"The Word of the Cross - Power for Life"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 22, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:What Does Genesis 1:1 Mean?)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

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.

Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. Hallelujah!

In 1918, Woodrow Wilson was asked how long it takes him to prepare a speech. His response was, "Well, that depends on the length of the speech. If it is a ten-minute speech, it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want, it requires no preparation at all. In fact, I am ready now."

Now as one who has to write sermons and presentations and speeches every week, I can tell you that the shorter they are, the harder they are because each and every word has to say exactly what you mean and more! Try writing a short love letter that says everything that your heart wishes to say. It is tough!

But there are people who just seem to have a way with words, don't they? They seem to come up with stories, sayings, poems, anecdotes that make us laugh, make us cry, and make us think. They not only have a way with words, they have a way with us. I love to read authors who know how to paint a picture, to deepen a plot, to draw me into the story. I love a TV show that makes me think and laugh and not take myself too seriously. It seems like we all are susceptible to people who have a way with words.

When Paul wrote the words of our text today, there were lots of people who made their living by having a way with words. They would go town to town and entertain people. They would show up, attract a crowd, and amuse them, tickle their fancy, charm them with their words! They would weave together arguments to thrill the people. They would argue for or against opinions. They would mock public officials and events. They would dazzle the crowd with their clever words and speech. They played with words. They played with ideas. And if they were good enough, people would pay to hear them again.

Today, like then, there are people who like the sound of their voice. They like to listen to their own wisdom, to sound smart. And even if we don't like to admit it, we too often like it when people pay attention to our words. We enjoy it when people agree with our opinions on important matters. There is a part of all of us that would like to hold people's attention with our words of wisdom, with our witty conversation, with our turn of a phrase.

Such people in Paul's day were called sophists. From the Greek word for wisdom, sophists were people who put on an air of wisdom in order to make money. But with the power to manipulate words, with a wit that challenged people and persuaded them, even entertained them; they weren't known for being trustworthy. In fact, that power to make a buck caused them to say just about anything to make money. Their words and ideas, they were for sale. Not much has changed, right?

Everyone knew this was their job. Sophists would travel from town to town to try to find a new crowd to dazzle, to entertain. Those who were really good at this task had reputations that preceded them. They were popular with people and people would flock to hear them. Others had to work hard and move frequently to find audiences to pay them. But either way, they were known for being untrustworthy men whose teachings would change to please the crowd. They had no scruples as they say.

Into that world came the Apostle Paul with a message that no one had ever heard before. It was a message that came straight at you. It didn't seek to manipulate or cajole, but it had staying power. Paul traveled around, from town to town telling people about this message. So, it wouldn't be that far-fetched for the people in Corinth to think that he might just be another sophist.

But there was another challenge to Paul preaching the Gospel: favoritism. Even among the Christians at the church in Corinth, they had their favorite preachers, they had their favorite teachers. Paul says this, "My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe's household, have informed me there are quarrels among you. I mean some of you are saying: "I follow Paul"; another says, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; and another, "I follow Christ."

Favorite teachers, favorite messages, favorite stories, people enjoying their favorites, playing favorites, even following their favorites; again, not much has changed, has it?

To the believers then and now, Paul came with a cross message of power, not a cross message as if he were cross with them, angry with them. He knew that all people were sinful in need of God's grace, but God's grace and mercy were things God earned and God delivered by Himself as a gift to all who trusted Him by faith. Paul knew that. He experienced that. This was a message of the cross of Jesus, earned on the cross, delivered by the cross so that all might be saved. It was a cross message of God's power in Jesus Christ alone, for all.

So he makes the point. "I didn't come among you with eloquence or persuasive speech, I just came with a message given by Jesus Christ alone, accomplished by Jesus Christ alone, with power, peace, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Him alone." It's as if Paul were saying, "I'm not in competition with these sophists, I'm not in competition even with other presenters of the Gospel; why, because it's not me, it's not you, it's the message. It's not even them, it's the message. It's about Christ, not religion, not human wisdom, not entertainment. It's about Christ and the life that you can have in Him by faith!"

The other day, Yvette and I went to a St. Louis Blues hockey game and it was a wonderful experience, except for one thing; the noise that blared every moment that there was a stoppage in the action. For those of you who don't know hockey, it's a pretty fast sport. The action goes and goes and goes. So when the puck stops, there isn't a whole lot of time for inaction. But for some reason, the powers that be at the arena think that for those 10 or 15 seconds of quiet and tempered silence, music must be blared at 100 decibels to keep the crowd amused. Wow, it was pretty ridiculous at times. But on this night, amidst all the loud music, all the video images, all the stuff that left no moment for you to think for yourself or to experience things on your own; that night something simple happened that seemed to shake the arena. A naval officer with a powerful singing voice started to sing the National Anthem and then suddenly, there was no music, no organ, even the soloist stopped singing; suddenly, the simple voices of the people in the arena they sang out and they filled the place. The soloist then came in at the end and that simple, joyful, heart-filled moment of song and appreciation for the country and for those who served to protect it, that song was better than all of the other stuff combined.

Let me say this. That's merely a glimpse of what Paul is trying to say to you and me today. When he comes with the message of the Gospel, there is no competition with all the other things that entertain us or amuse us or even the things like patriotism that bind us together. No, this is the message of God for salvation for all who believe! Give it a listen, more, give it your trust, give it your faith!

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God."

It was not then a competition and it's not now a competition. You might think it is; but it's not.

Too often we think that the Church with its message is in competition with so many things. We perceive that the Church is competing for people's attention; competing for people's time; competing for their money. We perceive that the Church is competing for people's membership; even that the Church is competing against herself in the fight over its teachings. But it's not a competition.

Sometimes people even have the erroneous thought that God is in competition with things. We perceive that God is one option among the many things in which we can place our trust. We perceive that Jesus is one option among all the other world's religions. We perceive that Jesus is the best choice among all those who profess to be good teachers. We might even perceive that God is trying to win the battle for our souls and minds against so many things that might stake a claim on the homestead of our hearts. But it's not a competition.

God is not trying to be the first among many. God is not trying to force you to make a good choice. God is not even trying to convince you that His truth is the best of all truths out there. God is not even trying to ensure that worship is actually more fun than all the other activities you can be a part of on Sunday mornings. God is not trying to convince you that He will grant you the best life possible. Why? Because God is not in competition with you or these things.

I know that we live in a world of competition; we live in a world of sports. We live in a society in which businesses compete for our money. I know we live in a world in which we compete to get ahead. We compete for the promotion, the best investment. We want our kids to be above average. We compare our houses, our cars, our possessions, our abilities with all those around us. I know we compete all the time.

When it comes to the things that really matter, the issues that truly overwhelm us, the salvation that hits us not just in our hearts and minds, but in our souls; there is no competition because there is no one like Jesus and there is no message like His for the world.
I know that the message of Christianity often gets lost in this world. It gets lost in the white noise of the music, the words, the images that entertain us; but the Gospel message is this; hear this, it doesn't play by our rules.

In fact, from the world's point of view, at first glance, it appears as if the message of Jesus is a loser. The cross as a victory? What about that? If this is a competition, it appears that Jesus didn't even try to win. In a political world, He lost His voice. When He was on trial, Jesus doesn't even answer when people bring charges against Him. People were lying about what He did and said. And when Jesus was given the opportunity to defend Himself, He said nothing. Pilate was so flummoxed by this that he asked Jesus even if He understood what was happening to Him. Jesus replied with no defense.

Jesus lost, or so it seemed. He stood innocent before the Jews. He stood innocent before the Romans. And He let injustice win over truth. He let corruption win over proper procedure. He let His ministry end in a midnight raid that led to a public beating and an execution. It looked like He lost.

But this was nothing new for Jesus. He lived lost. In fact, you might say He lived lost for a reason. He lived lost so that He could find the lost, rescue the lost, and bring them back home with Him. He had no home. He had no income. He was rejected by the religious. He was too religious for the secular. He was too radical for the traditional. He was too traditional for the radicals. He lost. Even when He performed miracles, people scoffed at Him, mocked Him, and accused Him of terrible things.

And it all led to a cross. By our rules, by our competition, crucified messiahs are dead messiahs. And dead messiahs are false messiahs. Before the whole world Jesus was hung on the cursed tree as the failed Messiah, the One Who lost.

But God doesn't play by our rules and in this case God actually willed that it all happen that way. Jesus went to the cross willingly. He didn't lose. He accomplished what He came to do through a cross. When He died, He gave up His Spirit; nobody took it from Him. Before He breathed His last, He exclaimed, "It is finished!" The victory was actually won. He did precisely what God the Father wanted. He succeeded.

Jesus suffered what all thought was defeat because what appeared to be His weakness was His strength and trusting in the Father in all things. And when He rose from the dead, it was the crucified One Who lives and reigns for all eternity so that you can live with Him in joy!

It's not a competition. Jesus came to lose. And when He lost, He won. When He won, you lost the guilt of your sin and in Him you can have His victory, a victory the world can never take away.

That's a cross word of power to live life in Christ eternally. Sins forgiven, guilt removed, death overcome, life delivered, transformed, shared, now and forever!

Love doesn't seek to win or to conquer. Love seeks to, well, love. And God, in Christ, loved you with an everlasting love so that you could be saved everlastingly by grace!

When it comes to that kind of love, that kind of service, that kind of sacrifice, well, there is no competition, and there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved. Thank God He doesn't play by our rules or we would lose when He wins. But by His own work, His loss is our gain, His gain is our eternity.

The Word of the cross is a powerful word. Even if the world rejects it momentarily as weak and meaningless, we know that it is the Word of God that saves because it is Jesus at work for you and me. On the cross we see clearly God's glory is found not in raw power, but in humility; for on the cross, in weakness, God Himself conquers to redeem and restore His creation!

I will not try to convince you today. I've got no clever arguments. I've just got the truth, the truth of the person and work of Jesus for you. That truth may seem like foolishness. Yet it remains true, because He is true. It may sound like madness; it may sound like I've lost my mind. Yet I proclaim to you today that the cross of Jesus Christ is the most powerful force in the whole world.

God does not compete because compared to Jesus, there is no competition. God delights in humility. Jesus became a servant, a slave. He became obedient even to the point of death, even death on a cross, so that you and I might be saved.

God does not compete. He doesn't seek to win because you'd lose. He serves. He loves. He gives His victory to you. Even though you cannot and have not earned His favor, God delights in you.

The love of Jesus on the cross changes things. That's a cross-word of God's power for your salvation. I pray that this hits you today at the cross-roads of your life, because through this radio station this message has been criss-crossing the world so that whoever hears it and believes it indeed might be saved.

Christ changes the world. His cross and resurrection changes all of eternity. By faith, I want that to be true for you today.

There is no competition. This is not even a defense. This is a simple proclamation of the truth. Jesus Christ crucified and risen again is God's love for you. In Him and Him alone is salvation. Put your faith in Him. Your life will never be the same. Amen.

Action in Ministry for January 22, 2017
Guest: Rev. James Likens

ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action In Ministry. Pastor Seltz, I like that point you made in today's message that God is not competing with anyone.

SELTZ: So much, Mark, in our world is based on competition. It's hard to grasp this concept that God competes with no one. He alone is the Way. He's the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ.

ANNOUNCER: But the Bible does describe the Christian life as running a race and we have a video resource titled, Winning the Race. It looks at how you can be sure to come out a winner. We're happy to be joined now by the film's director and producer, Jim Likens.

SELTZ: Jim, thanks for joining us today.

LIKENS: Well, it's great to be here with you again.

SELTZ: It's always great to have you. Listen, there's a famous quote that pretty much sums up the whole idea behind this study. Share with us why this quote also means so much outside the context of sports.

LIKENS: Well, many attribute that quote to Vince Lombardi.

SELTZ: Okay.

LIKENS: And the quote was, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."

SELTZ: I've heard that.

LIKENS: But actually it was said by Henry Russell (Red) Sanders, the UCLA football coach from 1949 to 1957. For any good athlete, they train and they compete to win. Now, Pastor Seltz, when you were at the seminary, you played basketball.

SELTZ: Absolutely.

LIKENS: Did you go out there just to get in your daily exercise or did you go out there to win?

SELTZ: Now we were there to win, even at seminary. I've got to tell you, we were just talking about this, and we wanted to win even in practice. You didn't ever want to lose. Why else would you play?

LIKENS: There are many Christians who see faith and salvation in the church as a contest and it depends upon them doing enough to gain the victory and to win salvation.

SELTZ: Okay.

LIKENS: In this program, Winning the Race, Chris Schneider, who at the time was the sports director for CBS radio in Dallas for the Texas radio network; he covered many great sports stories and interviewed many famous athletes. But he uses many sporting events to make the point that apart from individual sports, like golf or wrestling, it takes a team; one team made up of many players each with his own assignment.

ANNOUNCER: We're talking about a video resource titled: Winning the Race. It highlights great moments in sports and also the importance of coaches and others even down to the ticket booth attendant. I'm wondering what does that tell us about life in general.

LIKENS: Well, when I was a parish pastor, I'd have people ask me the question, "Do I have to go to church to be a Christian?" and I'd say, "Well, I think if you're a Christian, you'd probably go to church." But the important thing about those around us in church is like a fireplace. You take a pile of logs and they burn brightly. You can take just one of those logs out and set it to the side and pretty soon the flame is gone and all you have is a smoking stick.

SELTZ: Yeah, it goes out. I tell people, you go to church because...for one reason, so that there's a church to go to. Yes you go to receive but you also go to be a part of the plan. God said I am going to plant this place that has this grace that people can receive and share. So, if you don't show up, if all of us didn't show up, it wouldn't be here for those who might need it that Sunday. So, Jim, tell us then how can we use this thing to help us win the race?

LIKENS: Well, it can be used in a group Bible study on a Sunday morning or an evening Bible study. It can be used in adult instruction class or for personal use. People can even watch it free of charge online at www.lhm.org/studies.

SELTZ: Again, for those of you who are listening in, this resource, again, is for you. It's a fun resource to actually go through. It's exciting and at the same time it's a challenging and encouraging resource for you as well. Jim, thanks for sharing this resource that speaks our language of sports in telling us how we can be winners eternally.

LIKENS: Well, thank you for letting me be here and I thank you for telling people about Winning the Race.

SELTZ: There you go because that's what God wants for us all. That's our Action In Ministry segment today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.

ANNOUNCER: And for more information on this video resource, Winning the Race, call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316.

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for January 22, 2017
Topic: What Does Genesis 1:1 Mean?

ANNOUNCER: What does it mean to live with a Genesis view of life? That'll be our question today for Pastor Gregory Seltz. I'm Mark Eischer. This comes out of Genesis 1:1, the very first verse of the Bible where it says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Is that still important for us today or is that just the way people used to view the world?

SELTZ: Mark, we're looking at favorite verses again today, and Genesis 1:1 is huge! It is an important way to begin the Bible, because it helps us understand both who we are and Who God is.

ANNOUNCER: What do you mean it helps us understand who we are and Who God is?

SELTZ: Let's address that in the opposite order. We will talk about Who God is and then us. After all, that is really the point of the verse. Genesis sets the stage; it proclaims Who God is on His terms, not ours, and then who we are because of Him.

ANNOUNCER: Okay, that sounds like foundational stuff; really deep, structural things.

SELTZ: Yeah, it is. What this verse is saying is that "your job doesn't ultimately define you, your politics can't be the end all, not even your relationships on earth, or your position in the community. They may bring you some fulfillment, but they can't if you are disconnected from God!"

ANNOUNCER: Because He's the Creator, we are the creatures!

SELTZ: Right, so the statement that God created everything is an extremely important statement. It doesn't just challenge evolution. It is really a statement that impacts the way we understand our world, the way we understand who we are from God's point of view! Genesis 1:1 teaches us that God created. Out of nothing, He created. In the beginning, only He existed. Everything that now exists is a result of God's act of creating. God is almighty. He is eternal. And He is creative.

ANNOUNCER: That's a lot from just a few words.

SELTZ: Yeah, and the rest of the Bible helps us understand all these things about God.

ANNOUNCER: Now perhaps God is too big a topic for our short time together here right now. You also said this verse teaches us about something about humanity. What do you mean by that?

SELTZ: Actually, the two go together. This verse teaches us that God created with no outside influence. He creates out of love, because He wants to! That means that He wanted to create everything. He loves what He created. He loves all of creation, but here it comes, even more importantly, He loves you and me! As a matter of fact, later in Genesis it tells us that when God looked at His creation, it was very good.

ANNOUNCER: We have a relationship with God because He created us?

SELTZ: Absolutely! God has a stake in our lives. He does not see this world ultimately as evil, but that which has fallen, been corrupted. In fact, our humanness is not our sinfulness! That's the creation story, that's our story.

ANNOUNCER: It also forms the plot for the rest of the Bible.

SELTZ: It is. The amazing message of the Bible is that God so loved the creation, which was good but had fallen into sin, that He sent His Son to restore it. So, the Creator became part of creation, in order to restore the creation to His original design.

ANNOUNCER: Now, I thought Jesus died to forgive our sins.

SELTZ: Well, He did; and that is part of the restoration of creation. He restores us to God through the forgiveness of sins, but He also restores the goodness of His creation by paying the price for all sins.

ANNOUNCER: Which is a huge idea.

SELTZ: It is a huge idea.

ANNOUNCER: God is actually fixing the creation through Jesus.

SELTZ: Paul talks about that in 2 Corinthians 5:17, he says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come." Jesus' entire ministry before His death and resurrection shows that God is restoring humanity to His original design. When He healed the blind, it was because eyes were meant to see. When He healed people from illness, it was because they were created to be healthy forever with Him.

ANNOUNCER: So you're saying God also cares about our physical bodies as well as our souls.

SELTZ: That's exactly the point. We were meant to be God's people, in His image, in the flesh! He cares for us entirely; body and soul. Jesus didn't just come to fix our spiritual problem of sin. He came to restore us as God's good creation; body and soul. Jesus shows that He saves us body and soul when He rose bodily from the dead. We are going to have physical lives with Him forever because He has restored us all the way to God our Creator.

ANNOUNCER: Genesis 1:1 really teaches all that?

SELTZ: That's the foundation, and that is the rest of the Bible which the Bible only amplifies these teachings.

ANNOUNCER: So that's what it means to have a Genesis view of life!

SELTZ: It does.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"O Christ, Our True and Only Light" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"We All Believe in One True God" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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