Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lent Mid-Week 1

Lent Mid-Week One[1]
February 13, 2008
Text: 1 Cor. 1:21-25:
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. 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. For the foolishness of God is wiser
than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (ESV).

Our Lenten meditations this year are based on the hymn, “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy” (LSB 434). Jesus Christ is the pure and holy Lamb of God who on the cross didst suffer as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice of atonement for our sin. He made peace for us with the Father by His holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death. And that is the whole content of Christian preaching: Christ crucified. Regardless of what the world demands, regardless of the world’s disdain for Christ and Christianity, regardless of whether the world considers us to be fools for believing in a God who dies for us, we preach Christ crucified. That is the charge given to the Church, to proclaim Christ crucified to a world lost in sin and death.

It is not a message the world wants to hear. The wisdom of God appears to be foolishness to the eye of the sinful flesh. We don’t always catch just how illogical the cross is because we have heard it preached so often. But understand, to the Jews and Greeks of the ancient world, a crucified God was an impossibility. And the scruples of the modern world will not allow for such a thing either. Why would almighty God submit Himself to death? That’s not very almighty! A wise God would win the victory over sin, death, and the devil by His power, according to the Greeks. And the Jews did not believe that God would demean Himself to take on human flesh and humiliate Himself to die on a Roman cross. The Old Testament declares that if a criminal is put to death by hanging on a tree, “you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God” (Deut. 21:23; emphasis added). Crucifixion is death by hanging on a tree, and it is an unclean, bloody, cursed mess.

No, the world does not want a crucified God, and truth be told, according to our sinful flesh, we, too, are scandalized by Christ and His cross. I suspect that is why so many prefer an empty cross to a crucifix. I know you’ve been told that an empty cross is a celebration of the resurrection, but that’s actually something we came up with later to explain why we had banned the crucifix. Besides, crucifixes are too Roman Catholic, or so the story went. But I thank God that Epiphany has a crucifix. Crucifixes are not specifically Roman Catholic at all. Crucifixes are Christian. For we preach Christ crucified. It isn’t pretty, but it’s the real deal. There is no other Christianity. There is no Christianity devoted to the empty cross. There would be no resurrection, no Easter, without the death of the Son of God on Good Friday. We sinners want our Easter without Lent and Holy Week. We want glory without suffering. We want life free from pain and death. But this is our sinful flesh. This betrays our union with the world. Repent. Forsake your idolatrous addiction to a cross-less, crucifix-less religion and turn to the One who sacrificed Himself on the cross to redeem your idolatrous heart for Himself, Christ crucified.

We are always tempted to preach something other than Christ crucified, are we not? After all, the cross doesn’t sell. It doesn’t meet anybody’s felt needs. We could fill these pews to overflow if we just did something other than preach Christ crucified. But we’re always talking about things like sin and death and blood, ugly things, sad things, and it’s such a downer. But isn’t that why Christianity is so real? This is the one place where we don’t dress the truth up in euphemisms. In the preaching of the cross, we must call a thing what it is. Here there is plain speech about the good, the bad, and the ugly. You are a sinner. You have made yourself into your own god. You have sought your own benefit and pleasure rather than that of your neighbor or the glory of God. You have not loved God above all things. You have not loved your neighbor as yourself. You have done things you shouldn’t have and neglected to do the things you should. You have coveted, stolen in your heart if not with your hands. You have lusted, committed adultery in the heart, if not with your body. You have hated, murdered in your heart, if not physically red-handed. That’s plain speech. For once someone is leveling with you. You’re in trouble. You’re a sinner, and the wages of sin is death. But let me level with you some more. There is a way out. God Himself has given it. It is not by your own sacrifices or good works. Not all the blood of bulls and goats could cleanse you from your sin. But the blood of the Lamb of God, pure and holy can. God Himself has provided a Lamb without blemish to die upon the altar of the cross for you. In Him there is full and free forgiveness of all your sins, victory over sin, death, and the devil, and new and abundant life. Believe it and it is yours. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even the chief of sinners, even you, even me.

And, to speak plainly, God delivers the benefits of that sacrifice to you in very tangible ways: Scripture and preaching, Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. It’s foolishness to the world. It seems like God would use something a little more spectacular than words and water and bread and wine to convey His gifts. But of course, our God is not that of the world’s imagination. He is not wise or powerful by the world’s standards. But it is the world that is without understanding. The Holy Spirit has called us to faith so that we can understand spiritual things, like the fact that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). For us who have been called by the Gospel and enlightened with the Spirit’s gifts, the preaching of the cross is no stumbling block. Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God for salvation to all who believe. And what great grace that we have been numbered among those who believe in Him, all because someone came to us preaching Christ crucified. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Epiphany’s Lenten series this year is based on Lamb of God, Pure and Holy (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008). While I wrote this sermon myself, I used many of the thoughts of the authors of the book, to whom I am indebted.

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