The Third Sunday in Lent
Do you remember the old slogan that could be found anywhere from church billboards to graffitied walls? “Jesus is the answer!” I still see that simple message from time to time. He may have said it more eloquently, but there is no doubt from our Epistle lesson that Saint Paul agrees that “Jesus is the answer.” God’s word for us from Paul’s hand says:
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:22-24)
Jesus is the answer—Paul should know. He was an educated Roman citizen, familiar with the various popular philosophies of the Greek world. He had firsthand experience with people who sought to find the answers to life’s deepest questions by man’s wisdom. He also had one of the finest Jewish educations any Hebrew could hope for, studying under the great rabbi Gamaliel. He knew from personal experience what it was like to seek God by being zealous for the Law and to be perfect in piety. He called himself a “Pharisee of Pharisees” or in other words he was the “strictest of the strict.”
And when he heard about this new preaching of what people called the way, he was incensed by the weakness and folly of its message. A crucified criminal, a disturber of the peace of Israel, dead, and now risen? Who would ever have come up with a crucified Messiah? Yahweh had more power in his small toe than all the world’s might. Why would the Christ be so powerless? And how foolish is this message that the Christ must suffer and rise on the third day! The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God who appeared in power on Sinai—would never humiliate himself to become man and die like a criminal dog. So, Paul, then Saul, we remember dedicated himself to eradicating this message. He had the official charge of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to arrest, and even stone if possible, anyone following this weak and foolish heresy.
Yet, it was just when he’d begun, that he met Christ on the Damascus road. This Jew received a sign, but not the one he was looking for. It was not glorious for Paul, it was humiliating. He was thrown to the ground and blinded. And then he was sent to be baptized and then, and only then, could he see again. And he did so with new eyes. He saw everything through the message of the cross of Jesus Christ. The same cross that he had once seen as weakness and folly was now, for Paul, “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Paul finally understood that it’s the very fact that the world would never accept a God who reveals himself in weakness and folly of the cross, that indeed the cross is God’s power and God’s wisdom. He said, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (v.25) Mankind to this day wants to impress itself with its wisdom and strength as it has ever since the days when we built the Tower of Babel. Yet, Paul learned that God is so clever that he is able to hide his wisdom from the worldly wise and his power from the powerful of the world.
You see, we worship a God who is found in the paradoxes. We rejoice because he reveals himself where we have our deepest need. He reveals himself not in human resourcefulness, intelligence, and rationalism, like the Greeks so craved then and the “New Atheists” do now. And he doesn’t reveal himself in great shows of power like the most militant religions desire with violence or like the charismatics crave with miracles and tongues. To the contrary God has chosen to reveal himself not in human power or wisdom, but rather in human frailty and weakness, in suffering and anguish, in all those places where we are powerless to help ourselves, even in our death.
That’s the great mystery and paradox Paul discovered. God shames the wise and powerful with what is foolish and weak. For God chose to humble himself and become man. He put on the weakness of our flesh and entered those places to save us where we would otherwise only find loss and death. So, by Christ’s death, God destroys death. By injustice he overcomes the unjust. By Satan’s trap, he entraps Satan and binds him. By becoming sin for us, he destroys sin. By suffering at the hands of the merciless he has mercy on us. By dying guiltless, he forgives the guilty—even those who crucified him. He suffers the inglorious shame of the cross and makes it his pride and glory. He enters the darkness of the tomb only to spread his eternal light to all people. He allows his body to be destroyed only to raise it up again and show the vanity of man’s attempts to find power and glory apart from the God who reveals himself in the paradox of suffering and the cross.
And like Paul you’re eyes too have been opened to see that Jesus is the answer. And you cannot boast that you believe because you were wiser than others or more powerful than others. Paul points out that this is hardly the case in the church in his time and it is the case still. God chooses the foolish and weak in this world in order to shame the wise and powerful. He saves sinners, failures, and criminals. So, come to him and do not offer him your wisdom or your prowess, come to him empty handed. He saves us not in our power, but in our weakness and it is all his doing. As Paul says, “He,” (that is God the Father), “is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'” (vs. 30). Amen.