Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Text: 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.
Things aren’t always what they seem to be. How many times didn’t we as children look at the prize that was offered on the cereal box and think that it was going to be the best toy ever? You saw an advertizement in the back of a comic book and sent away for the item, waiting in eager anticipation of receiving your treasure in the mail. You watch a commercial on TV and see this product
that can do so many things. What a disappointment it was when you actually received this wonderful thing. It ended up being a cheap piece of plastic that didn’t do any of the things that it said it would do. After doing this several times, it is easy to get jaded and expect that nothing is going to live up to the hype. This morning, the apostle holds before us something that really is everything that is advertized, in spite of how the world might view it. Borrowing the title of the hymn, we see that we have every reason to LIFT HIGH THE CROSS. 1. The Cross Exposes The Wise Foolishness Of The World. 2. The Cross Reveals The Foolish Wisdom Of God.
In this section of his letter, Paul highlights different reactions to the preaching about Jesus Christ, especially regarding his crucifixion. One reaction is that the message of the cross is considered to be foolishness. No person with a half an ounce of intelligence would ever believe this was true. The reason for this rejection is mentioned in verse 22, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom.”
The Jews had seen evidences of God’s miracles throughout their history. Some of the signs that God had shown to them were the release from captivity to the Egyptians and the subsequent supernatural care in the desert. Another sign was the wall falling down at Jericho. God rescued the people when various armies invaded their land. Even in Jesus’ day, they received signs, as he performed one miracle after another. Yet, even in the midst of all of these miracles, the Jews came to Jesus and asked him to give them a sign. Jesus finally gave them the ultimate sign as he rose from the dead. However, instead of flocking to him, they found ways to try and explain away what Jesus did. The problem that these Jews had was their stubborn and proud self-righteousness, which was offended at the idea of a crucified Christ. The message of Christ crucified became a “stumbling block” for them. They couldn’t accept the fact that they could not earn their way into heaven. The idea of Jesus doing everything for their salvation was more than they could handle. They resisted the Holy Spirit’s efforts to bring them to repentance and faith.
The other group that is mentioned as having difficulty with the message of Christ crucified is the Greeks. Paul notes “Greeks look for wisdom.” The Greeks were consumed by their love of worldly wisdom. We read in the book of Acts of a group of philosophers in Athens who did nothing all day but discuss and debate the latest ideas. The Greeks loved their philosophy into which they could sink their mental teeth. Because they held up their worldly wisdom, they looked for logical proof for everything. They wanted reasonable arguments that their intellect could accept. Now, they hear about this person “Jesus.” There were so many things about him that just didn’t make sense. In Greek mythology, the gods would, at times, come down to the earth in human form. However, when they came interacted with people, it was often for selfish reasons. This Jesus, who is the Son of God, came to the earth and took on human flesh and blood. His interaction with people was always for their benefit. Then, you get to the idea that Jesus was crucified and then came back to life. That was more than they could believe. After all, everyone knows that when you are dead, you are dead. Because none of the teachings about Jesus made logical sense to them, the Greeks looked at the message of Christ crucified as foolishness.
The same things can be seen today. People still look for signs when it comes to God. They say things like, ‘If you are really out there God, please help me.’ They will look at the condition of the world and make the assessment that there cannot be a God. How can a loving God allow so much suffering in the world? If there is a God, he must not be very powerful.
More pronounced is our culture’s love of wisdom and philosophy. It accepts the latest scientific discovery as being absolute truth. Never mind that previous scientific discoveries are done away with by this discovery. This one has to be true. True, that is, until another discovery changes it. Others fall in line with whatever the psychologists are saying this year. Look at how child-rearing advice has changed over the past years. Where at one time, stern discipline was recommended, we are not to discipline anymore, because that hurts their self-esteem. I even read a report that teachers are not to use red ink in correcting papers, because that might make the student feel bad about getting something wrong. Still others go looking for philosophers and gurus who will teach them how to have a more enlightened life. If you meditate in this way and use the proper crystals, you can get your life back in line. Society runs after signs and wisdom.
What does God have to say about these pursuits? We read in verse 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?” Where is all of the world’s wisdom? How worthless is man’s wisdom? Although the entire creation proclaims God’s wisdom, power, and divine nature, the world’s wisdom has utterly failed to come to a knowledge of God, a real understanding of whom he is and what he is like. Astronomers and astrophysicists, philosophers and gurus – all have failed to really know God through their own wisdom and intellect. All of the world’s wisdom and intellect has never saved a single person. It can never answer the basic question that so many people have: “What must I do to be saved?” The world will point in all sorts of directions. It will claim that it has all of the answers. Yet, in spite of all of its so-called wisdom, when it comes to things that are truly important, it is so much foolishness.
Compare and contrast that with what God has to offer. “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” The way that God operates is the exact opposite of the way that the world would expect God to act. The way that God acts appears to be weak to the world. Why would the almighty Son of God become an ordinary human being? As the world reads the events of Holy Week, it looks as though everything had gotten out of control. Instead of Jesus showing his power as the Son of God, he is spit upon, ridiculed, beaten, whipped, and finally crucified. That looks so weak to the eyes of the world.
However, when we look at it through the eyes of God, we see his almighty power at work. This was the only way that the world could be saved. If God had only shown his power, as the world understands power, we would have been lost forever. As a just and holy God, he had every right to condemn all of us because of our sins, our sins of thought, word and action; our sins of habit and sins of choice. Yet, God showed his almighty power in his atoning and saving love. When it appeared as though Jesus was at his weakest, he was at his strongest. It appeared as though death and the devil had triumphed over him at the cross. In reality, Jesus was showing his power as he paid for all of our sins. He showed his power when he rose from the dead. Because of his seeming weakness, we have righteousness and eternal life.
God’s most wonderful wisdom is revealed in the way that he provides eternal salvation for all believers. Human wisdom says that, if something is important or valuable, you have to work to get it. Human wisdom says that if something is valuable, you can’t just give it to everyone. There have to be some sort of restrictions. However, through the foolishness of preaching, God saves those who believe the powerful message. The faith that is created in the heart brings salvation to the sinner. This was God’s plan – to save by grace through faith. This excludes all human merits and efforts and, therefore, excludes no one. If our salvation were dependent on a high I.Q. or great learning or a flawless character, no one would or could ever be saved. The way that God has done it may not make sense to the human mind. Yet, if it were any other way, we would have been lost forever.
That is why Paul refers to Christ as “power of God and the wisdom of God.” That which the world regards as foolishness on God’s part is true wisdom, wiser than the wisdom of men. What the world sees as weakness on God’s part is real power, stronger than the power of men.
This gives us our encouragement to stand up for the truths of God’s Word. It is so easy to sit still and be quiet when what God says in his word is attacked. We are afraid that people will look at us and say, ‘You really don’t believe that, do you?’ You really don’t believe that those old standards of morality are still in effect today. You can’t believe that there is such a place as hell, because, if there is a loving God, he wouldn’t send anyone there. Hell is what we go through during this lifetime.’ We get tempted to want to appear so very learned, so we don’t stand up for clear Bible teaching like a 6 24 hour day creation week. The world also attacks the beautiful message of the gospel, by making fun of Jesus and his work. They try to undermine the gospel message, and say that you have to do something, even if it is as little as accepting Jesus into your heart, if you want to be saved. May God give us the boldness to stand up and witness against the so-called wisdom and power of this world, The true power and the true wisdom are found in Christ alone.
Earlier, we talked about things that promise a great deal and don’t deliver. The same is true of the world’s wisdom and power. It may do great things, but it can never do all that it promises. It can never save us from our sins. There is one true source of wisdom and strength and that is found in the message of Jesus Christ. May what Paul said of himself, be also said of us, “We preach Christ crucified.” It is our prayer that this would always be true for our congregation, for our church body, and for us as individuals. May God strengthen us to boldly lift high the cross so that all can see it and may he give us grace to always follow it ourselves. Amen.
St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches ©2023 All rights reserved.