We Preach Christ Crucified

Based on: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

A man picked up a brick from one corner of a busy intersection in New York City.  He walked to another corner, set the brick down and picked up a different brick. He carried this brick to the next corner of the same intersection, set it down and picked up another brick.  He repeated this process for an hour, moving the same bricks around the same four corners of the intersection.  It seems silly, doesn’t it – pretty foolish.  But to the marketing master mind of the 19th century, P.T. Barnum, it was a stroke of genius.  He paid a man to do this very thing and then, after an hour, walk into his museum.  And when that man walked into the museum a crowd of paying customers followed him in.  Now carrying bricks around an intersection doesn’t seem as foolish does it?

What about our faith? Two thousand years ago a man was executed by the Roman government and we believe that his death gets us into heaven.  This is the message we preach – Christ crucified.  To the world, this is foolishness, but to those called by God it is the power of God.

The Jews were eager for the Messiah to come.  They were waiting for the strong leader to restore the kingdom of Israel to the glory days of King David and King Solomon.  They expected to see God’s strength as the Messiah rescued them from the Roman Government just as Moses had brought them out of Egypt 1500 years before.  Of course the Pharisees and other leaders expected to have a significant part in this kingdom.  They, after all, were very religious keeping the all the rules that they thought were important.  They certainly expected to share in this Messiah’s power.  Then Jesus came.  He did not display military might but said, "Love your enemies."  He did not set up a kingdom like David or Solomon, but told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  Jesus gathered the poor and the sinners to himself and told the Pharisees that their hearts were not pleasing to God.  

How weak and foolish this Messiah seemed to be.  He did not rescue Israel from the Roman Government but instead was crucified by them. Their idea of who the Messiah should be was a barrier – they were not able to see the kingdom Jesus set up.

But let’s not be too quick to look down on the Jews and their leaders.  Do we sometimes expect that because we believe in Jesus and come to church that everything should go right for us?  Jesus has promised just the opposite.  When he allows suffering in our lives do we ask, “Where is God?”  And do we consider our savior to be weak if he doesn’t rescue us?  Remember what God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor 12:9).

The gentiles of the day were no better than the Jews.  When Paul told them about Jesus Christ, that he was crucified on the cross and then was raised back to life so that we too, after we die, will be reunited with our bodies in heaven forever, the Greeks and Athens call him a babbler.  "Why would we want this Christ to reunite our souls with our bodies? After all, isn’t the body evil and isn’t the goal to escape the body?"  To their own way of thinking Christ crucified and the resurrection he won for us made no sense at all.

Above all, the message of Christ crucified is foolishness to the world, because the message of Christ crucified means that Jesus Christ, as both God and man, had to suffer the penalty for all our sins.  We couldn’t do it.  The message of Christ crucified says that we are helpless in our own salvation.  We just sit and watch as Jesus carries his cross to Golgotha and is crucified.

But this runs contrary to the thoughts and desires of every human being on this earth.  Sinful people, that means everyone except Christ, wants to help in their salvation if not do it themselves.  Here is the reason why.  Whoever does the work gets the glory.  There’s the problem.  It is human nature to want some of the glory, some of the credit.  But we preach Christ crucified, Jesus did all the work of getting us to heaven and he gets all the glory.

Even for us as Christians there is that old man in us that wants part of the glory.  We might think, "At least I am not as bad as that serial killer on death row." And we feel better about ourselves.  But the message of Christ crucified says that the same payment was necessary for our sins as for the sins of that murderer.  The payment was Christ suffering on the cross.  But then we might say, “Well I’ve done some good things and I’ve been more involved in church than my neighbor.  God should look favorably on me for that." But we preach Christ crucified.  Whatever good things you and I have done make no difference to the suffering Jesus endured – he still had to bear the weight of our sins.

If you want to see another example of how the world rejects the message of the cross as foolish, just look around at all of the things that are labeled “Christian”.  Whether it is the books you find in a Christian bookstore, contemporary Christian music, or those inspirational e-mails that get sent around, how many of them proclaim Christ crucified?  The message of Christ crucified is more than just saying Jesus died on the cross.  There were many people executed by crucifixion, but only Christ took your place on that cross and paid for your sin.  How many things in this world that are called Christian actually say that?  Precious few.  

I am not saying that you should only read or listen to things that talk about Jesus dying for sin.  Nor am I saying you should avoid Christian radio and bookstores.  No, the main reason for talking about this now is to make it clear that even Christians in this world are afraid of looking foolish.  They avoid the message of Christ crucified because the world considers it foolish.  I also earnestly pray for all of you is that God give you spiritual discernment so that you are able to tell the difference between what truly going to build your faith and what merely sounds good.

God knew how the world would react to this message.  Paul said, “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.”  As foolish as this message seems to the world, we continue to preach Christ crucified because it is the power of God to those who are called.

Consider the power this crucified Christ has.  His arms are outstretched and nailed to the cross.  He looks weak, yet he is carrying a load we could never bear.  The weight of even a single one of our sins is too great for us to lift, but there is our mighty Savior on the cross shouldering the burden of every sin ever committed.

He looks defeated and his message seems foolish, but he is building a kingdom greater than that of David or Solomon or any other earthly king.  His kingdom spans all of time and covers all creation as he rules as King in our hearts and also as he rules the world for our good.  

It is precisely in the crucified Christ that the power exists to create a new creature in each of us as we hear the Gospel and the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts.  Here on the cross is the power to one day raise our bodies from the grave and not just raise them from the grave but also transform them into perfect and glorious bodies.  What seems weak to the world has done more than all of mankind’s strength could accomplish.

This powerful King, Christ crucified, has forgiven all of our weak attempts at doing God’s will.  We are forgiven when in our own weakness we fail to recognize God’s power to help and protect.  Here on the cross we see the powerful arm – able to reach us in our deepest misery and protect us in our worst suffering.  His power will even make us stronger through that suffering.

Consider also God’s wisdom in Christ crucified.  Before time began God planned this display of his power and wisdom.  He knew that we would not be able to save ourselves and so he carefully planned out our salvation for us and worked throughout history to bring it about.  He is God and we are his creation, he certainly knows best how to rescue us from our own problem.  

Paul’s words are true, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”  May we never be ashamed of this foolish and weak message of Christ crucified, but cherish it always as God’s power to save weak and foolish people like you and me.

Amen.

 

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