The Third Sunday in Lent March 11, 2007
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
358, 150, 164, 155
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 Christ Jesus, the proof of salvation, dear fellow-redeemed:
C.F.W. Walther, a leader in the early days of the Lutheran church in the United States, wrote:
One should think that after their fall into sin and unutterable misery all men would with great joy accept the doctrine of Holy Scripture that a person is made righteous and saved by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ…because it is just the religion which poor sinners like them need.”
[Law and Gospel p. 370]
It is just the opposite. Instead of gratefully believing this precious truth, it is doubted and challenged and some kind of proof is demanded.
As we go forward in our God-given mission to make disciples of all nations, we might well hear the response, “Give me some proof!” We ourselves also need assurance at times that what we believe is true. Paul points in one direction for proof: THE PROOF IS IN CHRIST CRUCIFIED The proof in Christ Crucified is in two things: I. The Power of God and II. The Wisdom of God.
The first demand for proof which Paul answers comes from the Jews. “For Jews request a sign…” [v.22] When Jesus hung on the cross, the Jewish leaders and those passing by wanted Jesus to prove that He was the Son of God by coming down from the cross. “If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him” (Matthew 27:42).
All the way through Jesus’ ministry, the majority of the Jews doubted what He said and who He claimed to be. There wasn’t anything visibly special about Jesus and yet He claimed to be something special—they wanted proof. Jesus actually gave countless proofs of who He was. Each miracle He performed was a sign and a proof that He is God. After Jesus’ first miracle, John writes, “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory” (John 2:11). Each new miracle which Jesus did was further proof that He was who He said He was. Even with all the signs and wonders which Jesus did, the people wanted more. It was as if the miracles meant nothing and they were saying, “show us a real sign so we can believe.”
One day, the Scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign. First, Jesus rebuked them for their unbelief and then He gave them a sign. He answered, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:38-41).
The Old Testament prophet, Jonah, preached a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh. The people listened and did repent. Jesus, who is greater than Jonah, was not being heard by the Jews. Nevertheless, Jesus gave them a sign—His resurrection. Just as Jonah was spit out by the fish on the third day, so too Jesus would rise out of the grave on the third day.
Jesus’ death would not be an ordinary death because it would be the death of the Son of God to pay the price of sin. This death would not end in the ordinary way. Jesus’ body would not decay and on the third day He would rise back to life. The resurrection is the biggest and most convincing sign of all. The resurrection is proof that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice and raised Him to life. If God accepted Christ’s sacrifice for sins we therefore have forgiveness of sins. The resurrection of Jesus proves that He conquered death and is our Savior from it.
Jesus gave the Jews the sign of the resurrection. When that sign of proof was fulfilled, they rejected it and disregarded it just like they had done with all the signs before it. On Easter morning, the soldiers who had been guarding Jesus’ tomb reported what happened at the tomb. The soldiers were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. They had seen the sign of proof. The elders of the Jews bribed the soldiers with large sums of money to keep it all quiet. The sign of proof which the Jews wanted was given, but they covered it up saying, “Tell them, His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept” (Matthew 28:13).
“The Jews request a sign…but we preach Christ Crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block.” [v.22,23] The entire life and ministry of Jesus is a sign. The Jews were looking for fulfillment to the promises made by God in the Old Testament. Jesus fulfilled those promises to the letter. What further proof is needed? All of the miracles which Jesus performed demonstrate that He is true God. These miracles were followed by the greatest demonstration of power in His resurrection. The signs and the proof are right there in Christ where all can see, but He becomes a stumbling block.
Those blinded by unbelief and guided by sinful nature cry out, “Give me proof!” and they stumble over the very thing that offers the proof. The chief priests and scribes knew the things Jesus had done but blinded by their own unbelief and hatred and sinfulness, those signs simply angered them all the more. The problem is not in the proof or the lack thereof. The problem is in sinfulness which out of hatred for God and love for sin and self refuses to see and hear the plain truth. Jesus said that unbelievers fulfill a prophesy in Isaiah, “Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed” (Matthew 13:14,15).
“But to those who are called…Christ the power of God.” [v.24] Everything about Christ which is a stumbling block for the unbeliever, is a sign and proof of Christ’s power for those who have been graciously called to faith by the Holy Spirit. All of us are naturally blind to the proof of Christ and would stumble over Him. But as Martin Luther said, “The Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts” (Small Catechism, Third Article). The Holy Ghost has brought you to faith and has turned on the light of God’s Word so that you can see these things for what they really are. For us the miracles give glimpses into the power of God. For us the resurrection is our assurance that Christ’s sacrifice for our sins was accepted by God, that we are forgiven, and that we too will rise from the dead to live forever. We have the proof and by God’s grace and the working of the Holy Spirit we believe it.
Temptations can come that make us look for signs in order to prove our faith. It is not uncommon to fall into the idea of thinking that if a special sign would just be found then we could prove to others that the Bible is true and they would believe and be saved. For example, “If we could for sure find Noah’s ark that would be the sign we need. Then people will believe what we preach and teach!” No they won’t. An explanation would be found to disregard that sign just as the wonders of creation are denied and God is not given credit. Or, “If God would just let believers perform miracles today like He did in the Old Testament and the early New Testament then we could do some real convincing!” No we couldn’t. Jesus Himself did many miracles and the people did not believe. How about, “If God would just thunder down in a voice and tell the world what He wants, then the world would believe!” No they wouldn’t. God has given His Word and clearly tells everyone what He wants and what He has done for them, and the world does not hear.
In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man wanted Abraham to send Lazarus from heaven to his brothers on earth so that they could repent and escape the misery of Hell. The rich man reasoned that his brothers would believe someone who came back from the dead. Abraham answered, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets (the Scriptures), neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
Christ crucified is revealed in the Scriptures. The Power of God is visible in Jesus Christ and all that He is and what He has done. The signs and wonders, the preaching and teaching are all recorded in God’s Word. Everything that is necessary is there. Nothing more is needed. Those who reject it close their eyes and stumble in unbelief. The proof of everything we believe is in the power of God and that is found in Christ crucified.
A second demand for proof came to Paul from the Greeks. “Greeks seek after wisdom.” [v.22]. The Ancient Greek world remains in history a notable society and culture of high learning, philosophy, and art. Learning and knowledge developed at that time has been passed down and continues to be used today. Paul took the message of Christ crucified into this world of knowledge and learning.
Everything about Jesus contradicts human logic and reason. Humanly speaking, the need for a Savior is illogical and the work of Jesus makes no sense. Logically speaking, if we have somehow sinned and angered a just God, it is reasonable to conclude that since we got ourselves into the mess we can get ourselves out, or at least help in the process. God’s wisdom and truth says that we have sinned and in no way can rescue or help ourselves. God tells us that He is the one who brings us to faith and through that faith brings us the blessings won for us by Christ. God’s wisdom is foolishness according to human reason and logic.
When Paul preached in Athens, the people listened and were interested until he mentioned the resurrection from the dead. A resurrection from death to life was more than their logical minds could bear so they told Paul that they had heard enough.
Other truths from God’s Word appear foolish and full of nonsense when logic is applied. That Jesus was true God and true man at the same time makes no sense. There is no logic in a God who is three in one. There is no logic in believing that more than bread and wine is being received in the Lord’s Supper. The wisdom of God says Christ’s body and blood are being received with the bread and wine. Logic tells us that Baptism is nothing more than just water and a ceremonial dedication to God. God’s wisdom tells us that it is a precious gift from God and a washing of regeneration in which forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation is received.
All of this is foolishness to human minds and reasoning and Paul explains why: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
When reason and human logic is applied to the truths of Scripture, one by one those truths which we hold dear will fall and be discounted as foolishness. One by one, reason takes each truth of Scripture and makes it fit into human wisdom. It takes God and makes Him into a man bound by man’s limitations because logically that is the way things must be. Human reason mutilates God’s wisdom in order to fit it into our logic. God’s wisdom isn’t foolishness. Foolishness is trying to make God fit into our way of thinking. “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man” (Romans 1:22-23).
The proof is not to be found in our brains. The proof is in God’s wisdom as it is found in Christ Crucified. What is true wisdom? Is it what comes from the mind of a creature corrupted by sin or is it what comes from the Creator who is holy, all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present, and eternal?
To preach and teach about a man who hung on the cross is foolishness to the world and of that there is no doubt. Just consider how often Christ is belittled and ignored. These things would all remain foolishness for us as well if not for the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding through the Gospel. Through the eyes of faith we see more than a man executed by the Romans. The wisdom of God which is heard in His Word, teaches us that the man is Jesus, the Son of God. True wisdom teaches us that Jesus took the sins of all people upon Himself and died on the cross for them.
At times our reason and logic is going to rise up and challenge what we learn in God’s Word. We need to push our reason aside and go back to the wisdom of God. Once doubts and questions arise in our minds, the Devil has already won that battle. He will work all the more to strengthen those doubts and increase our trust in logic and reason. Returning again and again to learn from the wisdom of God in Christ Crucified is the only way to keep our human reason in its proper place.
Paul says that Christ is the power and wisdom of God to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks. Jews looked for a sign, and all believers find the cross to be the mightiest sign of all. Greeks looked for wisdom, and all believers find in the cross the deepest wisdom. The proof is there on the cross—there in Christ crucified. 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.