Sermon audio here.
In 1 Corinthians 1, St. Paul describes Christianity as nonsense. Granted, he says God’s nonsense is wiser than man’s wisdom, but it remains that in the eyes of the world, at least, Christianity is good-for-nothing nonsense.
And if you were paying attention to the liturgy today, you might be tempted to agree. What good is a God who seems more interested in sleeping than helping you? It might sound irreverent, but the Introit says, not once, but twice:
“Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself!”
This calls to mind what happened between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. There Elijah mocked the pagan prophets, suggesting their god couldn’t help them because he was either deep in thought, having a bowel movement, on vacation, or sleeping (1 Kings 18:27). Has God fallen asleep on the job? Is He no different than Baal?
The first thing we need to know is that Scripture doesn’t sugar-coat the reality of life in this fallen world. Isaiah’s brutally honest: we live in a world that’s filled with thorns and briers, a world that’s more like a desert wasteland than a garden paradise (51:3; 55:13). Worse, there are times when it sure seems like God is sleeping and our prayers are falling upon deaf ears.
Satan would have you believe there’s no bigger waste of time than believing in or praying to a God like that. And you’ve given in to the temptation. If you didn’t, you’d pray a whole lot more than you do now. It’s not just that God’s wisdom looks like nonsense to the world. Your flesh believes the same exact thing. Repent.
And if God seems useless to the flesh, that goes double for His Word. Why bother saying the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword unless it appears rusty and dull? Why insist that God’s Word doesn’t return empty unless that’s exactly what seems to be happening? Even our Lord admits that most of the time, His Word gets snatched, scorched, or strangled. Precious little makes it onto the path and produces a harvest (Luke 8; cf. Matthew 7:13–14).
It’s no wonder you’ve spent your money for that which is not bread and labored for that which does not satisfy. Nothing’s changed since Eden. The Old Adam will put his trust in anything and everything except God’s Word. Every son of Adam and daughter of Eve is convinced that blessing can be found in those places God has not put it.
The Old Adam needs constant exhortation to forsake his wicked ways because evil always disguises itself under the appearance of good. To the Old Adam, sin is a delight to the eyes. How can it be wrong when it feels so right? The Old Adam hears God’s Word and says, “nonsense.”
And then there’s our Gradual, where we prayed with David:
“Let your enemies know that You alone, whose Name is the Lord, are the Most High over all the earth.”
This is a prayer that would make no sense if God’s power were self-evident. It’s not. Moses even tells God after the golden calf incident: Lord, if you strike this stiff-necked and rebellious people down now, the Egyptians will think You are weak and powerless to save your people (cf. Exodus 32).
All it seems the Psalmist can do is resort to remembering God’s past faithfulness, because he’s hurting now and God’s apparently too tired to help. He says,
“O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us what deeds You performed in their days, in the days of old: You with Your own Hand drove out the nations, but [our fathers] You planted; you afflicted the peoples, but [our fathers] you set free.”
To the Old Adam, it always looks like God is sleeping. As long as you continue to judge by sight, Christianity will always seem like nonsense. Remember how Christ ended today’s parable:
“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”
The first thing that usually comes to mind when we talk about bearing fruit is doing good things for other people. And we should. But our Lord’s parable highlights the fact that faith—holding God’s Word fast in a good and honest heart—is the most important good work there is.
And perhaps the most difficult, too. It’s not easy to trust in God’s goodness, especially since the birds are always devouring, the sun is always scorching, and the thorns are always choking. Faith is the conviction of things not seen. It’s believing that God is good even when it looks like He’s sleeping. Christ doesn’t urge us to bear fruit with patience because it’s easy.
And if the suffering the world gives you weren’t bad enough, it also comes to you from God. It’s for your good, but it’s painful nonetheless. Our epistle describes God’s Word as a sharp, two-edged sword that cuts painfully deep (Heb. 4:12). So that you might hear the sweetest Gospel, God’s Word first preaches the most piercing Law.
The depth of your sin and the height of God’s love are seen most clearly in the death of Christ. The crucifixion testifies that God loves you more than you hate Him. Christ’s death is not only proof of His devotion to you, it’s also evidence of your enmity toward Him. Jesus didn’t die for the godly, He died for you.
The cross was necessary because you’ve been tempted to think that God is sleeping, or worse. Repent. He who watches over you neither slumbers nor sleeps.
And even if He did, He’d still have everything under control. Remember when Christ was asleep on the boat in the middle of the storm and the disciples were panicking? There was no panic in Jesus. He awoke, rebuked the wind and the sea, and then rebuked His disciples:
“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:38)
And that’s the real problem. It’s not that God falls asleep and forgets about you. It only looks that way because of your weak faith.
The Old Adam thinks God exists to serve him and refuses to believe that a good God would ever feed him with anything unpleasant. What the Old Adam interprets as proof of a drowsy deity is actually God sending trials to refine you like precious gold.
In a truly remarkable statement of faith, Psalm 119:71 says,
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness,” (1:2–3).
Of course, this is nonsense to the sinful flesh. But God’s Word never returns empty. Christ was mocked bitterly, but on the Third Day He rose again. Today His Word forgives your sin and nurtures your faith. And on the Last Day, Christ will come again with glory to vindicate all who trust in Him.
This wisdom of God will always be nonsense to the world, but you who seek refuge in the Lord will never be put to shame (Psalm 71:1).
Soli Deo Gloria