1 Corinthians 2: 1-5 (Farewell to Crown of Life)
“Nothing But Christ Crucified”
“There are times and texts when a preacher privately wishes he could simply read the text, say ‘Amen!’, and sit back down.” Years ago a dear friend and mentor of mine introduced sermon that way. The text said everything that needed to be said and the occasion was so clear that all could see the value in why the text was chosen. Today I identify with his thoughts. Paul’s thoughts on “Nothing but Christ Crucified” volumes as a farewell sermon. Of course, you expect a sermon of me as much as I expected of myself. So here it goes …
Christ Crucified for Our Sins
Paul’s words seem over simplistic: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ, and Him crucified.”Paul had even confessed that he did not come with eloquence in words. His gifts - or lack of them - could not make that message better or more appealing. It wasn’t his clever persuasions that convinced people to run to Jesus. It wasn’t in masterful evangelism skills. In fact, if the Gospel and its work depended on Paul he would have ruined everything. He confessed to Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15) Paul was keenly aware that he was reaching out to people who knew about his deadly persecution of Christ and his people. They knew about his worst.
I suspect that is why he: “came ... in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.” Our clear identity has always taken on this vital flaw: “I am a sinner.” We hold on to the natural condition of our human birth. We harbor rotten sinful thoughts. We act on those thoughts with actions that go against God’s holy laws. We speak and do things that give offense to others and the Word. We all have a deadly past!
It is clear that Paul knew the congregation in Corinth quite well. We can get to know them just as well in the two letters that are recorded for us. Scan those two letters from pastor Paul and you will see that not only did know them, he was not afraid to bear his soul to them. The interaction of Paul and Corinth reviewed pastoral favoritism, failed disciplines, public offenses, failed worship practices, and more! On top of that Corinth was one of many cities littered with anti-Christian culture and sentiment.
When pastors serve among a people long enough, pastor and congregation eventually see each other at their best and their worst. We are all together sinners, who have reason to say: “of whom I am the worst.” A Pastor knows of his own sins. Hs congregation becomes suspect of them as well. True enough, we all are sinful people, but when Christians come together for the cause of the Gospel, the devil and sin escalated their game. 15 years of labor in the Lord together and we can all recall the good, the bad … and the ugly: the fears, the joys, the tears, the frustrations, the shortcomings, the celebrations, the baptisms, the weddings, the funerals, the anniversaries and ministry projects. 15 years together included many apologies and much need for confession of sins and forgiving love in Christ.
That is why Paul’s pastor heart “resolved to know nothing … except Christ and him crucified.” Jesus loves sinners with an unconditional love. He was nailed to the cursed tree of the cross to prove it. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification!” (Romans 4:25). Christ Crucified gives you a clearly new identity. “If anyone is in Christ is they a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ Crucified means sinners are not guilty before God. Every sin is washed from his memory in Christ.
This is the reason for pastoral ministry, says Paul. Pastors and congregations live and minister together because Christ’s sacrificial blood is spoken and spattered over everything. The forgiveness Jesus won on the cross is laced through every sermon, every mission plan, every classroom, every visit, every meeting, every kitchen table, every personal moment in the office, every morning breath and night time prayer … everything! With Paul: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ and him crucified.”
Christ Crucified is Our Trust
Paul had his enemies, doubts and fears. In Christ Crucified you have enemies, doubts and fears. Those spiritual foes attempt to undermine trust. Jesus, who had enemies more is the Son of God our Savior. He overpowered the Devil. He overpowers the enemies of the Church. He comforts those who are concerned for his Church on earth. He overpowers your foes day by day. “He made public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross!” (Colossians 2:15). Christ Crucified is the confidence of our faith.
Where does Christ Crucified weave into your faith-life? Your God-given roles in family home life are expressions faith in Christ with gentleness and great patience. Teach and learn Jesus in your homes. In your vocations see that living Christ Crucified overcome the world’s ways. In Christ Crucified there is power and freedom to escalate our game in our personal faith-life. He empowers solid parenting and excellence in vocations. He drives the trust and love that overcome our fears.
Where else does Christ Crucified weave into your faithlife? Your God-given roles in this congregation (and you all have responisibilies to this ministry) are expressions faith in Christ with gentleness and great patience. Christian congregations will always have enemies, and doubts, and unknown futures. But the Church of Christ Crucified will never perish! Serve one another in love. God gives courage where there is timidity by thwarting the plans of those who hate his Son. Trembling Paul encouraged pastor Timothy: “He has not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1: 7).
Christ Crucified is the Spirit’s Power
Paul the man did not win souls for Christ; neither did Pastor Helwig. The message Paul preached was the power the Spirit used to change hearts from unbelief to faith in Christ. “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10: 17) Paul assured them that their faith was the result of the Spirit’s Gospel - the message of Christ crucified and risen again.
“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” The Sword the Spirit wields is the Word of Christ. “The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any two edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit; joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
NB! Christ Crucified is not a “cop out” from doing solid ministry. Paul was not merely saying that the great message of Jesus excused him or the congregation from poor ministry and shoddy work. Just the opposite! The excellence of Christ inspires pastors to rise above shortcomings and improve their efforts more. Christ Crucified inspires congregations to rise above apathy and fears to escalate their efforts of ministry as fruits of trusting in Christ.
Still, the ministry does not rest on the wisdom and cunning of men. Human beings are just not clever or wise enough to come up with the Gospel of Jesus; nor can we come up with something different that would be better; nor can we make the message of Christ better it is. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us it is the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
The Spirit uses the ministry of pastors and congregations to proclaim Christ Crucified clearly. Paul taught that: the message is heard through the word of Christ.” With every Baptism, every sermon, every offering of the Supper, Christ Crucified is clearly a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power so that your faith does not rest on man’s wisdom but on God’s power.
Farewell. This is not “Good-bye.” Our paths will meet again! Those paths may cross in this life many more times. They will certainly meet in the glories of heaven where those who trust in Christ Crucified will live with Christ Ascended for ever and ever! Amen!