LENT 3, B – March 4, 2018

SCRIPTURES – Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; John 2:13-22

      “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Cor. 1:18


Some things in the Bible are very clear and easy to understand. “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.” God is very clear with His commands. But, not everything in the Bible is so easy to understand; and that is certainly true of what Paul says to us in 1 Cor. 1, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” What exactly does this mean? What is the word, or message, of the cross? What is God saying to us by the crucifixion of Jesus?

First of all, God is saying that His Law – the Ten Commandments – is serious; deadly serious. If God were not deadly serious in His demand that His Law be kept, He would not have so severely punished His Son when our sins, our breaking of God’s commands, were charged against Him. But God did punish Him. Not even Jesus, the holy Son of God who God the Father loved, was spared the punishment of death and hell when He bore the guilt of our sins!

Consequences aren’t stressed so much today. Perhaps this is because it is not believed that God has given clear and unchanging laws that are to govern everyone. “Be true to yourself! Choose your own path! Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do!” This is what we hear today, and not just with regard to the choice of a job or a career. “Choose your own spouse, and of whatever sex; or, don’t get married at all. Just live together.” Even many Christians buy into this and so ignore God’s command, “You shall not commit adultery.” Being a law to yourself is what is encouraged; but this is despised by God. We are to live for Him, for He lives for us.

God says, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” Jealous: He is a God of deep commitment. In Baptism He took you to be His own, joining Himself to you and you to Himself. Now: “You shall have no other gods.” You must look to Him. He will not accept or tolerate or bless the ignoring of and disobedience of His commandments, any more than you would accept your spouse cheating on you. You must accept God’s commands as His will for you and strive with all your heart to follow them. And yet, we all know that we will break God’s laws, even though we try to keep them! The word of the cross says this. If you or I could truly keep God’s commands as He expects – not just with our actions but in our hearts, our desires – then Jesus would not have had to die for us. We could gain heaven on our own, by being good and obedient children of God. But, we are not such children. We are born with sinful hearts and desires, and they bring forth many sins. And if our sins condemned even Jesus, they will surely condemn us to death and hell if we persist in them. This is the word, or message, of the cross.

But, it is not the only word or the final word. Thanks be to God, the word of the cross is above all the news of Jesus, the Son of God who came in our flesh to bear the cross for us. That bearing began in His heart, with His attitude toward God’s Ten Commandments. He was deadly serious about keeping them. “Zeal for your house will consume me.” These words from Psalm 69 sum up Jesus’ attitude toward God’s Commandments.

His consuming zeal burst forth when He went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and saw the sellers of animals and the money-changers in the temple. Now, they would say they were there to help the people. After all, Passover was the most important religious holiday of the year for the Jews, and Jerusalem’s population would swell 3-4 times with Jews who came from throughout the Roman empire. Many arrived with foreign currency and would have to exchange it for Jewish currency so that they could purchase an animal for sacrifice. To help them exchange their money and purchase animals, tables were set up in the temple. It was all done for their good, so that they could honor God and keep His Passover! At least, that was the excuse given for doing this inside the temple itself, among the worshipers.

“I was just trying to help! I was only thinking of you!” I’ll bet you’ve said that. Jesus made clear that, even if the sellers and money-changers were seeking to help others, they were dishonoring God by distracting those who were worshiping Him. He therefore made a whip and drove them out. “My Father’s house will not be a house of trade!” His passion became action, and it brought a reaction; a reaction which He expected and accepted. For Jesus cared more for God’s honor, and the good of others, than He did for His own honor and good.

“What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus was asked. He answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” His death and resurrection would be a sign, a word proclaiming His authority. It was a word to them, and to us all.

What is the word of the cross? Above all it is a word proclaiming that in Jesus God is your Savior who loves you and is for you. Christ crucified is “the power of God and the wisdom of God,” Scripture says (1 Cor. 1). He is God’s power for you, for your good and your blessing. God made Him “our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” says St. Paul. When it comes to your sins, your breaking of God’s good commandments, Christ crucified is your complete and full forgiveness. You don’t have to worry about your sins and fear God’s punishment of them, for Jesus bore that for you. He is your “righteousness and redemption.” On the cross He bore your sins, paid the price for them, and so purchased you for God. He rose without them, again holy and without sin, and so in Him you also are righteous, holy and without sin. You will not be condemned for them!

So, what about God’s commandments now? Do we need to learn them, consider how they apply to our lives, and strive to keep them? Of course! God is still deadly serious about them! Martin Luther says God’s commandments are

“a summary of divine teaching about what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God. Everything that is to be a good work must arise and flow from and in [them]. So apart from the Ten Commandments no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, no matter how great or precious it is in the world’s eyes.” (Large Catechism)

Let us, then, thank God for His Commandments by learning them and striving to follow them! They are His good will for our lives!

But Jesus is your “wisdom and sanctification.” Since He is yours, it is His obedience that matters most. His keeping of God’s commandments is your holiness, your sanctification.

In fact, all of Jesus – His obedient life, and above all His obedient death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension to His Father’s right hand in heaven – is yours as you listen to Him and trust in Him. For, “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe,” Paul says in 1 Cor. 1. Faith clings to His words, for in them it receives Him. And so:

“To Christ we flee, who pleads for us endlessly.

       Have mercy, Lord!” (hymn #581, verse 12)

In the name of Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord. Amen.