Sunday, March 3rd, 2024

We Preach Christ Crucified

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. What do you think is the most foolish thing you’ve ever seen? If I asked you that question 20 years ago, your answer would be limited by your life’s experience, but today with the internet, with phones, and little videos at our fingertips, you’ve probably seen some pretty silly things. You’ve seen people make some pretty foolish choices. Maybe doing something while driving, maybe someone trying to do a backflip who has no business trying to do a backflip, maybe someone getting a running start and trying to jump over a puddle and the falling well short, maybe even going face first. You get the idea. Stuff never ends well. You always hoped no one was injured, but I still catch myself laughing out loud. The viewers all over the world everywhere get a good laugh at someone else’s misery. What is the most foolish thing that you think you’ve ever seen? The truth that Paul puts before us today is that there are many people all over the world who would consider every single one of us in this room today to be foolish, on a whole different level. There are many who consider it quite silly to be a religious person. One doesn’t need to look very hard to find objections to Christianity. Some criticize religious people on the basis of science, as if scientific discovery has somehow made religion irrational. Some criticized on the basis of pain, suffering, and hardship in the world, asking why you would ever believe in an all-powerful God who doesn’t put those things to an end, who allows such things to continue. To be honest I don’t really want to engage those objections this morning. We’ve touched those waters in Bible class and we can continue to do that when and where time allows. Today I simply want to step back and focus on what’s wrapped up in Paul’s message to the Corinthians. It’s a message that is simple to them, and simple for us. Jews demand signs, Greeks seek wisdom, we preach Christ, and not only that, we preach Christ crucified. You see the earliest Christians faced opposition from these two places, both of which are still at play in the church today. The first Christians faced opposition from the self-proclaimed intellectuals of the day. The Greek criticism against Christianity is that its teachings were foolish, they were silly. It’s no secret how much the Greeks loved wisdom, it’s where we get the word philosophy from the combination of Greek words that says I love wisdom. Even if you’ve never studied philosophy for a day in your life, you could still probably name some of the great Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. And that love continued from the Greek empire into the Roman, Cicero and Seneca. And in the eyes of the philosophers, the message of Christianity was silly, the idea of the cross foolish. Gods shouldn’t be weak. Gods shouldn’t die. If they do, they certainly shouldn’t die in humiliation. In fact Cicero once said, “Let the very word ‘cross,’ be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens, but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears.” The cross was an embarrassment, the cross was a scandal. The idea that your God would voluntarily put himself up on a cross for the salvation of his people, that was just downright silly. But there was also opposition to the gospel from those seeking something more, something with a flair for the dramatic. That was the Jewish criticism. Christianity wasn’t just foolish, it was weak. Jews were always looking for signs to verify the prophets’ words, but they fell in love with the signs, started to value of the signs over the message. They grew to expect great acts of deliverance, great acts of power from their Messiah. If you come to Easter vigil, you’ll hear the history of our Lord’s mighty acts of deliverance, you’ll hear of the Red Sea, you’ll hear of the flood, you’ll hear of the fiery furnace, you’ll hear great and mighty acts, and in the eyes of the Jews, the Greek philosophers were right, and the Christians were wrong. They said Gods shouldn’t be weak, God’s shouldn’t die. They certainly shouldn’t die in humiliation. So, Paul takes a step back and presents us with a stark but simple truth. No matter how you dress up the cross, the world will always find it offensive. We’ll always find it distasteful, because the world prefers what appears attractive, what appears successful. The world will always consider the gospel foolish. The world will always think Christians are wasting their time, but here’s the beauty of what Paul says. He’s not worried about meeting the world on its own terms. You want to call the cross foolish, Paul says that’s fine. Paul embraces the scandal of the cross, he celebrates the weakness, he finds comfort in God’s promise in the words of the prophet, Isaiah, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Rather than Paul trying to somehow soften the scandal of the cross, he just leans right into it, puts the cross squarely in the spotlight. “You want wisdom,” Paul says. Where is the wise man of this age, where is the philosopher, where is the lawyer, where is the politician, where is the scientist, where is the atheist, where is the scribe? Paul asks. Where is the religious elite, where is the spiritual expert, where is the biblical scholar, where is the debater of this age, where is the one who stands against the true knowledge of God, because for all of their so-called knowledge, and for all of their so-called wisdom, and for all of their influence, they remain ignorant of the things of God. For God saw to it that the world would not know him through its own wisdom, in order that we preach what we preach might be saved through the folly of what we preach. I’m going to say that again because I really butchered it. God saw to it that the world would not know him through its own wisdom in order that we might be saved through the foolishness of what we preach. Paul embraces the foolishness, because Paul knows that it is for you, and it is for your salvation. We don’t have to explain away the cross. It is foolish by the world standard. That God would continue to act and love towards those who continue to push him away, that’s silly. That God that faithfully redeemed the people who brought sin and corruption into his once perfect creation. There’s no explaining that away. That God would willingly hand himself over into the hands of sinful men to be beaten, to be ridiculed, to be mocked and executed. The cross is foolish. That’s OK because the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, and the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We’re never going to reach God by our own wisdom. The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, but remember what Isaiah says next, not only does the Lord say my ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts, but he says For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout,  giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Yes, the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men, but God has not left his ways hidden. He used the foolish weak things of this world to outsmart the wisdom of this world, and then he told us about it. Revealed it to us in his word, and he’s pointed us to the weak and foolish things where our hope and our salvation is found. To a splash of water connected to the power of his Word, to a simple meal of bread and wine, the spoken word of forgiveness, the proclamation of his gospel, the fruits of the cross for you. So let the world have its criticisms. Let the world have its objections. We’ll meet them in time. We can engage in the debate when and where we will. Let the world have its wisdom and its strength. We rest in the foolishness of 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 so that none of us could ever boast in his presence. The world around us seeks wisdom and majesty. We have Christ. Christ crucified and Christ risen for you. A stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles, but to us he is the power of God and the wisdom of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.