Boast in Jesus

Do you wonder why Christians boast in Jesus – didn’t he die on a cross? Where’s the power in that? This sermon may explain more….

Sermon as preached at St. Luke’s on 29/01/23

What does the world boast in?

What things do you boast about? I would think most of us do boast to a certain degree even if unintentionally or without any boasting desire, it’s just human nature sometimes to compare. I managed to make a really good roast dinner using the Nigella method, I got ten out of ten in that magazine quiz, I won all my badminton matches last night, When I went to university in Cambridge, I have a PHD in feline Dion. 

It can Sometimes more obviously be seen with kids in the playground, they might play a game of my dads better than your dad or substitute any relative, my dads a faster runner than yours, well my dads smarter, my dad Cooks better, well mines more handsome. I read somewhere so not 100% if it’s true but one kid proudly boasted well my uncle is superman. You could think his boasting took it a little bit too out there. It’s turns out it was 100% true and was from the nephew of Henry Cavill who’s one of the more recent actors to play the role of superman.

Cooking, education, athleticism can all be good things! But it can be easy to fall into a pattern of boasting about what we have, what we’re good at, what we do. It focuses very much on ourselves. The world tends to boast in education, in status, power and money. 

Maybe as Christian’s we aren’t so different. Can we get carried away in what we have and can do and forget that all good things come from God. Do we give credit where credit is due. Not saying we should shy away from our talents but acknowledge who gave them to us. 

Paul would add to the list of things the World boasts about. He is saying in his letter to the Corinthians that the world also boasts about wisdom and knowledge. For the Christians in Corinth this was an area they were struggling with and an area Paul wanted to address. He doesn’t want them Boasting in their own wisdom and knowledge but in the good news of the cross of Jesus.

Two ways to view the cross

In our reading from 1 Corinthians 18 to 31 Paul says that there are two ways to view the cross. For Christian’s we see the  power of the cross. The cross is the power of God – it is the cross that has the power to change lives, not human effort and Paul wants this message clearly to be heard by the Corinthians. We’ll unpack that more later

The second way of viewing the cross according to Paul, is by those of the world, those perishing because they don’t know eternal life through Jesus. That second way views the cross as foolishness. The cross is foolish! It’s weakness. 

The cross isn’t about power or status or getting money.  The cross is about Jesus giving up everything for the whole world. Giving up his life. That seems in the worlds eyes as pointless, insane. Foolish. Worldly wisdom doesn’t understand the cross of Jesus.

In v23 Paul says that Christ crucified is a stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Why is it a stumbling block to the Jews? The Jewish people were waiting for a sign of their promised messiah. They thought the promised messiah (chosen one from God) would be a mighty warrior, someone who would rescue them, from the oppression of foreign rule. 

Jesus when he was alive tried to demonstrate that he was not that kind of messiah. He was not a mighty warrior. He was the humble gentle saviour, who showed no aggression going to the cross but willingly died for the whole world. When he rode into Jerusalem the last week of his life it wasn’t on a war horse but on a young donkey – a humble animal for a humble saviour.

But many of the Jews could not understand what the cross of Jesus meant. They wanted a sign in order to believe. There are a few accounts in the gospels in the bible where Jesus has these conversations with some of the Jews. Jesus says to them in not so many words that his death and resurrection will be the sign of who he is, but many still didn’t get it! The cross for them is a stumbling block.

The cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and then it is foolishness to the gentiles. Why is it foolishness to the gentiles? Gentiles were any non-Jew and around Corinth there was lots of influence from Greek philosophy , who placed high importance on wisdom, they liked new ideas and debating the issues of the day and the cross just seemed foolish.

Wisdom and foolishness turned on their heads

The power of the cross turns wisdom on its head from the world’s perspective. Paul is saying that the cross may be foolish to the world. But God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom as Paul tells us in v25. This thing that could be seen as human weakness, frailty, dying the death of a cross is stronger than human strength. The wisdom of the world is frustrated by the good news of the cross we read in v19 why? because through the cross everything that is seen as strong is surpassed through an act of sacrifice – that is strength!

Paul says to the Corinthians you might be being influenced by the Greek thinkers around you but remember where you came from. In v26 he says and I’m paraphrasing – You weren’t wise by human standards, you’re not noble or influential, why are you boasting in your wisdom. Earthly wisdom is nothing compared to Gods. God turns earthly wisdom on its head.

In v 27 we have these comparisons between who God calls and the world. God chooses the foolish things to shame the wise – the weak things to shame the strong – the lowly things, despised things, things the world doesn’t acknowledge to nullify the things the world puts status to.

Why? So that no one can boast in being a child of God through any action or intellect of their own, other than believing in what Jesus has done for them. But it is only because of and through Jesus that salvation is possible.

The bible is full of unlikely characters that God used to play their part in his story of bringing the world back into close relationship with himself. If you’ve not heard of these characters before, go away and look at their stories. Moses had problems with his speech and yet God chose him; Abraham was old; Gideon was a scaredy cat – had real issues with fear; Elijah was severely depressed; Rahab was a prostitute. All these characters in the Old Testament had a role in God’s story not because of who they were but in spite of it and all because of God. So there would be no doubt God was at work.

There are similar examples in the New Testament. By human wisdom choosing shepherds to be the first visitors of Jesus as a baby and choosing a woman to be the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection makes no sense. Shepherds were the lowest of the low and women were probably below them.

God turns the worlds understanding of wisdom and strength on its head. God chooses people and things the world might view as foolish, weak, despised, irrelevant, so that there can be no doubt that it is God at work. 

Have you ever felt foolish weak despised irrelevant……….

The cross seems foolish to the world but that is so that those that know the power of the cross can boast in Jesus. We know that salvation is offered through the cross, we have faith in Jesus, we know his forgiveness and have a restored relationship with God. We know it’s because of Jesus and  is not because of ourselves .

How is salvation achieved?

Salvation is only possible through the power of the cross. And Paul wants to communicate this clearly. So that the Corinthians understand that The cross is the only thing that makes salvation possible, it is the cross that brings us back into a relationship with God who created us.

Human intellect cannot achieve salvation. Human wisdom and reasoning didn’t get humanity there. God gave his chosen people chance upon chance to know God. To follow him in their own wisdom and strength. But it took the power of the cross to bring about salvation for all.

Salvation is through the cross not through human intelligence. In his explanation of this Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14 – I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. 

Its good to look at the wider context in this Isaiah passage. A passage that in the NIV the compilers have called Woe to David’s city.  Isaiah was a prophet in the Old Testament sent to warn Gods people what would happen if they didn’t turn back to God and trust and obey him. 

These are some of the verses in Isaiah 29 which are surrounding the quote Paul gives. ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish …… you turn things upside down as if the Potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed to say to the one who formed it you did not make me? can the pot say to the Potter you know nothing

True wisdom is acknowledging the potter, the creator of the world and knowing salvation is through the cross not through our own human reasoning. And because of him according to v30 we are made right with God, we can be holy because of him and we are redeemed.

Boast in the cross

Therefore because of all this it says in v31 if we’re gonna boast in anything let’s boast in Jesus.  I want to bring us back to the opening verse – ‘for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’.  The cross is good news! It’s not foolishness. The cross which turns wisdom on its head and can encourage us in our call to faith. Remember, God calls the foolish things, the weak things, the despised and  irrelevant things. God calls you, he calls me, because of the cross we are precious and all have a part to play in Gods plan. 

You wouldn’t necessary know it by seeing me up here. But I was incredibly shy as a teenager – tried to blend into the crowd – didn’t often put myself forward for things. But the power of the cross changes lives. God calls us to play our part and will help us in that through his spirit which we’ll look at more next week . He uses us so that we can boast in Him and I’m 100 percent here up front serving him in this way because of Jesus. God uses the weak things to shame the wise. Let that be an encouragement that we can all serve God in different ways, no matter how we might view ourselves or think the world view us.

The fact we can boast in the cross also reminds us that the world, those who view the cross of Jesus as foolishness are perishing. That’s the reality of the world as Paul sees it and so surely that motivates us to want to share our faith in Jesus, to sow seeds of the good news of the power of the cross. So that others like us may know the power of the cross and boast in Jesus’ salvation and restored relationship with the God who gave us life.

Let’s pray……

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