We Preach Christ Crucified
Good Friday Sermon| Rev. Rolf Preus| March 29, 2013| 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
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. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The symbol of Christ’s crucifixion has perhaps lost its meaning among secularized Christians who seldom attend church and when they do go avoid attending churches where the gospel is preached. For many, the cross is little more than a decorative ornament suitable for necklaces or other pieces of jewelry.
Many Americans got an education during the first Gulf War when our military chaplains were told not to offend the sensibilities of their Muslim hosts by the display of crosses or crucifixes. The crucifixion of Jesus offends Muslims, Jews, and others. It is a stumbling block, an offense.
While Jews and Muslims disagree with each other about who Jesus is – with the Muslims, but not the Jews, confessing that Jesus was a holy prophet, born of the Virgin Mary – they agree with each other about who Jesus is not. They agree that Jesus is not the Son of God. They agree that Jesus did not die on the cross to take away our sins. In fact, the crucifixion of Jesus is a great offense to them. The more religious the Jews and Muslims are, the more offended they are by what we Christians teach about his crucifixion.
The Christian teaching concerning the crucifixion of Jesus offends religious people for a number of reasons. First, there is the sheer injustice of it all. Jesus was innocent. There was no evidence to show him guilty of any wrongdoing whatsoever. To the contrary, he was, without a doubt, a holy man. He preached about love. He healed the sick. He showed compassion to the outcast. He went around doing good. He blessed those who cursed him and prayed for those who treated him spitefully. And he was crucified for it.
It is bad enough that such a holy man should suffer. Perhaps such an injustice could be tolerated as an illustration about how life isn’t always fair. But not only do we teach that Jesus, who was holy, was crucified. We insist on making his crucifixion central to what we preach. The death of an innocent man is at the heart of our preaching. Indeed, St. Paul calls this preaching the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Another reason the Christian preaching of the cross is offensive to religious people is that we teach that God punished him for our sins. As the prophet Isaiah put it:
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
If God punished Jesus for our sins, our sins must be far more serious than we want to admit. Oh yes, we’ll gladly concede our errors. We’re not perfect. We’ve broken some rules. We haven’t measured up to God’s very high standards. But crucifixion! I deserve that? I’ll admit my sins, but surely they are not so serious as to call for such a brutal punishment!
Not only does Christ’s crucifixion teach us that our sins are more serious than we want to admit, the message of the cross is that our sins were carried in the body of God himself. This innocent Jesus who suffers such a cruel death is none other that the eternal Son of the Father, by whom all things were made. He is more than a holy man. He is the holy God.
The hymnist put it this way:
What punishment so strange is suffered yonder?
The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander.
The Master pays the debt his servants owe him
Who would not know him.
The crucifixion of the Son of God is not only an offense. It is plain foolishness! Philosophy is the love of wisdom. Theology is talk of God. Bright theologians love to incorporate philosophy into theology. But whenever they do it always destroys the purity of the theology because the wisdom of men just can’t make sense out of the crucifixion of the Son of God.
The philosophers love their wisdom. They love their ethical systems by which they can elevate themselves further along the path of the good life. They respect the wisdom of the ages that teaches the great benefits of a virtuous life. The ancient Greeks produced the best philosophers the world has ever known. Modern philosophy tries and fails to outdo them.
But human wisdom raises one only so far. There is a ceiling above which one cannot rise. That ceiling is a thick and impenetrable wall that stands between us and our Creator. It isn’t just that he is so great and we are so small or that he knows so much and we know so little. It is that he is so very good and pure and holy and we are so very evil and corrupt and sinful.
But this truth about the depth of my sin is precisely what I in my human wisdom cannot accept. I cannot bear to see it. I cannot know it. I cannot believe it. I cannot admit it. I love me. It is in my self-love that I measure everything and interpret everything. I find that I can make myself look pretty good to me. I have sinned, but I’m not any more a sinner than the other guy. In fact, he’s worse than I am. Maybe I haven’t loved as much as Jesus has loved, but I’ve tried.
And so I am stuck inside of me, unable to escape from this spiritual prison. My wisdom can’t get me out. My spiritual power is like an outboard motor with a sheered pin: lots of noise, but the propeller won’t go around. I look up at the suffering of Jesus and in looking at his pain I see my sins. I see their cost. I see their guilt and their heavy weight. That’s what the religious heart finds offensive. That’s what the rational mind finds foolish.
But now comes deliverance! It comes from what is offensive and foolish. It comes from the preaching of the cross. That’s what saves me. The God-man suffering the damnation of the damned on Calvary can’t deliver the damned from damnation. Not until it is joined to the preaching of the cross. The preaching of Christ crucified reveals God’s wisdom and power. It’s a wisdom that transcends the greatest wisdom of the wisest of men. It is a wisdom that defines love.
Our love cannot reach up to God. God’s love can reach down to us. That’s what the crucifixion of Jesus is all about. It is the revelation of his love. It is the definition of love. It is when and where God punishes his only begotten Son. For he is not punishing him to punish him. He is punishing him instead of me. Jesus can bear it. I can’t. His integrity, the justice of his life, the purity of his love, and the kindness of his deeds surround him. He who bears damnation, who is made to be sin for us, who is forsaken by God as the sinner of sinners is full of love and compassion even while he is suffering in the place of sinners.
Here is God’s love! Here is God’s wisdom. Here is God’s power. You want some sort of spectacular sign from God? Perhaps where he makes you rich or cures your cancer or fixes the mess you got yourself into? Or do you want some deep and penetrating philosophy that fits together nice and neat and brings everything around you into sensible focus? I’ve got something better. The love of God. Watch love meet hatred on the cross! Watch Jesus suffering in the stead of all sinners. See how he triumphs over the sin he bears.
He loves you! He forgives you. He forgives you all of your sin. What can you do to take your sin away? Not a thing! But he can. He has. All of his suffering was for you. It was because he didn’t want you to suffer it. And there’s only one way to receive this love and the forgiveness of sins from God. Confess your sin to God and believe him when he tells you that for Christ’s sake your sin is forgiven. He wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true. He says it. That’s the preaching of the cross.
The crucifixion of Jesus is God’s wisdom and power. It is what makes your baptism a washing of forgiveness and new life to which you can return in repentance and faith every single day. It is what makes the Lord’s Supper the medicine of immortality. It’s what brings love into your life and defines your life. The message of Christ crucified for us is the source of every good and holy act of love any of us will ever do. The philosophers call it folly. The most religious of the religious are scandalized by a crucified God. But we Christians glory in the crucifixion of Jesus for us. We glory in God’s love. Amen