advent lettering

O Come All Ye Faithful

Living in Light of the Cross

Today's Reading

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

The cross is a problem.

Or at least that is the picture that Paul paints for those who have never really encountered the cross.  He uses words like “foolishness” and a “stumbling block.” It gets in the way of our everyday thinking and everyday lives.

That is because the cross changes everything.

We all love the earthly ministry of Jesus. Who wouldn’t? He is loving, healing, and teaching how we should live. He is an amazing storyteller. He describes the Father to us. He engages religious hypocrites and calls them out. He even enters Jerusalem like a boss, the new King riding on a donkey to the praises of thousands. This Jesus is winsome, powerful, and awesome.

But then comes to cross, and this new Jesus doesn’t make sense. The great teacher and healer—the new King—seems to be left powerless under the weight of Roman rule and religious betrayal. He is treated like a common criminal, dragged through the streets, whipped and beaten, and then thrown onto a tree to die? What happened here?

According to Martin Luther, what happens is that God’s full glory is finally put on display at the cross.

In 1518, Luther was challenged to further lay out his reforming views at a debate in Heidelberg. There, he put forward the juxtaposition of the “theology of glory” and the “theology of the cross.”

In short, he describes the “theology of glory” as the desire to only want to describe Jesus as the winsome, powerful, and awesome leader. They believe that God’s full glory is on display solely in His power and His kingly rule. They have no place for a suffering God, and therefore, they themselves refuse to suffer, back down, or embrace any level of humble obedience.

However, the cross doesn’t allow for that tiny vision of God. The “theology of the cross,” Luther contends, sees God as He truly is—a suffering God dying for the sins of the world. This moment is when the full power of God is on display. And that changes everything. As Luther writes,

This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers, works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18), for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said. Therefore, the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are dethroned and the “old Adam,” who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his “good works” unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s. (Heidelberg Disputation, Proof to Thesis XXIV, 1518)

Those who cling to the theology of glory never really encounter Christ. They want a comfortable life, and they want to rely upon their ingenuity, hard work, or even privileged connections to demonstrate to others their own glory. And in turn they lord it over others, seeing people as winners or losers, merely cogs in the system to bring them more glory.

And that is why for these individuals, the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block. But you really cannot ignore it. You cannot sweep it away. You cannot continue to cling to your vision of Jesus without seeing Him dying on the cross. It will change everything.

This week, we will see how an encounter with the Cross of Christ changes everything for six individuals. For the thief, he chose to confess his sin. The women at the tomb saw their mourning turn into joy. Peter had his life of cowardly denial turned over into a life of bold proclamation. Paul goes from a theologian of glory to a theologian of the cross. Cornelius—and every Gentile since him—found full access to the Family of God. And John sees the impact of the cross on full display as He sees God’s eternal plans played out.

So as we prepare for this next week of Advent, spend some time asking the Lord what side of the argument are you on.

Are you a theologian of glory? We may sing of the cross every Sunday, but do we really look at the power of God through the cross? Do we sing so that others will think that we are good and holy and powerful? If so, then like the Greeks and the Jews, the cross is merely a foolish stumbling block that we have yet to overcome.

Or are you a theologian of the cross? Do you feel the weight of your sin when you see the Savior suffering? Do you know that your sin put Him there? Do you recognize that in that moment, the wisdom and power of God is on full display, because it is only through that moment that we can truly know God and be set free from our sins.

Look to the cross this week and encounter Christ in a new way.

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