1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Christ Crucified Is God’s Power and Wisdom
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness 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;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
There was a physics professor at a university in Australia by the name of Sir Kirr Grant. Sir Grant used to illustrate the time of descent of a free-falling body by allowing a heavy ball suspended from the lecture-theater roof trusses to fall some 30 feet and be caught in a bucket of sand.
Each year he did this he meticulously lined up the bucket of sand to catch the ball. Each year the students of his class secretly moved the bucket to one side so that the ball would fall and crash with this thunderously loud thud. Tiring of this rather stale joke, the professor traced a chalk line around the bucket. The students come in and they moved the bucket as they usually do. After they moved the bucket, they traced a chalk mark around the new position, rubbed it out and placed the bucket in its original spot.
“Aha!” the professor explained, seeing the faint outline of the erased chalk mark. He moved the bucket over it and released the ball … which thundered to the floor as usual. Don’t be deceived, things aren’t always as they appear.
In our first reading this morning, the prophet Amos bring this out very bluntly when he says of the people of Israel, “You who turn justice to wormwood” (5:7). Justice is something which is suppose to be a good thing. Those who have developed a good sense of justice tend to want the right sort of things, they want their ‘fair share’ of goods, they want what they deserve, and they want others to get their fair share of what they need to lead a good life. Justice is meant to be a good thing, it is something which is suppose to be sweet. But Amos says of Israel, “You who turn justice to wormwood.”
I want you to think of a time when you could smell home cooking from another room or when you first walk in through the door of the house. The aromas are drifting out of the kitchen. The scents of simmering garlic maybe, or the smell of herbs like Rosemary and Thyme. The smell is a promise of a warm, delicious meal prepared with love. You walk into the kitchen, grabbing a wooden spoon and sneak a taste. This is going to be great you think. Now imagine a powerful bitter flavor washing over you. A desperate, mouth-puckering, need-a-glass-of-water kind of bitter. That’s Wormwood. Smells delightful but tastes horribly bitter. Don’t be deceived … things aren’t always as they appear.
This is what Amos says Israel has done with justice. They have taken justice, something which is suppose to be sweet, something great and beautiful and they have turned it into something extremely bitter. Israel says they will take care of the poor and the widowed among them, they say that they will love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and might … but their actions are deceiving. Instead Amos says that they trample on the poor, they deprive the poor of justice, of fairness. As they take advantage of the poor, they build up for themselves these beautiful looking mansions and lush vineyards. The Israelites think nothing of their sinful actions. However God says, don’t be deceived, things aren’t always as they appear. God says to the Israelites, you see these great big mansions you have built up for yourselves, you see these lush vineyards you have grown up … because of your actions, because you have decided to follow your own ambitions and not my commands … you won’t get to live in them or drink the wine from them.
These sinful actions of the Israelites were followed up with consequences, just as the sinful things you and I do are also followed up with consequences. And the thing is, the consequences of the Israelite’s actions and our actions may not be immediate either. And because the consequences may not be immediate, we may think nothing about what it is that we are doing, we may think that we are doing nothing wrong. But if we take our actions, if we take our thoughts, if we take them and line them up with God’s Word, if we simply line them up with, say, the 10 Commandments … is what we are doing, is what we are thinking fall in line with them or are they contrary to them? If they are in line, then we’re great! … But I have a feeling, if you are anything like me … our thoughts, our words, our deeds … they are not always in line with God’s commands. And unfortunately James says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).
Because we are lawbreakers, we deserve the punishment which comes along with breaking God’s law. We deserve the guilt we feel when we realize that what we have done is wrong. We deserve the feeling of inadequacy when we try to measure ourselves up to others thinking, “I’m not as bad as that guy over there,” only to realize that yeah … I am as bad as that guy as we are both sinners. We also deserve the ultimate punishment of our sins which is simply death. But not just death in the physical sense that we will no longer be living but death in the sense that we are eternally separated from the presence of God. Because of our sins … that is what we get to look forward to someday.
Don’t be deceived though … things aren’t always as they appear. Things aren’t always as they appear because out of God’s infinite wisdom, the things which seem wise are made foolish and the things which seem foolish are made wise. The cross, an instrument of death and torture reserved for the most heinous of criminals is used by God to set sinners like you and me free from the punishments of our sins.
But this makes no sense! At least that is what Paul says in the second reading from 1 Corinthians. To the Jews, the cross is a stumbling block because the Messiah is suppose to come and reestablish the throne of King David. He was to come and throw out the Romans and set things right. The Messiah wasn’t suppose to be executed like a heinous criminal but reign on high. To the Greeks, the cross is foolishness. Even the remote idea that Almighty God, the Creator of all thing would become a human being is just foolishness! Why on earth would a god come down from his heavenly position to be like man? It was absurd for God to lower himself to be like us stinky mortal humans. Besides that, to be crucified and to die was a mark of defeat, not a mark of victory.
And for people today, the belief that the Savior of the world would die on a cross is foolishness. People today are no different than the people who Paul is writing to. Today, if people are even looking, they are looking to Jesus and expecting him to do some sort of miracle in their life. People are looking for Christ to end all wars, eliminate poverty, squash terrorism, banish suffering, and assure the civil rights of all. But that is not what Christ came to do.
And like the Greeks, people who don’t believe tend to look to God in foolishness. As Pastor Meyer mentioned last week, people tend to believe that there are many ways to eternal life. If you don’t like this particular path which God gives you in Jesus, well there are many other options you are free to choose from. Like the Greeks, it is foolishness to believe that life can be won through the death of a man on a cross. Instead the common belief is that you have to do something to earn forgiveness and the promise of a life in heaven.
But what does Paul say about you and me who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? Does he say that we are fools? No, he says “But to us who are being saved, the message of the cross is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Paul says that for those who are perishing, for those who don’t believe the message of the cross … they don’t look to the cross and see Christ for who he came to be. They are deceived as they see a man who was punished for challenging the authorities. But when we look at the cross, we don’t look at it looking for a criminal, we don’t look at it to see if the body of Jesus is still there. We look at the cross to see the blood stains which pay the price for the forgiveness of our sins. We look at the cross and see that behind it there is an empty tomb. A tomb which once laid there the body of Jesus. Don’t be deceived, for things are not as they appear for the same power of God which won for us our forgiveness on the cross has raised Jesus from the dead and given to you the promise of eternal life.
Paul says that “Jews demand miraculous sings and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:22-23a). We preach not Christ crucified in the past tense in that it is done and over with, but we preach Christ in the unique perfect tense found in the Greek. We preach that Christ was crucified and that he now is and will forever remain in a crucified state. Don’t be deceived, this does not mean that Jesus is still dead. It means that Jesus has taken on all your sin, he has taken on death and Satan himself and right now stands victorious with holes in his hands and feet to one day show you proof of his victory! Through his victory, through your faith in him … you will not be deceived but will see things clearly as they are as you will one day stand victorious and live in the promised eternal life to come with Jesus himself. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.