Sermon for Passion/Palm Sunday

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18
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. (NIV)


God's foolishness

Have you heard the report that was screened on TV quite some years ago, long before colour TV? It was a current affairs program on the BBC about the harvesting of Switzerland’s spaghetti crop. There were shots of a happy bunch of spaghetti pickers stripping from the spaghetti bushes long strands of drooping spaghetti. The commentary described how years of cultivation of the spaghetti plant had produced strands of spaghetti that were all the same length. During the program an expert told that this is a very anxious time for Spaghetti harvesters as severe frost can impair the flavour of the spaghetti. There were interviews with the local farmers about harvest prospects and future plans for expansion and even of the export market to places like Italy. Even the natural enemies of spaghetti plants were discussed and what was being done to eradicate them. Of special interest was the spaghetti weevil and graphic pictures were shown of spaghetti covered with this dreaded insect.

The BBC switch board was jammed with callers who wanted to know where they could buy their own spaghetti bush.

Of course this program went to air on April the first.

April Fools Day. It's time for playing practical jokes on people until noon. There's a bit of a joker in each of us, and young children especially love using the oldest joke of all, "Hey Dad, your shoelace is undone."

No one is quite sure how or when April Fools Day started. Students of Roman history say that it all began with a festival of the equinox. This is the time of unreliable weather, a time when nature fools us with its changes. That seems a pretty reasonable explanation. Just look at the unusually dry weather we are having now. But not only that, look how the weather fools our weather forecasters.

Others argue that it all began when the French adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1564, and shifted New Year's Day from April the first to January 1st. Of course it took a while for lots of ordinary people to catch up, and those who had their New Year parties on the wrong day were known as April fools. 

People said Jesus was a fool. Crowds were coming to hear his message about God's love. Sick and crippled people pressed on him to be healed. Teachers of the Law were shocked by his disrespect for their religious laws and traditions.

Mark's Gospel reports, When his family heard about what he was doing they set out to get him, because people were saying "He's gone mad". Some teachers of the Law were saying, "He has the devil in him."

They saw Jesus as a fool. Anyone who taught love and peace and forgiveness in the uncompromising, unconditional way he did, must be a fool.

Today we are celebrating Jesus triumphal entry in Jerusalem amidst the waving of branches, cloaks spread on the road to make a path and shouts of "Hosanna". He is greeted as a king. He is welcomed as the messiah promised by the Old Testament prophets. If anything would get the Jewish leaders steamed up, it would be this. They saw Jesus as a fool for claiming to be the messiah. They knew who was, he was the carpenter's son from Nazareth.

And then what about the events of the next day when Jesus went to the Temple. He saw all those who were buying and selling there and without any hesitation he proceeded to drive them all out. He was really treading on the toes of the Jewish leaders. Only a fool would claim to have authority to do anything like that. And Mark tells us that the chief priests and the teachers of the law began to look for a way to kill him.

They saw him as a fool. They couldn't understand him; he was out of step with their world, so they disposed of him quickly and quietly. They crucified him on a hill outside Jerusalem. Throughout his trial; and as he hung dying; they mocked him as a fool.

But the ultimate foolishness was yet to come. A few days later his followers claimed he had risen from the dead, they said they had seen him, spoken to him, eaten with him. A dead man, a dead messiah - living!

Talk about spaghetti trees and April Fools.  Only a fool would believe that a dead man had come alive again.  Jesus’ followers were bigger fools that Jesus was.

And that's right, Jesus does seem a fool and those who believe in him appear even bigger fools. How can a man dying 2,000 years ago forgive our sin in 2007? How can this same man claim to be God who created the world in fact the whole universe? It does seem like a lot of foolishness.

Paul is quite right when he says: 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. The whole Passion story may appear as some huge April Fools’ Day practical joke to some people, but in reality, this apparent foolishness is the power that saves. It is a very personal story about what Jesus did to save me, to save you.
In Galatians Paul says, ‘Jesus loved me and gave his life for me’ (Gal 2:20b).
In 1 Corinthians he says, ‘I passed on to you ... that Christ died for our sins’ (15.3). What can be simpler than that for a message for Sunday of the Passion as today is also called?
Jesus loved me and gave himself for me. He died for my sin.
When it’s put like that, it doesn’t sound so foolish after all.  Without this kind of 'foolishness' we would be in serious trouble.

You know when it comes to talking about sin there is nothing foolish about what it does to us and the consequences that it has, not only now but in eternity. Sin isn't just some petty little offence that we hope that God will overlook. Sin, no matter how small and insignificant we might think it is, is sin. It is an offence to God. And as well, it always hurts people around us, often those people with whom we have a close relationship, members of our family, neighbours, congregational members and so on. And as I said, sin is sin and God will not just turn his head the other way while we go ahead and do whatever pleases us.

If God took the attitude that the everyday sins didn't matter. Everyone does them so they don't really count. If that were the case, then I'm sure there would have been no need for him to go all the way and send his Son to do all that he did. God takes sin seriously - he takes all and every sin seriously. Paul says, "There is no one who does good, not even one". When we take sin seriously and realise that without Jesus we stand condemned, then we are simply happy to know about Jesus and his cross and this foolishness doesn’t look so foolish after all.

That's why Paul kept on telling his listeners, ‘The message of the cross … is God's power to save’ and that ‘Christ died for us’ (Rom 5:8b).
He wants to emphasise that there is not one person for whom Christ has not died.

This may come as a bit of a surprise to some people. We might ask whether there are some people who surely don't deserve to be forgiven. Surely Jesus didn't die for rapists, murderers, sexual criminals, child molesters, and drug pushers. We are so horrified at what these people do, surely Jesus didn't die for these people too.

Jesus came for all sinners. He wants all to experience forgiveness and healing. But it is unfortunately true that not all people want to know Jesus or see their need for the forgiveness and reconciliation he offers or see any need for the cross. That is their decision. But that doesn't change the fact that Jesus has died for them and wants them to benefit from his death and to receive forgiveness and eternal life through faith in him. That also provides us with the challenge to help such people see their sin, and their need for forgiveness. It is a challenge for us to show such people that the ‘The message of the cross … is God's power to save’ them too.

There is another side to the message of the cross. Paul makes a big thing in his writings that when Jesus died so did our old sinful nature. He says, ‘For we know that our old self was crucified with him... count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 6.6,11). Our sin has been blotted out, cancelled, wiped out by Jesus death on the cross, we have been made new, given eternal life, and so it follows that our daily lives should match our new status as forgiven children of God. He even gives us the Holy Spirit to help us live this new life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22).

But you know what, we can’t help ourselves and our sin gets us into no amount of trouble. Thank God for Good Friday and the message of the cross. ‘Christ died for us’ (Rom 5:8b.

Today might be April Fools' Day but the message of the cross is no fools trick. Good Friday shows us in the clearest way possible God's intense love for each of us and to what degree God has gone to ensure that every one of us will have the opportunity to share in the joys of eternal life. There is nothing foolish about this. But I can tell you what is really foolish - that is to not take the message of the cross seriously.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
1st April 2007

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