It’s one of the most well-known sermons in the history of sermons. Jesus is sitting on a mountainside, teaching his disciples, crowds and crowds are listening – it’s an epic setting. Blessing is the topic of the day – or at least the introduction to the larger theme: maybe, What is the life of God’s people like? And “blessed” is how Jesus introduces it – probably because that’s what people want to know, isn’t it? Where is the intersection of my living and God’s working where things are good? When I’ve got it right; where God’s approval is; where is that blessed state? What does that look like? Jesus paints it – that place, truly blessed, favored by God, it’s poverty and need, mourning, persecution – where disciples are insulted and falsely accused and have many enemies – that’s blessed. Blessed are all the things of which you might not boast. It’s like he’s saying, “When I am glorified – when righteousness, holiness, rightness is pursued it won’t serve to exalt you. In fact, when it’s just right, very often things will seem just wrong to you.” Why? Why this “blessed wisdom” that just seems so unwise to us?
Paul gives us the reason this morning. It’s in his Corinth congregation. There we see people Paul loved and people loved by God. But also people who struggled with being loved by God. I don’t mean that they doubted whether they were loved by God. I mean that they struggled with not making the love of God into a way to love themselves. If you looked back to v.10 of this letter Paul’s writing, he notes the big trouble at Corinth First Christian. They were divided. Some liked Paul, the Mediterranean missionary, and some followed Apollos who preached differently than Paul did and some followed Peter because, you know, chief apostle cred, and other ones were saying something like, “Oh no no, we don’t follow any lowly humans, we’re of the Christ group…above all your petty doctrinal squabbles…”
Can you see it? It’s the trouble with our human nature on display. Perhaps especially when we’ve received even the best of things, like God’s love, this is how our wisdom works: it turns back in on itself. Say, for example, when things are going well for us in our ministry – like right now – budgets are good because offerings are good and ministry is constant and flowing because people are coming and opportunities abound. And we’re reveling in the blessings of God. But we’re also tempted to say, “You see…this, this is just the way things should be done… This really is something…” Which is crazy…because maybe in parts it’s true. Maybe there are some wise things we’ve caught on to. Maybe Pastor Kolander’s preaching is better than Pastor Jim’s over at St. Josaphat. Maybe people here are friendly… But our wisdom doesn’t just give thanks for those things. It likes to take comfort and confidence and find power in those things. Ironically (or diabolically), after receiving God’s great salvation from sin in Christ, we’re still tempted to go back to a line of thought that says, “I am doing quite well…” Even on the basis of something so not-of-our-doing – like church. And it’s dangerous because, as Paul finally warned back in v.17, it empties Christ’s cross of its power.
This is why God’s wisdom is so different. His purpose is to silence our sinful nature’s cries for glory – those desires that put us back on that pathway where we were lost by way of our own brokenness in sin. So he works through the foolish to shame those who think they’re wise. Through the weak to show the strong their strength is for nothing. Through the despised and disdainful things, through the stuff that looks like nothing in order to break down those who think they are something. As Micah foretold it – it’s not about burnt offerings, not about buying God off, not about anything you or I could bring. God’s blessed wisdom works “so that no one may boast before him”. Indeed, Paul says instead, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” And Paul gives us good reasons to do it.
Look at the things God has done for those to whom Paul speaks. In v.26 Paul points us back to ourselves. Which is alright because he’s talking to believers, people who trust in God, people who are perfectly poised to look at things as they really are. He says, “Think of what you were when you were called.” Well, look at yourselves with Corinth. Not when you were influential, not because you were powerful, not because you were wealthy, not because you were something, but exactly when we were nothing God called you. As Paul will argue to the Roman congregation, this is how God shows his peculiar love: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Or in Ephesians – in Christ Jesus he chose his own from before the beginning of the world. We don’t need to prove ourselves to him or to create the win for him – he gathered us up for himself before we could do anything to ruin it or to make it – he’s done it. And, when he called us, it was exactly for what Paul talked about in vv.22-24. Some wants signs, the world likes wisdom, but “to those who are called [they want and Paul proclaims] Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” God called you by his Spirit’s power to faith. You and I were dead but God woke us to life, called us into trust in the work of his Son…
You could say, as Paul did, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus…” That’s sort of like when we were in Chicago a week and a half ago for the WELS Leadership Conference. It was right downtown. The second night, your CTL team went out to dinner together. We Ubered to the restaurant and after dinner we decided to walk back to the hotel. But it’s hard to tell where you are when you’re in the bottom of a canyon made of buildings. So we opened the map. And we could see – there we were – we had all we needed to know: only five blocks away – a right here, a left there, skip that dark alley, walk through that plaza and we’d be home…the way was clear. So it is here… God’s set you down by his great wisdom “in Christ Jesus.” No matter what’s going on, no matter how dark things look, that’s where you are. And it’s important to know because it throws out any need for you to go find a wisdom to live by or win by or get to heaven by. Christ is the wisdom of God for you. Paul expands it so you can understand it.
- Wisdom – exactly what you need to know – that Jesus is our righteousness. He is right in God’s sight – perfect and not guilty. If, by our own wisdom, we have fallen into sins or wandered into danger, again and again God reminds that we are in Christ Jesus – by whose death our wrongs are paid and we are marked right in God’s sight too.
- Wisdom – exactly what you need to know – that Jesus is our sanctification. With his life, Jesus supplies the holiness and perfection God demands. If, by our own wisdom, we are terrified that we cannot live according to God’s wisdom, again and again God reminds that we are in Christ Jesus. By faith in him, we are attached to a living power to live God’s way – sanctified – set apart from this world, foolish in many ways to it – but exactly what God loves.
- Wisdom – exactly what you need to know – that Jesus is our redemption. He paid the price to buy us from slavery to sin and death. If, by our own wisdom, we fear that there is something more to do, some other piece to add, God reminds that we are in Christ Jesus and he has completely secured our salvation by shedding his blood. And by his glorious resurrection and mighty ascension, he will bring that redemption to us finally not just by faith but by glorious sight.
And that is a blessed place to be – here, with God’s people, who don’t identify by who they follow or what kind of music they like or what color the pew cushions are. We’re “in Christ Jesus”. As Jesus said, people who know the comfort of God’s love; people who will be filled by God’s good giving; people who have seen his mercy, who are sons and daughters of God, who own the kingdom of heaven. Because of such blessed wisdom we rejoice and we are glad – sometimes even in trouble and when there’s persecution or when we feel weak – because he has secured great reward for us – not because of what we have done or who we have been, but because of his Son. Because of who he is, we are who we are – people who boast in God’s blessed wisdom alone. Amen.