"We Preach Christ Crucified"#86-08
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 21, 2018
By Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:We Preach Christ Crucified)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: 1 Corinthians 1:23-24
At the close of this last session of the United States Congress, a representative introduced a bill to give the name "astronaut" to a new object not yet in existence. The latest addition to the family, whose birth has been announced as being about two years off, is the satellite, which scientists hope to shoot into outer space. It is expected to revolve around the Earth, about 200 to 300 miles above the Earth's surface, and to keep on going around for several weeks or even for months, until it finally re-enters our atmosphere and is destroyed by the heat, which friction will then create. Things are happening pretty fast these days when the dreams of a decade ago become reality so quickly.
People dreamed about flying for centuries, for example, before flying actually became a reality. Then, it didn't come through the flapping of wings as some people thought it would, but rather through the application to power-driven craft of the principles which enable birds to fly by simply flapping their wings and by gliding about motionless in the sky. All of this took a long time. Today, events move more quickly. Frederick Lewis Allen titled his book about the years 1900 to 1950, The Big Change. The biggest changes however have taken place since 1950, during the last five years. There is the prospect of even bigger things to come with automation and industry for example. Automation was a term coined by a Ford Motor Company executive in 1945 to describe the new industrial revolution in which machines are being developed to run the machines that we already have.
Chevrolet of Canada has a machine two city blocks long that completely processes motors in the assembly of automobiles. The telephone dial system, bank clearinghouses, and other enterprises are in the midst of automation right now. Who is to say how much our lives are going to be affected by these developments as well as those in the field of the peaceful use of atomic energy, which are coming along a lot faster than most people recognize right now. Things are happening so fast that it is impossible to get a grip on them before they slip away, replaced by something new and better. Is there no way to get a grip on anything in our rapidly developing civilization? Someone has said that our world has been so quickly inoculated with Christianity that very likely it will never catch the real thing.
Is there a real thing? Something you can hang on to? If so, what is it? I want to talk to you for just a few minutes about the real thing, the One that never changes. It's what we preach about on this program. We preach Christ crucified. St. Paul said that. He went on to say that wherever he preached, Christ crucified. He was met by incredulity and skepticism, but we preach Christ crucified, he said. Unto the Jews, that is to the people who took religion seriously, a stumbling block. Unto the Greeks, that is the people who were intellectual, foolishness. But unto them which are called both Jews and Greeks without discrimination, Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God. It did not bother St. Paul that people could not seem to understand the simple fact of Christ's cross or did not even want to try to understand it.
He did not modify his preaching or water it down because of this fact. He just said "This is what we preach. We preach Christ crucified. Take it or leave it. But when you leave it, remember what you are leaving behind and what it is going to mean to you. We preach Christ crucified." That was St. Paul's way of saying that sin or whatever other name you want to give to departure from God and His Law is a costly business. It costs somebody crucifixion. It costs us most of all, those of us who are sinners, and who of us is not a sinner? Sin makes cowards of us all, and it makes us enemies as well. You've heard a man say I'm in the doghouse these days. What he means to say is that he made an appointment with his wife to select wallpaper for the living room and then forgot all about it.
He promised to bring home ice cream for dinner and failed to remember his promise. He came in out of the rain and tracked mud all over the living room rug. It takes a good kiss and maybe a bouquet of flowers the next day to get things straightened out. All too often being in the doghouse is not only a matter of our having incurred the anger of somebody else, but it's a matter too of our setting up a wall between them and us through our own feeling of guilt. We don't want to give. We don't want to admit that we were wrong. It only makes things worse to know that we were wrong, and that's situation in which every man finds himself with God. The meaning of Christ's cross is that God took the initiative to break that wall down to get us out of the spiritual doghouse.
This was no mere tactical maneuver on His part. He loved us. He pitied us. He determined that nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of that love of His, even if it meant taking all our guilt upon Himself. God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son. "All we like sheep had gone astray. We had turned everyone to his own way, but the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. Upon Him was laid the chastisement that made us whole, and with His stripes we are healed." We preach Christ crucified. St. Paul said that as if there is a connection between the cross and our sin, and there is. As St. Paul said to the Galatians "God has forgiven you all your sins." Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken Laws and Commandments, which all was hung over our heads and has completely annulled it by nailing it over His own head to the cross. Then having drawn the sting of all the powers ranged against us, He exposed them shattered empty and defeated in His final glorious triumphant act, and that, of course, was the resurrection.
Do you have a sense of personal inadequacy? Is there an annoying feeling at your soul that you aren't everything that you should be? Are you constantly irritated by your business associates, your friends, members of your family? Are you bothered by temptations of one kind or another that keep coming back no matter how hard you try to dispel them? I can't promise you that acceptance of Christ crucified will solve all of your personality problems or will solve any of them immediately. But, this I say with complete confidence, making the cross of Christ your own will change your whole outlook on life.
It will bring you into a relationship of friendship with God, the kind that God wants to have with you. It will give God His chance to make you more and more the kind of person that He intended you to be. And that's pretty wonderful, considering what God has got to work with in the case of most of us. It's pretty wonderful all around that God sent His Son and that He died to bring us back to God. It was the glory and the wonder which caused St. Paul to say to all of us, "Christ did not send me to see how many I could baptize, but to proclaim the Gospel, and I have not done this by the persuasiveness of clever words. For I have no desire to rob the cross of its power. The preaching of the cross is, I know, nonsense to those who are involved in this dying world. But to us who are being saved from that death, it is nothing less than the power of God. It is written I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and prudence of the prudent will I reject. Well, consider what have the philosopher, the writer, and the critic of this world to show for all of their wisdom? Has not God made the wisdom of this world look foolish? For it was after the world in its wisdom had failed to know God that He and His wisdom chose to save all who would believe by the simple mindedness of the Gospel message. For the Jews asked for a miraculous proofs and the Greeks, an intellectual panacea, but all we preach is Christ crucified. A stumbling block to the Jews and sheer nonsense to the Gentiles, but for those who are called, whether Jews or Gentiles, Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God." Amen.
Reflections for October 21, 2018
Title: We Preach Christ Crucified
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and we just heard a message from Dr. Oswald Hoffmann first preached in 1955, talking about the rapid pace of technology. I'm joined here in the studio by Dr. Tony Cook, director of U.S. Ministries here at Lutheran Hour Ministries. The rapid pace of technology has not slowed at all, has it?
Tony Cook: I remember when I was a kid, I lived out on a farm, out in the middle of a cornfield. We didn't have air conditioning. We didn't have cable TV. We didn't have a cell phone. We didn't have an answering machine. At one point, we didn't have computers, anything like that. To think of where we are today, it was like I was living like life on the prairie or something like that. Then all of a sudden, those technological advances started, and they started to multiply in their speed.
I'm starting to get to that age that I'm thinking, "Well, I'll just let the next generation deal with that." I can remember when the internet came out. I had this thought that, "Well, I'm sure that's just for kids. I really don't need that," and now today how it's permeated everything. Technology, I think, is an amazing, amazing gift, but it does make your head spin. It also brings questions of morality, and usage, and how we're using things appropriately or inappropriately as well.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Hoffman, speaking back in 1955, said things are happening so fast, it's impossible to get a grip on them before they slip away, replaced by something new and better. That's the same thing we could say today. What does that mean for Christianity for the church?
Tony Cook: It's interesting, here at The Lutheran Hour, we use technology a lot to get the Gospel of Jesus Christ out into the world. Someone once said that the internet is where religions go to die.
Mark Eischer: Really?
Tony Cook: Yeah. It's kind of an odd ...
Mark Eischer: What do they mean by that?
Tony Cook: I think the point is that when you have a faith of any kind that's talked about on the internet, you're exposed to all the other ones. You're exposed to people from all these different belief systems that say, "No, this is the right point. No, this is the right point. My way is, and here's the proof for this," or whatever it might be. I think it's partially because of the fact of exposure. As I go back to the beginning of this, when I grew up in the middle of a cornfield, I wasn't exposed to anybody other than 600 people who lived in my town. Now every religion, every thought, every philosophy that exists in the world comes to you. I think for many people that is a challenge. They don't know how to necessarily think through those things.
I think it's important, on the one hand, that as Christians we use technology in a way that gains a hearing for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that proclaims that Gospel in a way that is clear, maybe even more than it has been in the past, because we can't assume that people understand the message of the church anymore with all these competing messages that are there. On the one hand, technology is this great tool for us to use to communicate the Gospel, but also it presents challenges with other ways of looking at things. Sometimes that can be a challenge. Or just for people who might not be as strong in their faith, have thought about their faith, that might challenge them as well. Not that we should pull out of technology, but understanding who we are and whose we are, and being able to articulate our faith clearly as we confront these diverse messages, I think, is extremely important with all of this technological change.
Mark Eischer: As much as technology continues to change, what remains the same is God's love for us in Jesus Christ. We preach that message each week here on the program.
Tony Cook: That's the beauty, I think, of Christianity is the goalposts really never move. Jesus has already kicked that ball, and that game has been won. For us the message is the same, the message that because of Jesus Christ, that the love of God is here for you, that the Kingdom is here for you, that there is a place that has been prepared for you by God. God isn't your enemy. He's not against you. He wants you to be with Him forever in His kingdom. That comes through the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While things are changing, you can never change that. That's something that's historic. It's something that's happened. It's something that regardless of what you're facing, you can always go back to and say, "This is the one thing that makes the difference."
Mark Eischer: In that crucifixion and resurrection, we find our identity then as people of God.
Tony Cook: This is the beauty of it. Not only beauty but it's a beautiful mystery to me. Our identity being connected to Jesus, that in our Baptism, that death that we talked about that saves the world from sin, we are connected to that death. In our Baptism, we die and we rise with Jesus. Our identity is directly connected to the identity of the Son of God. When you worry about who am I in these changing times, how do people perceive me on Facebook, and all these other technological platforms, the real question that we should be asking is how does God see us? God sees us in Jesus. Our identity is in Him. We have died and risen with Him. When He looks at us, He sees through that death and resurrection of His Son. He loves us, and He cares for us, and He forgives us. He wants us to know who He is.
Mark Eischer: At the same time, that message is not an easy one. It's perceived as foolish both by those who take religion very seriously and by those who don't. Dr. Hoffmann talked about that, the foolishness of the message that is being preached, and yet that is the message that contains the power of God for saving us.
Tony Cook: It's interesting because when you talk about that Christianity is foolishness, on the one hand, a person could say that, and you think, "Well, that's a horrible thing to say. I'm sure that's not correct." But if you ever take time to look at it, "Well, no, I guess it is." It's foolishness to our human way of thinking, really. The wisest person in the world would not have come up with this as a solution to the problem of sin. You think that sin came into the world, and the solution is that God is going to sacrifice His Son Jesus, and that belief in that Jesus, in that Son of God and His sacrifice, is somehow atoning for us. That doesn't make sense. It just doesn't make sense. When you try to think about it cognitively with your mind, or academically, or treat it like math, or science, or something like that, and dissect it, in the end you step back from it and you go, "Wow! That is not how I would've thought about that. That's not how I would've done that."
In many ways, that again is where the beauty of it is. God's solution for a problem that transcends our ability to cope with it also has to transcend our ability to cope with it. God had to provide a solution that was so beyond us that in many ways I just really stand in awe of what the Gospel is. The depths that He went through and what that meant for Jesus, I can only barely begin to grasp at that. I read the Bible, and I try to imagine what would that be like. Of course, I can't put myself in Jesus' shoes at that point, that He would die and that He would take on the sins of the world, and that He would descent into hell and proclaim the victory, things like that. I just have to stand back and I just say, "I believe it," but I don't understand it. In many ways, when people say, "That sounds like foolishness," I just say, "Yeah, you're right." But it's not really about understanding it from a logical perspective. For me it's about faith. Faith is a trust. It's trusting that the solution God has provided in Jesus's crucifixion and His resurrection is sufficient. Even though I don't understand it, even though I don't think anyone probably can, I trust in it.
Mark Eischer: Maybe another way of saying that same thing is to say that the cross of Christ is not so much foolishness as it is an offense. It's offensive to those who are trying to be right with God on their own terms, and it's also an offense to those who think they don't need to be right with God.
Tony Cook: Yeah, in the passage that was the basis for our text for today, in many translations it's translated as a stumbling block or a skandalon. That is something that causes one to stumble, or in some translations it falls on someone and hurts them, it crushes them kind of thing.
Mark Eischer: Oh, okay.
Tony Cook: That is the Gospel. It's foolishness, but it is an offense. It's interesting because today people are very, very concerned about offense and offending others. From our research, we've found that one of the main reasons why people are apprehensive when sharing their faith is the fear of offense. The irony of it is that the message that we have is inherently offensive and a stumbling block. Just like the Bible passage tells us, we preach Jesus and Jesus crucified, and it is this stumbling block. It is, as you said, an offense, an offense to the Jews and a folly to the Gentiles. It's an offense to our reason. It's right in your face that says, "You can't understand this." The only thing you can possibly do is trust.
Mark Eischer: Looking ahead to next week's program, it's going to be an important day here for The Lutheran Hour because Dr. Michael Zeigler is going to make his debut as the next Lutheran Hour Speaker. Tony, what do you think about that?
Tony Cook: I think that's great! As one who has filled in over this past year when we have been in our vacancy of a Speaker, I am thrilled to have him come here. I'm also thrilled because he brings to the table such a vibrant and unique way of proclaiming the Gospel. Every time I hear him preach, I learn something new from it, I'm engaged by it. I know that our listeners will be as well. I can't wait to have him here. You might not know this. Not only does he preach on The Lutheran Hour, but he's a member of our U.S. Ministries team. He works with us in the development of our programming, in figuring out the ministries that we're developing, and he speaks into that process as well. While he's a voice on the radio, he is also a valued partner in our United States outreach of the Gospel as a whole.
Mark Eischer: I think our listeners will discover that each Speaker brings their own different style to the program. In the case of Dr. Zeigler, I think he's going to make use of the radio medium in a special way, talking about that theater of the mind and making use of his voice to bring the words alive to the listener.
Tony Cook: Yeah, he has experience actually in doing the Gospel of Mark from memory in connection with the Gospel of Mark program at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. It's amazing to hear him recite Scripture from memory. He just doesn't remember it, but he embodies it. He presents it in a very engaging way. I remember that when we were going through and having people record sermons and things like that during the interim, the first time that I heard him, the first thing he did was he read the Bible passage. I was like, "Wow! If the sermon is as good as him reading the Bible passage, this is going to be great." He has a talent for interpreting, and he has a talent for conveying with his voice. I think you said theater of the mind is a great way of doing that. When you listen to him preach, you can close your eyes and you can visualize what's going on in the message.
Mark Eischer: Just a heads up for our listeners, I think this is going to be a case of active listening being called for on your part. This is not going to be the sort of thing where you can have it just going in the background. I think Dr. Zeigler really captures and engages your imagination and requires you to follow along carefully because he's going to take you on a journey with his sermons.
Tony Cook: Your salvation's free, but listen, it's going to take a little work. He is engaging. To follow along with him, and I was a seminary professor for a number of years so I think I've heard a lot of things, but the way that he presents the message, I think, "Okay, I haven't thought about it like that before." My only problem is that while he's preaching, I start thinking. I start going down these, "Well, okay, I wonder what that's like." Then I have to remind myself to keep listening because he's brought up these topics that are so engaging and presenting them in ways I haven't heard before. He's a gifted preacher, but as we like to say, he's also in many ways challenging, in the fact that he's not going to say the same thing in the same way but that he's presenting it in a fresh way, and an engaging way, and a stimulating way.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"We Sing the Praise of Him Who Died" arr. by Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"Hope of the World, Thou Christ of Great Compassion" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)