5th Sunday after Epiphany “The Light of the Cross”
February 5, 2023 1 Corinthians 2:1–12 (13–16)
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
1Corinthians 2:2: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That’s an interesting thing to declare; crucifixion, Good Friday, the cross, the nails & spear, the blood & agony & tears, the darkness & death. But Paul says that Jesus- crucified is the demonstration of The Spirit /and of power /and the wisdom of God. And the rulers of this age with their worldly wisdom didn’t understand this, otherwise they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
One of our hymns uses these words: “From the cross Thy wisdom shining — Breaketh forth in conqu’ring might; From the cross forever beameth — All Thy bright redeeming light.” (LSB 578:4) That reflects Paul’s words. The cross is shining, breaking forth, beaming, and bright with The Spirit & power of God, and His rescue & salvation for us.
There are churches that celebrate Easter but do not observe Good Friday; so they want the happy message of life but they shy away from the message of death. But, that’s not right, is it? Why is it that faithful Christian churches display the cross but not a symbol of the open tomb? Why a sign of death & not resurrection? Why do Christians wear crosses and do not have necklaces of little open tombs?
It’s because, while the empty tomb is the symbol of our future hope and life to come, it’s the cross that is the sign of our confidence & peace & walk with God right now. The right focus for us in our life of faith right now is just as Paul says: we know nothing until we know JC & him crucified. With his cross, now we have The Spirit & power & wisdom for this life.
The empty tomb gives light to the future; the cross gives light to this life. And that’s the light we need to live right now. The cross is the central truth of our faith that enlightens our minds in all matters of faith and life.
When Paul says, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” this did not mean that he avoided other topics. In his letter of 1 Corinthians, Paul discusses many issues. He wrote about marriage and divorce, & the Lord’s Supper & its right practice. He gave instruction on lawsuits & conflicts among God’s people; he explained how we should regard civil governments & earthly rulers. He discussed the hope of the resurrection & the spiritual gifts at work in God’s Church for the gospel mission.
So, Paul doesn’t mean that the only thing he talked about was Christ-crucified. He means that every issue we face in this life is enlightened by the cross of Christ. The person who has the Spirit of God, and who will understand the things of God for this life, begins at the foot of the cross. The cross is the KEY; the cross of Jesus speaks to ALL topics of this life.
For example, the most obvious topic: Sin. The cross reveals the seriousness of our sin. Whether we do a little disobedience – like cursing at someone, neglecting worship or not giving God a proper offering; or if we do a big disobedience – like steal from someone or lie about them to ruin their reputation, ALL sin had to be addressed by the cross. Whether committing adultery or using God’s name in vain, ‘the soul that sins shall die,’ says Ez.18, and ‘the wages of sin is death,’ says Rom.6. Jesus hung on the cross for both the mass murderer and for Mother Theresa, for Hitler and for you. How bad is sin? Look at the cross. It took the crucifixion & life-blood of The Son of God to bring forgiveness.
What other topics are enlightened by the cross? How about: ‘what is God like?’
The cross reveals that God is absolutely holy because the wages for sin could not be avoided; death had to be paid. The cross also reveals that God is gracious and merciful. He must be,
as Rom.8 says. For if God did not ‘spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’
You & I would never give our innocent child into death in order to set a guilty thief or murderer free; but that’s what the Father did for us. If God willingly gave up his own Son for our forgiveness, he must really like forgiving people. So, as important as the open tomb is for our faith, it’s the cross that proves there is joy in heaven over even one sinner who is turned, repents of sin, and receives the forgiveness that God gives from the cross.
It’s the cross that opens the floodgate of other blessings. If we are forgiven in Christ, then we have been reconciled to the Father. And if we have been reconciled to the Father, then we have the peace of God thru our Lord Jesus Christ. And if we have peace with God, then the strong threat & power of the devil has been defeated for us. We are the sheep of the Good Shepherd, & the wolf cannot harm us.
And if we have been made children of God, then we are his heirs, and the kingdom is our inheritance. And if we are inheriting an eternal kingdom, then we must have a resurrection of our body.
For if the Son of God loved us enough to take on our flesh, and to die in that flesh on the cross, and to rise in that flesh, then certainly he will also save both our soul and our flesh when he comes again in glory. All of these topics are connected back to the cross. The cross of Jesus is the KEY to all wisdom – for understanding who we are, who God is, and what is our relationship with Him – now and later.
So the cross teaches us these things of sin & grace; but it also changes our attitude toward the commands of God for our daily living behavior. Our fallen human nature sees God’s commands & holy ways as an enemy; as if they are restrictions on our freedom & fun.
Following God’s ways IS hard because it’s not natural to our sinful nature; and hard because the world around us ignores our Creator’s right ways, does things wrongly, and expects us to agree & join in. The sinful human nature wants its own standard, its own truth, its own selfishness, its own benefit & pleasure. When God’s Word gives the standard of right & wrong, the old nature rebels; you & I resist. God’s instruction is hated because it shows where we fail, it makes us feel guilty. That’s not pleasant.
Part of us does feel guilty & bad. But in light of the cross, our new nature feels differently; it feels renewed. This why we put up crosses so that we can see them wherever we are; and why we wear a cross so that it will shine it’s light wherever we go, &for whatever we are doing.
In the light of the cross, we are motivated to give to others instead of keeping things for ourselves = it’s because Jesus gave himself for us. When others sin against us by being hurtful, the cross is the Spirit’s reminder for us to forgive. It’s because from the cross, Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
For those times when we are ridiculed by our family or friends for doing the right thing, or having the Biblical moral view on a social issue, and refusing to going along with the wrong view even when other Christians do, it’s the cross of Jesus that shines its comforting light on us.
We can stand firm in God’s will & ways because, while he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus sweated blood & prayed, ‘Father, take this cup of suffering from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.’ His cross reminds us to say the same thing.
In all topics in this life, the cross instructs our behavior. It’s the cross that teaches us to obey; not just in fear of punishment for disobeying God.
But in appreciation for all that it took for our Savior to win us a new life to live. We learn God’s ways, and we walk in them, because the cross forgiveness has given us a new birth into a new & holy life. Just as Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom, so in our new life in Christ, we deny ourselves, take up our own cross, and follow Him.
And now God’s holy ways are not a burden, but a solid foundation, because now we know how to walk as a child of the light in all of life’s many topics. We will not hurt our neighbor in his body, and we will turn away from sexual immorality, and we will not lie about our neighbor or steal their things because, when we obey the Lord’s commands, we show that we are his disciples = the ones he redeemed by the cross. And when we fall short at times, we run to the cross, where The Spirit of God reminds us that Jesus died once & for all. And until he returns in glory, his cross is the sign of God’s continuing mercy & grace for all who are baptized & trust in him.
So, the light of the cross shines on every life issue. And there’s one more issue we should mention that the cross brings understanding for. It’s a big topic in this life. Suffering.
When we, or our loved one, suffer, we often cry out, “Why, Lord? I don’t understand.” Sometimes the evil of others causes suffering; sometimes we cause our own suffering; and sometimes it’s just because this creation is broken. But no matter what the cause, we will be tempted to interrogate God & say: ‘why did you let this happen?’ If we start blaming God, we’ll never understand. But when we look at the cross, our faith will get some insight into the mystery.
First, the cross eliminates some wrong answers; like the idea that our suffering happens because God is cruel, or he doesn’t care. Those answers can not be true. He punished his innocent Son for you; He most certainly loves you. And since the cross was not the end of Jesus, so our suffering will not be the end of us. God clearly has a larger picture in mind for all who bear the Savior’s name.
And second, the cross gives insights to suffering. Look at the lives of those in the Bible; those in the OT looking forward to the promised Messiah, and those in the NT who went out proclaiming Christ Crucified. For some of them, God used hardship to unclutter their faith & make it more simple & strong. For some, God used suffering to bring them back to a life of prayer. For some people, their troubles helped identify an idol that was ruining their life, and misery was a wake up call before it ruined their faith.
And for many of us, this world is just so distracting by making us desire & possess earthly things & experiences that God uses hardship to help us refocus on what matters most; he helps us yearn for the next life, the place were there will be no more trouble or sorrow, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. We might not settle on one answer as to why we are suffering, but the cross is the key for us to understand that God allows things because of his eternal love & eternal goal for us in our Savior.
If we had been there standing with Mother Mary and John at the base of the cross of Jesus on that Good Friday, it would’ve seemed horrible and supremely unfair. We may have asked,
“How can a loving God allow this to happen?” It looked like evil was winning. But that’s not true, is it? As Peter proclaimed in Acts 2: the crucifixion was all “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” (2:23). God knew what evil would try to do, and He made things work together to accomplish his own plans. Just like the suffering that Joseph endured; his brothers intended it for evil, but God meant it for good.
God knows everything that goes on in the lives of His people. Even in our suffering, God is treating us like his beloved Son to bring some good. The cross of Jesus shines a light on all the issues of life. On this side of heaven, we can live with faith, wisdom & understanding when we look at things beginning at the cross. The cross is not just one part of the ministry of Jesus for us, it is the KEY of our life of faith in Him.
To sum it up: The cross shines on our sin so that we will be turned to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. The cross makes us understand what God is like. He is both holy and gracious. The cross changes our attitude toward God’s holy ways, and makes us willing to follow after the One who lived his life for us and bought us a new life with the price of his own. And the cross has shined a helpful light on the mystery of our times of suffering and hardship.
God will do everything to keep & preserve us as part of his eternal family. He will even take away some things from us so that they will not ruin our faith & future. The cross of Jesus gives us endurance & patience to trust him – to see that the kingdom of heaven IS worth it.
So, in 1Cor.2:2, Paul is not limiting himself, but is really including all things when he said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”