The Third Sunday in Lent March 23, 2003
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
145, 381, 179, 344
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.
In the name of our crucified Savior, dear fellow Christians:
What’s your church about? You may have heard that question many times. It sounds simple enough, and it deserves an answer. We want to share what our church means with everyone we can. But how can we in just a sentence or two summarize what the church means to us? We could say that it is about the Bible. All of our teachings are based on the Bible because we are convinced that every word of it is the God-breathed message from the Lord to us. We could say that our church is about people. We come together regularly for worship, to encourage and help one another, and simply to enjoy the fellowship of like-minded believers.
But the Apostle Paul had an even better answer. When he was asked, “What’s your church about?” he told everyone who would listen: “We preach Christ crucified!” In the 2,000 years since then there has been no more important message for mankind. That is why we say today: “We still preach Christ crucified!” We preach Him alone, because He is the power and wisdom of God for our salvation.
It is so vital that we keep our faith focused on Christ’s cross because, almost since the beginning of time, people have been on an endless search for something new and better. Satan attacked Eve with that lie: “You will not die…Your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil…There’s something better apart from God” (cf. Genesis chapter 3). Paul said, “Greeks look for wisdom.” The writings of men like Plato and Aristotle are still studied and admired. They were gifted men who stretched human reason to the limit to try to answer the deepest questions of human existence: “Where did I come from? Where am I going? How can I find happiness?” Philosophy was their religion. They put reason above everything else. So when Paul arrived in Athens, the people were at first eager to hear what he had to say. He was bringing new ideas to them. But when he began to tell about Jesus and how He had died for the sins of the world and had risen from the dead, they sneered at him and refused to believe. It sounded foolish. How could a common Jew who was crucified as a criminal rise from the dead and save others from death too?
The search for ultimate wisdom goes on today as well. People are still wrestling with those basic, all-important questions of life. There is no shortage of philosophers and so-called experts who are ready to share their ideas for finding meaning in life. But like the Greeks, they look to human reason as the source of wisdom. Man becomes the measure of everything. Reason becomes God. That is what makes the New Age movement so attractive to many. It promises that you can find God within yourself, that you are God, and that you can achieve immortality through your own efforts. In that way the devil is still whispering, “You can become like God, knowing good and evil.”
While people are eager to embrace New Age thinking and other “new” philosophies of life, the message of Christ crucified is quickly thrown out as foolishness. Reason says, “Whoever heard of someone being born of a virgin? How could a man heal someone who was blind or feed 5,000 people or cast out demons? How could Jesus offer life to others when He seemingly could not prevent His own death? The preaching of Christ crucified may be OK for children in Sunday school, but adults know better.”
But human reason does not have all the answers, and it is not the wonderful god many imagine it to be. What is called wisdom often proves to be total foolishness. In the fifteenth century, the most brilliant and educated minds of the time stated that the earth was flat and that it was possible for a ship to sail right off the edge into oblivion. We laugh at this idea now, because we have pictures from space proving the earth to be a sphere. But the same thing still happens. Drugs which were administered 20 or 30 years ago were said to be completely safe, but are now being blamed for birth defects and various cancers. Human reason again is proved to be foolishness.
More importantly, reason can never figure out the answer to mankind’s greatest problem—guilt. It doesn’t take a religious person to know about guilt. Everyone can see the evil and wrong in our world. Everyone is born with a conscience which accuses a person of doing much that is wrong. And for those who will listen, God brings guilt into even sharper focus with His Law, the Ten Commandments. Who can measure up to God’s standards? Have we loved God with all our heart? Have we honored Him by keeping the Commandments? Have we trusted Him completely? How can we deal with our guilt? Human reason doesn't have the answer. Sin won’t go away by ignoring it. We cannot lower the standards, and we certainly cannot be as holy as God demands. Reason comes to a hopeless dead end with nowhere else to turn!
“The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.” God᾿s plan is so simple that a preschool Sunday school class could explain it in a few sentences, and yet it is so far beyond human reason that it is called “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began…No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:7,9 NIV). “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3 NIV).
Christ crucified is the wisdom of God. By sending His Son to earth God gave us a substitute who could measure up and live the perfect life we were supposed to live, but could not. By putting all our sins on Christ and punishing Him on the cross, God found the only way to take away the guilt of our sin and at the same time to satisfy His justice which demands that sin be punished. Through the death of His Son He was able to justify the whole world, and declare sinners like us forgiven and holy in His eyes.
What could be wiser than that? Paul did not want to speak of anything else. He told the Corinthians: “I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom…For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 NIV). The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. By God’s grace, we still preach Christ crucified!
Perhaps the only thing which impresses people more than wisdom is power. The more horsepower a car has, the more attention it gets. The Olympic athlete who is the strongest, fastest, or who can go the farthest is awarded the gold medal. We watch in awe when massive rocket engines roar into life and push the space shuttle into orbit hundreds of miles above the earth.
Power impresses, and it was the lack of such obvious power which caused people to reject Christ. Paul wrote, “Jews demand miraculous signs.” They were looking for power. They wanted the Messiah to come, but they wanted Him to come with enough strength to drive out the military might of the Roman legions. That is why they kept on demanding signs from Jesus. They saw His signs of healing and mercy which proved Him to be the One sent by God, but they wanted signs of earthly power which Jesus refused to give. Instead, He went to the cross as the most helpless Man on earth and died. Who would want to hail Him as King and Messiah?
It is not much different today, is it? Many people don’t want to hear about the cross. They want to see the church “do something,” and “really make a difference.” They want to see signs of power such as large, impressive buildings. They want to see Christians as a political force to be reckoned with. They want the church to fight for social justice, an end to street violence, and peace in the Middle East. The cross does not do these things, and Christ crucified is ignored.
Yet the cross accomplishes something which all of mankind’s power combined cannot do. “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him” (Psalm 49:7). The mightiest army cannot save a single soul from hell. The strongest man in the world cannot fight off the death which comes because of sin.
The weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 NIV). The Greek word for “power” is the root from which our word dynamite comes. The message of Christ crucified is the spiritual dynamite which does for us what nothing else can. Christ dying on the cross while His enemies poke fun at Him seems to be the extreme of weakness, but it is the power of God at work, for on the cross Jesus took away the sins which otherwise would have condemned us to everlasting punishment. It was by the cross that Jesus fought and defeated the devil. He crushed the serpent’s head, and stripped Satan of the temporary victory he had won by bringing sin into the world. By the cross Jesus overcame the hopelessness and despair of death for us, for He not only died, He rose again. His resurrection is the power for our own resurrection on the Last Day.
Christ crucified is the power which overcomes our unbelief and gives us salvation. By the message that Christ was put to death for our sins and raised again for our forgiveness, God works powerfully in our hearts to bring us to faith, keep us in the faith, and bring forth the fruits of faith in every good work of love. That is real power! That is power beyond the strength of man!
What is our church about? It is not about attracting people with new ideas and programs, or impressing them with a great show of earthly glory or influence. It is about what some of your neighbors, friends, co-workers, or classmates would call foolishness and weakness. Yet, we would have it no other way. For the foolishness of God as revealed in the cross is the wisdom which planned and accomplished the salvation of our souls. The weakness of the cross is the power that rescues us from eternal death. Paul preached one simple message: Christ crucified. What is our church about? We could put it in huge letters on the walls of our church: We still preach Christ crucified: the power and wisdom of God! May it always be so! Amen.
On my heart imprint Thine image,
Blessed Jesus, King of grace,
That life's riches, cares, and pleasures
Have no power Thee to efface.
This the superscription be:
Jesus crucified for me,
Is my life, my hope’s foundation,
And my glory and salvation.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.