1Co 1 22-25 Christian Lent-Who Died
If you’re looking ahead in the bulletin you’re probably saying, “‘Who died?’ What a stupid question! Looks like Pastor Frey’s running out of ideas for good sermon themes!” If so, perhaps you misunderstand me – either that or I really am running out of ideas. Hoping you simply misunderstand, however, let me explain.
What if someone had walked into our church during that last hymn, or during a similar Lenten hymn on a Wednesday evening service? We’re all in here singing, “O dearest Jesus, what law hast thou broken…” Someone who’s unfamiliar with our hymnody walks in and says, “Man! Who died?” The head usher greets the man in the back and explains that this is just a regular hymn for this season of the year. One reaction might be, “I thought you Christians were supposed to be happy people! This church is like going to a wake!” Actually, I think there’s a little bit of that visitor in all of us. That’s why our theme today is Christian Lent: Who Died? We will apply the wisdom of 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 to that question to reach two answers. One, all people died, and, two, Christ died for all people.
The first answer we have to find when dealing with the Lenten question, “Who died?” is, “Does anyone care?” By asking that question I’m trying to convey the same thoughts and feelings that Paul was when he wrote in our text, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
Paul was talking about the way people want God to perform for them. They want God to prove himself, but, despite their objections to the contrary, the demand for signs is actually very selfish. That’s why Jesus looked with disdain on the people in his hometown as he said, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” Wouldn’t he be happy that they wanted to test whether or not God was with him? He would have been happy, if that was in fact what they wanted. Actually, they just wanted to see some magic, like Herod who was excited to receive Jesus in his courts not because he wanted to hear the message that the Son of God brought into the world but because he wanted to see a magic show.
Our society, and we as members within it, is no different. I sat and listened to a preacher on KTIS last week tell a story about how you cannot “out-give” the Lord. No matter how much you give to him, he will always give more back to you. And he was saying how he had taught this to a friend of his who didn’t know the Lord and how the Lord moved that man to give and how the Lord gave that man so much in return. And it was a pretty neat story that I was kind of enjoying until the preacher said something that made me jump back. He was talking about the Lord’s promise to bless us whenever we give from what is ours when he said, “My friend had never heard that before. He’d never heard the Lord’s gospel before.” I said to myself, “Now, whoever said that was the Lord’s gospel!?” Then I thought, well, it is a promise, after all, and, even though it’s not the central promise, all the Lord’s promises are the gospel, and I’m sure he’ll get to the point pretty soon here and… while I was pondering all of this, the preacher finished without a single word about our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. Not one mention of the central gospel message. You see, he was catering to an audience who wanted to see signs, who wanted some kind of proof that the Lord existed. But, more importantly for them, they specifically wanted signs that benefited them financially.
The thing about asking God for a miraculous sign is that you have to remember that what you’re asking for is a sign, that is, something which points to something else more important. And when those miraculous signs point to a man who had to live in our place because we are sinful by nature and thereby complete spiritual failures, then those signs are a little more than our self-centered egos bargained for.
This is all very closely related to why those who are not as interested in powerful signs from God seek human wisdom instead (remember, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom”). Some people think that the version of religion God gave us is outdated or intended for intellectual simpletons. These folk have their philosophies and their revisions for God’s Word, inserting more thought-out, human wisdom where they feel God’s wisdom has a few holes. For “Bible-believing” Christians – and that includes us – this attitude shows itself when we try to improve ourselves with literature that speaks little to nothing of Christ and plenty of plenty about the so-called “Christian life.”
These are the kind of man-centered answers that come from a failure to realize that the first answer to “Who died?” is “We did.” We died. Without God’s help there is nothing living, nothing of value in us. God wasn’t lying when he said to Adam in the garden of Eden, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” When our first father Adam and our first mother Eve ate of that tree they plunged all mankind into the death of sinfulness, the destruction of our relationship with God, a condition about which we can do no more than a corpse can do about his condition.
We died. Yet if our own death in sin was the whole reason why there is a certain sadness in the season of Lent, that wouldn’t explain much. If we’re dead to God, why bother to worship, even if we worship in sadness? If we’re hopeless, why sing? And if we do, in fact, have hope, why sound sad? The answer to all these questions, and the ultimate answer for our visitor who asked, “Who died,” is an answer you all know well, and an answer I’d like to hear all of you say. Who died, my friends? Jesus.
“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” Perhaps the real question the visitor should ask upon hearing our ponderous, Lenten hymns is not, “Who died?” but, “Who died for me?” It is in the answer to this question that we find “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” When we ask, “Who died for me?” we find the only reason to hope, the only reason to sing: God died for all of us.
The world doesn’t even know the meaning of wisdom or power. It thinks wisdom and power are figuring out how to make a car go faster with less fuel, even though it can’t figure out how to keep the basic family unit from running out of steam. It thinks it knows power when it sends a man to the moon while it fails to send surplus food across the ocean to starving nations. It thinks it has power and wisdom when it puts together an information superhighway, connecting all of our best minds to one, tremendous, worldwide network, even though, all put together, they cannot satisfactorily answer the simple, fundamental question, “Why are we here?”
Here (the Bible) is power. Here is wisdom. Power is the infinite God appearing in our frail flesh and patiently enduring our worst tortures, scorn and mockeries, all so that we could be forgiven the offenses we did hurl and continue to hurl at him every day. Power is Jesus Christ standing alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, looking damnation in the face and saying, “Father, your will be done.” And even though the world simply may not understand that revering, fearing our Lord who died for us is the beginning of wisdom, power is God letting us say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” We preach Christ crucified.
“Who died?” Christ died. And it is because our sins caused his crucifixion that we sing sad-sounding tunes during Lent. Yet there is another crucifixion over which we do not mourn. Paul wrote elsewhere, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” Let us never mourn that crucifixion nor wish that villain free by believing we can get closer to God through the power of our own twisted wisdom. Instead let us ponder the divine widom of Jesus’ crucfixion, summoning the Holy Spirit’s power for our Christian lives through that glorious gospel message. And let us never hesitate to share this foolishness with all those in the world who are still dead, witless, powerless in their sins.