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What Luther Says

SERMON: It's Always About The Cross of Christ -- Even When It's Not 'Holy Cross Day' (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

I may have mentioned this before, but one of the things I really love about being a Confessional Lutheran is how our church actually has an actual "Church Calendar" that we follow year-after-year.

So, that means that I have been exposed to so many feasts and festivals that I never knew existed let alone exposed to some rich history and tradition pertaining to our shared and cherished faith; history and tradition whose sole purpose is to exalt Christ and preach Christ crucified to a world dead in its sins (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Take, for instance, the fact that today is the day we commemorate what's called "Holy Cross Day" that actually dates all the way back to AD 335!

You’ll notice that the color of our paraments today is red–in other words, something different from the ordinary green that we use in the non-festival half of the church year. This means that we’re observing a special festival today, one that happens to fall on a Sunday this year. And this festival is called Holy Cross Day. What is Holy Cross Day, you ask? Well, let me tell you the background of this observance. Back in the early 300s, the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian. Then in the year 326, his mother, Helena, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and there she discovered what was believed to be the true cross of Christ. So they began to build a church on the site of that discovery, and, nine years later, it was dedicated–the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem. It’s still there, by the way; I’ve been there. So it came to be that on September 14, in the year 335, the holy cross itself was brought outside the church for the people to see. At least that’s how the story goes. And that seems to be the origin of Holy Cross Day. And this festival continues to be observed on this date among churches all around the world. Now whether or not St. Helena discovered the actual cross of Christ is really beside the point. The main point of this festival, as it is observed among us now, is to emphasize the central importance of the cross of Jesus Christ for our salvation and in our preaching and teaching. That’s what we are doing here today on this Holy Cross Day. And so our theme this morning: “But We Preach Christ Crucified.” “But we preach Christ crucified”: These words come from our Epistle for today, from 1 Corinthians 1, particularly this verse, where St. Paul writes: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 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.” 
*- Pastor Charles Henrickson


During the reign of Constantine the Great, the first Roman Emperor to profess the Christian faith, his mother Helena went to Israel, hoping to find the places especially significant to Christians. Having located, close together, what she believed to be the sites of the Crucifixion and of the Burial (at locations that many modern archaeologists think may be correct), she then had built over them the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was dedicated on 13 September 335. On the next day, the purported section of the cross was brought outside the church for others to view. Thus began a day for recognizing the cross of Christ in a festal atmosphere that would be inappropriate on Good Friday. It stands as a symbol of triumph, as a sign of Christ's victory over death, and a reminder of His promise, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32)" The day is known by different names in various parts of Christendom. The Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Churches know it as "Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross" while the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church calls it the "Triumph of the Cross." Most other liturgical churches simply call it "Holy Cross Day."  
*- Aardvark Alley

Now that we've done a little history lesson, let's turn our focus to the foundation of our faith -- Jesus' work upon the cross for you and me.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (ESV) 18 For 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. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? 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 did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Yes, John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9 are absolutely foundational to our faith as well (as is the rest of holy Scripture), but I particular like this passage from 1 Corinthians 1 since it speaks to the spirit of the age in which we live.

Of course, God's Word is relevant regardless of the place or the time period that fallen, sinful humanity finds itself in, but I find this portion of the text to be a powerful rebuttal to the post-modern, politically correct crowd that make up the "Liberal Progressive" wing of contemporary Christianity.

On second thought, I suppose it's also the perfect rebuttal to those who always want to talk about "Unity At Any And All Costs!" over, above, and at the expense of unity around doctrine and our confessions that point us back to that doctrine (Ephesians 4; Jude 1:3).

Our sermons (yes, "sermon" with an "s" -- as in "more than one sermon") for today underscore the importance of this Biblical text. The first is from way back in 2011 delivered by Pastor Tom Chryst (or the same Pastor we referenced in last week's Sunday Sermon Series post) at his Preachrblog. The second is from no stranger to the A Lutheran Layman blog, and none other than, Pastor Tony Sikora.

“Preaching Foolishness”  
“That's the stupidest thing I ever heard!” Anyone ever said that to you, or about something you happen to believe? Is there anything more insulting or disquieting than to have someone question one of the major tenets of your faith – or to suggest that the whole thing is rubbish? 
And don't think it doesn't happen. For many of the doctrines of the Christian faith are disturbing to those who don't believe them. Sure there are the live-and-let-live types. But to those who take the time to understand what Christianity actually teaches – they are often angered or offended. And they'll sometimes tell you how foolish they think you are to believe it. 
But this isn't a sermon about them. This is a sermon for us. What does it do to us when someone tells us our faith is stupid? That we are fools? Does even a part of us believe it? 
We are tempted, not just by such attacks. We are tempted even by our own minds, to place our reason before faith, our own ideas and thoughts before the word of God. And when we do, we usually come to the wrong conclusion. 
Luther called reason the “Devil's bride” and the “Greatest enemy of the faith”. One quote attributed to Luther reads, “Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and … know nothing but the word of God” He also said, "All the articles of our Christian faith, which God has revealed to us in His Word, are in presence of reason sheerly impossible, absurd, and false." 
So Dr. Luther agrees with St. Paul, that the message of the cross is foolishness, a scandal, utterly unreasonable. 
But. To us who are being saved.... a different story. To us who are being saved, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Still, there's this conflict within us... 
Sin often seems so reasonable. Just a little cheating here won't hurt. A little lying there and no one will know. I'll get rid of this inconvenience and I'll ignore that word of God – it's just not practical. God's ways don't make sense to us. Wouldn't it be better to do it my way? 
I know God said, “don't eat from that tree”. But it looks so good and I want to be wise. God said, “Honor thy Father and Mother”, but they just don't know what it's like to be a teenager. God said, “do not give up meeting together”, but I could really use a day off this weekend. God said, “pray for your enemies”, but I really hate that guy! God said, “love your neighbor”, but that person doesn't seem worth it... and on and on... 
But in reality sin is entirely unreasonable. How many times do we do what's wrong even though we know better. Even though we know we'll get caught, we'll pay the consequences one way or another. Even though we know that sin brings death, and pain, and punishment. And yet we go and sin – for some inexplicable reason. 
Reason, human, corrupted, sinful reason, must bow to the foolishness of God. What we think, and what we think we know, must always come after what God says is true. Even if it seems unreasonable. 
And thank God for such foolishness. What kind of foolish God would do what he does? Come down from heaven, be born a human. Be mocked. Suffer. Die. Forgive sinners. Love people who hate him. Do it all for people who do everything but his will. Jesus is either the biggest fool who ever lived, or his foolishness is bigger and better than we can imagine. 
Paul says God uses the weak things of this world to shame the strong. There's no one stronger in this world than Satan himself. And there's nothing weaker than dying in humility on a cross. And there it is. The foolishness of God. The cross. 
So we preach Christ Crucified. It's the only way. It's the only wisdom for us foolish sinners. It's the only power for those of us weakened even to death. Jesus dies, for you and me, for all. The Lord of life dies to bring life. The All-Powerful God submits to petty and unjust human punishments, the judge of all, the king of all, submits to cowardly Pilate. 
And in a fit of further foolishness, God turns things upside down again – bringing Jesus from death to life. Back from the dead. Who would ever have thought? What worldly wisdom could have predicted? But no, it's against all reason and wisdom and common sense. But it is by such foolishness that we are saved. In fact without the resurrection, our faith is in vain, as Paul says. 
So the next time someone calls you a fool for believing in Jesus, you might agree. But remember that God's foolishness is wiser than man's wisdom. The next time sin seems reasonable to you, repent! And in your weakness turn to the only strength we have – the weakness and foolishness of Christ. We preach Christ Crucified.. for you! The power and wisdom of God are in him, for you.

Awesome, wasn't it?

Now, I know that this entry is already running long, and that we're all pressed for time today as it is, but if my humble task is to provide all of you with some excellent examples of faithful preaching on a specific set of Bible verses, then I just can't stop there so please bear with me for just a little longer.

A Foolish, Silly, Stupid Little Word Really Does Save You  
Beloved in the Lord, 
Words Really Do Hurt 
Some of my favorite TV commercials are those Gieco commercials. Those commercials tell me things I didn’t know before. Not only can I save 15% on car insurance but I’ve also learned that owls are not that wise, pinnochio is a bad motivational speaker, Old McDonald was a really bad speller, and Words really do hurt. 
That last one gets me every time. The cowboy is riding off into the sunset and across the screen reads “The End” as the Cowboy literally rides into the letter E and is knocked off of his horse. Words really can hurt you. But unlike the other factoids Geico shares with us in their commercials, everyone really does already know that. 
Words really can hurt you. We’ve heard them and we’ve said them, we’ve felt them. Words have power. And too often that power is used wrongly. “I hate you!” screams the teenager to her parents. “I wish you were never born” replies the parent. “I don’t love you anymore” says the man to his wife. Or “I’ve found someone else” says the wife to her husband. Words have power and that power can be, has been, used to hate. 
But Words can hurt without malice. “You have cancer.” “Your daughter was in a car accident.” “Your son was injured in battle” These are words no person wants to hear but in our fallen world too many hear every day. Words really can hurt you. Words like these, whether born of hatred or brokenness strike the heart with the reality of our world and our life. And as these words pierce through to our soul we are led to search for a revelation from God, a word, a sign, an intervention, anything that can help us understand, help us through, help us move on. Thus God gives us the Word of the cross. 
Actions Not Words?  
But the Word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. The Word of the cross is folly, silly, even stupid to those who don’t believe. After all, what good can a Word about a Jewish man dying on a tree do for me today? How can words like these save my marriage or bring my dad home? How can words so old heal my heart? And it’s not just “how can words in general do any good?” but more importantly it’s how can these Words do me any good. These words don’t make sense. These words talk about suffering and death. And resurrection? Whoever heard of such a thing? No one comes back from the dead. Dead means dead and nothing can change that. 
Thinking ourselves wise, we foolishly think that we don’t need words. What we need is actions. “Actions speak louder than words.” Because actions got us into this mess we think actions should be able to get us out. In our wisdom we think actions are more powerful than words. We suppose that actions get things done. Actions do things, change things, exert power. We see that in our everyday lives. We feel it for better or for worse. And in our wisdom we think God should do the same, act the same. 
And so we often hear “Deeds not creeds.” We apply the world’s wisdom to spirituality. If our actions caused this mess – which we have to admit, they did. Sin came into the world through one man and through one man all sinned and therefore all die. Yeah, our actions in Adam then and in us today did it and we know it. We feel it. We hear about it. So, if our actions did it, and if our actions are doing it, then what God wants is for us to change our actions! Stop doing it. Start making it better. That makes sense doesn’t it? Stop sinning and be nice. Just be nice to each other. 
But in our wisdom we have become fools. We have become fools because we think ourselves too big and that our actions can make things better. And we think God is too small that He should use words to change the world. We think that if He doesn’t do great and mighty and magnificent and magnanimous and awesome deeds for us to see and feel, then He really isn’t doing anything special. He really isn’t doing anything worth our attention. He really isn’t doing anything good for us. That’s why so many stumble and chase after the wrong sorts of spiritualities. So many want to see and to feel rather than hear and believe. To them, seeing is believing and hearing is boring. 
Through The Foolishness of Preaching 
The Lord does not call you see and feel. He calls you to listen. “The Word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Jews seeks after signs and wonders. They want to see why they should believe in Jesus. Greeks seek after wisdom because they want everything to make sense. Sometimes you want signs. Sometimes you want to make sense of things. Sometimes you want to see. Sometimes you want to understand. But God gives us the Word of the Cross. Through preaching God changes things. Preaching the Word of the Cross changes things, changes people, changes you if you believe it. This Word of the cross is the Word made flesh for you. This Word of the Cross is the Word who dwelt among us. He came to His own but His own preferred signs and wonders. He came unto the world, but the world wanted to be bigger than God. And so His own rejected Him and the Gentiles crucified Him. The Word of the Cross is God crucified. This fleshly Word, this crucified Word, this Word who suffered under Pontius Pilate was crucified dead and buried, is God’s Word for you to receive today, tomorrow, and forevermore. This Word offered Himself for your actions, your hatred, your hurts, your sin, and your death. This Word is a mighty Word, so mighty that even in weakness, even in death, He forgives. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” 
It is not a mighty deed which the Lord gives for us to see and to experience and to feel in order for us to have it as our own, in order to make it “real” for us. No! The Lord gives us His Word, the Word made flesh. The Word crucified. The Word dead and buried. The Word resurrected on the third day. Through the preaching of this Word to the nations God gives His Heart into the ears of the peoples. Through this Word this morning God is giving His Heart into your ears this morning. I know, its sounds crazy. It sounds ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense that God would do such a thing, suffer the way Jesus did, and then rise on the third day. It doesn’t make sense that Words like these have the power to save, forgive, renew, and resurrect. But this is the Word God has given. And through this Word the wisdom of the world is undone. Through this word the mouths of debaters are stopped up. Through this Word of the cross the one who would accuse you is silenced forever. 
Words Work God’s Actions 
Without the Word of the Cross Christianity ceases to exist. No matter how pious the actions of her members, without the Word of the Cross there is no faith. Faith in Christ is borne out of the preaching of the Word of the cross. “Faith comes from hearing and hearing the message of Christ.” Faith does not come from doing. Forgiveness of sins is not earned. Salvation is not a work for us to accomplish. Therefore the Word of the cross is not only central but foundational for anyone who would be called Christian. The Word of the cross is not only central but foundational for you. God wants all men, women, and children, to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth as revealed in His Word. God wants you and your families to be saved through the power of His Word. How do I know this? I hear about it in God’s Word. How do I know God means me? The Word of the cross is actually preached to me. The Bible says, “God so loved the World that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish have everlasting life." I’m part of this world. You’re part of this World. Therefore God means me and God means you. There is no one left out. No one God doesn’t want to save. In hearing the Word of the Cross I am hearing God Himself tell me of His great love for me and all people. In hearing the Word of the Cross I am hearing of the great length to which God Himself went in order to win my salvation. I am hearing what was necessary for God to forgive me of my sins, defeat my death, and assure me of the resurrection of my body on the last day. In the Word of the Cross I am hearing God’s heart for me. I am hearing powerful words, words that do things for me, words that do things to me, Holy Words that change things, Holy Words that change me. 
The Word of The Cross Really Does God’s Things 
Beloved in the Lord, we already know that words really can hurt. We don’t have to ride off into the sunset only to hit our heads in the end. Words really do have power. The word of the cross has power. And this power is not manifested in hate but is the manifestation of God’s love for you. His Word really does holy things for you and to you. And His Word is here for you this morning. Through the Word of the cross those hurtful words we’ve felt and spoken are forgiven. Through the Word the Lord God is able to share Himself with you, wash you of your sins, comfort you in your hurts, strengthen you in your trials, encourage you when you’re down, and give you hope when the brokenness of this world imposes on us. Through the Word of the cross the love of God is proclaimed. Therefore beloved, lift high the cross! Take this word to heart. Believe it for yourself and allow the love of God to be ring out in your life through your actions. Hear the Word. Believe the Word. Receive the Word, and then speak the Word! The Word of the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God for you and for the world. AMEN! 
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!

Again, I know this is all a lot to digest, but for those of us who don't have a church home right now (and not by choice) or who are coming to the realization that it's finally time to leave their church for a more faithful and orthodox one, this is what makes the Internet and Christian Blogosphere such a blessing.

Take the time to read through both sermons S-L-O-W-L-Y with your Bible open and next to you. I can assure you that this is the kind of Christ-centered preaching that we all should be hearing on a weekly basis, but so often don't.

It's just as Pastor Charles Henrickson pointed out in a sermon of his own today...

Not everybody wants to hear the message of Christ crucified. They’d rather hear something else instead. The word of the cross is not very appealing to them. But, Paul insists, even though other messages might be more popular, we will continue to preach Christ crucified. 
Is this relevant for us today? Oh, you bet it is! We live in a time and in a culture where it is a great challenge to remain true to the word of the cross, to remain faithful in preaching Christ crucified. Such preaching is not very popular at all. No, we live in a day and age when most people would much rather hear something else. Preach Christ crucified as the heart and core and center of your sermons, and it’s very possible your church will be small and struggling when it comes to attendance and offerings. Preach a different message, how-to sermons–well, don’t even call them “sermons,” that sounds too churchy–preach how to live a more successful, happy life, and your numbers will increase. That’s what people want these days, and you’ve got to keep the customers satisfied, if you want to have a successful megachurch. 
What do Americans demand? What do they seek? Americans demand practicality. Americans seek entertainment. Americans seek advice for achieving their goal of a happier life now. Americans seek excitement and bright shiny things that will hold their attention. Jokes and stories, sentimental stories, principles for successful living and self-improvement–that’s the ticket! And so that’s what their preachers give them. Not Christ crucified, not the word of the cross, but those other things. St. Paul predicted this, you know, in 2 Timothy 4: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” 
So there is pressure on preachers today to tell people what they want to hear, rather than to stay true to what God would have us preach. Pastors can even feel the pressure from their own church members. “Pastor, it sounds so depressing, all this ‘dying for our sins’ stuff. Can’t you preach something more uplifting?” Well, I can’t think of anything more truly uplifting than the message of the Son of Man being lifted up on the cross, which forgives our sins and lifts us up to heaven. “Pastor, can’t you lay off the cross and sin and grace, and instead tell more funny stories? That’s what people want these days. That will grow our church and increase our offerings! And you know what that means, don’t you?” Yeah, it means I will have forsaken my calling, robbed Christ of his glory, and robbed people of the comfort they need. And so, like St. Paul, we will resist the culture and stick to preaching Christ crucified. 
Why is the word of the cross so offensive? Because it goes against our grain to have to admit that we need the Son of God dying on a cross to put us right with God. We don’t think we’re that bad that we need such a solution. We’d rather do it ourselves–if indeed we even think we need saving. But we do. The truth is, each one of us, you and I–we all have sinned and fall short of what God would have us be. This sinful nature, and the actual sins that we commit–these condemn us death. And death would be our lot, death under God’s judgment, if not for the cross. We need more than we can muster on our own. 
We need Jesus, the Savior sent from heaven and lifted up on the cross. There he died, the innocent for the guilty, shedding his holy blood on that holy cross. This was God’s hidden wisdom, his great plan to redeem sinful mankind, but in a way that looks weak and powerless. The Son of God, suffering in shame and silence, taking the punishment that you and I deserve. 
And that is why Paul says so strongly, “But we preach Christ crucified.” Why does he insist on this? Is he being obstinate? No, rather, it’s about salvation–your salvation.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, on this Holy Cross Day -- and each and every day, in fact -- we will not be ashamed of the cross.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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