THE THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS
Rev. Mark F. Bartels
Epistle Lesson; Romans 5:1-11
Old Testament Lesson; Genesis 28:10-22
Sermon Text; Mark 8:31-38
This morning, I would like to contrast for you two very different ways of looking at how God works in this world. These flowers, that look glorious this morning, are going to represent The Theology of Glory. This statue of the cross is going to represent The Theology of the Cross.
The first theology I want to talk about is:
The Theology of Glory.
When looking at the Theology of Glory, there is the key phrase to remember.
The Theology of Glory is:
how the world expects God to work in this world,
and how the world wants God to work in this world.
For example, the world expects and wants God to show His great power. The world expects and wants God to show that He watches over us, blesses us, and takes care of us. The world expects and wants God to give us honor, health, wealth and all the wonderful things of this life. Those are all examples of The Theology of Glory.
In fact, one of the most obvious examples in the Bible of The Theology of Glory (and remember, this is how the world wants God to act and expects God to act) is what the people were looking for, in Jesus’ day. In Jesus’ day, the people were looking for God to come and be the Messiah. But, what were they really expecting? How did they really want God to deal with this world?
They were expecting a God who would show his great glory.
They were expecting a God who would come and make a great political nation out of the Nation of Israel.
They were looking for a God who would give to them clear and obvious glory.
They were expecting a God who would come, drive out the Romans, and set up a powerful government that would dominate the world.
They were looking for a God who would bless them in outward ways.
They were looking for a God who, because he would establish such a great kingdom, would give them plenty of food to eat, give them health and give them wealth.
That is why, when Jesus fed the 5000, they tried to make Him king, by force. They thought, "He is the one we want to be our king. That is the God we want and are looking for. That is the God we expect." That is an example of a glorious God. And, that is what we call The Theology of Glory. That is how the world expects God to act and that is how the world wants God to act.
Now I want you to contrast that with:
The Theology of the Cross.
The Theology of the Cross is very different from the Theology of Glory. If the Theology of Glory is how the world expects God to act and how the world wants God to act, the Theology of the Cross is just the opposite. The Theology of the Cross is not how the world expects God to act. In fact, the Theology of the Cross is how the world doesn’t want God to act. Consider this.
The world wants and expects God to look strong. But, what happened on the cross? On the cross, God looked just the opposite. It appeared as though God was weak. The world does not expect God to look weak. They don’t want God to look weak.
The world wants and expects God to look wise and act wise, but that is not what they saw on the cross. On the cross, God appeared foolish. The world does not expect God to look foolish. They don’t want God to look foolish.
The world wants and expects God to appear with great glory. On the cross, God appeared to have great shame. The world does not expect God to appear to have shame. They don’t want God to appear to have shame.
The Theology of the Cross is very different from The Theology of Glory. In fact the Bible tells us, to the world, the cross is foolishness. The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. The world looks at the cross and says, "That is an instrument of torture. That is an instrument of death."
The cross is a barbaric, torturous way to die. The world looks at the cross and says, "That is not the way we expect a God to act. That is not the God we wanted. We didn’t want a God who would look weak, shameful and foolish, and then die on a cross."
As the Bible says,
"The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing."
But then it goes on and says,
"To us who are being saved,
(to us who are being saved)
it is the wisdom of God and
the power of God."
I know that I am a sinner. I know that I stand before God condemned, because of my sins. However, I do not want my sins to condemn me. And so, I find great comfort in this cross. This is where God does not hide Himself from us. He most openly reveals Himself to us, sinners, so clearly, here on the cross.
Here, on the cross,
I see that
God loves me so dearly.
He was willing to take
my shame for
my guilt and
put it all on Himself,
appearing shameful to this world.
Here, on this cross,
I see that
God loves me so much,
(even though He is the God of all)
He was willing to
appear weak and
Here, on the cross
I see how
dearly God loves me!
God has clearly revealed to me, that God,
God paid the full price for
of my sins.
How dearly God loves me!
The world didn’t expect that and the world didn’t want that from God. But God died. How clearly He has revealed there to me, that He paid the full price for all of my sins! How dearly He loves me!
That is what is called the Theology of the Cross. Unfortunately, the world cannot accept that. God acts in ways the world does not expect and does not want. And yet, to those who are being saved, this is the clearest revelation of God.
Now, I talk about those two theologies, the Theology of Glory and the Theology of the Cross, because that is what is happening in our scripture reading today. I want you to think about what is going on in that reading. It starts out by saying,
"He (Jesus) then began to teach them that
the Son of Man
must suffer many things and
be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and
teachers of the law and that
He must be killed."
What is that? That is the Theology of the Cross. That is telling us that God is going to suffer. He is going to die. He is going to appear weak. He is going to appear foolish. And, what happened when Jesus started talking about the Theology of the Cross? Listen to the reading. It says,
"Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him."
Peter looked at what Jesus was saying and it was as if he said, "Wait a second Jesus. That is not the God we expect. We don’t expect God to look weak. We don’t expect God to look foolish. We are looking for a glorious God. You are the Messiah. We are looking for a God who is going to establish a great kingdom. We are looking for a God who is going to give us all kinds of wonderful things. That is not going to happen you, Jesus." Peter was still living under the Theology of Glory. He expected God to act in the way that he wanted God to act.
So, what did Jesus do, when Peter started talking about the Theology of Glory? It says,
But when Jesus turned and looked at His disciples,
He rebuked Peter.
"Get behind me, Satan!
You don’t have in mind the things of God,
but the things of men."
Listen to how strict Jesus was with Peter. These may be the harshest words that ever came out of Jesus’ mouth, toward His disciples, when He said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!" Satan wants you to think that God is going to act in glorious ways, in this world. Satan wants us to think that God, as we expect Him, will give us all kinds of outward blessings. Satan wants us to think it is going to be so obvious for everyone to see that God is in our lives. That is how Satan wants you to think. Those are the "things of men." That is the Theology of Glory.
The Theology of the Cross, however, are "the things of God".
Now, here is how it gets very personal, very personal, for every one of us in this room. It is our natural tendency to think, that God should work in my life according to the Theology of Glory. God loves me. Shouldn’t He give me help? Shouldn’t He make it obvious to everyone how He is blessing me? Shouldn’t He give me wealth and success in everything that I do? And, there are many Christian churches that teach God is going to give us health and wealth, and that He is going to make us outwardly successful. But, listen to how personal this gets. Listen to what Jesus says,
"Then He called the crowd to Him
along with His disciples and said,
"If anyone would come after Me,
he must deny himself,
take up his cross and
For whoever wants to save his life
will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for Me and
for the gospel
will save it.
What good is it for a man
the whole world
and yet forfeit his soul?
Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"
What is Jesus telling us there? Jesus is telling us, because we are Christians, because we look to the Theology of the Cross, we see that God most clearly revealed Himself, not in glory, power and wisdom, but rather in weakness, and in apparent foolishness to the world. We are Christians, and we are connected to that cross. So, we can expect that God will act the same way in our lives. God tells us that Christians should expect suffering.
"Take up your cross and follow Me."
"Whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel,
will save it."
There, Jesus is telling us that Christians can expect suffering and that God works through the suffering in Christians’ lives, to strengthen faith. The world looks at our God and says, "We don’t expect a God who would want us to suffer. We don’t want a god who would allow me to suffer." And, yet that is The God that Jesus reveals. Jesus tells us so clearly that it is through weakness, that He makes us strong. It is through shame, that He brings honor. It is through death, that He brings life eternal!
Think about the people who may be strongest in their Christian faith. You know who it often is? It is the people, who, to this world, outwardly appear to be the weakest. It may be the people who are made fun of out on the playground. It may be the people who get made fun of at work. It may be the people who are going through all kinds of illness and sufferings. And, to this world, they appear so weak.
So, why would God deal with His people that way? What is happening in those situations?
God works through weakness,
to create strength.
God creates people who lean on Jesus, their savior, to give them that strength. Paul said,
"When I am weak, then
When I am weak, that is when I trust in Jesus more than ever. That is when we grow strong. That is the Theology of the Cross. God works through our weakness, the difficulties, hardships, and suffering of His people, to create strength.
God works through shame and dishonor,
to bring honor.
As you think about the church’s history, who are the people who have brought the greatest honor to God? Generally, they are the people who went through the most shame and dishonor. How God is honored when Christians are willing to risk all for their Savior, when people are willing to be mocked for their faith in Jesus, as their savior, when the boys and girls in high school, who stand up for Jesus are willing to be made fun of, for their faith in Jesus. How God was honored by people who were willing to be despised and rejected, stoned and whipped and sawed in two for him. Those are the people who bring great honor to God, because they stood firm in Jesus, as their savior. Through dishonor, God brings honor!
God works through death,
to bring life.
God will bring us all to death, someday. The world looks at God and says, "Why would God bring His people to death?" And yet, Jesus says, "Whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel, will save it." Through death, God brings life, eternal life, in Heaven itself! That is what we call the Theology of the Cross.
"If anyone is ashamed of Me,
(ashamed of God)
and My words
in this adulterous and sinful generation,
the Son of Man will be ashamed of him,
when He comes in His Father’s glory
with the holy angels."
We have a God who appeared weak. We have a God who appeared powerless. We have a God who appeared in shame. We have a God who expects us to suffer, and expects us to sometimes appear weak and in shame. If anybody is ashamed of a God like that, then they are looking for the other kind of a god, in the Theology of Glory. Jesus says,
"If anyone is ashamed of Me…
the Son of Man will be ashamed of him,
when He comes in His Father’s glory..."
May we never, ever, be ashamed of the God who is revealed to us in scripture! May we boast about a God like that!
Here in scripture is God, who appears weak and lowly, but is strong! Through His weakness, He defeated the devil! Through what appeared to be foolishness, in His great wisdom, He saved the world! And, yes, may He work through the weakness in my life, to make me strong! And, ultimately one day He will take us to glory. He will take us to glory! And let us always remember that, in this world, we live under the cross, the cross of Christ!
Posted 2/16/2011 by Kenneth W. Regan with permission from Rev. Bartels, larger typeface by KWR