Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (Lent 3: Series B)

Reading Time: 5 mins

Christianity is not principally about ethics. It was the Cross on the Hill rather than the Sermon on the Mount which produced the impact of Christianity on the world.

This text speaks about the crucifixion of Christ Jesus. If you preach anything from the Epistle this Lenten season, preach Christ and Him crucified. Here in 1 Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul serves up the Gospel on a platter in generous portions. It is Christ, and Him crucified. For the preacher, this text encapsulates your commission, indeed, the reason for your homiletical existence. This is what you are to preach: Christ, and Him crucified.

Christianity is not principally about ethics. It was the Cross on the Hill rather than the Sermon on the Mount which produced the impact of Christianity on the world. Do not forget it. Christianity is what it is not so much because of the mores of the Man from Galilee, but because Christ was Crucified as THE act of God.

But not only was the crucifixion THE act of redemption, but it is also the greatest moment of divine revelation. This is Christianity... and this is Lutheranism. What Luther taught was not that God is somehow there, despite defeat, sorrow, pain, humiliation, anguish, failure, sin, and death. Instead, he taught God Himself confronts us in person and makes His presence near, in and through defeat, sorrow, pain, humiliation, anguish, failure, sin, and death. The contrary things of failure, sin, and death constitute the raw materials which God personally transforms in the human heart. God reveals Himself through a contrary form, and that form is cruciform. It is the Cross, not glory, crucifixion, not glorification; that is how it is on this side of Heaven. It is precisely within this domain we see God as He is in Himself.

Notwithstanding the sanitizing efforts of the media, of liberal academia, of sell-out pastors and professional churchmen, the Cross cannot be marginalized within, let alone eliminated from, the Christian faith. The identity and relevance of Christianity are both irrevocably tied up with the crucified Christ, like it or not. Without the crucified Jesus you have hagiographical-hearsay-Jesus or Jesus as just another voice among a cornucopia of prophets. What you do not have is the Gospel. And if you do not have the Gospel, you have a manufactured, treadmill, religion of works. This is Paul’s driving point, driving passion: Christ and Him crucified for our salvation. Christ and Him crucified as the victory of God. As preachers of Jesus, we have to ensure we proclaim the Cross, not as a fashion statement or a sanitized “Christian” symbol (scrubbed of blood and perfectly vacant), but the truth of God crucified to death to accomplish the death of death. For this alone secures our pardon from the crucifixion we ourselves deserve both individually and collectively. It is that real. It is that graphic. It is that frightening. It is truly that glorious and good.

 This is Paul’s driving point, driving passion: Christ and Him crucified for our salvation.

All too often, the Cross is relegated to one small area of Christian doctrine, how Christ gained redemption for us. Whereas, in fact, it stamps an indelible and decisive impression on every facet of the Christian faith. In other words, it is not just about soteriology (the doctrines of salvation), it directs our ecclesiology, our vocations, our sanctification, our ethics, our families, you name it.

“The cross puts everything to the test,” said Luther at one time. As he thought on this passage from 1 Corinthians, he said Christian thinking about God comes to a blunt halt at the foot of the Cross, coagulated with the blood of God, as Acts puts it. The very existence of the Cross, and of the crucified Christ, forces us to make a crucial decision: Will we look for God somewhere else, or will we own what God Himself has presented as His own self-disclosure, the crucified Christ, as the basis of our knowledge of God and how we live before Him?

The Cross marks a dead-end for most of our baseless musing about God and opens the way to an authentically Christian understanding of the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the One whom Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob worshipped as the one and only true and living God. The Crucified Christ presents us with a riddle, with a mystery, and the solution of that riddle holds the key to the Christian understanding of the nature and purposes of God, of human nature, and destiny. It is a crucial mystery, because the identity and relevance of the Christian faith are ultimately bound up with it and cannot be separated from it. For this one reason and only this reason, it is a fact. Jesus was crucified to death... period.

A fact is, by definition, something, an occurrence, or event, which happened. This is the great rub of Christianity, the pebble in the shoe of all those skeptics of the Christ. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. That is a stone-cold fact of history. We recite it in the Creeds: “Crucified under Pontius Pilate.” Tacitus, Josephus, Pliny, and others also cite it saying, “He was put to death by the procurator.”

History, we are told, is irreversible, and we cannot undo her handiwork. Part of history is the fact that Christian faith (the trust we have in God) was created, aroused, and shaped by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a pattern of events that lay beyond its control and to which it could only respond in increasing wonder and amazement as its implications were unfolded. Here, on that hill called Golgotha and a tomb a hundred yards away, God entered to redeem the tragic history of creation and human failure. It was the action of God, and it demands a reaction. Christians are compelled, not by a cross, but the crucifix.

In the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, something is “given,” something over which we have no control. We may accept it and respond to it, attempting to work out its implications for our understanding of God and the world. We may also reject it and base this understanding on something else. But there it stands as a monument the world over: The Crucifix. He was, in fact, crucified under Pontius Pilate.

In the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, something is “given,” something over which we have no control.

Therefore, the Christian faith is not primarily about ideas or concepts, a philosophy of ethics, or a way of life, even though it may give rise to them. At its heart lies not an idea or concept, but an event in human history. It is an occurrence in which God was (outside of conception of Christ and His birth) engaged in the most intimate endeavor between the Creator and the creature, between life and death.

From its very beginning to its end, the New Testament directs us to the crucified Christ who is now risen and reigning from the power of the Cross. This is why He is depicted crowned with thorns, restrained, and uttering those availing words: “Father, forgive them.” He reigns like that, and it is His present glory. We know how He is toward us because of the crucifix, not the ascension. So, let a crucifix be raised as the emblem of His Kingdom reign, His Kingdom come, in every Church and in every home. Our God reigns and He reigns in this way. Furthermore, we thank Him that He does rule by the power of the Cross, for any other power would rightly threaten us with no hope.

Through the torturous event of a crucifixion, by death bringing forth life, in a broken body resurrecting bodies, where condemnation leads to justification, when treason and betrayal effected vindication and friendship, as alienation and violence brought about adoption and peace, the world was turned upside-down. Give Christ crucified, not only as the remedy for death but for life on this side of the grave, so one may have hope, confidence, joy, a future, and the knowledge of the God who is as near and personable as pain and death.

For Paul here in our text, death and life, weakness and strength, suffering and glory, wisdom and folly, sorrow and joy are all interwoven in the fact of the crucifix. Paul’s understanding of both the mission of Jesus and Christian existence itself is dominated by such crossed-centered themes of life and death, and strength in weakness. The full force of Paul’s insight is missed if we interpret him as teaching we can have life despite death and strength despite weakness. For him, the remarkable meaning of the enigma of the Cross is how life comes through death and strength through weakness. The incongruity of the Cross symbolizes the remarkable and paradoxical way in which God works out the salvation of those He loves, which is supremely demonstrated and accomplished in the crucified and risen Christ, but also bears direct relevance on the existence of every person.


Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you preaching 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!