Pastor Michael Otterstatter, Martin Luther College   Sunday, March 10, 2019

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:22–25

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“Upon the Cross Extended” (CW 113);” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (CW 125);” “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” (CW 345); Drawn to the Cross” (CW 387). Today, we find ourselves in that season of the Christian Church Year in which the cross of Christ is brought into special focus. Hymns like the familiar ones I just mentioned, the reading of the Passion History of our Savior (that is the record of his suffering and death in the Gospels), our midweek Lenten Services, and our own personal devotions, all help us focus on the culmination of our Savior’s sinless life—his sacrificial death in our place on Calvary’s cross. But isn’t there something more that we seek at the cross of Christ in our annual Lenten journey? In addition to remembering Jesus’ suffering and death, we also ask the Holy Spirit to not leave us unchanged by our focus on Calvary’s cross.  As we consider our Savior’s cross more closely, we pray that it would also call us to repentance and to a renewed life of service to Christ. 

In the closing verses of three of the hymns that I just mentioned. we sing about the kind of renewal and recommitment that we look for the cross of Christ to work in us.  One example from the hymn “Upon the Cross Extended,” is “Your cords of love, my Savior, Bind me to you forever, I am no longer mine. To you I gladly tender All that my life can render And all I have to you resign.” And the final verse of the familiar Lenten Hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” declares, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a tribute far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.” And a third example from Hymn 387 “Drawn to the Cross” reads: “To pledge my labor willingly, Which shall so sweet a service be That angels well might envy me, Christ crucified, I come.”

Yes, these hymns give expression to the prayer we each have this Lenten season.  Really it is our prayer whenever we stand in faith before our Savior’s cross.  We desire to leave with renewed dedication to serve the one whose death the cross marks.  And there is something else we ask the Holy Spirit to kindle in our hearts when we focus on the cross.  It too is expressed in those same familiar hymns that I mentioned with the “cross” in their titles.  We call out to the world to come and stand with us at the foot of the cross to see the Savior of all!

In our sermon together today let’s ask God the Holy Spirit to work those truths in each of us as we gather around Christ’s cross.  Through 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 may we receive renewed dedication in our service to Christ and renewed commitment in our task of sharing Jesus with others.  (Read text.)  Viewing the cross of Christ as these verses portray it reminds us of the fact that as individuals, as a congregation, and as a church body:  


I.   As the power of God

II.  As the wisdom of God

When you read this letter from the pen of the Apostle Paul that we call “1 Corinthians,” you quickly receive the impression that the truth about Jesus’ cross was threatened. Some of the Corinthian Christians, or perhaps false teachers among them, seem to have been trying to reshape or downplay Jesus’ death at Calvary. Apparently, the cross of Christ as it really was didn’t fit with the culture of their city nor with their natural way of thinking.  In this opening chapter of his letter Paul points out to his readers that if a person tries to change the cross into something that fits popular opinion and human reason, they strip it of God’s wisdom and God’s power.

I. As the Power of God

But connecting God’s power to the cross must be understood as God does it, not in the way so many attempt to do it.  For example, the story is told of a soldier fighting in World War II who came under heavy enemy fire. Dodging bullets, he jumped into an abandoned foxhole. At the bottom of the foxhole he found a crucifix on a necklace. Obviously, another soldier or a chaplain had dropped it and accidently left it behind. Clutching it in his trembling hands the soldier was overhead by his comrades shouting, “How do you make this thing work? How do you make this cross work?” There are many who look at the cross and ask that question. Some see it as a good luck charm. Others see it as some kind of spiritual transmitter that can help them get in touch with God. So how exactly does the cross of Christ reveal its power in a person’s life? Obviously, it is not a good luck charm, nor any kind of transmitter to God. The cross’s power is unleashed when it directs a person’s thoughts to what Christ accomplished on it. Then we see the power of God in the cross.

First of all, the Bible tells us that the cross was and is God’s power because through it he snatches sinners from the fires of hell. Through the cross God overcame the curse of sin. Galatians 3:13 states this truth, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’” The “pole” in that verse is a reference to the cross. It’s also called a “tree” in another place in Scripture but in either case the writers were referring to the cross upon which Jesus died.  Colossians 2:15 tells us that Jesus conquered all the spiritual enemies that we faced through his death on the cross. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” The accuser of God’s people, Satan was crushed by the cross. Hebrews 2:14-15 says that Jesus went to the cross “so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Hebrews 12:2 gives us this reminder of the great victory Christ won on the cross, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Instead of being a symbol of weakness and defeat the cross is a symbol of God’s great power. Through the cross God overcame the curse of sin, conquered death, and crushed the devil’s power!

And don’t we also see the power of the cross in our personal lives? What is it that transforms our thinking and our behavior? How do we break free from sins that threaten to enslave us? It is through the power of the cross! In his letter to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul said this about the power of the cross in the life of a believer, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin..” (Romans 6:6-7) When you and I look at a cross, we should not only see the place where our Savior died for our sins, we should also see the place where we died to sin’s power over us. Three times in his letter to the Galatians the Apostle Paul referred to the cross as God’s power in the life of believers to overcome sin. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” And Galatians 5:24 states, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” And Galatians 6:14 reminds us of the power of the cross, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Far from being a symbol of weakness, the cross reminds us of God’s power to change our lives. Every day the cross tells us who we are. We have been crucified to sin and are dead to it. We now live for Christ not for ourselves.

Yes, again and again, the Bible tells us that the cross is the power of God because on the cross Jesus overcame sin, crushed Satan, and conquered death itself. And it is through the cross that he unleashes his power in our lives to change us and free us from sin. Since I am here at St. John’s on behalf of Martin Luther College—your college of ministry—please permit me to connect the power of the cross to our collective work of training future called workers and of equipping current called workers and lay people serving in ministry. At MLC we prepare our students to share the most powerful message in the world—Christ crucified! We do that on your behalf so that they can one day serve here at your church and school. Some of our students will share the power of God found in Christ’s cross in classrooms and early childhood learning centers. Our pre-Seminary students will one day “preach Christ crucified” from pulpits in our nation and around the world as the “power of God” to change hearts and lives.  Please pray for them and pray for your college of ministry as we prepare them to be proclaimers and preachers of God’s power in cross! Also, we ask that you encourage young people from your congregation to consider studying for fulltime ministry at MLC. And then please continue to pray for them and support them. Then you as a congregation, and we as the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, will continue to preach Christ crucified as the power of God to save sinners.

II. As the Wisdom of God

In order to understand how ridiculous the message of Christ’s cross must have sounded to the unbelievers in Corinth, we need to know how most of them viewed crucifixion. Historians tell us that Roman citizens could not legally be crucified. That form of execution was reserved for slaves and the conquered peoples of the Roman Empire like the Jews. In other words, if you were crucified everyone assumed that you were a big loser.

A good example of this is something that archeologists have discovered in the ruins of ancient Rome. It is a cartoonish caricature carved into plastered wall—today I suppose we would call it graffiti. This image dates from the 1st or 2nd Century A.D. and may be one of the earliest representations of Christ’s crucifixion. It illustrates how crazy the Christian message of Christ crucified must have seemed to the people of that time. It’s a drawing of a crucifixion showing a man’s body hanging on a cross. But the body has the head of a donkey. Although we wouldn’t use the word in church, you know what we would be saying and what word we would use if we called someone a “donkey.”  There is also a figure of a young man with his hands raised up to the donkey-man as if in worship. Underneath is the inscription, “Alexamenos worships his God!” Ha...ha…we can almost hear the laugher. A crucified god? Foolishness!  Someone following a Jewish Rabbi who was crucified and on top of that worshiping him as God? That thought must have seemed like total foolishness to the Romans. And when we consider how Jesus was rejected by the Jews who called for his crucifixion, we can see that they had similar thoughts about Jesus of Nazareth. The foolishness of the cross was a “stumbling block” to them as the Apostle Paul declared in the verses we are considering in our sermon.

But not only is Christ crucified the power of God it is also the wisdom of God. Those whom the Holy Spirit has enlightened accept the cross as God’s brilliant plan. For a few minutes let’s consider the wisdom behind the foolishness of the cross. The Bible tells us that even before he created the world God in His wisdom was already planning for the cross. 1 Peter 1:20 tells us that Jesus, the Lamb of God who would die on the cross, “was chosen before the creation of the world.” Then, in Revelation 13:8, John saw Jesus as “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” In spite of the fact that God knew Adam and Eve would choose to disobey him and bring sin and death into his sinless creation, he went ahead with his plan. And throughout the Old Testament God reaffirmed His wise plan to save the world through the death of His Son on a cross. Isaiah saw the wisdom behind God’s plan as he prophesied 700 years before Good Friday. We often read these words during the Lenten season and during our Good Friday worship. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed…the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6) Wouldn’t you agree that only God could come up with a plan like that? From a human perspective, it will always seem like foolishness, but the cross is the wisdom of God to save us!

And as the Scriptures declare, God completed his wise plan to save us through his Son’s death on the cross. Through the atoning sacrifice of Christ God reconciled sinners like us to himself and opened heaven to us. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Colossians 2:13-14 also reminds us of this, “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” At Calvary, Jesus served our sentence for the sins we have committed. He paid our debt in full to satisfy his Father’s justice. Now we have been declared not guilty. In spite of what our natural mind says about the cross of Christ, it is the wise way in which God satisfied the demands of his holiness and yet allowed him to have mercy on us. That is God’s wisdom to save us!

We can see just how timely these verses from 1 Corinthians are. It is still true that many, “demand signs” and “look for wisdom.” And it is true that as we “preach Christ crucified,” it is still “a stumbling block” and “foolishness” to those who hear it. Perhaps it is more subtle in our age, but this view of the cross as foolishness is still popular. We hear people saying that Jesus’ death was an unfortunate tragedy. Even among Christians there are those who want to remake the cross, so it doesn’t seem so foolish. They will attempt to explain that Jesus was crucified because he was progressive in his thinking, or he was just saving his disciples from Romans. Or they may say that Jesus was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are still many people, even Christians, who want to clean up Christianity by not talking about blood, nails, and Jesus’ death. They seem to want to disguise the cross with human explanations and excuses.

The fact that the message of the cross is still foolishness to so many people, is something we can also connect to the work we do your college of ministry. Unlike most other colleges, at Martin Luther College we teach our students to know God’s wisdom above all human wisdom. Every class is taught from the perspective that God’s wise plan of salvation is the most important thing anyone can learn. We want our pastors, teachers, and staff ministers to always be prepared to preach Christ crucified as the wisdom of God. As we hear in the last verse of our text, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” In the end, the only wisdom that really matters is the wisdom of God in the cross of Christ.  Through his wise plan we are saved!

“Upon the Cross Extended” (CW 113)” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (CW 125); “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” (CW 345); “Drawn to the Cross” (CW 387); those familiar Lenten hymns express our desire for renewed dedication to serve the one whose death the cross marks. To that end let’s see the cross as the Apostle Paul reveals it to us today in these verses from 1 Corinthians. We see it as the power of God and as the wisdom of God. And then, friends in Christ, let’s preach Christ crucified!  Amen.