The Sixth Sunday of Epiphany February 11, 2007
1 Corinthians 1:21-31
227, 342, 375 (1-4), 375(5)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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.”
Fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus, who is our wisdom:
It was almost a year ago that the most recent Winter Olympic games were held in Turin, Italy. The Olympic ideal is fairly high: nation meeting nation, champion against champion—a showcase of honor and talent, sportsmanship and endurance.
But success was a little evasive for the USA last year. It seemed there were more ironies than victories: Michelle Kwan was too long in the cold during the opening ceremonies which contributed to muscle problems that finally caused her to go home without competing. Highly rated skier Bode Miller, suddenly couldn’t seem to find his way down the hill standing up. The USA hockey team which defeated Finland in “the Miracle on Ice” in 1980, on the anniversary of that very same day, lost to Finland and went home a miserable 1 for 6.
As there are in sports, there are ironies in life when the underdog wins and the best and brightest find themselves on the outside looking in. But the greatest and most important irony is found in the Kingdom of God, where the “last are first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).
In our worship year, we’re about to begin Lent. Lent is that sobering season when we consider a profound and terrible contest—the contest of Satan vs. the Son of God. We are going to explore the sufferings of our Lord Christ and, more importantly, consider the meaning and effect of His work. With the spiritual journey that lies before us in the coming weeks, these words of Paul are most appropriate: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; the weakness of God is stronger than men!” [v.25] As we begin to approach the season of Lent, it is time that we Prepare to be amazed by the foolishness of God. I. This foolishness confounds the wisdom of man, and II. This foolishness resounds to the glory of God.
“The foolishness of God” that Paul is talking about is the Gospel—the message that we are saved from sin, death, and the Devil through the merits of Jesus Christ. This foolishness confounds the wisdom of men.
In the first line of our text, Paul says “for since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God…” [v.21] What does he mean by that? Well, he’s talking about two kinds of wisdom: God’s wisdom which is flawless, and human wisdom which is limited and corrupted by sin in our hearts. It is the reality of the limitations of human wisdom that sinners cannot solve the sin problem or be able to save themselves.
God has blessed us immensely through the intelligence and talent He puts into us. He wants us to use this wisdom for the improvement of life here. Think of all we’ve been able to do and accomplish, technologically, medically, and socially for the benefit of man. And yet, cursed by sin, human wisdom is just as often used to do evil.
A knowledge of God is possible through human reason. How can we not study this created world and fail to recognize the hand of an eternal and powerful God behind it? How can we go through a day as moral human beings and ignore the proddings of our conscience when we do wrong? That conscience is there to remind us all that we have to answer to the God by whom we came into being.
But for theology and wisdom that leads to salvation, the human intellect is a dead end. Or, more often, a maze leading to nowhere. Through wisdom the world did not know God. Of the hundreds of religions and thousands of books that have been written speculating about God, or prescribing a way to find Him—or worse yet, proposing that it is better to dabble in other supernatural realms—none can give you access to God.
Paul says, rather, that “it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” [v.21] God has prepared a way for man to come to know God and be saved from God’s holy wrath. It is infallible and free to mankind, but offends both Jew and Gentile. Salvation is received through faith, but it is a faith that rejects some things most precious to our human will. To begin with, it requires that we renounce all that God labels as sin and to fear His just wrath. It also requires that we abandon all control over our own destiny and accept the fact that God has accomplished all that is necessary to reconcile us to Himself. Most of all, it required that God send His own Son in the flesh, to suffer, to die in innocence, and to rise again victorious over the grave.
Such a salvation offends the Jew (and those with a Jewish spirit) who think that by following some sort of code of ethics or law we can nullify God’s judgment and satisfy His demands. To this day, the religion of Judaism rejects Jesus’ righteousness and grace in favor of its own observance of the Law. It rejects the idea that one who died such a weak or shameful death such as the crucifixion could ever be their promised Lord and King. It doesn’t matter to them that Jesus fulfilled the Law for them. Paul later tells the Corinthians that “whenever they hear the Law, a veil covers their heart” (2 Corinthians 3:15).
Paul had traveled far and wide preaching the Gospel of Christ and this involved some contact with the Greeks and those were minded like them—the intellectuals and philosophers. These were people who, for the most part, were looking for God and trying to reach a better understanding of the universe. But while they claimed to be looking for truth, they were really just groping around in darkness and rehashing the same old questions. We’re told, for instance, when Paul visited Athens that “all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). But despite their noble intentions or curiosity, when they came up against something that shook their understanding of the universe, or challenged their pet ideas, they would regard it as foolishness. When Paul spoke of a bodily resurrection and the fact that God will judge the earth through Jesus Christ, they politely sent Paul on his way without acceptance. It was, to them, foolishness.
So, to the Jews, and all other self-righteous people, the Gospel is an offense. To the lofty intellectual and philosopher, the Gospel is foolishness because it gives no credit to man. But, Paul says, to those who believe, the Gospel is the wisdom and power of God. This foolishness resounds with the glory of God.
What is the visible result of the Gospel? A lot of arguments have been made about how the Christian Gospel changed the earth, how it transforms people and cultures wherever it takes hold. For example, dramatic change took place in southern Europe during the first few centuries and again in northern Europe during the Reformation era. But despite its power to change the world, don’t think you will find the Gospel greatly active in the power centers of the world: governments and universities, Wall Street, or Hollywood. “You see your calling brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” [v.26]
The Gospel takes root in the hearts of people whom God calls and in whom He works faith. So take a look around and see who the believers are? Go one step further, look at Christianity today and consider who it is that seeks out a solidly Lutheran confession of the Bible? There are the bright and talented and successful among us, but not such as is going to make the newspapers and universities celebrate our existence.
“God has chosen the foolish things of the world…the weak things of the world…the base things of the world…the things that are not!” [vv.27f] Why would He do that? Why would God select humble and common people for His kingdom and pass by the 32nd degree Mason, or the movie star, or the senator on a powerful committee? Couldn’t He accomplish more with the brightest and best of our society? Remember, He accomplished all that needed to be done through His own Son. His way of salvation through divine grace—through the gift of righteousness laid on those who could never provide it on their own—this was His way and it resounds to His glory and honor. It causes people like us, who realize we could never have done anything to attract His favor, to marvel at God’s kindness. It causes us to praise His love. It gives us a sound basis on which to live in trust, letting God be what He is and being pleased to live out our purpose to Him.
The Gospel message—save by faith in a crucified and risen Jesus—will always shut down human pretension and arrogance. Only those who cling to the cross of Christ for their righteousness and salvation truly give glory to God. Only those who are called by the Spirit through the Gospel message and who find their truth in the Word of God speak with a truly united voice. And yet, this glory and voice resound through the earth with the praise of God.
When we begin to survey the sufferings of Jesus Christ in the upcoming Lenten season, let us prepare to be amazed at the “foolishness of a God” who would give His Son into the world to be the Savior of mankind. 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.