Ninth Sunday after Trinity August 1, 1999
1 Corinthians 1:20-25
5, 390, 175, 376
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which 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. These are the Words.
In the Name of Christ, Who is for us Wisdom and Light, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
What’s your I.Q.? Do you know? Have you ever had your I.Q. tested? You probably know that the abbreviation “I.Q.” stands for “intelligence quotient,” and they have tests to determine it. People sometimes have themselves tested out of curiosity, so they can find out how intelligent they are as compared to the average person. Parents often get their kids tested, in order to help them plan for their schooling—decide whether they should be in advanced reading classes, etc. My parents had me tested when I was a kid, but they never did tell me what the results were. They said that if it was high I’d only brag about it and if it was low I’d have some kind of complex. They told me I didn’t need to know.
—And I think that’s probably right—don’t you agree? It’s not really necessary for you to know what your I.Q. is, and It might even be harmful. But today, I’m going to ask you to test yourself for a different kind of knowledge. In our text for this morning, the Apostle Paul says this is the one kind of knowledge you absolutely must have. With this knowledge, there are no degrees of learning. Either you have it or you don’t. So without further ado, I’ll put to you the question that forms the theme of our sermon this morning:
There’s an old saying: “Knowledge is power.” And in a way, it’s true. High school graduates know that their diploma may well mean the difference between getting hired and not getting hired. A college graduate realizes that his degree may mean the difference between a $20,000 salary and a $50,000 salary. Generally speaking, the more of this world’s knowledge you can gather, the better off you’ll be. But there’s a limit to what the education you gained in high school and college can do for you. It may offer worldly benefits, but in itself it offers no eternal benefits. In fact, today’s text proves that if you don’t know Christ crucified, all your other knowledge is useless!
Paul is comparing two things in this text—the wisdom of the world, and the wisdom of God. So, he says, let’s be fair about it. Let’s bring out the very best representatives of the world’s wisdom: Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? Where are the PhD’s and the college professors? Paul says. Get them up here, and let’s see how their wisdom really stacks up! Paul asks, hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? And if you think about it, the obvious answer is: Yes, of course He has!
You college students, for example—at times you may find yourselves somewhat intimidated by your college professors, am I right? They are experts in their fields, and they may seem to you to be the wisest, most intelligent people in the world! I know I felt that way when I was at the public university. And these instructors with all the PhD’s after their names—many of them openly scoff at the Christian faith. Or else the moment they discover you’re a Christian they start to patronize you, as if you were mentally retarded or something. Well, let’s just remember what Paul says in our text for this morning: God has made foolish the wisdom of this world.
Those unbelieving scholars are not the smartest people in the world. You want to know who’s smarter than they are? I’ll tell you. In fact, I’ll show you. I can take the youngest preschooler here today who believes that Jesus is her Savior, and that little child has more wisdom than all the unbelieving PhD’s in the world. Jesus said the same thing: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.” —Mat 11:25-26.
And when I say “knowledge” here, I’m talking about real knowledge. The kind of knowledge that’s good for something. Did you ever wonder why there are no famous trivia experts? Think about it. You see these amazing people on Jeopardy, e.g., who can answer any question; they’re like walking encyclopedias. But after they leave the show, you never hear their name again. That’s because all that knowledge they have is essentially useless. It’s just trivia. Well in the real world—the world that ends not at the grave but in eternity—everything is trivia compared to the Gospel. The Gospel is the one kind of knowledge that can get you into heaven. If you don’t know Christ crucified, it doesn’t matter what else you know. From the eternal point of view, every other kind of knowledge is useless.
Well, what about this Gospel? Do you have to have a high I.Q. to understand it? You know, God could have made the Gospel a graduate-level subject. He could have made His plan of salvation so complex and difficult to understand that only the most advanced scholars could attain it. In fact, there are some Bible “experts” in our day and age who would like you to think that’s the case! But that was never God’s plan. He made fools out of the “wise men” of this world, by offering a way of salvation that even little children could understand! As our text says, It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
Paul calls the message “foolishness,” because that’s what the non-Christians of his day considered it to be. “Christ crucified [is] to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.” The Jews thought they were righteous enough to get to heaven on their own. The very idea that they should be saved by believing in a Man who died on a cross was offensive to them. They refused to accept it. The Greeks, who loved complicated philosophical arguments, said that this was too simple. They scoffed at the cross, and the idea that Jesus’ blood could remove sin. And those Jews and Greeks are still around today. The “Jews” are the self-righteous, who insist they can earn their own way to heaven. And the “Greeks” are the scoffers, who say that only a fool could believe the kind of message taught in the Bible.
What was the message Paul preached? Very simple—it was the Gospel message. It was the same message that is proclaimed from this pulpit every Sunday morning: “We preach Christ crucified.”
The story is told of a Lutheran congregation who built a great stone church long ago. Over the front doors a motto was proudly engraved—a motto taken from this very same text: “We Preach Christ Crucified.” For a number of years they cherished the Word of God in its truth and purity. But as the decades passed and ivy covered the walls of the church, error began to creep in. The people who should have been watching out for it weren’t, and those who did notice decided not to make too big a deal out of it. Soon the advancing ivy covered up the last word of the motto, and it read, “We Preach Christ.” Finally, the congregation got to the point where they would put up with just about any false doctrine for the sake of unity. By then the motto over the door read simply, “We Preach.”
In the Church of the Lutheran Confession, we don’t just “preach.” You can go into any of the so-called mainstream denomination churches and hear them preach. They’ll preach about current events, they’ll preach about social justice, civil rights, and the brotherhood of man. They may as well preach about the weather —for all the good it’s going to do their parishioners on Judgment Day!
We don’t even just “preach Christ.” Because many churches do preach Christ, but in the wrong way. They portray him as an ideal man, an inspiring example and a noble martyr. But that’s like taking the husk of the wheat and leaving behind the kernel —they’re missing the most important part of the Gospel. This is a trap, by the way, that the people in Galatia fell into. Paul wrote to them, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” —Gal 3:1.
No, here at Ascension Lutheran Church we preach Christ crucified! We gather together every Sunday, not merely to socialize. Not to pat each other on the back and look down our noses at other people. We come here as sinners in search of a Savior. We come here to remind each other that it was for us that Jesus’ was mocked and spit upon and beaten in the halls of Pontius Pilate. It was for me —and for you —and for the person across the aisle from you —that Jesus’ hands and feet were pierced with nails. With every hymn you and I sing together, every prayer we pray together, every Scripture lesson we read together —we’re focusing our attention on “Christ crucified.” That’s the theme of every sermon you’ll hear from this pulpit, just as it was the Apostle Paul’s only theme. When it came to preaching material, the Apostle had a one-track mind. As he told the Corinthians, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” —1 Cor 2:2. In all these ways, we’re strengthening each other in that knowledge—that one particular kind of knowledge that we’ve absolutely GOT to have —the knowledge of the Gospel.
So I ask you: what’s your Gospel I.Q.? Have you got that one kind knowledge you need the most? If you do, then you’ve got it made. Because if you DO know Christ crucified, He will be to you the very power and wisdom of God! Paul says, We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which 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.
The message of the cross is powerful. It’s much more powerful than anything man’s wisdom has to offer. Because no matter how advanced the science and technology and academics of this world become, there’s one thing they’ll never be able to do for you —and that’s save your soul eternally. Only the “foolish” Gospel of Jesus Christ can do that! As a Christian, you know this is true. You’ve felt the power of the Holy Spirit strengthening your faith as you read or listen to God’s Word. You’ve felt the burden of your sins lifted from your shoulders as your gentle Savior says to you, “I have also put away your sins. You shall not die.” You’ve known the peace of a quiet conscience after confessing your sins and receiving the Lord’s forgiveness. What price will you put on knowing that your sins are forgiven and that heaven is yours?
Yes, this Gospel message is powerful, and it is precious. It’s stronger than man’s strength, and it’s wiser than man’s wisdom. And this Good News is for YOU! Everything needed for you to be saved has already been done long ago by your Savior Jesus. As a sinner, your first reaction when you hear this Good News is skepticism. “That can’t mean me,” you think. “Others, perhaps —but not me. I’m just not worthy.” And it’s true you’re not worthy of God’s love. Neither am I—far from it. And yet in Christ God has loved us, and He has saved us; yes, unworthy sinners like me and you! Why? Because this is the way it pleased God to do it! The Bible says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” —Rom 5:8. When doubts begin to creep in on you, remember the comforting words of your Good Shepherd, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” —Luke 12:32.
We preach Christ crucified. For some it may seem like foolishness. For us who believe it is the very wisdom and power of God. God grant that we may eagerly hear this preaching, and gladly believe it to everlasting life. When it comes to the Gospel —God grant to each of us a high I.Q.! 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.