Epiphany 4 – “Foolishness Saves” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

29 Jan

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Living in the sinful world that we do, we are bound to experience conflict. Conflict can be defined as controversy, quarrel, or discord of action, feeling, or thought. We are going to quarrel, for that is a sin, and we are at heart sinners living in a sinful world. We know that conflict is not what God designed or desires, and yet we engage in conflict as if it comes second-nature to us. When we read the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, we see that Christ has called us out of conflict to be what we could never be on our own.

Conflict arises when we think we are something on our own, when we think we are something that we are not. Conflict is nothing new, for we see that it is as old as our human pride. It was a wounded pride that stirred Cain to murder his brother Abel. The church at Corinth was too focused on boasting about whose leader or teacher was the best rather than focusing on the fact that they are all united in Christ. Each member of the Corinthian church had the same Christ, and that fact should have made them equally something – brothers and sisters in Christ. But instead, by thinking that they were more important than others or that they were more right because of the leader or teacher, they failed to see who they were in Christ.

Our conflicts are no different than that of mankind’s history. We are quick to engage in conflict if for no other reason than to prove that we are right and the other is wrong. We are quick to engage in conflict in order to put our own needs above others, to see great attention and love come our way.

The words that St. Paul writes to the Corinthians are words that should bring the focus and attention back to Christ and off of themselves and the conflict and divisions they have. For as many as confessed in Christ, there were just as many as saw this new teaching of Christ as nothing but rubbish and nonsense. That’s why Paul says, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Those outside of Christ see Christ and all that He says and does as nothing more than folly, utter foolishness. Quoting from the prophets of old, Paul says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” The so-called “wisdom of the wise” would lead them to hell, for they were perishing in their wisdom. They were so sure that they knew what God was like and how to deal with Him. They were so confident that they had the answers to the problems of sin and guilt that they automatically rejected what God had to say about their salvation through the cross of Christ.

If this is how you thought, Paul is saying that you don’t want to be in this camp, for all the wisdom in the world will not save you unless one has Christ. And so we have conflict. We’re left with one of two choices: go it alone and rely on our wisdom or give in to the foolishness of Christ. The reason why Christ was the foolish option was because how can the salvation of mankind rely upon a single human being. But right there you have a problem. Christ is not just your average run of the mill human being. While He is indeed man, He is also God, and by His perfect life, by His actions upon the cross and by His resurrection, He has won salvation for all who believe in Him.

The problem in Corinth was that they proved to be fools because they, along with all their wisdom, rejected the only way of salvation – Jesus of Nazareth dying on the cross for their sins. But this was not only happening to those within the Corinthian church. It was happening all around the church, the push from outside to conform to worldly wisdom and the like. Paul continues by saying, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom….” Signs and wisdom do not communicate the saving work of Jesus Christ. But Paul knows what does communicate the saving work of Jesus. He continues by saying, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

That saving Good News of Jesus would appall the audience. A crucified Savior? It didn’t make sense. For the Greeks with their logic and fairness and wisdom, it didn’t make sense that God would die so that man was pardoned for sin. But there was something worse — that cross again. In the Roman Empire, only two sorts of people were ever crucified —criminals and disobedient slaves. The idea that the Son of God would submit to such a death was intolerable to the Greeks; to the Romans, it was understood that crucifixion was such a hideous death that it simply wasn’t to be talked about.

No doubt, Paul would explain further. He’d explain that Jesus had accepted the cross to die a criminal’s death — to die at God’s hand for all the crimes and all the sins of all the world. He’d declare that Jesus had been sold for thirty pieces of silver—the price of a slave, and then died for all the disobedience of mankind. But again, the idea was too much. Christ’s death on the cross was a stumbling block for Greeks and Romans — it was too repulsive to mention in polite conversation, much less preach as the centerpiece of the faith.

But to those who believed, this foolishness of Christ crucified was indeed their salvation. This was God’s wisdom, granting mercy and grace for the sake of His Son’s suffering and death.

Make no mistake, when Paul preached Christ crucified, it wasn’t a popular message. It sounded foolish and weak, even scandalous. But Paul continued to proclaim it; because no matter how foolish it sounded to unbelievers, Jesus Christ — crucified and risen — was Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

And so, for us and for the world, we preach Christ-crucified, even though it isn’t, never has been and never will be, a popular message. By faith, we acknowledge that what we believe is foolishness apart from faith. But we proclaim it anyway. Why? For all sorts of 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 in our place; because He died for our enslavement to sin; and because He suffered the cross for our crimes.

Christ has died for your sins on the cross and Christ 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 irrelevant foolishness and weakness, but by the grace of God you know better: it is only because Christ was crucified that you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.


About Rev. Jared Tucher

I'm a Lutheran (LCMS) pastor serving in Gillette, WY.
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