Lent 3–“Folly and Wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

11 Mar

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistles, which was read earlier.

Are you a smart person? Do you possess lots of wisdom? Before you are too quick to answer, listen again to St. Paul’s words: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” The wisdom of the world is not the glorious treasure that some believe it to be. All we need to do is look at the Greeks of old. Their wisdom would lead them to hell. They were “perishing” in their wisdom. They were so sure they knew what God was like and how to deal with Him. They were so confident that they had the answers to the problems of sin and guilt that they automatically rejected what God had to say about their salvation through the cross of Christ. To them, in their wisdom, salvation through the cross of Christ was “foolishness.” It was the silliest thing they had ever heard. And they were perishing because they thought the cross of Christ was foolishness.

Unfortunately, times have not changed that much. The cross is still folly today for many. For those who view the cross this way, the cross becomes a sign of offense rather than a sign of salvation. After all, the cross is often viewed as just another means of salvation among many. When it comes to salvation, today we’re told that salvation can be found in Jesus, in ourselves, in our works, in another person or another thing, in a series of steps, or by any number of other ways. However, true salvation lies only in Jesus Christ and what was accomplished for us on the cross. That is what Paul says: “But to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” By knowing and believing that the cross of Christ is true wisdom, we are saved.

When we look at what St. Paul writes, we see one thing at the heart of this text: bragging. The people of the day were bragging about their wisdom and what that meant for them. Their salvation was based on their wisdom and what they knew or thought that they knew. Paul knew his audience as he penned these thoughts in today’s text. The inhabitants of Corinth, a notorious ancient city, were worldly-wise and thought of themselves as being sophisticated, at least by the standards of their times. For the Greek philosopher, wisdom was one of life’s most coveted goals and was diligently pursued. But Paul wished to show how vain and shallow such wisdom could be.

Perhaps nowhere do we see the surprising and table-turning values of God more graphically displayed than at the cross. For Jew and Greek alike, the cross was a scandalous offense. It was a sign of torture, a sign of persecution. How could anyone take seriously a God who would send His Son not only to die but to die such a demeaning and despicable death? As Paul accurately notes, such talk of the cross is folly to those who seek signs and wisdom. But to those who are being saved, it is the power of God unto salvation.

Yet, not everyone has heard the preaching of the cross, and not everyone who has heard the preaching of the cross has believed it. This is why the cross is offensive. The cross is offensive because the Gospel is offensive. More literally, the preaching of the cross is scandalous. It is a message that kills the unbeliever. We lift high the cross in our preaching and teaching. It is not merely the cross we lift high, but we lift high the message of the cross: we lift high the Gospel for all to hear. We proclaim the Gospel for all people to hear, that all people at all times and in all places would confess the Name of Jesus Christ into all eternity.

Even today, the cross is still a scandalous offense to many. It is scandalous because of who people think that Jesus is and what it is He has, or in some instances, not done. Some non-Christian faiths will say that Jesus was just a prophet, a mere man who led a good life, a good example for us to follow. Some Christian denominations will say that Jesus only accomplished salvation so much for you and that you need to do something to earn salvation the rest of the way. For the non-Christian, Jesus and Christianity are seen as just another self-help method, no different than what you could find in any other self-help book. They demand to be convinced by evidence that falls within the parameters of their own experience. For them, they set up themselves as the arbiters off truth. However, the truth is not found in the word of man, but in the Word of God.

That is why wisdom fails when it comes to God and His Word, or at least earthly wisdom. Man so desperately wants to have all questions about God and Scripture answered. Try as we might, no wisdom on this earth will be able to answer those questions. God has granted to us all that He would have us know. Having answers to all the unanswered questions of Scripture, while nice, is not necessary. What is necessary is knowing Christ alone as the means for salvation.

For Paul, there needed to be a great distinction between wisdom according to worldly standards and wisdom according to God’s standards. We take great pride in boasting about our earthly and worldly wisdom. We boast about our jobs, our families, and most of all, ourselves. As Christians in the Church, we do the same thing. We boast of having the best pastor, the best church, the best choir, the best theology; in short, the best everything that the church has to offer. We boast on how we are the best officer in the congregation, on our church attendance or how much we give to the church. We boast about ourselves and how good we are and what we have done, as if it means anything in the end.

Regardless of what we have done and how great we might be, there is nothing worthy of our boasting of ourselves. Listen to what Paul says: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” You see, there is nothing worthy of us to boast about. If there is anything worthy of boasting about, it is Jesus, for it is Jesus Christ, who by His life, death, and resurrection won for us salvation. We look to the cross, for there Jesus won for us the forgiveness of sins. Jesus paid the entire debt of your sins. Your slate has been wiped clean by the blood of Jesus. Your heavenly Father sees you through His only-begotten Son’s blood and declares you righteous for Jesus’ sake, for the very life He gave on the cross.

For some, the cross is folly and foolish. But for us, we are saved by the cross. There can be nothing more worthy than this. We preach Christ crucified because we can – because the Lord has given us the privilege of declaring His praises. We preach Christ – crucified because, even though it’s foolishness to the unbeliever, it is the power and wisdom of God for salvation to all those who believe. We preach Christ – crucified and risen for our salvation – because He was cursed by God in our place; because He died for our enslavement to sin; and because He suffered the cross for our crimes. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

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