Holy Cross Day
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
September 14, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You walk into the church, which is really more of an auditorium with plush, padded theater seats. When the service begins, the house lights dim and the spot lights illuminate the stage. The band begins a rhythmic backbeat and a few voices join in harmony until the music swells into the chorus. The lights pulsate with the beat and soon there are people with hands raised—one at first, then both, as if to surrender to an armed patrolman. Then one, then two, then a dozen are in the aisles dancing and waving their arms.
This is a sign of God’s presence, isn’t it? People seek this kind of a sign—this emotional affirmation that God is truly present. Or if simple emotions aren’t enough, there are some more manifest signs that you can find at your local charismatic congregation. You can find people rolling in the aisles with laughter or even barking like dogs. One popular claim is that God will bless you by throwing gems down in front of you as you walk. Yet another is the claim of the resurrection of the dead—for little puppy dogs. Benny Hinn will knock you on your behind to heal you of your diseases.
The Jews sought signs from Jesus as well. But Jesus responds to them that an evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign (Mt 16:4). What’s so wicked about wanting a sign? Isn’t like, the whole Old Testament built upon God giving signs to His people? Gideon had his fleece, Samuel had his voice from heaven, Elijah the bottomless flour and oil. Each of the latter prophets had their own, distinct sign from God (although sometimes their signs were a little on the unpleasant side).
Even Jesus, who said that signs are demanded from an evil and adulterous generation, performed signs! Water to wine, walking on water, feeding four and five thousand. What gives?!?
It’s not that the signs themselves are wicked, but it’s that wickedness makes the signs themselves the object of faith. Signs are always a confirmation of the word. The signs in the Old Testament confirmed that the prophets spoke God’s Word. The signs of Jesus confirmed that He spoke God’s Word. The signs that accompanied the apostles confirmed that they preached God’s Word. But those who demand signs just toss the Word away and demand more signs.
Why do people who demand signs get tripped up on the Word that the signs point to? Because their faith rests on the sign, their faith is in power. If God can do something miraculous, something supernatural, something astounding, well, that’s a God to believe in.
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign,” Jesus says, “and a sign will not be given to it, except for the sign of Jonah the prophet. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights, so Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.”
The sign that Jesus points to is the sign of Jonah. The sign of His tomb. Jesus points to His death. And even the resurrection anticipated by Jonah’s release from the fish’s belly is the resurrection of a Man with nail holes in His hand and a gash in His side. This sign doesn’t point to power, but to weakness. It doesn’t point to a conquering king, but a Crucified King.
Those who demand signs like the Jews did get tripped up on the cross. The cross isn’t powerful enough, it’s not spiritual enough, it doesn’t put a warm fuzzy feeling in your heart. The cross doesn’t make you want to get up and dance through the aisles and wave your hands. In fact, it’s kind of a downer.
Not everyone seeks Jesus for the signs, however. Others are after wisdom. A little secret knowledge, or eloquent speech, or some persuasive arguments.
We live in a time of unparalleled access to information. Have you ever considered what a ridiculous thing it is that you can now pick up your phone and ask it literally any question and get the answer. Virtually everything that has ever been known is right at your fingertips.
Yet even with such open access to information, logic and wisdom is still fleeting. It’s easier than ever to come by facts, but it seems to be getting harder to put those facts together in any meaningful way, the more information we have. The philosophical and existential questions remain, and can’t be answered by Google or Siri. Just for fun I tried asking my phone last night some of those questions like, “What’s the meaning of life?” and, “How can I be saved?” Give it a try, the results are interesting—at least they were for me (but wait until after church is over).
The incredible thirst for wisdom is also evidenced by the best sellers among Christian books. Nearly every one of them claims to have some kind of secret wisdom, some hidden insight. And each one is about how to improve your life, how to avoid unpleasantries, how to become one step closer to God than you were yesterday. And none of them is about the cross.
Because the cross is foolishness. What kind of God would, first off, unite His divinity with our humanity? Everyone knows that man should be ascending to God, not God descending to man. And to make matters worse, this same God who became flesh willingly allows Himself to be mocked, mistreated, beaten, abused, and crucified. Why, that’s foolish!
Here’s another assignment. Ask Google after church what you should do if you’re falsely accused. Ask Siri what you should do if you’re being mistreated, beaten, or abused. Ask them what you should do if someone threatens your life. I’m sure you’ll scroll to the end of the internet without ever seeing anyone say, “Act like Jesus did.” The cross of Christ is utter foolishness.
St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are being lost, but to us who are being saved it is power of God. For it has been written: “I will ruin the wisdom of the wise, and the logic of the logical I will confound.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? 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, it pleased God through the foolishness of what we preach to save those who are believing, since Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified— for the Jews a scandal and for the Gentiles foolishness (vv 18-23).
The cross of Jesus Christ makes foolish the wisdom of the world. The cross of Jesus Christ brings the world’s wisdom to ruin. This foolishness of God is precisely to show that you cannot know God through wisdom. There are no seven steps to a closer walk with God. There are no paths to approach God by your own self-improvement. There is no secret knowledge that will give you an inside track on the way to salvation.
Yet it pleased God to reveal His salvation in what appears to be utterly foolish. The Word of the cross is foolishness to those who are being lost, but for us who are being saved it is the power of God. This is the beauty of the theology of the cross. What appears foolish on the outside is God’s wisdom. What appears weak on the outside is God’s power. The beaten, bleeding, dying Man on the cross is your salvation.
This is God’s wisdom that confounds the world’s logic—by His death, Christ destroyed death; by submitting to His enemies, He won victory over His enemies. This is God’s sign—the sign of Jonah—the crucified Man would be buried in the heart of the earth, yet rise again on the third day, and that the wounds that He bears yet to this day would be the sign of the healing He grants through the forgiveness of sins.
We preach Christ crucified. For those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and wisdom of God, because the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God stronger than men (vv 24-25).
If you seek a powerful sign, find it in the weakness of the cross. If you seek wisdom, find it in the foolishness of the Crucified One. His is a foolishness that is wiser than men’s wisdom, His is a weakness that is stronger than men’s strength. And it’s for you, you who are called, you who are being saved.
We Preach Christ Crucified for Your Salvation
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard