“The Message of the Cross Demands A Response”

(1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – Lent 4 – March 31, 2019)

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – For the message of the cross is foolishness 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 bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Dear fellow Redeemed in Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord and Savior:

John 3:16 is one of the most widely known Bible verses: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Many people like to talk about love. People of different faiths and backgrounds might like to hear the first part of this verse when it says: “God so loved the world.” However, John 3:16 also offends many people because it speaks of the possibility of a person perishing if he does not believe in Jesus as the only Son of God and Savior of sinners. In the following verses, we hear striking words that put each of us on trial in God’s courtroom. It says in verse 18: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Such words are offensive to many in our “non-judgmental” and “each to his own” society. But the Bible clearly teaches that the Son of God died on the cross to pay the ugly death penalty we deserved for our sins. And only by believing this message of the cross can we truly know God’s love and have that eternal life promised in John 3:16.

Therefore, one cannot look on the cross without making a judgment. We cannot remain neutral to the message of the cross. “The Message of the Cross Demands A Response.” 1) Unbelief says: “It is foolishness”; 2) Faith says: “It is the power of God.”

1) Unbelief says: “It is foolishness”

Shall we respond to the message of the cross with the many who in unbelief say, “It is foolishness”? Our text shows us that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who rely on human wisdom instead of God’s wisdom. Those who rely on man-centered wisdom demand a self-made salvation, instead of the salvation God has freely provided in Jesus Christ crucified. They also demand proof that will satisfy their power of reason, instead of trusting God’s Word.

In the case of the unbelieving Jews we hear of in our text, many of them looked for a self-made salvation and eternal life based on how well they obeyed the Law. They stumbled over Jesus because He appeared unlawful in their eyes. He associated with non-Jews and “sinners”! They stumbled over Jesus because He healed on the Sabbath Day, instead of resting as they did – failing to see Him as the Lord of the Sabbath.

When they demanded some miraculous sign as proof of His deity, since they did not accept the many signs Jesus had already given them, He told them He would give only one more sign: the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39-40). Just as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights before being spit out onto dry land, so also the Son of Man would be crucified on the cross, die, and be buried in the earth, before rising from the grave on the third day.

At this teaching, many Jews stumbled over Jesus. By their power of reason, they could only see in Him a weak man and a lawbreaker – one who could not help them with their self-made salvation. As Jesus hung on the cross, they thought He suffered for His own sins, not for theirs.

Likewise the Greeks, the non-Jews of Jesus’ day, demanded a self-made salvation. They too demanded proof that would satisfy their power of reason. The Greeks wanted religion that could bring visible results – like making society better, bringing power, success, and safety in this life – for such things indicated that the gods favored them. They applauded those who lived good and honorable lives in society, reasoning that such people would surely be honored by the gods.

When the apostle Paul met with Greek philosophers in Athens (Acts 17), he told them about Jesus Christ, the Son of God who had come into the world. Apparently, these worldly-wise men were amused for a time to hear Paul share his ideas. But when Paul pointed to Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead as proof of His deity, they by worldly wisdom could only respond with mockery at the foolishness they perceived in the message of the cross.

By their power of reason, they too could only see in Jesus a weak man, hated by society and put to a dishonorable death as a criminal. As Jesus hung on the cross suffering for their sins, in no way did He appear as a god who could bring them the honor and good life they looked for.

Behold: “Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.” To this day, worldly wisdom has not changed. It brings us no closer to God, but it directs us away from His salvation in Jesus Christ crucified.

By our proud sinful nature, we all want to have a high opinion of ourselves. How often do we hear sentiments like, “All people are basically good,” or “We can do anything if we put our minds to it”? This is the way modern religion and the wisdom of this “New Age” would have us think of ourselves. And this is also what our sinful nature would like to believe. By nature, we want to ignore our sinful, lost, and condemned condition before God. By nature, we too could only proudly hope that somehow, by our own wisdom and strength and goodness, we would play a heroic part in saving ourselves.

Truly our sinful nature battles against the message of the cross! There is that proud part of us that wants to avoid looking at the Son of God suffering so miserably on the cross, as God’s only solution to save such miserably fallen sinners as we are. There is that proud part of us that and wants to make light of our own sin, to cling to our own sense of honor and self-righteousness! And it is our sinful nature that makes us ashamed to share the message of the cross with fellow sinners, as the only way of salvation God has provided. Yes, our sinful nature tells us that the message of the cross is weak and foolish, in contrast to worldly power and wisdom.

However, we can only find God in the way He has chosen to come to us. And the way He brings His salvation to us will always seem foolish, weak, and useless to worldly wisdom.

2) Faith says: It is the Power of God”

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Thank God that by His grace, He has mercifully brought us out of the blindness of worldly wisdom and unbelief, to faith and eternal life in Christ crucified.

The world will go on expecting a great show of power and glory before it will believe God’s Word about the cross. But by the faith the Holy Spirit has given us, we know that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” By faith we know that, though Jesus appeared outwardly weak and defeated by death as He hung on the cross, yet as God almighty death had no hold on Him. Through His very death on the cross, Jesus gained the victory He desired for us. He was taking away our sin by His blood sacrifice, taking away our death by His death, taking away Satan’s power over us by crushing his head. Jesus’ victory is proven by His rising from the dead – the sign of Jonah which He had promised.

God continues to come to us in ways that appear weak and foolish to worldly wisdom:

  • God comes to us in the plain and simple words of Scripture. Worldly wisdom leads people to think they need to add to and subtract from God’s Word to make it sufficient and powerful for their needs. But God’s unchanged Word has the power to change dead hearts into believing and living hearts in Christ.
  • God comes to us in the plain and simple waters of Baptism. Worldly wisdom says, “It is only water.” But in Baptism, by His powerful Word God has united us to Jesus in His death on the cross – crucifying and burying our sinful nature with all its false wisdom; and He has raised us up in the power of Jesus’ resurrection to eternal life (Romans 6:3 ff.).
  • God comes to us in the plain and simple bread and wine of Holy Communion. Worldly wisdom says, “Where is power in that?” But in this Holy Supper, by His powerful Word, God gives to us the full benefits of the cross – Jesus’ Body and Blood, shed once and for all, for our forgiveness and eternal life.

To the world this is foolish talk. But by the grace of God, by the faith His Spirit has worked in us, we can say with Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

The message of the cross is the power of God to us who are being brought to the joys of heaven. As we pass through this dark valley of tears, we bear a cross in following our Savior. There is nothing outwardly glorious in the suffering and hardship we endure while following Jesus. But God promises to remain near and strengthen us by His hidden power in His Word and Sacraments. He will keep us firm even in our times of greatest weakness.

Think of how Job was afflicted by the cross of suffering he bore for a time. Yet, all the while God was working by the power of His Word to strengthen Job’s faith. Therefore, in the midst of his suffering, Job could say: “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). In the end, Job came forth pure as gold, even stronger than before in his faith. Indeed, in heaven he now sees his once crucified and risen Redeemer with his own eyes.

As we follow Jesus, we will bear our cross in weakness under the scorn of worldly wisdom. But just as God remained with Job to strengthen and keep him firm, God promises to strengthen and protect us unto life everlasting. The message of the cross gives us this confidence.

The message of the cross declares that we are counted righteous by God through faith in our crucified Savior. And we have God’s promise: “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:17-19). God is near to strengthen and deliver us. As we trust our crucified and risen Redeemer, we too will come forth pure as gold, perfected in faith.

Because of the message of the cross, we have true hope that will not disappoint or leave us ashamed (Romans 5:5). For not only has our Savior gone before us to the cross; He is risen from the dead. He lives and reigns over all things for our good, to bring us to His eternal glory.

On that great day when Jesus brings us out of this world into heaven’s eternal joys, we will rejoice in the wisdom and the power of God. We will see God the Father, who so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son to win our salvation. We will see Jesus at His Father’s right hand, who took our place on the cross so that we will not perish but have everlasting life. We will see the Holy Spirit, who worked saving faith in our hearts through the power of the Gospel. As we gather around the throne of the one true saving God, we will sing with great joy what we have already begun to sing today by faith (Hymn: “God Loved the World so That He Gave”):

Glory to God the Father, Son,

And Holy Spirit, Three in One!

To Thee, O blessed Trinity,

Be praise now and eternally!