For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.1 Corinthians 1:18
I have a confession to make: There are some Sundays when I am not in the mood to preach. Not today, thankfully. But it happens. As a pastor, I believe that what I am doing right now – preaching the gospel – is one of the most important things I am called to do. And one of my favorite things to do … most of the time. But every so often, over my years of ministry, I have gone through a little crisis in my preaching life. For a week or two, I find myself wrestling with the whole notion of preaching. I find myself wondering why I do this, why anyone does this. Why preach? Why stand here saying these things? Does it really make any difference? Aren’t there enough words in the world already? Why add to them?
So, I read a book or two on preaching. I pray. I read or listen to other preacher’s sermons. But what I have learned over the years is that when this little crisis comes alone, one of the best things that I can do is simply to revisit the words from today’s second reading – 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 – and especially his words on the foolish message of the cross:
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God …
“For Jews ask for signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
Why preach? Why do this foolish thing, and share this foolish message? Because this foolish message turns out to be the power of God and the wisdom of God. Reading these words of Paul’s always seems to lift the fog for me. It always seems to remind me that the message of the gospel, the message at the heart of every sermon I preach, doesn’t have to do anything else than offer Christ crucified.
That’s all that I am called to do: Share the message of the cross, in the hope, and with the promise, that in this message is found the power of God and the wisdom of God. So, with that in mind, I want to spend a few minutes this morning thinking about this foolish message with you, to see how it is, in fact, the power and wisdom of God.
A Foolish Message?
First, let’s think about why someone might find this foolish, what I am doing right now. It is foolish, first of all, because it isn’t useful, by the world’s standards. The message of the cross will never be a message filled with useful tips for victorious living. It will never offer 5 steps toward a happier life, or a more fulfilling marriage, or a more rewarding job, as important as all those things can be. The message of the cross will not help you gain the winning edge. It will not help you to live your best life now. And that’s why the message of the cross can be seen as foolish, just as St. Paul said.
To the world today, and to the world of every age, the message of the cross is foolish indeed. Of what use, after all, is a death on a cross? If Jesus really wanted to be useful in the eyes of the world, he would have come down from that cross and continued healing the sick and raising the dead. He would not have simply hung on a cross, quietly bearing the sins of all humanity, even unto death. That is not very useful, in the eyes of the world.
What I am doing is not useful, in other words. But if it isn’t useful, at least it can be entertaining, right? But, really, if you’re looking for entertainment, you already know that you won’t find it here. You’re better off going to a movie theater, or to a concert, or a ball game, right? This is not entertaining. Nor is it supposed to be. There is nothing entertaining, after all, about the way that Christ died. And so any message about the cross, by its nature, won’t be entertaining. It’s not entertaining. It’s not useful. It is foolish. So why do it? Because it is, according to Paul, the power of God and the wisdom of God. But what does that mean?
The Power of God?
The message of the cross is, first of all, the power of God. The Greek word for power is dunamis, which is where we get our word, dynamite. It is also the word in Greek for miracle. The message of the cross, in other words, is as powerful as dynamite and is the greatest of all miracles. Why? Because it is the only event that has ever defeated the most powerful and most unavoidable force on earth, and that is death. What is more powerful than death? What is the one thing that money can never defeat? That politics can never overcome? That awaits us all, no matter how powerful we are? Death.
Jesus performed many miracles, as we all know. He healed many people, cast out many demons, and even raised people from the dead. But they all died again. They all got sick again. Every miracle he performed on earth was a temporary fix, except one. The greatest miracle of all. The most powerful event of all. Christ crucified. God’s Son, dying for the sins of this world, dying to defeat sin, death, and the devil. The message of the cross is the power of God for this reason. The greatest power, and the greatest expression of love.
Without the empty tomb, of course, the cross would not be these things. The empty tomb proves that the message of the cross is the power of God. But the empty tomb could not happen until Jesus died on the cross. That is the foolish message at the heart of why we are here, today and every Sunday, the foolish message of the cross, the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The Wisdom of God?
Okay. But why is this foolish message not just the power of God, but the wisdom of God?
“Where is the one who is wise?” Paul asks in First Corinthians. “Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of the proclamation, to save those who believe.”
Since the world did not know God through wisdom, God had to find another way. You can’t think your way to salvation, in other words. We can’t learn our way to heaven. Wisdom, insight, intelligence, these are good, of course, but they will never save us. Sometimes they might even get in the way. Education, money, power, all of these things can get in the way, because they can tempt us to trust ourselves.
Martin Luther, in a sermon on this text from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, said this:
“[All of our] clever wisdom and reason can well serve to make mad saints and wild Christians; but they can never, never know our Lord Christ, unless they first become fools again, and humbly let themselves be taught and led by the simple Word of God.”
There are surely lots of mad saints and wild Christians in the world today! And some days, I am probably one of them! We all have our moments when we are tempted to believe that more is needed than simply the Word of God. More is needed than simply the message of the cross. But it’s not true. No more is needed. Christ crucified is everything. It is all that is needed. It is not just the power of God, but also the wisdom of God. But the only way to begin to see it is to become fools again, as Luther reminds us.
Today, you and I are being invited, through this foolish message, to become fools again. And to humbly let ourselves be taught and led by the simple Word of God, the message of the cross, the power of God and the wisdom of God.
When you stop and think about it, it’s hard to argue with anyone who claims that preaching is a foolish thing to do in today’s world. It is foolish, isn’t it, to think that words spoken from a pulpit can awaken faith, can cause sinners to repent, and can encourage those who are despairing? It’s foolish, isn’t it, to think that these words I offer today would be able to survive the flood of words, and messages, that we hear all of the time? It really is a foolish thing, this task called preaching.
And preaching about the cross? Well, that is especially foolish to our world today, which judges a message on how useful it is, or how entertaining. The message of the cross will always be foolish to those who are looking for something more than the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But to all who are looking for him – to all who are looking for the one who saves us from our foolish ways of living – to all who are looking for the one who saves us from our sin – this foolish message of the cross is the very power of God. This foolish message of the cross is the only message that really matters.
And what you have asked me to do, what you have called me to do, is to keep reminding you of this. To keep sharing these foolish messages with you. Trusting that whenever they turn us to the cross, they show us the power and wisdom of God.
I suppose it is only fair to think that if I go through times when I struggle to preach, you go through times when you struggle to show up. That’s only fair, right? But when that happens, I hope that you, too, can find the same encouragement from Paul’s words in First Corinthians. I hope that you can turn to his words and be reminded that the message of the cross – Christ crucified – is where the power of God and the wisdom of God is to be found. It is where salvation is to be found. It is where eternal life is to be found. And there is no power or wisdom greater, in all the world, than what is found in the cross of Christ. And blessed are all who believe and trust in the message of the cross, the most beautiful message of all. Thanks be to God. Amen.
11 thoughts on “The Message of the Cross: My Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31”
Thank you Pastor for all you do! This is a remarkable message in itself. May God bless you in your endeavors to serve Him. I love your talents and appreciate your sharing.
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Thank you so much, Peggy, and God bless you too.
First , thank you for your obedience to your calling and your service to your flock . Second, since God’s “Word”, namely Jesus, saved us, then I guess it makes sense that people need to hear the gospel via preaching words ? In other words , the method matters at least as much as the message. Think about all the non-gospel messages being “preached” on YouTube, radio, podcasts, commercials and TV all day every day . People are highly influenced by what they hear through their ears. Keep going ! Your work is critical.
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Thank you for your encouraging words. Your comment made me think of Romans 10:17 – “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” So many reasons for all of us to continue sharing the word of Christ!
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This sermon is brilliant. It’s possibly the best you’ve ever written (not that I’ve read many.) It’s honesty shines like a bright light even on doubters like me, especially on doubters like me.
This observation especially moved me: “The Greek word for power is dunamis, which is where we get our word, dynamite. It is also the word in Greek for miracle. The message of the cross, in other words, is as powerful as dynamite and is the greatest of all miracles.” The statement is so powerful in itself, it blew me away. As powerful as dynamite! Wow! In sports vernacular, Reverend, you hit this one out of the park!
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Mich, I can’t tell you how much this comment means to me. Thank you!
You’ll make a believer out of me yet, Rev!
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Well, I don’t want to say that I have been praying about that, but …
Okay, it’s true. I have. 🙂
If you have (and if you actually have I am humbled and honored more than I can say) you’re the only one on the planet — for the most part, to the rest of the world I don’t exist.
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