The Scandal of the Christian Faith

Sunday the 29th of January 2017

1 Corinthians 1: 18-31

During the past week there was an article in the New Zealand news paper declaring that New Zealand had been voted the least corrupt country in the world. Now you would think that New Zealanders would be proud of this, wouldn’t you? But as I was listening to N.Z. talk back on the radio, it was clear that many people were very cynical as, they saw the truth, they were able to tell of current corruption and recall many occasions where New Zealanders have acted corruptly, and we might say even scandalously, in the past.

As people we are no strangers to scandals, and we most certainly know a scandal when we see one. It does not matter whether the scandal involves a politician, a Hollywood movie star, a sports figure, or even a church leader; scandals are, unfortunately, rather common occurrences in our society. Scandals involve shameful, distasteful, and outright offensive behaviour and most often cause general public outrage at those caught in them.

So why am I talking about scandals? Because in today’s second reading from Corinthians this is precisely what the apostle Paul was addressing. But it was not just the scandalous behaviour that was being addressed; it is the very fact that the Christian faith itself is seen as scandalous to many. The cross of Jesus in verse 23 is said to be a stumbling block, literally it says scandalous to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.

If there was ever a congregation that I would not want to be a pastor of, it would be the church of Corinth. This congregation was full of scandalous behaviour. There were different factions that were against each other; there were battles between those who were rich, ignoring those who were poor; they had many preachers who were false prophets and led the congregation astray and caused discord and division among the people; they had a well-known member involved in incest with a family member and the people tolerated this!; they had divisions over spiritual gifts; also, they had a problem with many wanting to be in positions of influence. The place was a mess.

The church in Corinth was located in a community that was well known for its immorality and idol worship. The city was known for depravity. Because of this, the members of the congregation were tempted to make themselves at home and comfortable with their surroundings, while they waited for Jesus to return.

If you and I look around us today we can easily see that this temptation does not just apply to them, does it? I don’t think it is lost on many of us that we as Christians struggle with letting the culture around us shape the way that we behave. In this way, we might not be that far from that of Paul’s world than we might think.

The response given by Paul in this letter is to focus on Jesus, and more importantly the gospel of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for all of our sins. This he calls the ‘Word of the Cross’. However, not everybody likes the reality of this message. There are people in this world who refuse to focus on Jesus, but rather their own wisdom. The thing is that the wise of the world who seem to possess every advantage cannot by their wisdom find salvation. In fact our reading says that God comes to us “through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” He comes to us in what we as humans would consider to be foolishness. God comes to us through the word of the cross. The Jews wanted spectacular signs from heaven so the cross was scandalous to them. The Greeks wanted logical reasoning so the cross was scandalous to them. Again, if we look around us, is not this true today? Some people are so busy chasing after miracles that they cannot see Jesus, while others simply won’t believe because they can’t rationally and logically make sense of the Christian faith. In fact, many of the most prominent atheists attack the Christian faith because it does not make rational or logical sense.

But here is the thing: God doesn’t come to us through terms made by our human standards. We do not control how God comes to us. He comes on his own terms and this is what offends so many. What looks like undignified, utter foolishness to the world, in reality is far above our human mind and reasoning.

God chose what is foolish in the world. God chose what is weak in the world. God chose what is low and despised in the world. He chose all of that so that we do not boast in our own strength, but in his strength.

For us who believe verse 18 says that the message of the cross is the very power of God. Again in verse 24 it says to those of us who are called by him that Jesus is: “…the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

The lesson for us here is that God does not use his power as the world around us does, but rather he uses his power as he comes to us through Jesus and his death on the cross. Again, God’s wisdom is not the same as those of this world who think that they are wise and intelligent. No; God’s wisdom is seen through Jesus Christ and his word to us. Also, the lesson for all of us, is the Christian faith is not about how good we are as people, but it is about the fact that Jesus works in us. Because of this we are not to rely on our own strength and will power, but rely on Jesus alone.

Jesus is at work in us – this is the power of the Gospel. It may not look like it according to our human standards, but this is the reality of what God is saying to us in today’s reading.

In the world that we live in just to admit that we are a Christian can bring ridicule and put downs; many are hesitant to talk about Jesus and his death on the cross. One of the early Lutheran theologians in America, C. F. W. Walther, in a sermon addressing this said:

“Christians should never be ashamed of the cross. Instead, they should carry it secretly in their heart as their most precious treasure and they should carry it on their banner triumphantly throughout the world as a wonderful sign of the redemption of the world and as the dearest symbol…of their faith, and their hope.”

My encouragement to you all is to take heart, because no matter what your life looks like, Jesus is there working in you. Because of this I also encourage you to always look to Jesus rather than yourselves and your own sins and failings, or perhaps your own scandalous behaviour, as when you do you will begin to see him working in the most unlikely ways, and in the most unexpected places in your lives. And when others around you are offended by your faith and take offense at it, remember that it is not you who they are attacking but Jesus himself, and remain confident, because despite what they might see or not see, the power of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is at work in your life.