Through the Cross!
Holy Cross Sunday
Sept. 13, 2009
Rev. S. D. Spencer
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
18 For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside." 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
The message of the cross of Jesus is foolishness to those who are perishing. But to those who believe it is the power of God. That’s what St. Paul said to his world nearly 2000 years ago. But is it still true? I believe that our world has become desensitized to the cross. Has the cross become disconnected from the church? We see actors and athletes, rappers and models, gang members and moguls wearing the cross as some sort of costume jewelry. But does it mean anything anymore? Have we become desensitized, numb and deadened to the cross and the power therein?
In St. Paul’s day the cross was still being used as an instrument of torture and death, people knew what that hideous shape represented. It was a symbol of death and not just any death but a slow, torturous, pain-filled, agonizing death. This was a sign of being accursed by man and accursed by God. I guess in our day, to even come close to the symbolism someone would have to wear a hangman’s noose around their neck. Except there would still be something missing. St. Paul said that to those perishing the cross is foolishness. By the way foolishness can be translated silliness or folly. To the perishing the cross is nonsense it’s folly to follow it doesn’t make any sense, it’s silly. But St. Paul says to those that are being saved it is the Power of God. You see a hangman’s noose is only an instrument of death. The cross is the instrument of death and life. Truly the cross is an instrument of life for those who believe. Let me clarify what I mean.
There’s a story about a man who lived in the Midwest close to the turn of the last century. He was a carpenter by trade. Everywhere he went he drove his buckboard and on the back of that buckboard was the most beautiful carpenter’s chest you have ever seen. It looked as if it was made from a single piece of wood. There wasn’t a single seam of wood showing. The finish was as smooth as glass. The lid fit so tight it could keep out rain or snow or any element. The hinges on the chest were recessed and concealed. The locking mechanism on the chest was double action, one turn to secure the lid and the second turn to seal it. Special carrying handles were mounted on the side so that two or more people could carry this heavy chest. People would see this tool chest and say: “You must be the best carpenter in these parts.” To which the carpenter would always, “Nope just the second best.”
So one day a man passing through the town and asked, “So who is the first best?” The carpenter seemed pleased to be asked such a question and quickly shared his story. Some years ago a man from a town 20 miles away hired me to do some work on his house. He invited me into his shop to show me the plans. He wanted to add a room and a kitchen. And there as I looked around his shop I noticed his tools sitting out on a cloth. They were perfectly sharpened the handles looked new. I saw wood sanded to glass-like finish, exotic woods that I’ve never seen before. I saw cabinets made to such perfection that the hinges were recessed and the doors fit without and gaps or warps. The man that owned this shop was a master craftsman. So without hesitation I asked why, why do you want me to build an addition? No doubt you have all the skills necessary? He smiled and said, yes I do. But I don’t have the time. My son is arriving in just a couple weeks and I am so busy with work, I just can’t do it by myself. Will you help me please? I took the job, I needed the work.
Because I saw the great ability of the master I decided to do everything with the greatest care. When I built the cabinets for the kitchen I carefully copied the design in the master’s shop. I measured everything twice and took my time to make sure it was perfect. But all the time I was working on the room and kitchen I noticed the master looking at my poor wooden tool box of tools. I had made it out of some scraps of lumber. But like so many other tradesmen, like the smithy whose horse needs shoes, like the seamstress whose children’s clothes need mending. I had never used my trade for myself. My toolbox was a disgrace.
When the job was done the man seemed very pleased with my job and even gave me a bonus. That was the last time I ever saw the man. I never asked him what he did for a living but he certainly must have been a maker of fine furnishings. About 3 years later I received a message from the freight office that a delivery had arrived for me. To my surprise it was this tool chest. I opened it and it was full of tools, each in their own pouch. The chest was lined with the finest fabric, the trays sitting perfectly on top of each other. I looked at the wood, the fine craftsmanship and knew who had sent it. I opened the lid and a note inside read, “My father wanted me to give this to you for all that you have done. He is now with the Lord. These tools served him well. May these tools serve you well in this life until you two meet again in the next”. Inside the lid of the chest were an inlayed brass cross and these gold leafed words. “Through this door you enter eternal life!”
I finally discovered what the man did for a living about a year later. My 2 year old nephew died of influenza. He lived in that town about 20 miles away where the master once lived. I went to his funeral and there sitting in the front of the church was his casket. As I walked up for the final viewing I noticed how smooth and glassy the finish was. How the lid locked down with a double action lock, the first to secure and the second to seal it. I noticed the handles on the side allowing allow two or more people to carry it. And inside the lid I noticed an inlayed brass cross and these gold leafed words. “Through this door you enter eternal life!”
The real cross to a perishing person makes as much sense as an infant’s coffin. But let me remind you, the day Jesus was born in human flesh as the wee babe of Bethlehem His days were numbered, His death was ordained. To a perishing world the cross has become a trinket, an ornament, a bauble. Some piece of cheap jewelry with no message. But to the believer the cross is a tool, the tool of salvation. The message of the cross is the door of eternal life for it is the power of God to save.
In our text today Paul is challenged by the Jews who seek signs and the Greeks who seek wisdom. In our world today many come and say “Show me a sign,” Many would believe in Jesus if only He would do a miracle. If only He would heal disease or deliver from financial ruin or end all wars right now, then many more would believe in Him. Why doesn’t He just show us a sign that He loves us and wants to help us?
“Show us the wisdom of Jesus, what’s helpful for me right now.” That’s another test thrown at the Church today. Far too many books and sponsored speakers at our pastoral gatherings declare that we must make Jesus relevant for the world, so that the hearer can use what he’s learned about Jesus on Sunday and apply it on Monday. If it’s not practical to the unbeliever, goes the argument, then it’s must not a good message.
Many Christians insist on signs and wisdom. It’s neither easy nor fun to live by faith. Deep in trial and tribulation your Old Adam will work at tempting you to say, “’This whole Jesus died on the cross to forgive me’ message is all very nice, but now I need some real help!” (Sigh.) Or, frustrated with this or that aspect of life, you’ll want to murmur, “I get it. I get the whole Gospel message, so can we move on to something that’s really useful, something that really helps?”
Let’s face it: up against all the problems and temptations of this world, the Gospel message sounds kind of weak and foolish. Up against the temptations and torment of being a teenager, the Small Catechism seems foolish. When visiting someone who’s seriously ill, it can sound ridiculous to remind them of their baptism. When worn down by the daily grind, Confession and Absolution and a Law-Gospel sermon look more old-fashioned than helpful—not because it is, but because we consider our daily hassles to be more of a greater concern than our own sinfulness. When a visitor desires the Lord’s Supper and we ask them to refrain for the time being, it seems like a needless barrier—I mean, what harm could such a humble rite do? Ah, but such thoughts show our sinfulness and frailty and doubt. They demonstrate that the cross remains a stumbling block for us, too.
And so for us and for the world we preach Christ-crucified. Even though it isn’t or will ever be the most popular message. We acknowledge that what we believe is foolishness apart from faith. But we proclaim it anyway. Why, for many reasons!
· We preach Christ crucified because we can, because the Lord has given us the privilege of declaring His praises.
· We preach Christ-crucified because, even though it’s foolishness to the unbeliever, it is the power and wisdom of God for salvation to all those who believe.
· We preach Christ-crucified and risen for our salvation because He was cursed by God and took our place;
o because He died for our captivity to sin; and because He suffered the cross for our crimes.
o We point to Holy Baptism and gladly declare, “That isn’t water only; Christ crucified and risen is locally present there to wash away our sins.
o We proclaim that Gospel in the Absolution and sermons, because that is how the Holy Spirit works faith.
o We point to the Supper and gladly declare that it is more than just a symbol or a demonstration of how we treat one another; rather, the crucified/risen Savior is locally present with the forgiveness of sins.
o And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
God has crafted a plan for your salvation. Jesus died for your sins on the (T) cross and Jesus is risen again. That is what we proclaim, because that is the power of salvation for all those who believe. The devil, the world and your own sinful flesh will work overtime to convince you that it’s nothing but inconsequential foolishness and weakness, but by the grace of God you know better. It’s only because Christ is crucified that you are forgiven for all of your sins. For only though Him (T) is the door to eternal life! For the message of the cross is the power of God. In Jesus name, amen and amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus, AMEN