Wise in the Way of the Cross

Wise in the Way of the Cross

+ + + In Nomine Jesu + + +

Please join me in
prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing
in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Dear Brothers and
Sisters in Christ,

Grace to you and peace
from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

In some ways here in
the City of Austin we are blessed with institutions of higher education:
Austin Community College, St. Edward’s University, Huston-Tillotson University,
Concordia University Texas, and, of course, the University of Texas at Austin,
with its arch‑rival Texas A&M University some 100 miles away. Claims
of athletic greatness, if not also academic greatness, are
familiar to us: “We’re #1”, if not also “What starts here changes the world”.
In the ancient world, the city of Athens was the pre-eminent
place of philosophy and learning. The city of Corinth, some 50 miles
away, was nothing more than an academic “also-ran”, at best a “wanna-be”. Not
one name of an outstanding Corinthian philosopher has come down to us today.
Yet, Corinth’s academic aspirations play an important role in
understanding today’s Epistle Reading. In that Epistle Reading, we hear the
Divinely-inspired St. Paul contrast the world’s wisdom to God’s
, and so we learn about being “Wise in the Way of the Cross”.

In our day, there is
much stock placed in the world’s wisdom. President Obama rightly tries
to gather the best and the brightest minds to make plans for the economy,
healthcare, and the like. (The 12-percent overall drop in the Dow Jones Industrial
Average since the inauguration may give us one measure of how successful the wisdom
of the President and his advisors really is.) Such planning is not new to our
day, of course. In Old Testament times, King Hezekiah, on the advice of his
wise men, plotted to escape the threat from the advancing Assyrians, and God’s
prophet Isaiah warned the king that God would destroy the wisdom of the wise
and thwart the discernment of the discerning. That statement from Isaiah is
used by St. Paul in today’s Epistle Reading in support of Paul’s contrast of
the world’s wisdom and God’s wisdom. Not only did God destroy the wisdom of the
wise in Hezekiah’s time, but, St. Paul wrote, God has done it again
more-fully in their time with the crucifixion of Christ on the cross.
In our reading, we hear Paul say that the word of the cross, God’s
, is folly to the world, and, Paul writes later, the
world’s wisdom
is folly with God.

Now, St. Paul knew from
experience what he wrote about. St. Paul had preached Christ to the Greek
philosophers in Athens, some of whom jeered. Then, in Corinth, the Jews took St. Paul before the proconsul Gallio, a brother of the famous philosopher Seneca, and
Gallio essentially called the whole dispute foolishness. Later, St. Paul would be taken before the governor Festus, who would say Paul was out of his mind,
that Paul’s great learning was driving him insane.

Oh, it was not Paul’s
great learning that made him say the things he did before Festus, before the
Jews, or before the Greeks. For, no one can say Jesus is Lord apart from the
Holy Spirit. Today we heard Paul say, “The world did not know God through
wisdom”. According to the flesh, or by worldly standards, we cannot believe in
Jesus Christ or come to Him. Yet, even with the Holy Spirit, we who are
redeemed still sin in thought, word, and deed. For example, we still
habitually, like the Jews, demand signs and, like the Greeks, seek wisdom.

In today’s Gospel
, we hear the Jews ask for a sign of Jesus’s authority to
cleanse the Temple, to make His Father’s House a place where Jew and Gentile
alike could remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, as we heard in the Old
Testament Reading
that all should do. Jesus elsewhere tells the Jews that “an
evil and adulterous generation
seeks for a sign,” but in John’s account He
had already given one and would give six more. The problem is not so much the
as the problem is the demand for the signs and demanding the
wrong kind
of signs, missing the signs that God gives, such as His grace
and mercy. Are we not often like the Jews in demanding signs? We
might say, “If you do this, God, then I’ll believe in You.” Too often, we are
like the Jews in demanding signs, or the wrong kind of signs, missing
the ones God gives us.

The Bible gives us
examples, too, of the Greeks seeking wisdom. I mentioned the philosophers
Paul encountered in Athens. St. Luke tells us that the people there spent their
time talking about and listening to the latest ideas. They tried to attain
wisdom by rational explanation, reasoning chains of arguments (or proofs),
built on various principles. Having studied for philosophy, I am
sympathetic. I think we all are. Who among us does not at least try to
approach most things rationally? The problem is not so much using reason
for most things but trying to use reason over and above God’s
revelation, as the philosophers did in Athens: they rejected Paul’s teaching
about the resurrection of the dead because it contradicted their philosophical

The result of
the Jews and us demanding the wrong kind of signs, the result of the
Greeks and us using wisdom in the wrong ways, and the result of all of
our sins is the same: the result is that we perish, by nature deserving nothing
but temporal and eternal punishment, namely, death. Still, God calls us to
repent, to turn in sorrow from our sin. After our Epistle Reading in 1
Corinthians Paul writes, “If anyone among you thinks that he is wise
in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.”
Especially in this Lenten season, we focus on our sins, whatever they
might be, but in this Lenten season we cannot leave the focus on our
sins; we must also look to the cross. So, we prayed in the Collect of the Day
that God would bring all who have gone astray “with penitent hearts and
steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of [His] Word”.

“Where is the one who
is wise?” Paul asks about the Greek lover of philosophy. “Where is the scribe?”
Paul asks about the Jewish expert in the law. “Where is the debater of this
age?” They are nowhere to be found. (Some of my best friends in high school and
I were debaters, but those are not the kind of debaters he’s talking about.)
Paul continues, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” The answer
he expects is “Yes!” The world through its wisdom did not know God, and so it
pleased God to save those who believe through the folly of Christ crucified. Such
believers are “Wise in the Way of the Cross!” On the cross, the God-man Jesus
Christ was made sin for us that He might give us His righteousness. The God-man
Jesus Christ was crucified for us once, and even now He remains the Crucified
One. A hymn-writer describes the nail and spear prints as “rich wounds yet
visible above in beauty glorified”. What St. Paul in the Reading calls “the
word of the cross” is the content of his Gospel preaching, preaching that triumphs
and is superior to all the teaching of worldly wisdom. The
message is also contrary to all human expectations and logic: a
stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but, to those who are called (or
chosen), Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of
God. The cross is how it pleased God in His grace and mercy to save us. When
Paul was with the Corinthians, he decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ
and Him crucified. (We might use that principle to evaluate the letters we get
from the church-at-large leaders to see how much they focus on Christ and Him

Part of why Greeks
regarded Christ crucified as folly was that in their wise society it was
impolite to discuss the criminals and disobedient slaves, who were humiliated
and shamed by being hung naked and brutally executed on the crosses outside of
town. Some today similarly want to avoid offense by removing Christ’s body from
the cross or by excising all references to sin from church services. Yet, it is
because we are dead in trespasses and sins that we need the
Christ on the cross, and it is precisely on the cross where the wisdom
of the wise is destroyed and the discernment of the discerning is thwarted.
Isaiah described that destruction and thwarting as a wonderfully marvelous
work, and so it is! The cross is the sign! Moreover, by the cross
God’s great reversal is accomplished: the last are first and the first are
last. The cross is the power of God, as the Gospel of Christ is the power of God
unto salvation to everyone who believes. When you and I are sorry for
our sin—our sin of demanding the wrong kind of signs, or our sin of using
earthly wisdom in the wrong ways, or whatever our sin might be—when you and I
are sorry for our sin and believe that God forgives our sin for Jesus’s
sake, God truly forgives our sin. Faith—terror fear and reverence fear of the
Lord—is the beginning of godly wisdom.

Like the congregations
in Corinth, some of us may not be wise according to worldly standards, we
may not be powerful, or we may not be of noble birth, but God
the foolish to shame the wise, God chose the weak to shame the
strong, God chose the low and despised, the things that are not, to
bring to nothing the things that are. God is the source of our life in
Christ Jesus, St. Paul writes. We do not choose Him, but He
chose us. We cannot know Him on our own, but He reveals
Himself to us. He reveals Himself to us in no other way than by His
Word, in all its forms, which forms are both the way we are called and
the signs of our being called.

Like us, the forms of
the Gospel may not appear to be much, but in them we are made
wise, because in them we are united with Christ, Who is true Wisdom. Like
the Corinthians, we were all kinds of wicked people, but, as St. Paul mentions later in the letter, now we are washed in Holy Baptism, justified
and sanctified in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our
God, working through the unassuming water. Jesus thanked His Father that
spiritual matters were hidden from the wise and learned and revealed to little
children, as they are in Holy Baptism, for such is His good pleasure. In Christ
we are reconciled to God, and Christ gave the ministry of reconciliation, effected
in Individual Absolution, that we can have all our sins forgiven, especially
those sins that we know and feel in our hearts. In the book of Proverbs, we
hear the personification of Wisdom call out to us: “Come, eat my food and drink
the wine I have mixed; leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the
way of understanding.” Likewise in St. John’s Gospel account, Jesus, Wisdom
Incarnate, says unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood we have no life in
us. Yet, sadly many use their human wisdom to deny that the God-man can be present
in bread and wine, with His real, physical body and blood, to give forgiveness
of sins, life, and salvation.

This morning our focus
has not been A&M versus U-T, not Corinth versus Athens, but the world’s
wisdom versus God’s wisdom. We have seen that the cross is folly to the
world in its wisdom, but we have also seen that the cross is the wisdom of God
to those who believe. We are “Wise in the Way of the Cross”.
When Christ was crucified He became our righteousness; right now He
is making us holy, and one day He will be our full and final redemption.
Now, we are treated as He was. But, things are not what they seem.
For Christ, the crucifixion appeared to be defeat but was victory; our
sufferings and afflictions likewise are not defeat but the way God makes us like
. Each day God’s grace is sufficient for us, as His power is
made perfect in our weakness. Each day we live with repentance and
faith. The strength and wisdom we need are given to us in Christ. The hymn we
just sang prayed in this way, paraphrasing Colossians 2:

Wisdom’s highest, noblest treasure, Jesus, is revealed in
Let me find in You my pleasure, And my wayward will subdue,
Humility there and simplicity reigning, In paths of true wisdom my steps ever
If I learn from Jesus this knowledge divine, The blessing of heavenly wisdom is


The peace of God, which
passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

+ + + Soli Deo Gloria + + +