Thirty years ago, a Lutheran bishop in Germany, Theo Sorg, preached on Good Friday, taking as his starting point the claim that everyone needs a “fixed point”—a point of orientation for life, or getting through a day, or getting through a storm. Golgotha, Sorg said, is just such a fixed point. The cross overshadows our lives and gives us a fixed point to turn to for the foundations of living life each day. For each day gives us occasion to die to our sinful identities of all kinds and to live out a life in Christ’s footsteps as children of God.
The cross gives believers a fixed point for putting their identity as God’s children into practice. The cross focuses on the point where our past of apostasy and repentance meets the powers that rage in each of us today with the power of God. Historically, God exercised His power in opposition to powers in Jerusalem and Rome which sought to eliminate the potential King of the Jews. In the lives of believers today, this clash that climaxed on Golgotha becomes the most dramatic present of all time as the Holy Spirit defeats our rebellion against God with His word of forgiveness. What Christ accomplished by dying on the cross and rising from death explodes into a future that carries a message of power into the lives of twenty-first century sinners. As we die each day to our identities as rebels against our Creator and are raised to life as His own children, Jesus’, “It is finished,” comes to completion.
Martin Luther’s “theology of the cross” sprang from Jesus’s being nailed to His cross and suffering unto death itself as the final and complete lamb of sacrifice. That death and His resurrection triumph which did death to death creates, Luther insisted, “Theologians of the cross.” Theologians of the cross look at life and, “Tell it like it is.” Golgotha generates the honesty to confront life squarely. It empowers us to appraise honestly what we have to grapple with in the course of times of crisis and during the everyday. Its routines darken our vision to how evil the evil around us can be and how good God’s goodness truly is. “Telling it like it is,” opens space in our lives for admitting that our knowledge and our abilities cannot master every situation and are not able to answer every question. “Telling it like it is,” means no longer saying something when mysteries stop us in our tracks—when the contradictions between God’s Word and what we perceive to be happening scream, “Stop!” Orienting life around Christ’s cross gives birth to the courage to be silent in the face of such contradictions and the bravery to admit to human impotence and foolishness. This kind of honesty in appraising our situations and in assessing possibilities for the future proceeds only from being confident God is in control. “Telling life as it actually unfolds,” can happen only based on a trust which is convinced that what happened on Calvary and its follow-up three days later at the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea is true.
Golgotha generates the honesty to confront life squarely. It empowers us to appraise honestly what we have to grapple with in the course of times of crisis and during the everyday
This kind of trust, which flies in the face of the storm, liberates us from our defensive positions that have grown out of trying to cover all our bases ourselves. Reliance on God to stand behind us and be on each side of us enables us to plunge into the messiness of life and reach out to those who are battered and bruised by evils of various kinds. Confidence that our future lies securely in the hands of the God who stretched out His hands to be pierced by nails frees us to embrace the poor, the imprisoned, the refugee, and the sojourner, those who have been beaten up and those who have been beaten down, those who are losing hope. We can label our personal calamities and catastrophes, our diseases and our disappointments, our tragedies and tribulations, as precisely what they are: Something far short of the will of God for His human creatures. We can confess our failures and our transgressions of God’s beneficial boundaries for living the good life when we know the cross of Golgotha provides our path from offending God back to His embrace.
Being a theologian of the cross does not provide every happy ending we would wish for ourselves or our loved ones. Being forthright about our inability to explain why God “permits” some evils to befall us frees us to actually do what we can to relieve the suffering. His combat with Satan and His clear triumph in the combat on Golgotha and in the garden where Jesus lay buried have not cleared every evil out of our lives. We simply must confess we do not know why. Addressing the sad days and devastating hours from the perspective of Golgotha does not permit us always to put on a happy face. But being a theologian of the cross does enable us to look evils squarely in the face and confess to our comfort and encouragement that the Crucified One is Lord. It empowers us to trust Him no matter what. It drives us to proclaim Golgotha has determined the future and secured what will come out of the wickedness and violation of God’s will and order that has invaded our lives.
But being a theologian of the cross does enable us to look evils squarely in the face and confess to our comfort and encouragement that the Crucified One is Lord.
For in God’s economy the daily suffering in the lives of his people serves as preparation for His final triumph over the Evil one and all his debilitating devices. We know God does not delight in any form of evil; He gains no pleasure from the sufferings of His people. But as Job could not call his Creator to account for what this upright man suffered (Job 38-42), so we can only stand in awe and wonder before the magnificence of the creative power and re-creative experience that the Holy Spirit has given us. So also, we join the apostle Paul in accepting what the Lord is doing when—because of Golgotha’s clash of powers—He is making His power and wisdom known in what appears to the world as impotence and foolishness (1 Corinthians 1 and 2). As the Lord told Paul when he prayed for the removal of some thorn in his flesh, a messenger from Satan, whose buffeting blows brought the apostle shame and anguish, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is being made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul did not enjoy his suffering any more than any other believer has, but he could rejoice in his weakness that the Lord could use it to attain His purposes. For God gave Himself into the ultimate suffering of Golgotha to free His people from every evil. God the Son experienced alienation from God Himself, the ultimate endurance of evil, to triumph with His victory on Easter morning. It was on the cross, on Golgotha, that His triumph in coming to life for His people received the momentum of victory over every evil.
When we ask, “Why is this happening to me?” or, “What did I do to deserve this?” we can expect the Holy Spirit to show us these questions are beside the point and they are not going to be answered anyway. The fixed point standing as the lamp for our feet and the light for our path gleams from the darkness of the cross on Golgotha. It directs us away from such questions to exclamations of confidence even in the midst of seeming defeat and to cries of rejoicing even in the midst of hurts and pains of all kinds. For we know that in Golgotha’s cross the Lord has fixed the beacon of salvation which guides through the darkest of earthly valleys on the way to eternal light. This light shines today for us from the Lord’s throne of majesty over the cross, through the empty tomb, and into the places of our callings as children of God.