For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
In 1518, Martin Luther participated in what is now known as the Heidelberg Disputation. In it, the Augustinian Order of which Luther was a part while still in the Roman Catholic Church, was to debate the subject of indulgences which Luther preached against at the time. His views were very persuasive to the other brothers in the Order and his superiors had hoped to silence Luther in this Disputation.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned.
Luther advanced what is now known as the “theology of the cross”. This is distinct from the “theology of glory” which he saw as active in Rome. He wrote in his theses for the Disputation:
21. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
22. A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
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.
The wisdom of God is displayed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, through which we receive our justification by faith alone. Our theology and our Christian lives are built on that truth. Paul says to Timothy: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15).
This is the ground of our theology. We cannot known God as He knows Himself. We know Him as He has revealed himself in his Scripture. Scripture attests to his glorious redemption in his Son Jesus Christ.
This world will never accept the gospel of Jesus Christ apart from God’s gracious and sovereign deliverance of sinners. Sinful man reaches for glory; he never reaches for the cross. The cross for him will always be foolishness. As Calvin comments, it takes the inward illumination of the Spirit for the wisdom of the cross to shine forth:
..whatever a man knows and understands, is mere vanity, if it is not grounded in true wisdom; and it is in no degree better fitted for the apprehension of spiritual doctrine than the eye of a blind man is for discriminating colors. We must carefully notice these two things — that a knowledge of all the sciences is mere smoke, where the heavenly science of Christ is wanting; and man, with all his acuteness, is as stupid for obtaining of himself a knowledge of the mysteries of God, as an ass is unqualified for understanding musical harmonies. For in this way he reproves the destructive pride of those who glory in the wisdom of the world so as to despise Christ, and the entire doctrine of salvation, thinking themselves happy when they are taken up with creatures; and he beats down the arrogance of those who, trusting to their own understanding, attempt to scale heaven itself.
This Sabbath, meditate upon the gracious redemption you have been given to look upon the “foolishness” of the cross and see its wisdom. Pray that God would move the hearts of men by the power of the Spirit to illumine their hearts to the Gospel. And may we all, as believers, be theologians of the cross, preaching and teaching the magnificent truth of Christ’s death and resurrection.