Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 26:40 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You know, we’re going to have to get over it. The Church is going to have to get over trying to look respectable in the eyes of the unbelieving world. The Church is going to have to get over trying to gain power among the powerful of the unbelieving world. The Church is going to have to get over trying to gain influence among the influential of the unbelieving world, because the wisdom of the world is moving in a direction entirely contrary to the wisdom of God.
The wisdom of the world says that you need to make sure you’re on the winning team. The wisdom of the world counts success by how many people there are, how much money there is, how much discernible impact you can make. The wisdom of the world says that you should act or not act based on whether something makes you feel good or not. The world says that the strong survive and the weak die out; along with that, suffering and pain are to be avoided at all costs. So then, if the weak are dying, if they cannot contribute according to our standards of productive members of society, then maybe we should help them along the way. Their “quality of life” is low, so their life is less important. The wisdom of the world generally says that dying is the worst possible thing that can happen to you, so it is to be avoided and denied. But now, suffering and pain might be worse, so even death is preferable to pain.
All of this wisdom that can be gained in this world is the opposite of the wisdom of God. The wisdom of God is Jesus, just as the power of God is Jesus. And Jesus is not going to appear on any list of the most powerful, although He might be seen as pretty influential, at least as long as we ignore the parts of His words and actions that don’t fit our various agendas. Paul says that we worship and preach a crucified Jesus, and that would be a weak Jesus; a defeated Jesus; a shameful Jesus. Jesus doesn’t act based on what makes Him “feel good;” His actions are because of what is good for you. He doesn’t avoid suffering or death; He goes willingly to them, in accord with the will of the Father, in order to accomplish the salvation of the world. He doesn’t go to the places of the powerful and influential, to palaces and mansions. He goes where the weak are, the sick, the dying and the dead, the demon-possessed, the sin-filled and sin-burdened and sin-trapped. The world often thinks it wants Jesus, when His words can be fitted into political slogans or talking points, but politics never seems to get to the sacrifice and service part, to the weakness and the foolishness.
The wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world move on two different roads, in two opposite directions. The wise who cling to their own wisdom will end up where their wisdom does: in destruction, when God destroys the wisdom of the wise and thwarts the understanding of those who think they understand. The whole world as Paul characterizes it, divided between Jews and Gentiles, has its own way: some seek signs; miracles, spectacles, impressive displays. Others seek wisdom; reason, evidence that we can see, touch, and experience with our senses, because this material stuff is all there is.
But all we have—all we have—is a crucified Man who is God. And since the wisdom of the world goes in a different direction, seeking different gods and different power and different influence, that wisdom will never get to God, never even approach the foolishness of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom. And the weakness of God is more powerful than human power. It is the good pleasure of God to save by nothing other than the preaching of the crucified Jesus. He is certainly and absolutely raised from the dead, or else we would be worshiping a dead man, but the world cannot see the resurrection. It can only see the crucified Man, who is foolish, weak, and shameful. The only way that the wisdom of the world can accept the crucifixion of Jesus is if His death is a witness against the powers of the world that we love to hate, as if Jesus were the Christian version of Gandhi. It is in fact a reversal of the power and wisdom of this world, but it accomplishes it, rather than simply leaving us an example to follow.
We are always being tempted to follow the wisdom of the world. So we try to gain power and influence in the political and cultural arenas, as if the Church were simply one more lobbying or special-interest group, as if Jesus were not already Lord of the entire creation. We think we will make Jesus more attractive to the world if we can prove we’re not crazy or like those “other Christians” or that we are better, cooler, more attractive. We try to downplay sin, or the cross, as if it’s a bad episode in an otherwise happy religion, instead of the heart of the whole work of God’s salvation. But that will always be trying to fit the foolishness of God into the wisdom of human beings. It must fail.
The other temptation comes once we realize that Christ will never be acceptable to the world on His own terms. Since we know that the cross is a rock of stumbling and a stone of offense, sometimes Christians try to present Christianity in the most provocative and offensive terms possible. We think that since we will already not be acceptable, we can be offensive jerks. But this is just as much playing the world’s game as trying to gain favor. We turn into just one more form of internet troll, dropping bombs and making comments that we know will make people mad, just because we can. All we’re doing is making ourselves the center of the world’s attention, doing exactly what Paul says not to, boasting in ourselves. We become the stumbling block to unbelievers.
But Jesus doesn’t need any help! The cross is offensive enough. It is offensive enough that God chooses to save through this one Man, crucified before the eyes of the whole world, and preached as the salvation and forgiveness of God. It is offensive enough that God chooses to save through preachers, which means you have to wait for a preacher for the Holy Spirit to do His work. Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved, yes. But how will they hear unless someone preaches to them? And how will they preach unless they are sent by God? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. It is offensive enough that God brings this salvation, this death and resurrection, to you through some water. It’s offensive enough that He delivers forgiveness through the mouth of a sinner! It’s offensive enough that He delivers Jesus to you by means of a little bread and wine. We could think of much more impressive and significant things! Christ alone may and must be the only stumbling block. We do not need to dress it up or downplay it or hide it. And we do not need to add to the offense.
We have simply to proclaim it. It is God’s good pleasure to save in just this way. Because anything else would give us reason to boast, that we’ve figured it out, that we have come to this conclusion, that we have it right while everyone else has it wrong. No. No one will boast in the presence of God. Not you, or me, or anyone else. So let the one who thinks he is wise become foolish, so that he may become truly wise. God chooses you in Jesus, who bore your sin on the cross. God takes anyone, but this is all a threat to our pride. If we think we’re influential or powerful or wise, we will not want to give that up for God’s wisdom, which has nothing to do with us. Instead, He chooses the sick, the weak, the sin-filled, the sin-burdened, the sin-trapped. He chooses the dying and the dead, and He raises them up, using the nothingness of death to bring to nothing the something of our own chosen lives. And for those whom the world thinks are nothing, those who feel like nothing, those who are weak—know this: God chooses you in the foolishness of Christ. He chooses you. He is the source of your life in Christ, who is your righteousness, your holiness, your redemption. This is all we have, church! All we have is Christ and Him crucified. But thank God, it’s enough to save us, and to save the entire world. We will boast only in Him, for ourselves and for everyone else.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/27/23