Lent 4
March 25, 2001
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
"How God Does it Backwards"

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Introduction: "Oh no, you did it all backwards!" Ever hear these words? It could come from an exasperated parent, a frustrated teacher, an impatient boss or a tired spouse. It seems like some of us have a knack of doing things backwards!

Does God do things backwards?  This morning we are going to be talking about a wonderful Lutheran doctrine or teaching; the theology of the cross. It was a phrase that Martin Luther coined. Luther taught that God works in a way that might sound backwards to us.  He works mainly through the cross and suffering. In this season of Lent we find that God does His work of glory through weakness, suffering, and death. God brings something out of nothing, success out of defeat, redemption out of suffering, strength out of weakness, and life out of death. Does God do things backwards? You betcha He does. He chose to do His best work on, and through the cross.

1.      On the cross God brought wisdom out of foolishness.          “…but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise…” {1 Corinthians 1:27}

      St. Paul explains in just a few verses before our Epistle reading that the Greeks seek a sign and the Jews seek proof. But we proclaim Christ crucified? Yes, Christ, and Him crucified and risen from the dead! For, as Paul explains it: “the foolishness of God is wiser then men” (v.25)

      To some, the message of the cross is utter foolishness. How could the death of one man save any of us?  How could the death of this one man Jesus Christ do anything to warrant God’s favor?  Could it be that the world has forgotten what sacrifice is all about? Has the world forgotten about commitment and honor?

      In this sinful and backward world in which man looks out for his own interests, even at the expense of others God has demonstrated His love for us in offering up His own Son as an eternal sacrifice for our sins. This sounds crazy to the world and is often considered to be utter non-sense but for us it is the greatest wisdom, the greatest truth we will ever know.  

Transition: God’s truth is stronger then man’s wisdom.  At the cross we see the test of true strength even if the world can’t see it that way.

2.      On the cross God makes strength out of weakness.  “…and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong…” {1 Corinthians 1:27}

      Again, listen to Paul’s rational “because the weakness of God is stronger then man” (v. 25). Crucifixion was one of the most vicious forms of execution known to man. It was outlawed for Roman citizens. It was used only for capital offenses. Crucifixion often took three to four days to claim its victims. No wonder the Gospel writers explain to us that Pilate was indeed surprised when he learned that Jesus had died in just three hours! “Joseph of Arimathea gathered up courage and went in before Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.”  (Mark 15:44-45)

      Jesus’ death was cruel and unusual punishment. It was the most severe form of torture known to man. Yet this miserable death has saved us!  Jesus’ death has set you free. The world may view the death of Jesus Christ as a form of weakness. You and I by faith see it as God’s greatest strength!

Transition: Out of weakness strength; out of folly wisdom. Out of death comes life!

3.      On the cross God brings life out of death.  “…and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are,”  {1 Corinthians 1:28}

      Jesus gave up His life to give you eternal life. Your living meant His dying. Your eternity was accomplished when the Son of man entered time and space.  Our sin separates us from God for all eternity.  Jesus' death on the cross brings us back to God.  "The wages of sin is death" the bible reminds us, and "the soul that sinneth it shall die". But God was in Christ reconciling us to God, not counting our sins against us. This is how God determines to deal with us. Instead of death He brings life.  Out of death He brings the promise of life.      

Transition:  Out of foolishness, wisdom.  Out of weakness, strength.  Out of death, life.  That's how God determines to work.  He works backwards. That's why we see that at the cross God turned shame into glory.

4.      On the cross God makes glory out of shame.  The Bible is specific when it says: "cursed be anyone who hangs on the tree".  The crucifixion of Jesus was a cursed death.  It brought shame and humiliation to Christ as He was humiliated and disgraced by His enemies. Jesus suffered all sorts of disgrace and dishonor. He was mocked, He was beaten, He was discredited and humiliated.  Yet God the Father turned that horrible death into the greatest good. He created Jesus' death on the cross to you and me as righteousness. Jesus' horrible death is created to you and me as salvation and life.  That's how God determines to work in your life!  He works things backward! He works contrary to the world.  He works to your benefit. Thanks be to God that He is in the business of doing things backwards!   

Conclusion: I suppose we will still want wrinkle our nose the next time someone we know does it backwards. But thanks be to God that He decided to do His best work backwards, on and through the cross. He went against conventional wisdom to bring about your salvation and life. He did it for you and for me, on a cross.