1 Corinthians 1:18-25: The Foolishness of the Cross

Foolishness of the Cross(2)In all your days, did someone come to you and make this case?  “Tell me, if God is almighty, can He create a stone too heavy for Him to carry?”  Hmm, such a smug, rebellious question!  At last, the creature gives the Creator His comeuppance, outwitting Him in our cleverness.  So we think.  No, this only shows our impudence, inventing a scenario to try to turn the Almighty’s strength into a weakness.  In one move, someone presumes to push Heaven’s King off His precarious perch.  Right?

Not so for us, those enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  For such seeming contradictions are nothing new.  For they are the mysteries of the faith—divine certainties, which defy our logic.  Now, if something about God startles us, this is because how He works in our lives is perplexing to our fallen flesh.  For His methods are strange to our wayward thinking and nonsense to everyone estranged from Him.

The mystery of the Godhead is irrational math to this world’s way of calculating.  For He is three persons but one Being.  The Son of Mary is both divine and human, being one without reducing the other.  How can Jesus, as God, fill the whole universe (2 Chronicles 6:18) but be born as a baby, the infinite containing Himself in the finite?

Now on to the most mysterious.  How can an eternal Being, who cannot die, breathe His last on a Roman cross?  The life-giving Spirit schools us to lay down our weaponry against these confounding enigmas.  The power of the Word enlightens us to bask in what only the Almighty can do.  For His ways don’t match our ways, and His thoughts are far above what we can conjure.  Without the Spirit, the words from the All-Knowing One are only nonsense and little more.

A sin-forgiving cross is idiotic to the perishing.  Against the folly of the cross, wise men, scholars, and philosophers wither and fade.  For what passes as truth to us is faulty, unable to endure the pure, burning intensity of the Almighty’s presence.  What we may regard as foolish can cloak within the wisdom from heaven’s throne.

Consider this insane-sounding contradiction.  Can the Lord bear a burden formed and bent by His rebellious creatures, contrary to His nature and essence?  For He lives in unapproachable light.  This God, who “does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17), is holy—and no one unholy can survive in His presence.  Oh, the boulder too hefty is not the question, but the ability to bear our sin is!

Here, our Lord’s cross solves the unsolvable.  In the irrationality of our Redeemer’s death, we realize the comfort of our Heavenly Father.  How?  In the sure promise of His forgiveness and the deliverance from the damnation our rebellion deserves.

The people surrounding our Savior as He went to Golgotha’s stony slope reflect our puny understanding.  The savvy politician, Pontius Pilate, construed our Savior’s claims as nothing but a silly obstacle to his life’s ambitions.  Though he declared Jesus free of blame, he let the petty bickering of the Israelites sway him.

Into the face of the One who is the truth, Pilate stared, waxing philosophical.  “What is the truth?” as a smirk forms on his lips (John 18:38).  The seasoned official did what came easiest to his self-serving mind.  In the end, he chose to do whatever he needed to save his political career, crucifying an innocent man.

The scholar and philosopher of this age wither away.  For the all-knowing One exposes the insight of this world as the real foolishness.  The academic stores up the knowledge he gathers from others more learned than himself.  The brooding man draws on his intellect to speculate on many mysteries and why we exist.  The theories we cobble together and make all depend on our corrupted, human intelligence.  So, don’t be surprised by the ever-changing landscape of science.

No wonder none of our created religions offer us a surefire salvation.  Confronted by a rabbi from Nazareth, the High Priest, Caiaphas, refused to allow the possibility of Jesus being the One promised to Eve in Eden’s Garden.  To him, no person can forgive sin, but God—and in front of him only stood a man—and nothing more.

The best he can hope for is Israel to survive as a nation.  So, delving into the depths of his mind, Caiaphas convinced himself he carried out Yahweh’s wishes as he pondered whether to condemn Jesus to death.  Only thinking of his country, he declared his verdict.  “Better for one man to die than for the entire nation to perish” (John 11:50).

The mysterious workings of God unmask the flaws inside us.  In Jesus’ day, the “Jews demanded miraculous signs,” revealing a bent familiar to us all.  Think of the Jewish king, Herod—he wanted to visit Jesus because he found His miracles enthralling.  So, as Jesus trudged toward death, He remained mute before Herod, choosing to be silent.

Is anyone here who never insisted on God to do some miracle for him?  So also the crowd, who mocked Christ, pounded and nailed to the dense wood of death.  “Come down if you are the Messiah! Come down, and we will believe!” (Mark 15:32).  Thank heaven! To the shame of our foolishness, Jesus did not come down.

In our petty and petulant minds, the other marvels and wonders of Jesus matter little.  For they are never enough.  So what if He fed 5,000, cast out demons, healed some disease, or raised Lazarus from the dead.  No, unless He performs the miracle my three-year-old, tantrum-throwing child inside me demands, what use is He?

Rejoice, our Redeemer didn’t cave into our childish ultimatums for Him to come down from the despised cross.  Consider if He did.  The life for us in eternal realms now vanishes into a forgotten mist.  Yes, our wisdom is what is foolish, not God!

Mull over this supreme mystery.  Listen to how Yahweh described Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai.  “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in love and truth, showing faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7).  In His unfathomable kindness, He chooses to forgive everything, which would condemn us all forever.

Let’s take in more of Scripture, “Yet God does not leave the guilty unpunished.  For he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7).  Did the Bible use the word “punishment”?  Yes.  So we learn God is deeper than we think.  For He is kind and holy, showing underserved favor and yet He will discipline our misdeeds.  Both facts stand.

The God of all is loving, absolving us of every failing.  True enough, but He also treats our sins as they deserve, which means reprimanding our wrongs.  Both pardoning and punishing?  Ah, an oxymoron confronts us—two irreconcilable facts existing together.  A paradox beyond our ability to ponder.

Can the all-powerful God create a rock too heavy for Him to lift?  Such a trivial question when you wrestle with this eternity-altering question, “Can God punish every offense but still forgive them?” Only in Christ’s death does God do both!

The Apostle Paul wrote, “We preach Christ crucified.”  Why?  Only on Christ did God impose all the penalty for all our failings.  On the carnage of the cross, God treated His sinless Son as we deserved, where He took our punishment, and we go free.  The same is still true today.

In the Church, we proclaim Christ and His cross.  For the perfect mercy and love of our Father only becomes real to us when the benefits of Jesus’ death are delivered to us, here and now.  In His Son’s cross, the heavenly Father deals with rebels like us as He should only treat His incarnate Son!

Yes, others may mock the idea of some supreme Being giving us life through death.  So what.  For only what God does is sure and certain.  Now if He “is for us, who is against us?  For He who did not spare his own Son, but offered him as a sacrifice for all.  How will he not also, with him, grant us everything?” (Romans 8:31-32).

Armed with heaven’s wisdom by our Lord’s cross, we can face the troubles of life and stare down the doom of death.  With mortality stalking our every move, the struggle against our tattered nature and its wreckage in our lives never subsides.  So, into our wasteland, God comes.  For Christ died and rose to life, but He must still deliver his salvation to us to benefit us, which is what He does in Word and Sacrament.

So, if others ridicule us for speaking about the insanity of some cross pulling us from death into life, don’t become disheartened.  Until people receive Spirit-given eyes, they will never fathom how essential the life-giving cross is for their eternity.  May the Spirit use us to help them recognize God’s justice against their sin on the killing wood.  May our Savior’s cross become for them, as well, the loveliest, most cherished tree of all.

So, “what can separate us from the love of Christ?  Can affliction, distress, and persecution, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death?  No, in all these, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35).

One day, death will come calling.  The mighty wisdom of the sin-releasing cross will uplift our eyes to the Father’s mercy.  For only what He does guarantees us a safe passage into the new heaven and earth, our real home.  Stake your eternal joy on God in His wisdom and His Son’s sin-absolving cross!

In Christ and His suffering, He turns pain into everlasting victory.  So, death or life, angels or demons, the present or the future cannot tear us apart from God’s love in His Son, Jesus.  Only the foolishness of Christ’s cross can teach us this, which is why you come here to revel in Jesus every week.  Amen.