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The Scandal of the Cross

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Pastor Mark Schlamann

3rd S. in Lent
Unknown Location  

Sun, Mar 15, 2009
3rd S. in Lent


Get ready to be offended.  Get ready to be scandalized.  Some of the things you will hear from this pulpit may well anger you.  Such is the nature of the preaching of God's Word.  Those who hear such preaching will at times become offended because the Word of the Lord, both Law and Gospel, can and does offend.  Such was the case in the Holy Gospel appointed for today.  The Lord exercised His wrath upon the money changers and the animal vendors in the temple, chasing them and the animals out, and overturning the tables.  He pronounced judgment upon them, for they had desecrated the temple, His Father's house.  The Jews were offended and demanded a sign to show Jesus' authority for His actions.  Here the Lord moves from preaching the Law to proclaiming the Gospel: "Jesus answered and said to them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up'" (Jn. 2:19).  They were thinking of the building they had built for 46 years and were now desecrating.  However, the Lord was speaking of His body, for He would be crucified and on the third day rise from the dead.  His body was indeed the Temple, for where the Lord establishes His presence, there the Temple is as well, regardless of whether the Temple was in the form of the Tent of Meeting, the Ark of the Covenant, the blessed Virgin's womb, or Zion Lutheran Church, Harbine, Nebraska.  The Jews were blinded by the veil of their own laws, and they failed to behold the Temple that is the Christ, the Word-become-flesh.  They could not see the Messiah in the Scriptures.  They could not fathom Him in the temple.  They could not accept Him as the Temple.

The Lord preached the cross to the unbelieving Jews.  They were offended.  They were scandalized.  They were caught up in their hatred of Him.  They hated Him even after they crucified Him.  The Lord came to save His people, the Jews, through preaching repentance and dying on the cross.  They refused to believe and are still waiting for the Messiah's first coming, which they missed 2,000 years ago.  Only after the Jews rejected Him did His preachment reach the Gentiles.  As the blessed Apostle and Evangelist St. John writes: "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His Name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn. 1:10-13).  The Lord was first revealed to the Gentiles at the great Epiphany, and He continues to be revealed through the proclamation of the cross to this very day, to all corners of the earth.

Yet, not everyone has heard the preaching of the cross, and not everyone who has heard the preaching of the cross has believed it.  This is why the cross is offensive.  The cross is offensive because the Gospel is offensive.  More literally, the preaching of the cross is scandalous.  It is a message that kills the unbeliever. In the most literal sense of the word scandal, which comes directly from the Greek, the scandal was the stick used to prop open a trap.  When an animal tripped the stick and sprang the trap, it would become scandalized, fatally ensnared.  It would bleed to death, unable to free itself.  This is what happens to someone who hears the preaching of the cross and is offended by it, considering it foolishness.  The unbeliever is caught in his own trap, the religion of the Law, the religion of works.  This is the same trap that scandalizes us.  We who believe we are good-hearted and loving are in reality hard-hearted and loathsome toward the preaching of the cross.  We think it is foolishness.  We want to hear something better.  Instead of singing, "In the cross of Christ I glory," we would rather sing, "Give me that old-time religion," a religion that is all works-oriented.  This so-called "old-time religion" has been a plague upon the American landscape for over 150 years.  It is a plague that eats away at our souls because its basic tenet is that we can get to heaven if we are good enough, if we have performed enough good works.  This is offensive to Christ, for this false teaching seeks to rob the cross of its power, desiring to reduce the work of Christ the crucified to a nice story.  We think we are wise, looking for something greater.  But we are made foolish by the foolishness of the preaching of the cross, for it is how the Triune God in His far superior and infinite wisdom communicates His Word and His will to us.  But, rather than looking to God's Word, we look to ourselves, looking for a sign outside the divinely-ordained signs of God's grace: His Word and Sacraments.  We are offended at such ordinary words and ordinary elements, and God is extraordinarily offended at us.

We live in an increasingly intolerant and hostile society that is also offended by the cross.  The world has no use for the cross, except to wear as jewelry.  Even then offense is taken.  A few years ago a teacher was fired from her school because she, a Christian, wore a cross pendant as a witness to her faith.  She was not telling her students to believe in Christ, but she merely wore this piece of jewelry and was fired for it.  The judge handling the case, in his wisdom, restored her to her teaching position.  The world wishes that Jesus Christ had remained in the tomb, for the world does not want to accept the reality that Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, showed Himself the only Way, Truth, and Life.  The world considers it foolishness that one Man would be the only Way to heaven and seeks to kill Him again, as if that could be possible.  So the wise, the scribes, and the debaters in this world put forth false gods.  Yet their gods are only henchmen for the devil.  Mohammed did not die for you.  Buddha is still dead.  Vishnu has not risen from the dead.  It is even more offensive for us who believe, teach, and confess Christ crucified to witness a called and ordained servant of the Word inviting thousands of people of different faiths, Christians and non-Christians alike, to pray together, which a district president in our Synod did a few years ago in Yankee Stadium, in the days following the terrorist attacks, jeopardizing countless souls by asking them to pray to false gods, to any god they chose.  He, like you and I, vowed to renounce such practices; yet his heart gave way to the so-called "American civil religion," one that seeks to empty the cross of its power and render the preaching of the cross foolishness.  It reduces the Triune God to merely one of many gods.  It is not OK for non-Christians to pray to the Triune God; their prayers will not be heard because they reject the word of the cross.

Despite the best efforts of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, the cross is still the enduring symbol of the hope that we have, the hope that is ours in Christ.  Our hope endures, for the preaching of the cross has endured for 2000 years.  This preaching has endured since Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame.  He endured by being obedient unto death, even death on the cross.  Jesus, the holy One, became the lowly One for us and was lifted up on the cross, as the bronze serpent was lifted up on the pole in Moses' day.  The Israelites were punished for their rebellion, being bitten by snakes.  God commended Moses to erect a bronze serpent on a pole, and all who looked to it would live.  The Word who became flesh was lifted up on the cross, and all who look to Christ the crucified receive forgiveness of all their sins.

Look at the cross and remember what the Lord won there for you: the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus paid the entire debt of your sins.  Your slate has been wiped clean by the blood of Jesus.  Your heavenly Father sees you through His only-begotten Son's blood and declares you righteous for Jesus' sake, for the very life He gave on the cross.  That is the reason for our joy.  This is why the cross is so beautiful to us!  It is important, though, that we not remain stationary at the cross.  We dare not cling to the old rugged cross because our Lord is no longer there.  After He died, His body, once lifted up, was taken down and laid in the tomb.  We hasten early to the tomb and see where our Lord once lay.  Yet we do not remain there, either, for His body is no longer there as well.  He is not there.  He is risen!  The cross could not hold Him.  The tomb could not contain Him.  Death has no power over Him.  Had Christ, who once was slain, not burst His three-day prison, our faith would be in vain.  But now is Christ arisen!  The resurrection of our Lord gives the preaching of the cross its power, and it is power for us who are being saved, as St. Paul tells us in our text.  This message is offensive to the devil and our sinful world.  It is sheer foolishness to them who are perishing.  But for us...we are being saved through the apostolic preaching of the cross.  We cherish the preaching of the cross, but we do not remain at the cross because God does not offer His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation from the cross.  Our Lord won our forgiveness there, but we, led by the Holy Spirit, look to the font, pulpit, and altar, where our Lord gives His gifts to us.

While we do not cling to the old rugged cross, we lift high the cross, thanking our Lord for winning our forgiveness there.  We lift high the cross to tell others what He has done.  We lift high the cross as we are marked with the sign of the cross, for we and all newborn soldiers of the Crucified bear on their brows the seal of Him who died.  We bear on our brows and on our hearts the sign of the cross that marks us as redeemed by Christ the crucified.  We have borne the sign of the cross from the day of our Baptism, where we became children of God, where our God, the one true God, has given us His forgiveness, as He continues to give to us through absolution and preaching, body and blood.  We lift high the cross as we bear the sign of the cross on our brows, telling others the message of the cross, so that they too, by the Holy Spirit, would no longer be offendedóscandalizedóbut set free to be people of God, that they too would receive the gifts the Lord won on the cross and gives in His Word and Sacraments.  This is the true old-time religion, for our Lord presents His truth to us in His Word, the word of the cross.  This is the message I preach, the word you get to hear, the good news we get to tell others. We are a Good Friday and Easter people, for without our Lord's all-atoning work on the cross for us, there would be no Easter.

Without our Lord's bloody death and glorious resurrection, the Word would be just words, and the Sacraments would be empty of their power.  But thanks be to God who gives the victory through Jesus Christ.  The Word who became flesh took on our human flesh and died, taking on our sins of the flesh (and of the mind and of the lips).  The Temple that was Christ's body was desecrated on Good Friday, torn down as He was lifted up on the cross to take away the sin of the world.  There He gave His body and shed His blood, the very body and blood that await you here this day, in the temple you know as Zion Lutheran Church, Harbine, Nebraska, for here, in Word and in Sacraments, our Lord has established His presence.  It may not seem like much, as if these are mere words, plain water, ordinary bread and wine, and simple human flesh (as our Lord embodied).  But hear the words of the blessed Apostle St. Paul in our text: "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are" (vv. 27-28).  Our gracious God uses those things we deem as ordinary and attaches His Word to them, giving us extraordinary gifts through them: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.  Having received these gifts, as we will do in a few moments in the Lord's Supper, we are bold by the Holy Spirit to be partakers of the scandal that is the cross as we live in the vocations He has given us, for it is through the Church that the song goes on.

The story continues; it continues to be told, told to all corners of the earth.  In the words of the great hymn, "Lift High the cross, the love of Christ proclaim Till all the world adore His sacred Name.  O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree, As Thou hast promised, draw us all to Thee.  Lift high the cross...."  To aid us in this great task, our Lord will place His Trinitarian Name upon us, the Name into which we became baptized.  With this Name we will receive the sign of the cross to remind us of His great love for us and for all the world, that we may all adore His sacred Name.  This is the great Triumph of the Cross, that we will live into all eternity with Christ the crucified...and risen!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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