“The Folly That Is Saving Wisdom” (I Cor. 1:18-31)
The Third Sunday in Lent (March 7, 2021)
Does God’s presence demand reverence and even fear? Ask the children of Israel as the LORD God met them on top of Mount Sinai to give them the Ten Commandments. Seeing the lightning flashes and the mountain smoking and hearing the thunder, the people trembled at a distance. They didn’t want to even hear the Lord’s voice. They implored Moses to be God’s mouthpiece.
How ought the place where God meets His people be treated? As we hear in our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus was so consumed with zeal for the Holy Temple that He fashioned a whip and drove out of the temple grounds all the money changers and the animals being sold for the sacrifices. “Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade (emporium),” He ordered.
In days gone by, the sanctuary of a church was held to be a holy place by Christians and non-Christians alike. But I’m afraid, for the most part that has all changed. Many Christians are not even building “sacred spaces” any longer. Now, its all about “multi-purpose” rooms equipped with folding chairs and tables, a stage, sophisticated sound systems, retractable basketball hoops, all to accommodate any type of activity you want to hold in that space. Most of these so called worship spaces even come equipped with snack bars and soda fountains for the audiences’ sweet tooth and caffeine fixes. A sacred place where God meets His people is almost a foreign concept.
This last year has seen another radical shift in society’s attitude toward our sacred spaces. Those spaces, along with public worship as a whole, are being considered totally non-essential. Under the unfounded and false claims that church sanctuaries are dangerous spaces that do nothing but spread the Chinese Virus endangering the lives of Americans, states like California and Michigan have, for the most part, been keeping church’s closed for a year now!
Who are being the real fools here? Are these political rulers who are imposing these bans and shutdowns wiser than God? I ask this because, if I’m not mistaken, God clearly gave to His people the direct command to “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy”. At the heart of this commandment is His call for His people to assemble around His Word and Sacrament. Through His servant Moses the LORD said to His people: “…the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:3). A convocation is an assembly. Likewise, the Holy Writer in the Book of Hebrews warns us not to be, “… neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). Why did the LORD have His people build a beautiful and massive temple in Jerusalem if a sacred place for His people to hear His Word and receive the forgiveness of their sins was not important or was foolish?
It is bad enough that God’s enemies and the devil will always do whatever they can to disrupt the worship of the true God or the proclamation of the true Gospel. You and I are not going to change that. But if Christians themselves show little reverence for God’s holy presence among them or the importance of keeping the preaching and teaching of God’s Word correct and right, should it surprise us that the world has little respect for our church building or our message?
A couple of decades or so ago, one of the fads that came along under the guise of making the listening to God’s Word more entertaining, practical, and even more memorable, was the use of clowns to present the message of the Gospel. This “clown ministry” became quite popular.
What were these Christians thinking or were they thinking? I have to ask how do dopey antics and silliness encourage people to revere the Law and the Gospel as the very Words of Holy God? Is not the medium just as important as the message?
Try to get someone to take seriously your warning that their house is on fire if you are dressed in a bunny costume! How credible, then, can any words of the Gospel be that come from the mouth of a man with a big red nose, floppy feet, and orange hair? How can the eternal seriousness of the message of the cross of Jesus be put across via some slap-stick routine? Acting silly while preaching the cross empties the cross of its true glory and only causes people to take the Gospel lightly, perhaps even to look upon it as foolish!
And, certainly, as St. Paul is telling us in the text before us this morning, we do not need to give the world any other excuses to view the Gospel as foolishness or us as fools of Jesus for believing that Gospel. Paul warns that the word of the cross of Jesus Christ is utter foolishness to the world and the people of this age.
Paul had witnessed this himself on a daily basis as he tried to proclaim the Gospel in the areas he went. They were heavily influenced by Greek mythology and philosophical thought. Now, mind you, without doubt the Greeks produced some great thinkers, such as Plato and Socrates. However, when you truly examine what they had to say, especially about matters relating to theology or even the very condition of man, what becomes rather apparent is that it is nothing more than a love affair with their own human reason. In their view the ultimate answer to everything could be found in the ingenuity and wisdom of human kind. Why, even the gods of the Greeks were nothing more than deified human beings. They thought like humans, acted like humans, even sinned like humans. The only difference was that, unlike human beings, these gods were believed to be immortal and to have great power. This is wisdom?
Accordingly, as the preacher Paul testifies, his message of Christ crucified was nothing but a joke to the Greeks. How can sinners be saved by the humiliating death of their God? It all seems so utterly foolish!
The message of the cross did not make much sense to the Jews either, but perhaps for a different reason. For them, the cross was only a sign of weakness…failure. They were expecting and wanting a Messiah who had power… one who could show great signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth!
Interestingly, enough, even when Jesus did perform such great signs, like healing lepers, the blind, the lame, casting out demons, creating food for over 5,000 people, even raising dead people to life again, the rulers of the Jews still dismissed Jesus on the grounds that He was nothing but a “magician” or even a jester of the devil himself. In their minds, there had to be something fake about it. But when pressed by the Jews for a sign to show His authority to cleanse the merchants out of the temple, Jesus pointed them to His cross by directing them to His death and resurrection. He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In their foolishness they were looking for the wrong sign!
The message of the cross of Jesus is just as foolish to many today, especially the well-educated, those who fancy themselves as “well-read,” the so-called great thinkers of our time. Like the Greeks before them, they imagine that they can attain to the knowledge of God through their intellect. And, of course, there is no place in their scheme of realities for the crucifixion of the One who is supposed to be God in human flesh.
For many today, human reason and knowledge are our saving gods. It is believed that climate change, the ongoing Corona virus pandemic, terrorism, crime, hunger, famine, and all other maladies known to man, are within our own abilities to solve and eliminate. People look to the technology we develop to save us. Science is viewed as the key to our survival. “Follow the Science” is the steady cry. If science is such a great savior, why are mankind’s problems only getting more and more complicated and devastating?
This same science now even boasts that it has eliminated any need for a god or Creator. It is believed by many that science has proven that everything just came into existence by accidental chemical reactions. This is wisdom? Such speculation is not even good science.
This worship of our own reason has even affected how people study the Bible. Many contemporary Biblical scholars, revered by some to be the world’s best theologians, refuse to accept the inspiration of the Holy Bible, preferring instead to view it is simply as a book which contains men’s thoughts and speculations about God but not the actual words of God. Their only rationale for this position is that to believe the Bible to be the true words of God would mean that they could not pick and choose which of its teachings they want to accept as true and which they want to reject.
This has led these same scholars to deny the virgin birth of Jesus, His deity, His resurrection from the dead, and especially His exclusive claim to be the only true God and Savior of sinful mankind. Apparently, the simple truth of the Gospel is too foolish for them.
This is to be expected. The apostle Paul reminds us the word of the cross is, literally, a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. When humanity lost the image of God in its fall into sin, it also lost the ability to know or come to God. Later on in chapter 2 Paul states, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for them are foolishness to him, and he can not understand them, because they are spiritually appraised”(2:14).
It all comes down to this, even if God has any foolishness in Him, still that foolishness is greater than mankind’s greatest wisdom. Likewise, even if God has any weakness in Him, it is still be more powerful than even man’s greatest strength!
In the message of Christ crucified, viewed as totally foolish by man in all his wisdom, God actually reveals His great genius and at the same time fully destroys the greatest wisdom of the wisest of our world. The greatest thinkers of the world could not have devised a better plan to save us.
God’s plan, hatched in His own infinite wisdom from all eternity, even caught the devil off guard. For had Satan, or the power brokers of our world, figured out the genius of God’s plan to save sinners through the cross, then they would never have allowed Jesus to be crucified (I Cor. 2: 7,8).
But God’s plan to crucify Jesus is pure genius! There in Jesus’ cross God achieves what is humanly impossible. No fallen human being, no matter how intelligent, no matter how strong in will, can keep perfectly God’s Holy Law… His Ten Commandments. Who can truly fear, love and trust in God above all things? Who can truly love his neighbor as himself as God requires? Likewise, what mere sinful human being could withstand God’s wrath against the sinner?
But with the crucifixion of Jesus, God is able to completely satisfy His righteous wrath against all sin and at the same time manifest His true grace for all sinners. To be sure the cross is over-the-top brutal. It is the most humiliating thing anyone could possibly endure. But the cross is the very emblem of the punishment of what we had earned with our sin as well as the very means that rescued us from that deserved punishment. This makes the cross, therefore, also the most blessed instrument of grace. The cross is the very image of God’s self-sacrificial love for you and me and our whole world. It’s beyond brilliant! God endured in His own body the stripes we deserve.
As a result, the word of the cross of Jesus (the real Gospel) might make those of us who cling to it in faith, appear to be fools to many in the world, but it is also our greatest boast. As Paul states: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
Fellow benefactors of the genius of God in the cross of Jesus, we don’t come here today with something to give to Jesus; like our gifts… our piety… our decisions… our commitments. No, the foolishness of the cross teaches us we have nothing to offer God… nothing to boast of before God. We are but poor, blind, dumb, sinners in need of God’s great Wisdom; that is, His own sacrifice for us. We come then as benefactors of God’s wise decisions… God’s commitment to us. We come to receive gifts from our Holy God through the true wisdom of the cross; that is, Jesus’ righteousness…. Jesus’ forgiveness…. Jesus’ power…. Jesus’ wisdom.
Who then are the real fools? As believers in Jesus Christ and His cross we can endure the name-calling, the ridicule of being fools for Jesus, all the way to our eternal salvation. For those trying to save themselves by their own human wisdom are being destroyed by the foolishness of the cross of Jesus because they are rejecting it. They will die for all of eternity for lack of true wisdom. But we who believe in Jesus Christ and His cross will live for all of eternity through this great foolishness of God! We might be fools, but we are fools that have much to boast about in Jesus Christ!