We Preach Christ Crucified

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“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” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
There is a church in Connecticut with an interesting cross. “Pretty” is not a word that one would use to describe the cross. It is 10 feet tall, made of raw, untreated wood. But it’s not that the cross itself is unique; it’s the positioning of the cross that is truly unusual. It’s not behind the altar, but bolted down into the concrete floor, right in the middle of the aisle, between the pews and the altar. To the casual observer it seems like an obstruction. The pastor’s words have to pass through it. And the congregation always has to look through it. And everyone who come to the baptismal font or to the Lord’s Table has to come by it. And so, I guess, symbolically, it is really much more like a doorway than an obstruction.
Perhaps we would do well to have such a cross here too. It could help remind us of the importance and centrality of the cross to our Christian faith. Surrounded by a world that knows little of the true meaning of the cross, we, too, can easily fall into the trap of a religion that ignores or downplays the cross. We can easily forget that in the middle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ stands a cross—an ugly instrument of execution—on which our Savior lived out His undying love for us by willingly giving Himself into death for us there.
That’s why St. Paul’s words are so important for us to remember: “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” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
In the verses prior to our text, Paul argues that while preaching is important, a preacher’s reliance on his skill as a speaker can rob the cross of Christ of its power. You see, it’s not the ability of the preacher that gives power to the Gospel; it is the Gospel that gives power to the preacher’s words. It is the substance of the preaching that brings saving faith—Christ crucified.
But the preaching of Christ crucified is not easy for the world to accept. No matter how well you dress up the Word of the cross, the world will always find it unpalatable. For, the world marches to a different drummer. Its enthusiasm is always for whatever seems attractive and successful. Our world, which disdains absolute truth and loves “diversity,” finds the cross too harsh and narrow-minded.
St. Paul divides the non-believing world of his day into two groups—Jews and Gentiles. The Jews demanded miraculous signs from Paul and the other apostles as confirmation of God’s support for them and their message. They demanded such signs from Jesus, too. We see that in today’s Gospel, where they challenge Jesus to prove His authority to cleanse the temple. Jesus points to His death and resurrection as the only sign they will receive. “Destroy this temple, and in three day I will raise it up.” The cross and His open tomb will be the sure sign that Jesus’ Word is true. The Greeks, for their part, looked for wisdom. They were zealous for every kind of learning. Paul could speak from firsthand experience about this, having encountered the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens.
But in direct opposition to these Jews and Greeks, who continued their quest for divine power and wisdom, Paul proclaims with joyful certainty the gift that had already been given to them: “We preach Christ crucified.” The expression “Christ crucified” seems to non-believers to be an oxymoron. The title “Christ,” “the Anointed One,” denotes a person of royal dignity. To describe Him as “crucified,” denotes the very opposite—an executed criminal, stripped of any claim to human dignity and status.
To Jews, a crucified Christ was a stumbling block, an obstacle to coming to faith. While there was a great diversity of opinion about what the Messiah would be like, those expectations consistently were for a powerful figure. Moreover, anyone who had been crucified was considered cursed by God. For Jews, the cross was an offense to their sensibilities, the most shameful death imaginable.
The Greeks trusted in wisdom. It seemed foolish to them that God would come to earth as a man, let alone, that He would allow Himself to die by any means. And the power-hungry Romans, found the notion of a crucified Messiah abhorrent. The Roman statesman, Cicero said: “May the very name of the cross be absent not only from the body of Roman citizens but also from their thinking, their eyes, and ears.” Another philosopher of the day spoke of the foolish Christians who “worship a dead man.”
But Paul’s sad description of the rejection of the Gospel by Jews and Gentiles gives way to a note of joy. By God’s grace, a third group of people has been formed, called from among both Jews and Gentiles. For them, Christ and His cross is neither an offense or foolishness, but God’s power and God’s wisdom. Paul is saying: “If you are a Jew looking for signs as a display of God’s power, you will find that power displayed in Christ crucified. If you are a Greek on a quest for wisdom, you will find God’s wisdom perfectly revealed in the cross. If you are a Roman looking for power, you will find no greater power than the power of forgiveness and eternal life made possible in the cross of Jesus Christ.
By the cross, God outsmarted and overpowered all human wisdom and power. He doesn’t need to consult human beings for their input—not even the wisest philosophers, the savviest politicians, or most recent public opinion polls. God has a better way. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Unfortunately, the message of the cross seems no more reasonable to the world today than it did in Paul’s time. And it is no less a scandal, either. Many say, “Who can really believe that everyone’s eternal destiny depends entirely and exclusively on a personal relationship with a Jewish man who was shamefully executed under Roman law almost two thousand years ago? If Jesus really was the holy Son of God, how could He die? For that matter, why would His heavenly Father send Him to die? What kind of love is that? How is that righteous or just?”
To be sure, the world has little room for a suffering Savior, a crucified Christ. Sinful human nature looks instead for a theology of glory. But those who look elsewhere than the cross miss the Gospel that alone can save sinners. They miss the true comfort and peace that God, in His grace, wishes to give to everyone. For the grace of God can only be found in the things—like Word and Sacrament—that appear weak and foolish to the world. That is why we preach Christ crucified.
Pastor Dean Kavouras, an LCMS pastor and FBI chaplain, knows firsthand how important this message still is in our day. On Saturday, September 15th, 2001, he was sent to Somerset, Pennsylvania to carry out chaplain duties for the personnel investigating the wreckage of United Airlines Flight 93.
Arriving at the crash site, Kavouras found that the Pennsylvania State Police had erected a huge cross, about 16 feet tall, made with two sturdy 8” x 8” beams, and draped with a white shroud. When one person objected to the cross, a trooper said to him, “We’re in charge here and that’s how it is.” In his report for that day, Kavouras writes: “The cross still stands. It is a reminder of the blackest, most unjust and tragic death of all history, that of the innocent Son of God. It is also the reminder of humanity’s finest hour, for on that cross the sins and guilt and curse of all the world, of each person no matter how great their transgression, was expunged. On the cross, death and hell were conquered. In Christ, God opened His loving arms and embraced the whole world.”
In the shadow of that huge cross, Chaplain Kavouras preached the Word to a number of people suffering in ways and to such a depth that most of us cannot begin to imagine. And he spoke to individuals afterward; including one trooper who was especially overtaken with grief.  Kavouras talked with him and told him that Christ died on a cross like that one. He died for the sins of the world and on Easter Sunday rose from the grave. He told him the Good News that all who put their hope in Christ will also rise to everlasting glory. He went on to explain to the trooper that in his baptism God had made an everlasting covenant of peace with him and would never let him go—not ever. As people like this trooper were soothed with the words of the Gospel, the cross proved to be a great comfort to those who mourned. There is no other hope and no other message in the entire world that can help in such a time.  
But unfortunately, the Gospel was not always preached with such clarity. Kavouras wrote a few days later of his frustration: “As far as I can tell, few if any Christian clergy here or anywhere else are preaching the one true faith that imputes the righteousness of Christ to us by faith and delivers men from eternal death. Christian priests, pastors and ministers are preaching about an unknown, unpredicated supreme being, who is without true name, true form, or any sure word upon which we can rely in the hour of our deepest need!  ‘You may know him,’ people are told ‘as Allah or Yahweh or Jesus or Buddha!’”
In a later report, Kavouras writes: “I had very strong words with two Christian clergymen today, upbraiding them and telling them that there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12); that further, there is only one God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and all others are imposters; that there is no other word which can heal these poor people than the words of Christ our Lord. I reminded them of John 6:68, the words of Peter. ‘Lord, to whom shall we go, for You have the words of eternal life.’” 
Pastor Kavouras pulled no punches as he chastised these timid would-be shepherds: “I told them that while the flowery orations of the world may soothe one’s psyche for a few minutes, only the Word of God as found in Scripture can heal their souls and restore to them some modicum of peace.”
The inescapable message found in Chaplain Kavouras’ reports is this: “the Word works.” He preached the Word clearly and let it work in the lives of those affected by the tragedy. There were no gimmicks, no confounding of the truth, no empty platitudes, just a straight pronouncement of the Word. And that Word gave hope to the hopeless and the promise of eternal life to those working in the midst of death. The preaching of Christ crucified strengthened the fragile faith of those who heard it.
That Word of Christ crucified works in our lives as well. In the most difficult times only this Gospel of salvation can heal hurting hearts and soothe suffering souls. Only that Word brings the peace that passes all understanding. Only that Word brings the light of hope on the darkest days of despair. Only that Word steels backbones bent under the pressure of political correctness or the impossible goal of avoiding all offense. Only that Word saves sinners. And so, we preach Christ-crucified, even though it isn’t, never has been, and never will be, a popular message. By faith, we acknowledge that what we believe is foolishness apart from faith. But we proclaim it anyway. Why? For all sorts of reasons.
We preach Christ crucified because we can—because the Lord has given us the privilege of declaring His praises. We preach Christ-crucified because, even though it’s foolishness to the unbeliever, it is the power and wisdom of God for salvation to all those who believe. We preach Christ-crucified because that is where and how God most shows His love for a world of sinners. On the cross, Jesus was cursed by God in our place; there He redeemed us from our slavery to sin; there He fulfilled all righteousness, suffering the just penalty for our crimes.
We preach Christ crucified, pointing to Holy Baptism because that is where Christ makes His cross ours. By faith, we gladly declare, “That isn’t water only; Christ crucified and risen is present there to wash away our sins. We proclaim that Gospel in the Absolution and sermons, because that is how the Holy Spirit works faith. We point to the Supper and gladly declare that it is more than just a symbol or a demonstration of how we treat one another; rather, there in the bread and the wine the crucified/risen Savior is present with the forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Christ has died on the cross for your sins and Christ is risen again, that you, too, might have life, eternal life. That is what we proclaim, because that is the power of salvation for all those who believe. The devil, the world and your own sinful flesh will work overtime to convince you that it’s nothing but irrelevant foolishness and weakness, but by the grace of God you know better: it is only because Christ was crucified that you are forgiven for all of your sins. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


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