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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

1 Corinthians 1:18–31

James T. Batchelor

Epiphany 4, series A
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Feb 2, 2014 

When I was younger, I often struggled after I heard a sermon encouraging me to tell other people about Jesus.  The problem was that when I told people about Jesus, nothing happened.  They chatted with me politely, but when the conversation was over, they were no closer to confessing Christ as their Lord and Savior than when the conversation started.  I often felt guilty because I could not tell about my experience of leading someone to Christ.  I told people about Jesus, but nothing seemed to happen.

As if that weren’t enough, I often heard about someone who boarded a one hour flight to somewhere and by the time they reached baggage claim a fellow passenger was just weeping in repentance and begging to know more about the God-man who earned forgiveness for all their sins.  The impression is that if you get the story right, people will be falling all over you wanting to know more about Jesus.  Stories like this just depressed me because this sort of thing never happened to me.

So you leave the service with a firm resolution to tell someone about Jesus and lead them to the Lord.  Over time, you begin to realize that it is just not going to happen to you the same way that it happened in the story.  You begin to feel guilty because you know you should tell people about Jesus, but things just don’t turn out the way they are supposed to.

If you feel that way, the Apostle Paul has some good news for you in today’s epistle.  Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.  With these words, Paul teaches us that some people will hear about Jesus and not care … some people will even be offended when you tell them about Jesus.

Now you are ready to say, “Uh pastor, that doesn’t sound a whole lot like good news.  You’re telling me that the Bible says that I will tell some people about Jesus and they will not respond.  How is that good news?” The good news is that the Bible takes the responsibility for making Christians off of your shoulders.  The Bible places the responsibility for making Christians squarely on the shoulders of the Holy Spirit.  As the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write: [1 Corinthians 2:14] The natural person 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.  And again: [Romans 8:7] For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.

Note some of the other words in today’s Epistle.  It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  These words teach us that it is God who saves.  He works through what we preach, but it is God who does the saving.  Paul even applies the word folly to the things we preach just so that we understand that it is not what we do, but what God does that saves.

The wisdom in today’s world says that we have to use fancy marketing gimmicks in order to bring people into the church.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul ridicules this wisdom of the world.  Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 

Martin Luther explains this very well in the Small Catechism.  At the beginning of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed he says: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.” If we cannot bring ourselves to faith, how can we possibly bring someone else to faith?

Even the Great Commission does not ask us to make Christians.  The first time I was able to struggle with the Great Commission in the original Greek, I was shocked!  It does not say, “Make disciples of all nations.” The original Greek says we are to disciplize all nations.  It takes the Greek word for disciple and converts it into a verb.  Then Jesus defines the word disciplize by telling His church to baptize and teach ALL that He commanded.

Do you see how this takes the pressure off when we confess our faith?  We are not responsible for making Christians.  That is the job of the Holy Spirit.

To make it even more clear that the Holy Spirit does the work of making Christians, God works in ways that appear weak, foolish, and lowly.

There are a lot of religions that ask people to die for their god or gods.  Look at the number of Moslems who have died for Allah.  When you confess Jesus to a Moslem it seems utterly foolish, weak, and lowly.  It doesn’t make sense for God to take up humanity and then humble Himself unto death, even death on a cross.  I have talked to Moslems and it does not make sense to them for a god to die for the people.

Never the less, this is the way God obtained His victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil.  The Son of God took on full humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He actively humbled Himself under the law and fulfilled all of the law for us.  Then He passively endured the punishment we deserved as He allowed mere men to nail Him to a cross.  After He had suffered the full punishment for our sin, He died and His friends laid Him in a tomb.

This is the Christ crucified that Paul preached to the Corinthians.  This is the Christ crucified that faithful pastors still preach today.  All the religious power and wisdom of God are delivered via the preaching of Christ crucified, a stumbling block and foolishness to unbelief.  Through this Word of Christ comes victory and life!

Jesus Christ did not remain in the grave after He paid for all our sins.  Instead, He rose.  He taught His disciples for forty days after He rose.  Sometime during those forty days, Jesus appeared to His disciples [Luke 24:46–47] and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  This proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins is the foolishness of God that is wiser than men, and the weakness of God that is stronger than men.

When you confess this message with others, you do not have to worry about being eloquent.  You do not have to worry about being persuasive.  No human being is eloquent or persuasive enough to bring a single person into the family of God.  The Holy Spirit does that.

Your sin is gone through the foolishness of a particular man dying on a particular cross outside the city of Jerusalem.  Tell the people that you meet about this man who is Christ crucified.  Let the Holy Spirit worry about making them into Christians.

Jesus said that the world will hear the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ.  We are part of this when we confess our faith to the people we meet in our lives.

I urge you to search the scriptures high and low.  You will not find one place where our Lord Jesus Christ judges congregations by their size.  On the other hand you will find plenty of places that speak of the judgment of God on congregations who do not faithfully proclaim the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus asks us to be faithful in proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the name of the crucified Christ.  He does not ask us to make Christians.  That is the job of the Holy Spirit.

We can tell the people that we meet about Jesus.  That is part of the instructions Jesus gave to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ.  We can also support organizations that proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins on a more global scale.

For over 80 years, the Lutheran Hour has provided resources to help with this proclamation to the people in your life.  Now, in this electronic age, Lutheran Hour Ministries has an Internet presence with even more resources.  I don’t think any one person can adequately explore all the resources they have to help you tell people about Jesus.

The Lutheran Hour is also ready to represent you around the world.  Even in this digital age, they are still bringing Christ to the nations and the nations to the church.

Once a year, Lutheran Hour Ministries requests the congregations of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod to remind their members of their mission.  Obviously, they need financial support for their many activities, but there is more to it than that.  They provide so many resources that are based on the authority of the Word of Christ.  They urge you to take advantage of those resources to help you as you share the authority of the Word of Christ by confessing you faith to others.  Amen

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