Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Sermon for fourth mid-week Lent sermon - Third Article - 1 Cor 2:6-16


Mid-Lent 4

                                                                           Third Article

                                                                           1 Cor 2:6-16



“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  That’s what the apostle Paul has said just before our text as he describes his work in sharing the Gospel with the Corinthians.

Humanly speaking, there was no reason to expect that Paul would succeed. First of all, he did not have the rhetorical training that the Greco-Roman world expected. Rhetoric – the accepted rules for constructing speeches – was the focus of education.  This provided the standard against which people evaluated a speaker.  St. Paul did not possess this kind of training, and he readily admitted it.

          And then not only was Paul’s speech unskilled in this way, but the content of his message was Christ crucified.  In the previous chapter he wrote, “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.”  Quite simply, to the world the message of the crucified Christ was moronic.  Paul was proclaiming that a crucified Jew was the Christ and Lord of all. 

During Lent we are preparing to remember the death of our Lord on the cross.  But to the first century world, proclamation of a crucified Lord was simply laughable.  Jews knew that according to God’s word, anyone hung on a tree – anyone crucified – was cursed by God.  Gentiles knew that Jesus had died the death of a criminal.  What is more, he had not just been executed.  He had been crucified.  This was the most shameful and humiliating way a person could die.  It was the ultimate demonstration of weakness and helplessness.  Crucifixion was so terrible that people didn’t even mention the cross in polite conversation.  But Paul proclaimed that Jesus who had been crucified was the Christ and Lord of all.

Paul acknowledged how the Gospel – the message of the crucified Christ sounded to the world. But he goes on to say in our text, “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”  This wisdom was the wisdom of what God had done in Christ.  Paul had just written, “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.” 

This wisdom of God in Christ was something that was revealed by the Spirit of God.  It was something that could only be shared by the Spirit of God.  Paul says in our text, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

In fact, Paul says in our text that apart from the work of the Spirit, a person is completely incapable of believing and understanding the Gospel.  He writes, “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

           This is the truth that is the confessed in the first part of the Small Catechism’s explanation of the Third Article of the Creed as it says, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.”  In the sin of Adam and Eve – the Fall – humanity lost the image of God.  We are no longer able to know God as he wants to be known or live according to his will.  We became sinful, fallen nature, which simply produces more sinful, fallen nature.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

          Only the Spirit of God can change this. Later in this letter, Paul declares “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” And so the explanation in the Small Catechism continues, “but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, elightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” 

          The Spirit calls us to faith through the Gospel – the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul told the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  He informed the Thessalonians “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

          The Spirit calls us to faith through the Gospel as it is proclaimed.  And he works this rebirth to new spiritual life in baptism.  Jesus said that we are “born of water and the Spirit” and Paul called baptism “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

          By calling us to faith in Jesus Christ, the Spirit sanctifies us.  He makes us holy in God’s eyes because of Jesus. In chapter six of this letter Paul says that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.  He reminds the Corinthians about their sinful past.  Yet then he adds: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  For this very reason he can begin this letter by writing: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”

          This is what the Holy Spirit has done for you.  He has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with his gifts, and kept you in the truth faith.  He does this through the Means of Grace. Through the Word of God, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar he has not only called you to faith in Jesus Christ, but he also sustains you in that faith.

          The Holy Spirit creates the faith that receives Jesus’ saving work.  He makes us a new creation in Christ. And by doing so he leads and enables us to live in ways that reflect God’s will.  Paul told the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

          We are God’s workmanship – his creation by the Spirit – who have been created in Christ to carry out good works.  Unfortunately, we also know that the old Adam – the remnants of the fallen nature – continue to be present.  Paul told the Galatians, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

          The apostle acknowledges that there is a struggle.  But he also asserts that the Spirit is the One makes it possible for us to live in ways that are true to God’s will.  He adds: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” 

          We are no longer the “natural man.” We are no longer flesh – fallen sinful nature.  Instead, the Holy Spirit has called us through the Gospel and enlightened us with his gifts.  He has called us to faith.  He has given us regeneration so that now we are a new creation in Christ. And therefore we approach Holy Week knowing that the crucified Christ is not folly – it is not moronic.  Instead, because of the resurrection, Jesus Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God for our salvation.  Jesus is our Lord, and with Paul we are not ashamed of the Gospel because by the work of the Spirit we know that it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. 













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