything we erect of ourselves. People want a checklist. People want their lives to make a difference. People want to know what to do. But the cross says, “Done.” “It is finished.” There is nothing left for you to do. The cross takes out all room for boasting. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” This reversal makes people stumble. But this reversal strengthens faith in those who are called. Those who are called boast in the Lord because of the cross.

“But to us who are being saved [the Word of the Cross] is the power of God.” The Cross is the source of faith. “In the cross of Christ I glory, towering over the wrecks of time.” Jesus' Cross stands apart. Among the wrecks of time are the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Built by man centuries before Christ walked the earth as the height of man's achievement. Only the Great Pyramid of Giza still stands. Once lush Hanging Gardens now languish under the Iraqi sand. The Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus, in whose shadow Paul preached, were destroyed by arson. The Colossus of Rhodes. The Lighthouse of Alexandria. The Mausoleum of Mausolus. All destroyed by earthquakes. No longer standing. What great things people build! How long they last! They were surely glorious to behold, but they had no power to sustain themselves. The Cross not only sustains itself. It sustains Christians throughout the world. Sustains even to the bloody end, as we see in Syria, Iraq and Egypt today.

Why? “Because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Jesus is righteousness incarnate. His life on this earth is the perfect example of the sanctified Christian life. On the cross, He became your redemption. Taking your sins away. Delivering grace and mercy to you. “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” God's grace and mercy are desirable. And they are yours. Much better than fine gold because gold decays. Gold will be gone when God recreates the heavens and the earth. But grace and mercy remain. St. Paul's great love chapter says it this way: “So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Grace and mercy are portions of God's love.

“When the woes of life overtake me, hopes deceive, and fears annoy, never shall the cross forsake me; lo, it glows with peace and joy.” When life is at its worst, when life is near its end, only the foolish stumblingblock of the cross proves to be the true power of God. When riches abound, you have no problem counting your blessings. When poverty strikes, the list seems much shorter. But your best blessing still remains. As we have in the wedding vows, “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” You have your spouse's vow to bring comfort and peace in good times and bad.

But you are also a member of the Bride of Christ. Whose Bridegroom never leaves, never forsakes. Who gave Himself up to forgive your sins. This grace and mercy are yours. No one can take them away. They are His gifts to you. Even in the worst of times, your Savior is still by your side. He does not take away His grace and mercy for any reason. They are always available to you.

This promise strengthens you so that you can continue to live for Him. To live a life of rich blessing that people will want to imitate. Why is it that when you are discouraged you go to the Bible and read about those in similar situations? Because God has promised the same faithfulness to you as He gave to the saints in the Bible. The Bible tells you how badly they screwed up. Very much like you screwed up in your life. But God continues to bless them. He gives them forgiveness for their sins. Because Jesus died on the cross. Even when you have nothing, you can say like Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

The foolishness of the cross is its necessity. Jesus had to the die on the cross. The power of the cross is its reconciliation. Jesus reconciles you to God through His death. Only through the cross that never forsakes you. You cannot outsin God's reconciliation. Jesus' arms are still stretched out to receive you. And His arms never shove you away. Amen.