The 6th Sunday after Trinity—4 July 2021
1 Corinthians 1:18–25
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (ESV)
Introduction: All-Encompassing Principles
Everyone has an all-encompassing principle, a bottom line that determines their reality. I remember in university a student asking an atheistic professor what he thought happened at death. The professor said that death was the total annihilation of an organism, so that when he died, his existence, his very being, would be completed obliterated. Such is the teaching of Naturalism, a worldview that says that the universe is a closed system and that outside intervention, especially divine intervention, is impossible. According to this all-encompassing principle, you are born, you live, and then you are annihilated; at death, other than your decaying corpse, not a speck of you remains.
The all-encompassing principle of many today is to avoid pain at all cost and to enjoy as much pleasure as one can before dying. If you want to avoid the pain of raising kids, then just abort that unwanted pregnancy. If you are tired of being hurt and disappointed by your spouse, then just divorce. If you want to avoid the pain of dying or of taking care of elderly parents, then request medically-assisted suicide. The last thing we want to have or to be is a burden. And so we get rid of anyone, including ourselves, who causes us pain.
The world is full of all-encompassing principles that promise life but which do not deliver. In today’s Epistle, we find the one all-encompassing principle that comes through and delivers life in abundance. St. Paul proclaims the all-encompassing principle of Christianity: we preach Christ crucified.
Christ crucified encompasses our whole lives
The truth of Christ crucified encompasses every aspect of our lives. Do not think you can divide your life into sections that belong to Jesus and sections that belong to you. Rather, when you are baptized into Christ, all that you are and have belongs to Christ. Your health and possessions. Your family and friends. Your work and home life. Even your suffering. It all comes under the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ shapes how you love and serve others. The cross of Christ shapes how you spend your time and money. The cross of Christ shapes what kind of worker and neighbour you are. And the cross of Christ shapes how you handle life’s afflictions. The truth of Christ crucified touches every nook and cranny of your existence.
Which means that it does you absolutely no good to hide your sins from God or pretend they do not exist. Your whole life is exposed before God, so you cannot hide anything from Him. But as one who is baptized, you know that Christ encompassing all of your life is a blessing, in fact, the greatest blessing you could ever know. And so, until your dying day, you gladly confess your sins and trust God to forgive you for Jesus’ sake. That is why we gather each week in the Divine Service, because we know that here the crucified and risen Christ gives us Himself and His gifts of mercy and forgiveness, strengthening us to remain faithful our whole lives long.
In Luther’s day, it was customary for Lutheran pastors to hold a crucifix before a dying Christian. When dying, a Christian may be tempted to look to his or her accomplishments, trusting in good works for salvation rather than trusting in Christ’s righteousness. And conversely, a Christian may be tormented by the remembrance of past sins. So great could be the torment that the dying Christian might begin to doubt the gift of salvation given in baptism, thinking that his or her sins are greater than God’s mercy in Christ, and that consequently, God will cast him or her away into hell. But then the pastor comes and sets before the dying Christian the cross of Christ, to remind the Christian to place all hope and trust in the crucified Christ.
Do you see, then, what an all-encompassing principle this is, that we preach Christ crucified? Every day, the crucified Christ goes with you, calling you to confess your sins, blessing you with His forgiveness, keeping you in His love, and strengthening you to love others and to endure life’s trials until your last hour comes, when your Saviour will give you a blessed end, and graciously take you from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.
Christ crucified—the power of salvation for you!
Oh, what a blessing it is to preach Christ crucified! But to the world, the notion of Jesus dying for our sins on the cross is just plain dumb. To those outside the Church, the preaching of Jesus crucified is silliness and nonsense. St. Paul, however, says that such preaching is the power of God to those who are being saved. And, of course, those being saved include you and me.
The world refuses to see the power that flows from the cross of Christ. The world and those who perish with it think it is the greatest foolishness to think that a guy on a cross will take away your sins and give you eternal life.
But you know differently. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you confess that the One on the cross is Jesus, true God and true Man, the Saviour of the world. His death takes away your sins. His death makes you right with God. His death is the removal of all your sins—all the evil you do in the darkness of your heart and mind and all the evil you commit with your lips and your hands. All of your sins are gone, washed away by the blood of the Son of God shed on the cross. Christ crucified FOR YOU—that is the all-encompassing principle that keeps you and guides and strengthens you all throughout your life to the moment you breathe your last breath. Christ crucified FOR YOU—this—to the world—is a word of stumbling, a word of folly. But to you, this word of Christ crucified is the very power and wisdom of God to save you from your sins, to make you His for all eternity.
The great truth of Christianity is that God is FOR YOU! And just how is it that God is for you? He takes on human flesh! Then He hangs dead on the cross! Yes, that man Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, is God in the flesh FOR YOU and FOR YOUR SALVATION in His bloody, humiliating death on the cross!
The Father loves you as much as He loves His Son!
God has made foolish the wisdom of the world! How? By dying on the cross! Yes, that’s right, God died on the cross. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity—Jesus—the Word made flesh died on Good Friday. And there’s more. Remember how our Lord had said to the Jews: Destroy this temple [i.e. My Body] and I will raise it again in three days (John 2:19)! And so the God who died in our place rose from the dead three days later and now reigns in glory!
Do you see how far God goes to be God for you? He goes so deep that He gives Himself to you in the God/Man Jesus, who then goes deeper still into sin, death, and enduring the damnation of God’s eternal wrath against all sin and every sinner on the cross!
The cross is the power of God! For your salvation! God Jesus in the flesh—God Jesus with all your sin—God Jesus stone cold dead and buried! That man Jesus is God, God for you and for all sinners! The Power of God. The Wisdom of God! Dying for sinners! For the ungodly! Redeeming you from sin, death and damnation!
Because Jesus died for you on the cross, the Father loves you as much as He loves His Son. This is the basis of humanity’s deepest hope and joy. No truth is more profound than this. And so it bears repeating: Because Jesus died for you on the cross, the Father loves you as much as He loves His Son. This is the all-encompassing principle of your life in Christ, the principle that sustains you even as you journey through the dark valleys of this fallen world. In spite of your sorrows, failures, and sins, you can say with great boldness: “Because Jesus died for me on the cross, the Father loves me as much as He loves His Son”. Jesus took all your sin, all your death, and all your damnation in His Body! Believe it and rejoice! For Christ crucified is the power of God for you! The crucified Christ, which the world rejects, is the power of God for your salvation! Praise be to God! Amen.