The Fourth Sunday in Lent March 6, 2005
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
421, 154, 533, 47
May the cross of Christ lead you to grieve over the evil of your sins. May the cross of Christ fill you with joy that those sins have been forgiven. May the cross of Christ serve as your pattern for willingly taking up your own cross and daily following your Lord Jesus. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Most everyone at one time or another has probably wondered, even dreamed about, what he would do with three wishes. You know the scenario: find a lamp, rub the lamp, out pops a genie, and you are granted three wishes. When you dream, what do you wish?
Stop here for just a moment and examine your own thoughts and desires as you consider such a situation. What was the general category of wishes that came to your mind? Was unlimited money at or near the top of your list, or wealth of some other kind? You wouldn’t want to waste a single wish, but wouldn’t you decide that unlimited personal wealth was worth at least one wish?
Interesting little window into our souls, isn’t it? Even while reading a sermon we can almost immediately become preoccupied with materialism, so powerful is its lure, so powerful is the greed and lust within us. We would jealously guard our three wishes, wasting none of them, yet one of the first orders of business would be to take upon ourselves the providence that belongs to God. In other words, we would likely first tend to our own financial security—meaning that we are not all that comfortable with letting God do that for us, despite His promise that He will do so. We would rather provide for our own needs as we see fit, rather than trust God to do so as He sees fit. This ought to tell us that something is fundamentally wrong with our attitudes.
We need help, but how do we go about adjusting our attitudes? How can we possibly hope to reorganize, reprioritize, realign our perverted appreciation for what is truly good for us and for our eternal souls? How can we learn even to desire what we ought to desire? No project—especially one this important—can ever be accomplished without the power of our Lord and for that power we turn to His Holy Word. Today we turn to the Book of First Corinthians, the first chapter:
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. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God; and righteousness and sanctification and redemption; that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”
These are God’s words, and we know them as “the Means of Grace,” for they carry the power to create and preserve saving faith and eternal life. Desiring to be filled and preserved in the faith we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth!” Amen.
The fantasy of three wishes from a genie offers us a glimpse of our twisted sense of worth and value. There are other indicators that could and should clue us in. We live as part of a society that values entertainers above farmers, artists above artisans, tax spenders above tax payers, the lottery above the paycheck. Above all, we value self. If this were not so, the Church would never lack for money and missions would never lack for either manpower or funding.
Yet, it is one thing to fall short of the goals and the perfection that we desire, it is quite another not even to desire the right goals. This is the predicament in which the Christian Church finds itself today. We are not just failing to achieve God’s goals, we have changed the goals, lowered the bar, and now we are failing to achieve even those reduced standards.
Our aspirations have plummeted. We no longer aspire to the levels God has set for us. We no longer even desire what we are supposed to desire, let alone set our hearts upon those things. Thanks be to God that we are saved by grace and not by works! Do you want evidence? Ask yourself if you really want to spend the rest of your life in humble service to your God, come what may? Would you like to be a man or woman single-mindedly devoted to God? Think of the things in life that give you the most pleasure. Would you gladly—even reluctantly—give them up for the opportunity to better and more closely serve our Lord Jesus? Is that, in other words, what we really want out of life—to yield ourselves as “living sacrifices, holy, acceptable to God”? Do we even think of that as “our reasonable service”? (cf. Romans 12:1) Therein lies one of our greatest problems today. We are not even aiming at the right target. We aim low and miss even lower.
Thanks be to God for sending His Son to save miserable sinners like us! This serves as rock solid evidence that not only did we not save ourselves or “decide for Christ,” we had no power whatsoever to do so— nor even the desire to do so. We loved sin, even while Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us.
Our text describes a whole different state of heart and mind separate and distinct from that of the world around us—above and beyond it, infinitely more lofty and noble. Our text not only pictures this sinful world accurately, it also seeks to reawaken in us the proper recognition and appreciation of what is truly valuable on this earth. Our text offers us a renewed appreciation for the true power of God that has been placed at our disposal. Although we hesitate to speak for Him, it seems reasonable that the Holy Spirit’s goal was that in understanding true values according to God’s reckoning, we might be led to desire those better things.
A key to understanding all of this lies in knowing that such truth is hidden from all but the children of God. Nor does it help that while the Old Adam in the child of God longs to live as the unbelievers live, the unbelievers do not want to live like Christians. The unbelievers regard God’s plan for His children as pure foolishness. A part of every Christian is naturally drawn to their way of life. They, on the other hand, are naturally repulsed by ours. Our text says that they consider it “foolishness.“ That was true then and it is certainly true now. The world naturally considers Christianity to be foolishness for at least four reasons: First, because it is founded upon a crucified Christ—a Savior who, in their eyes, was defeated by His enemies and put to death. Secondly, because Christianity is a movement that caters primarily to the “nobodies” of society, the down-and-outs who have little or no position, power, or wealth. Thirdly, because Christian teachings often defy human logic. Finally, Christianity is foolishness to them because its earthly leaders rejoice in their own humility and weakness and in their need to derive all of their power and ability from an outside, divine source.
Our text meets all of these challenges head on and as Mary once put it, “scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts” (Luke 1:51). Like a mighty bull effortlessly tossing would-be riders and slow of foot rodeo clowns, our text charges into the ranks of the doubters and flings them hither and yon. In these great words from our God we hear echoes of the Creator’s “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46). Mankind arrogantly holds up his own wisdom and understanding as the standard to which God must adhere. God does not play men’s games. So our text tells us, “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.” [v.21] What was this “foolishness of the message preached” that caused some to ridicule and others to become sons of God? Our text answers: “We preach Christ crucified…” And again, “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.” [vv.23,18] Note well the stark and irreconcilable difference. To those who do not believe, the message of the cross is foolishness. To those who have been brought to faith, these are not only the words of life eternal—the ultimate in truth and wisdom— they are the very power of God.
Dear Christians, because God the Holy Spirit has given us a new birth when He brought us to saving faith, we can not only appreciate the wisdom of these words, we can desire what they offer. The final verse of our text encourages us in this way: “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” [v.31] The alternative is to abandon (in any part and in any way) the wisdom of God in favor of the wisdom of man. We can do this in many different ways. The worst and most obvious way is when mankind rejects the Gospel for its very simplicity. Yet we can also opt for man’s wisdom when we seek loopholes to get around what we know to be the will of our God. God says don’t fellowship with those who teach differently, but earthly wisdom says there will be advantages if we do just that. God says one man and one woman for life, but human wisdom says that there are other paths to happiness and contentment. God established the areas where women should excel and where men should excel, but human wisdom beckons us to bend and shape our churches, families, and responsibilities to suit our own ideas and desires.
The fact is the right decisions for the child of God are most often neither complicated nor obscure. We in the confessional Lutheran Church have been scared off by the Reformed from even uttering the word “decision.” We seem to imagine that since we cannot “make our decision for Christ,” that means that we cannot make any decisions at all. The fact is there are decisions to be made—important decisions—every day, every moment of our lives on earth. Not the decision of whether or not to come to faith, but decisions on how I will now live as a child of God.
Do you want to experience how simple and uncomplicated our decisions can be in this life? Do this one thing: Each time that you are faced with a decision imagine that your life on earth has ended and propel yourself forward in time to the end of time. Hear the Holy Judge pronounce you “not guilty” as you stand before His throne of grace—“not guilty” because another (Jesus Christ) has been punished in your stead. Now, from that perspective (and with the reality of that day vivid in your mind) make the decision here in time that you, in eternity, will wish you had made. Then most certainly you wouldn’t be dreaming of genie wishes and money. You wouldn’t even consider moving away from church and fellowship for something like more temporal wealth. You would never dream of spending a hundred hours with your eyes glued to the television for every one hour glued to the Word of God; never hesitate to speak God’s Word of Law and Gospel to that soul in need; never hesitate to trade all earthly wealth and honor for the sake of even one single human soul. Then, most importantly, you and I would never underestimate that awesome power of God in that simple message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
I pray that each of us might be filled with such wisdom, such vision, and such dedication to our Lord Jesus Christ and to His will for our lives. We have tremendous power at our disposal. Learn to recognize and wield that awesome power of God in our own lives first, and then also in the lives of our neighbor. For Jesus sake, let it be so. Amen.
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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.