Septuagesima Sunday February 8, 1998
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
9, 390, 485, 477
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. So far the Word.
In Christ Jesus, our Foundation and our Chief Cornerstone, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
There’s a certain television evangelist that I used to tune in to every now and then. It was kind of interesting to watch his program. He had a huge, very beautiful church in California. There were lush, green plants all over, and a big artificial waterfall cascading into a lovely fountain. Every Sunday, he had a audience of thousands. The preacher was a handsome man in his beautiful gown, and it was obvious that he knew every rule of effective public speaking. It seemed to me, though, that his preaching lacked a certain power. It took me a while to figure out where the problem lay, and then it was obvious: he seldom mentioned Christ, and when he did, he didn’t say very much.
On the other hand, I know of a poor, traveling preacher who was forced to stop in a certain place when he was struck with an illness. While he was laid up, he thought he may as well have a go at preaching to the people there. His preaching was hampered by the fact that he was obviously unwell. Even so, his sermons were so powerful that a thriving Christian congregation was immediately established in that area. The place was Galatia; the preacher was the Apostle Paul! He later wrote to them, in his letter to the Galatians, “You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.” Gal 4:13-14.
What’s the difference between these two preachers? One seems to have everything going his way, and yet he’s strangely ineffective. The other seems to have the cards stacked against him, and yet his preaching brings immediate and dramatic results. The answer lies in our text for today. In it, Paul tells us what kind of preaching always gets results, and how you can determine whether the message you hear is a message that will bring powerful results in your life. Our theme is:
It’s a fact that church people are prone to pass judgment on preachers—their own, as well as other people’s. In fact, I’ve heard some of you make remarks like, “Such-and-such is a pretty good preacher, but not as good as So-and-so…” or, “We had a pastor once, Rev. What’s-his-name; now he was what I call an powerful preacher!” And you may well be right, for all I know. It all depends on what your criteria are.
Just what does make a powerful preacher? Perhaps it’s easier to say what doesn’t make one: our text makes it clear that certain factors have nothing to do with it. Paul says, And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
Paul was not a particularly brilliant speaker. He had no Ph.D. in communication arts. At a time when the Greek art of rhetoric was at its highest flower, Paul said what he had to say in blunt, straightforward terms. So if there was something in his preaching to the Corinthians that was forceful, it certainly wasn’t that he had a clever, polished style of speech. Just the opposite! He says, I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom…
And yet, Paul was undeniably an effective preacher. His preaching helped establish dozens of Christian churches. He carried the Gospel to the furthest regions of the then-known world! So where was the power in Paul’s preaching? It lay in one all-important factor: he says, For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. CHRIST CRUCIFIED is the power behind every effective preacher!
By “effective”, I mean a preacher who gets the results that God intends His Word to have—namely, the salvation of souls. And the message of CHRIST CRUCIFIED is the only message that can effect those results. Peter says flat out, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Ac 4:12.
CHRIST is the power behind every effective preacher. But why, then, are there so many ineffective preachers who speak of Christ all the time? Because there are, you know! -There are preachers who mention Jesus’ name every other sentence: they tell you how much Jesus loves you, how Jesus shows you the true meaning of compassion, and how Jesus set a fine example for you to follow in your life. But Paul adds an important point about how Christ should be preached: I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ—and Him crucified!
Paul showed his listeners their Savior on the cross. And when you see Jesus on the cross, then you know the truth. Then you know what the real consequences of sin are. You can see the punishment your sins deserved, in the rude spikes that were driven through Jesus’ hands, and the blood that flowed from His wounded side. In His justice, God could not ignore your sin. But in His mercy, God chose to punish His innocent Son in your place. The next time you’re tempted to take sin lightly, or think that the sins you have committed, well, really aren’t all that important—look again to the horrible scene of Jesus on the cross. CHRIST CRUCIFIED is the grim proof that it’s not so!
No preacher who wants to be truly effective can neglect to apply God’s Law to the sin of his hearers. As soon as He preaches CHRIST—AND HIM CRUCIFIED, their sin and all it’s consequences is exposed. But this same message not only reveals our sin, it also reveals God’s marvelous plan to deliver us from sin. CHRIST CRUCIFIED is the power on which the faith of the hearers may safely rest!
Two famous surgeons were once discussing a particularly difficult surgical operation which only they, and a few others, were qualified to do. The first one had performed the procedure 16 times, and had been able to save the lives 13 of his patients. The second one proudly stated that he had performed the same surgery over 150 times. “And how many of them did you save?” asked the first surgeon. “Oh, none of the patients lived,” he replied, “but the operations were beautifully done!”
Which of those surgeons would you entrust your life to? The most eloquent preaching is no good if it doesn’t save souls! The most beautiful church, the most handsome pastor and the most interesting sermons won’t do you a bit of good, if the sermons you hear don’t show you the only thing that can save your eternal life: CHRIST—AND HIM CRUCIFIED.
Paul admits his own shortcomings as a preacher, and as a person, over and over again. He doesn’t put himself on a pedestal and lord it over his people; rather he identifies with their sinfulness and their need for a Savior. But Paul makes no apologies for the message he comes to preach. In our sermon text from a couple of weeks ago, Paul said to the Romans: “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.” Rom 1:16.
Throughout his New Testament Epistles, Paul says it again and again—“Don’t look at me, because I’m just a sinful human being like you are. Don’t put your faith in me—put your faith in Christ!” Paul himself was not a powerful man, but the Good News about Jesus that he came to preach was powerful beyond anything his listeners had ever heard before. That’s why he says, My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
For us, too, the power remains, not in the preacher, but in the message preached. If you were to base your hope of salvation on me, or any other human being, you would inevitably be bitterly disappointed. No, you can’t rely on me, I’m sad to say—I’m just a sinful mortal like you. But you can rely absolutely on the message that I’m here to proclaim to you: the message of CHRIST, AND HIM CRUCIFIED.
When Jesus died on the cross, He signed on the dotted line and accepted the responsibility for every sin you’ve ever committed, or ever will commit. He has offered to you His perfectly righteous life for you to call your own. God’s fiery wrath over sin—including your sin!—has been reconciled once and for all by the death of His Son. You don’t have to do anything for it, you don’t have to wait to be “worthy” of it, there isn’t a single condition that you have to meet. Just bring your sins to Jesus, and complete forgiveness is yours right now. You are a member of God’s kingdom right now, and your eternal salvation is guaranteed!
This salvation is an accomplished fact, and you don’t have to take my word for it—it’s all there in the Holy Scripture in black and white. That’s why the preaching that comes from this pulpit will always be based solidly on the Word of God, so that your pastor can say with Paul, My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. You needn’t go home from church today wondering whether the message you heard was true; the message we preach—CHRIST CRUCIFIED—is a message of salvation that comes straight from Almighty God. It’s a powerful message, and one on which your faith may safely rest!
There was once a kindly old pastor in a country parish. He worked hard to make his sermons interesting, but there always seemed to be something missing. Finally one Sunday, he entered his pulpit and found a slip of paper which one of his parishioners had obviously left for him. On the paper was written a Bible quotation of five simple words: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” He was hurt at first, but the more he thought about it, the more obvious it became exactly what it was that had been missing from his sermons. So he determined that each of his sermons from then on would treat one theme: Christ crucified for sinners. The highest reward he could have hoped for came several months later, when he found another slip of paper on his pulpit. It was another simple Bible quotation, but this one read, “Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.” 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.