Saturday, January 29, 2011
Sermon Notes for Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
The Arrogance of Man and the Cross of Christ
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
January 30, 2011
We love lists! We have top tens for just about everything. Suppose you were tasked with making a list of the sins God hates the most. What would top the list? In fact, such a list does indeed exist, noting seven things that the God whose Name is Love ‘hates’. It’s in Proverbs 6, and there we discover what’s number one in the sin power ranking: “Haughty eyes” – the sin of Pride.
The sin of pride lies at the root of human rebellion. “You can be your own god” the serpent cleverly lied to our first parents. It’s a delicious deception, and leads us to the worship of our own will, and our own power.
• Nietzsche: “I call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are too venomous, too underhand, too underground and too petty - I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind." (from The Twilight of the Idols, 1888)
• He went on to teach that God was dead and as a consequence humanity must value power and the will to have that power no matter what as the supreme virtue. Christianity taught the horror that weakness was to be valued and the weak cared for. "No!", shouted Nietzsche. We must usher in the 'superman' and the nihilistic kingdom.
• CS Lewis: The Center of Christian morals.
This arrogant self-sufficiency and self-idolizing is countered by the gracious humility of the God of the cross. He saves by an act of power that appears to be weakness in the sight of the powers, by an act of eternal wisdom that appears to be folly in the eyes of the wise. This is more than clear in the passage we’ve just read. The approach of the world to virtue and vice, to certainty and wisdom, are completely antithetical to the revelation of God in the Cross.
But Paul isn’t writing to the world. And there’s the rub.
While this is true in relationship to the world and its ‘way of life’ (which of course is the way that leads to death - Proverbs 14:12!), Paul’s chief concern is with the continuing arrogance of the Corinthian Church. Their prideful divisions make more than evident that they have not been gripped by the reality of the Cross of Christ.
They may well view the Cross as a Door rather than a Way, as an introduction to God rather than a relationship with him. They have not yet embraced the humility of God and started living as citizens of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, a realm characterized by the eternal values of poverty of spirit, meekness, mourning, and spiritual hunger. Claiming to be ‘King’s Kids’, the Corinthians were living like obese five year olds and arguing with one another over spiritual gifts as though they were toys or a game.
I. The Insanity of the Prideful Church
That Paul is dealing with the sinful pride of Christians rather than the sinful pride of the world in this passage, seeking to establish a new lowliness and humility in the Corinthians, is seen in the two passages from the Prophets with which he ‘bookends’ his message, Isaiah 29 and Jeremiah 9. BOTh deal with God’s people in their misplaced arrogant, spiritual snobbery.
Rather than using his characteristic ‘past tense’ language of ‘finished work’, Paul here uses present participles which emphasize the ongoing work of the already accomplished, past fact. The Corinthians are ‘being saved’ because they have been saved, and they better realize the implications of that ongoing work! They better wake up and repent.
A. Asleep in the Light: Isaiah 29; 1 Cor. 1:18-20
1. No Sophia
2. No Theology
3. No Rhetorician
B. Affirming the Light: Jeremiah 9; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
1. The Only Basis for Boasting
2. The Only Boast of the Christian - the Cross
II. The Insanity of the World’s Imports
A. The Offense/Scandal of the Cross: 1 Cor. 1:21-25
1. Christ, God’s Wisdom
* Cicero and Alexamenos
2. The Cross, God’s Weapon
* Constantine and the Skull
B. The Scandal of the Prideful Elect: 1 Cor.1:26-29
III. The Sanity of Saving Grace
A. Election by Grace
B. Union by Grace
So that Christ is all: he is our wisdom (we embrace the scandal); he is our righteousness (we have none of which to boast); he is our holiness (we can’t attain this apart from him); he is redemption (we could not and cannot rescue ourselves, buy our way out of this slavery, overcome this oppressor). Christ is our all, and thus he and his Cross remains our only boast and the only possible saving message.