Sermon – Lent 3 – March 4, 2018
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 ‘Proclamation of the Cross’
CT: Contrary to our world’s ideas of wisdom and strength, God’s power works through the proclamation of the cross
Intro: The local coffee shop is where all our world’s problems are solved. We’ve all been part of those conversations where people talk freely and where our reason is championed. Everything from politics to potholes to snow removal is on the table, but nothing changes! Our Epistle lesson challenges our so-called enlightened thinking. Paul calls the learned of every age to attention, and then offers us the most humbling news: God’s foolishness is more profound, more intense, and more completely wise than anything we come up with. Those thoughts that seemed so revolutionary, so new; those pronouncements that seemed so profound are as important to God’s plan of creation and redemption as last week’s funny papers! They don’t amount to a hill of beans!
Bad Reason: Paul’s letter to the Corinthians points out how flawed our wisdom is. As highly as we prize our ability to reason it cannot bring us to know God or understand how broken our relationship with Him is. And so it pleased Him to save us through faith in what is called the foolishness of the cross; the weakness of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “If it is I who say where God will be, I will always find there a false god, who…is agreeable to me…But if it is God who says where He’ll be…that place is the cross of Christ.”
Sin did more than bring death to our bodies and eternal separation from God; it made it impossible for us to know God by the power of our own reason. As notable and wonderful as our reason is (it sets us above the animals); corrupted by sin, it gets in the way of us knowing God. “The god of this world blinds the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor 4:4).” Sin has corrupted our reason, and twisted our view of worldly things. There is nothing quite like money, power, and clever thinking to move people up the ladder of influence. But in the big picture Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul (Mark 8:36)?” And “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant…for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:43ff).”
Divisions: The Christian church also wrestles with our corrupted reasoning. Mark Twain wrote, “Church ain’t no shucks to a circus,” and yes, boasting, one-up-man-ship, and divisions are not foreign to the church. That’s who Paul was addressing; the church; us! In the church at Corinth members were setting themselves up over others according to who baptized who; divisions based on which pastor one favoured over another. There hasn’t been a pastor yet in this congregation who was crucified for you! Every pastor that ever served here proclaimed the same cross.
Motley Crew: Divisions in churches seem to come as naturally as wood splits under the pressure of a wood splitter, for the Christian Church is made up of a ‘Motley Crew’; not a group of like minded individuals of your choosing, but a wonderful mix of people that God brings together. But don’t worry; Jesus was accused of hanging out with all the wrong people; sinners—like you and me! And some will still aspire to be wise and influential in the church, but remember it was the wisdom of many influential people in Jesus’ day that rejected Him. The message of the cross pares us down to size, yanks out from under us the rug of our self-reliance. “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 the things that are.”
Signs and Wisdom: To the Jews, the proclamation of the cross; the disgraceful, humiliating execution of a Jewish rabbi by Roman authorities hardly seemed to be a sign of God’s saving power; more like the death of a wanna-be Messiah. And to the Greeks/Gentiles, who were fully engaged in a culture enamoured by power and success (not so unlike ours), it made no sense that a crucified criminal would be thought of as the Saviour of the world; at best secular wisdom would call Him a first place loser! To the Romans with their thirst for power and glory, the notion of a crucified Messiah was absolutely ridiculous. Yet Christianity proclaims that God’s saving power is perfectly displayed in a crucified Messiah, and those seeking wisdom will find God’s wisdom perfectly revealed in the word of the cross. People outside and inside the church still resist the word of the cross; it reveals our helpless estate in sin and brings to nothing all that we see as so important in our world and in us.
Cross: It is the cross of Jesus that brings our boasting to shame, while it brings to nothing the things the world claims as so important. I am and have nothing to boast about before God. The cross says it all. It was for my sake and precisely because I am helpless to change my sinful condition that Jesus died. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9) As Paul put it: “God is the source of our life in Christ Jesus.” My faith, my believing, my hope, and my assurance begin and find their completion in Jesus. “The wisdom of God displayed throughout the OT in granting righteousness, holiness, and redemption to His sinful and needy people has now culminated in the perfect gift of Christ,” for you. (Gregory Lockwood)
Right Boasting: God delights to gather, cleanse, and restore people like you and me and put us together, with all our human weaknesses into His Church. God has made Jesus our wisdom that we would be wise unto salvation. Christ is our redemption buying us from our own hunger for power and importance and self-righteous thinking with His precious blood. Christ is our righteousness covering us with His goodness, making nobodies like you and me in somebody in God’s eyes. And Christ is our holiness setting us aside as something wonderful—working in us—living instruments in the Holy Spirit’s hands; actually transforming us into the people He would have us be. “For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
The proclamation of the cross redefines wisdom: righteousness, sanctification (holy living), and redemption are God’s work for you—in you.