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Theologians All: Of Glory or of the Cross

the-three-crosses-1653
“The Three Crosses” by Rembrandt

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And they said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:37-38).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Fellow theologians. Yes, that’s right. I called you a theologian. Regardless of the level of your religious training, you are a theologian. All of us are theologians. Being a theologian just means thinking and speaking about God. And it is impossible to go for long without thinking about God. Things happen. Accidents. Tragedies. Death. Disaster. Disease. Disappointment. And there is also good fortune. Unexpected success or escape from danger. Experience of great beauty or pleasure. Sheer grace. Chance encounters that determine our lives. Love.

With each of these things—good or bad—we begin to wonder. God pops into our thinking and conversation. We may cry out in agony, “Why God?” or in relief, “Thank God!” or in praise, “Thank you God!” Or we may just use God’s name to curse. Sooner or later we are likely to get thinking about God and wondering if there is some logic to it all in our lives, or some injustice. We become theologians. Then the question becomes: What kind of theologian will we be?

Actually, there are only two kinds of theologians: theologians of the cross and theologians of glory. In comparing the two, we find the theologian of the cross looks at the adversity and suffering in the world and recognizes it as a consequence of sin. He further prays to God in faith and trust, and says, “not my will, but Yours be done, O Lord.” And he knows that, come what may, he is the baptized and redeemed child of God, and trusting in Christ the crucified, he bears all the crosses that the Lord lays upon him and rejoices in the promise of eternal life.

The theologian of glory, on the other hand, views life as quid pro quo—you get what you give. Adversity and suffering are a direct punishment for either unbelief or weak faith. Strong faith means earthly wealth and prosperity—health without suffering, joy without sorrow. If you’re a true believer, you’ll have no earthly cares because your every wish is God’s command, and you can simply tell Him to remove all thorns and crosses, and He will do it speedily.

We’ll get into the consequences for each of these theologies a little later. For now, consider the disciples of Jesus—James and John—and decide what kind of theologians they seem to be when they come to Jesus with a request. “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left in Your glory.”

Imagine your favorite boss gathering you all in the breakroom to tearfully announce he is stepping down because he has a terminal disease, and you have the nerve to pull him off to the side to ask him if he’d be willing to recommend you to management as his replacement. Talk about insensitive!

But even their starting premise exposes their glory theology: “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” This is a textbook example of how the modern theology of glory treats God. One uses God as a means to an end—for health, happiness, and all other personal purposes.

Jesus responds: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Such language might recall the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, but here Jesus is using it as figurative language for what is going to happen to Him. Jesus refers to His passion and crucifixion as drinking from the cup and being baptized.

You might remember the Old Testament references to someone drinking from the cup of God’s wrath. This is what Jesus is talking about—the cup of suffering and a baptism of blood. He does not come right out and ask James and John, “Do you want to come and be crucified as I will be?” But perhaps that would have been easier for the disciples to understand. At this point, they still do not accept that Jesus must be tortured and killed. They seem to think He’s going to establish His eternal Messianic kingdom with a wave of His hand!

The inability of the disciples to comprehend and accept the passion and death of our Lord is a consequence of the theology of glory, and it continues to show itself today. While the theologian of the cross accepts suffering and turns to the Lord for strength in the certain hope of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, the theologian of glory is in spiritual danger when he encounters suffering, because he has been led to believe that suffering will not be a part of the Christian life.

And each one of us is a glory theologian by nature. Even when we have Jesus’ teaching about bearing our crosses and being persecuted for His name’s sake, we still respond to trials and adversity with despair, shock, and we ask “Why? Why, O God, are You placing this upon me?”

Our Old Adam also wants us to believe that our conduct as God’s children will somehow insulate us from hardship. This is what makes the theology of glory so deadly, for it is often far more subtle than the obvious examples.

Anyone who is familiar with the words of Jesus should be suspicious of those who preach of the excitement of the Christian life. We’ve all heard those enthusiastic types who talk about how your life will be changed forever when you receive Jesus into your heart. There are those who truly believe that becoming a Christian will solve all your financial difficulties, fix your troubled marriage, and make you a better person in general. And in the end, it creates a false sense of security because it teaches you to believe that God owes you something.

But what happens to such a Christian (who, by the way, may truly have a living and saving faith) when he receives word that he has a terminal disease—or loses a loved one—or loses all his worldly possessions in a natural disaster or house fire? Will faith built upon such a faulty foundation stand in the storm?

The Scriptures reveal the consequences of this glory theology. One need look no farther than Jesus’ disciples, who gathered together and hid in fear after He was crucified. That first Good Friday did not end in quiet reverence and hopeful anticipation of the first Easter morning. No, there were followers of Jesus who were left in the depths of despair because they expected the kingdom of glory to come without suffering, and they thought all was lost because Jesus had died.

The Lord Jesus told James and John that they didn’t know what they were asking when they said they wanted Him to grant them whatever they requested. And it is the same for you today. When your theology of glory trumps your theology of the cross, you begin to expect the Lord to grant you your every wish, and you expect Him to explain Himself when He lays crosses upon you. But when your crosses appear to outnumber your blessings, you will be tempted to despair and to doubt your Lord’s provision for you. Your Lord has promised to grant you everything you need, but not everything you want.

Christ Jesus is not a means to an end. He is The End. And He has taught you how you are to pray. No prayer for temporal blessings should be rendered to God without including, “Thy will be done.” For prayer, itself, is communion between the Christian’s believing heart and his Lord. And the believing heart will seek only that which is in accordance with the holy, just, and perfect will of God.

The nature of one’s prayers, however, is only the beginning of the difference between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. James and John started out with a request for a “blank check,” but upon further questioning from Jesus they revealed their greater error of seeking glory without crosses.

Dear Christians, do not be deceived. Do not expect a Christian life that is free from serious illness, strife, and suffering. For if that is the theology you embrace, you will have no place to turn when you do hear bad news from your doctor, your banking statement, or your newspaper. For the theology of glory, the bad news of life chokes off the good news of the Gospel. Glory theology does not deal sufficiently with our sin or its effects. Sin is an inconvenient sidebar—a slight bump in the road. Or it is looked upon as a sign that one does not have true faith.

But glory theology rears its ugly head in the most disgusting manner when it tells the Christian that his suffering is a result of his weak faith and secret sins. It has little use for the suffering and death of Jesus, for in glory theology, Jesus did His thing 2,000 years ago—He died for our sins and is our Savior, but now we can focus on more pertinent things like how He can help us run a better business, fix our broken relationships, and teach us how to be healthier.

But once again, Christ Jesus is not a means to an end. He is the end. And He is the one and only focus of the theology of the cross. Theology of the cross keeps its eye on the ball, who is the crucified and risen Christ. And He is the Christ who came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. It is the Christ who is not your self-help guru, but the Christ who shed His blood and died for your sins and was raised again for your justification.

This Christ did not say, “Believe in Me and I’ll grant you your every wish and desire,” but rather said, “You will be hated and persecuted for My name’s sake, and you will suffer and perhaps die for believing in Me.”

What are we to say to this? “Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints!” Rejoice, dear Christians, when you face trials and sufferings for they drive you to the cross. They force you to focus on the only source of true comfort, peace, and hope—Christ and Him crucified for your sins.

Jesus said that anyone who would be His disciple must pick up His cross and follow Him. But He also promises you blessed and eternal rest in Him at the end of this life. Christ Jesus, your Lord has already conquered sin for you, and has defeated the greatest and final enemy, death itself. And this He has done so that He might promise you full forgiveness of all your sins.

As God’s children, you will indeed drink the cup of suffering as long as you are on this earth. You will be harassed by the unbelieving world, you will face trials and hardship, and you will be tormented by conscience and contrition over sin. Yet Christ Jesus has promised to give you peace from these crosses. He forgives you of your iniquity—He absolves you of your sin and separates them from you as far as the east is from the west. He invites you to His altar, where He gives you the visible and tangible promise in His body and blood that were given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.

Furthermore, He invites you to come to Him at all times and places through prayer, in the knowledge that all of your crosses, whether they be sickness, bereavement, doubt, or fear, are all temporary and are placed upon you to re-center your focus and life on Him.

And remember, when you ask God to remove these things from you, that Jesus Himself prayed the Father take the cup of suffering away from Him, and He did not. Had the Father granted His dear Son His request, He would not have gone to the cross—and where would that have left you now?

Remember also, that St. Paul, when he suffered from a certain thorn of the flesh, asked the Lord three times for relief, and God said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” And God did not remove the suffering from Him.

God’s grace is sufficient for you, dear Christian, for in it you have the sure and certain promise: “You are forgiven of all of your sins.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

 

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