Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:23,24
We preach Christ crucified … the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Christ crucified - the power & wisdom of God

How have you been travelling through this season of Lent? 
In what ways has this Lenten season been something special to you?
In the past we’ve had midweek Lenten church services, special devotion books were published with step-by-step readings of the passion of Christ and a meditation.
In the church’s liturgy there were changes to remind us that “Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (to use words from the Lenten liturgy).
Without any of this, how is your journey through Lent going? 
Has Lent been the same as the rest of the year? 
Has it been tough finding a time and the resources to focus on what Jesus’ great love has done for you?

Do you want to make this time of the year something different and special?
If you do, starting from today grab your Bible and open to say Luke 22 (or any of the Gospels to the Palm Sunday event) read a little bit each day – not too much, a few verses, think about it, ask yourself “what impact do these verses have on me” (and don’t worry if there’s nothing that immediately jumps out at you), pray about it. 

I’m suggesting this today because the apostle Paul is giving us a powerful Lenten lesson in the meaning of Christ's cross.  

First of all, he startles us by saying “the message of the Christ's death on the cross is nonsense” or “foolishness”. 

Let me explain. He was writing to a mixture of people.  Some were Greeks – clever scholars, wise intellectuals, skilful debaters – they saw as sheer stupidity and beyond all reason, the idea of God, who is almighty and above all human weakness, suffering from a miscarriage of human justice and die the indignity of a cross as a criminal. To the Greeks the cross was insane.

Paul was also writing to Jews. They were looking for a Messiah who would reflect the glory and majesty of God.  They looked for signs and wonders like those throughout the Old Testament, not a suffering servant covered in blood and gore hanging from a cross.  The man on a cross was nothing but a sorry tale and not to be taken seriously – pure nonsense.

The attitude of things being nonsense is still reflected in our world and even in some sections of the church today.  We heard the Ten Commandments in the First Reading today.  These are brushed aside as nonsense for our modern world.

A topic that makes people uncomfortable is sin – meaning that every person is a sinner whether they like it or not, whether they know it or not and is part of their lives and influences their actions and words and controls their lives and there is no way to escape the control of sin – talk about sin then you are sure to get some strange looks.

The term ‘sin’ is rejected as nonsense because what God calls sin is today labelled as ‘normal’ –
it’s normal’ to ignore God, his holy day and worship as unimportant;
it’s normal’ if someone says or does something unkind we do the same to them;
it’s considered normal’ if there is something that we want badly then we have the right to get it by whatever means we can – too bad how it might impact on others;
it’s normal’ to swear, blaspheme, use God’s name any way we like;
it’s normal’ to sleep with another person outside of marriage, commit adultery (who even bothers with that word any more), end the life of the unborn, and I could go on.

There are even Christians who are reluctant to talk about sin and God’s attitude toward sin – his judgment, his anger, the penalty of death, out of some misguided fear of misrepresenting God as a terrifying judge.  Yes, God is totally intolerant of disobedience and rebellion by those whom he has created but that by no means lessons his love and divine mercy and grace toward us. His intolerance of disobedience and his love for us led to the amazing obedience of his Son on the cross for us.

And just as the world sees the death of Jesus with all the suffering, the nails, the torture, the slow dying, as irrelevant and nonsense for us today, some sections of modern Christianity, would you believe, hardly refer to the suffering Christ – they talk about his majesty, and glory, and power, and kingly rule in our lives – and so mostly preach about how a person must live under the rulership of the king.  It would seem that it's possible to have a Christianity that bypasses the cross.

And so we have this reading from the apostle Paul to reset our compasses toward the cross again.  Without the reality of sin and its powerful effect in our lives, even as Christians who have been born again into God’s family, we will not see any purpose in Christ's death for us personally.  It’s only because of Christ that we stand free and new under the grace of God. Paul’s letters remind us constantly that our salvation is “in”, “by” and “through” Christ and his death and resurrection.

Pauls says, We preach Christ crucified … the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23,24). This is the centre and focus of our faith – Christ crucified.  Sin, whether you define it as a small sin or big sin, has a devastating effect on our relationship with God.  It separates us from God.  Sin has corrupted the beautiful man and woman, boy and girl he has created and has brought death into our world.  And as foolish and nonsensical as Christ crucified might seem to the wise and the clever, this is God’s answer to the corruption within us. 

It does seem like foolishness and it is offensive to our intelligence for God to send his Son who was totally innocent to die a terrible death on a cross for the sake of every sinner, but this is the power of God and the wisdom of God to bring something new into our lives and into our world. Or as Paul says, For what seems to be God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God's weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:25).

He offers this newness freely.  It’s there to be taken in faith. By him we are put right with God; we become God's holy people and are set free” (1 Cor 1:30). This is a wonderful gift.  Why do so many people downplay the cross and even reject what God is offering?

Let’s look at it this way.  Imagine you in a place where there is a desperate shortage of food.  You won't last another day unless you have some food.  Along comes a United Nations’ truck with food supplies and those on board offer you food.  This is life.  ‘Take this and you will be saved’, they say.  But you say it's a trick. You won’t be fooled by this.  This is nonsense – food doesn’t come in big trucks – you work hard and get it from the fields.  Never have you had someone give you free food.  This is a trick!  And the truck drives away and you are left to face certain death.

We are sinners and there is nothing we can do about it.  We might want to downplay sin and its affect but there is only one remedy.  This remedy comes from God himself.  We are offered a truckload of freedom through Jesus’ death on the cross.  It might be a strange way to deliver what we desperately need, but forgiveness is being offered and ready to be grasped as a gift in faith.

It's important to note that Paul is focussing his attention on Good Friday and the power of the cross and God’s wisdom in allowing his own Son to suffer and die in such a terrible way is central to the Christian’s faith.  This is why in many of our Lutheran churches there is a crucifix either on the altar or somewhere in the building.  A cross with the crucified Christ reminds us of the tremendous and awful sacrifice that was made for each of us. 

Jesus was abandoned on the cross because of us.
Each of us contributed to the suffering of Christ.
The crucifix stands as a glowing symbol of our involvement in the cruel suffering of an innocent man and the humiliation of God on a cross.
The crucifix reminds us how much our sin hurts God, how his love for us aches like a parent’s love aches for a wayward child and how far that love was prepared to go – even to the cross – to bring us back into his arms again.
The crucifix reminds us – we are

Seeing Christ on the cross also reminds us that this is a place of rescue.  As crazy as this might seem – a dying man, God himself, on a cross has rescued us from sin and death. By him we are put right with God; we become God's holy people and are set free” (1 Cor 1:30).

Seeing Christ on the cross is where God's love is ever so clear. 
This is where God's saving work for us is the clearest.  If God can do that for me and for you, bearing the weight of our sin and death and judgment on his bruised and dying shoulders, there can be no doubt that his love will stand by us all the days of our lives as we journey on this earth. 

The crucifix is a reminder of that persistent, powerful, faithful, never-ending love that God has for us even in the most terrible circumstances.  This gives hope and confidence in those days when the wind is knocked out of our sails.  We have a Saviour who knows what the severest grief and pain are all about and walks the road of grief and pain with us.

There is one last point that I can’t help but make.  The suffering Christ is foolishness to those who don’t understand.  Likewise, we know that following Jesus, being a disciple, giving our time, energy and money to doing God’s work is seen as foolish by the world. 

Doesn’t Jesus talk about discipleship in terms of taking up a cross and following him?  It’s not easy.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s challenging. 

It’s easy to give up because it’s too hard.  It’s easy to drop the cross and fall in line with everyone else.  It easy to blend in and not speak God’s Word of comfort and truth where it’s needed. 

There lies the challenge.  God purposely chose us who are seemingly foolish to shame the wise of the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in how we show kindness, care, love, forgiveness and be like Christ to others.

As I said at the beginning, we are in the middle of Lent, if you need to refocus read this passage from 1 Corinthians again. Make Christ and his cross the centre of your faith.  Without the cross, there is no salvation but with the foolishness of the cross we have the promise of a renewed life, hope for the future, encouragement for the present and a calling to be like Christ. 

Christ crucified (is)… the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23,24).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

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