The Wisdom of the Cross

Audio: Trinity V

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

We did not follow cleverly devised myths,” St. Peter writes, “when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Peter said this to assure his audience, his beloved fellow Christians, about the message they received from him. There had been people coming to them charging that the Word of the Lord they received through St. Peter and the other Apostles was nothing but a myth: a sham, a tall-tale delivered by charlatans to deceive the simple-minded. No, St. Peter said, the things they heard, the things about Jesus – that He is God in the flesh, that He suffered, died, and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of sins, and that salvation is totally by His work alone – these things are not made up. And, by this message of the cross, they have been saved.

Perhaps you’ve heard the same argument. Maybe not personally, but definitely in some way, you’ve encountered opposition to your faith, and especially the BIble. There are all sorts of complaints out there: it’s poorly-written, hard to understand, culturally-bound to its period, unethical, unloving, full of lies and myths, a purely man-made document – and a shoddy one at that. And, there’s more out there. Some of these things are advocated by those who would call themselves Christians or have the responsibility of teaching in Christian colleges and seminaries. St. Paul explains today why God’s Word encounters such hostility from the world. He says, “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.”

The Word of God receives such hostility from the world because it runs against everything the devil and the Old Adam preach. The Bible says that all human beings are sinful – sinful not just in actions, but in word and thought as well. Moreover, humankind is so depraved by nature that there is not one single thing or thought that we can contribute to our salvation. Not one single thing. But, out of His great love for us, God sent His only-begotten Son to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world. He gives forgiveness of sins as a free gift through faith, apart from any and all works. Faith itself is also a work of God the Holy Spirit who, through the preaching of sinful men (pastors) and through the administration of the sacraments by those same men, creates a holy people for Himself and gathers them into the Holy Christian Church. All of this runs contrary to the wisdom of the world. The preaching of Christ’s cross is foolishness to the world, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

I.

The text begins, “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. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Have you ever wondered why there aren’t more Christians in the world? Have you ever had long, heart-felt conversations with someone about the Christian faith, where you were sure that the seed of God’s Word had been planted and was very likely to sprout, only to see the person totally reject that seed the very next day? Why is that many people become Christians after seemingly chance and random encounters, while many others, who had been raised Christians, fall away and become vehement enemies of Christ? These are the questions that St. Paul is answering in out text.

He sets the record straight for us on why there aren’t more Christians, why so many never come to faith, and why so many others fall away once they leave home. It’s because, St. Paul says, the word of the cross is folly to the world. The word that Paul uses is μωρία (moria), where the word “moron,” comes from. To the sinful nature, the BIble does not make sense. Jesus doesn’t make sense. Think about the Trinity for a second. The Bible says that there is one God, an omnipresent, all-power being. It stresses the oneness of the deity, and yet there are three persons. Or, how about that this divine being that transcends the physical world, became flesh and died? That is one major reason why Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. They do not believe that God could possibly become flesh, or interact with creation in any intimate way, like how Christ unites Himself to us through the supper of His flesh and blood.

To us, these things do make sense. We might not understand the Trinity totally, but we believe it because it’s what the Bible says. We don’t understand how the Incarnation works beyond the words of the Creed, “He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary,” but we believe it because we know it’s what the Bible says. In Genesis it prophesied that an Offspring of Adam and Eve would defeat the Devil. In Isaiah it says that a virgin will conceive and give birth to the Son of God. We don’t totally understand how the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, but we believe it because the Bible says so. Because the Holy Spirit has come to us through the preaching of the Word and in Baptism to create in us the gift of faith, we believe God’s Word and so are saved.

But to the world, this is all moronic and we are all morons. St. Paul lists two reasons why the world believes this. “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom.” These two groups are specific groups for Paul and the Corinthians. Throughout Jesus’ ministry the Jews demanded signs of Him, to demonstrate His power. They were seeking an earthly king who would throw off the Romans, and by mighty powers and wonders restore the glory of Israel. Some expect that still today. Others scoff at our faith and say that they would readily and happily believe in God if He would first put an immediate end to all evil. He will, of course, but not according to our timeline.

Others are like Greeks, who in Paul’s day were obsessed with wisdom. They would occupy themselves with long conversations about philosophy and rhetoric. They were opposed to Christianity not because of the miracles, for the Greeks were a religious people, but because of its perceived simplicity. As St. Paul said, “When I came to you, brothers, [I] did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

II.

Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.” The sinful nature demands signs, wonders, and wisdom. But, we preach Christ crucified. That is, we preach that Jesus Christ, the Son of God from all eternity – equal to the Father and the Spirit in glory, power, and majesty – humbled Himself, by taking on frail human flesh. He fulfilled the Law of God by His perfect obedience, and He died as the payment for our transgressions. Heaven is real, but our attempts to get there ourselves will condemn us to hell. Instead, Christ bring us into His kingdom and gives us forgiveness totally by His own initiative and action, without any merit or worthiness within us.

All of that is folly to the world, but, St. Paul says, “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” Meaning – this is the God-approved method of salvation: Jesus died on the cross for our sins, then the Holy Spirit works through the preaching of Christ’s cross to create create faith and save people through it. That’s it. There are no works to contribute to our salvation, no good intentions, no lofty words of wisdom, just Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That is how God saves us. God says in our text that He will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning. How? By using the weak to shame the strong. It pleased God to grant us salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross. In the ancient world the cross was scandalous, a criminal’s death, not worthy to be spoken about in polite society. But, this shameful death, is how God saves – contrary to all the glorious ways we could think of.

St. Paul wrote, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” Literally, the word of Christ’s cross is moronic to the world. But to us, it is the power of God for salvation. For it has pleased God to save the world and us through the preaching of that moronic word. Therefore, if the world considers the cross foolishness and those who believe in it to be morons, then let us be morons. Let us listen to the still, small voice of God in His Word. And, when Christ calls, let us cast our nets, for He provides a miraculous catch. Above all, let us pray to the Holy Spirit that He lead us to know nothing except Christ, and Him crucified. Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

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