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Theses 22-24: The Wisdom of the Cross 00:00:0000:00:00

Theses 22-24: The Wisdom of the Cross

Reading Time: 6 mins

A part of our series on Luther's, Heidelberg Disputation.

A part of our series on Luther's, Heidelberg Disputation.

22. That particular wisdom which uses works to interpret the invisible things of God entirely inflates, blinds, and hardens.

This has already been said since men disregard the cross and hate it, they necessarily love the opposite, namely, wisdom, glory, power, etc. Therefore they become all the more blind and hard by such great love, for it is impossible for lust to be satisfied by the acquisition of the things which it desires. This just like the love of money which grows in proportion to the increase of wealth itself, so when the soul loses its substance, it becomes thirstier and drinks more, as the poet says: “The more water they drink, the more they thirst for it.” The same thought is expressed in Ecclesiastes 1:8: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” This is true for all desires.

So also lust for knowledge is not satisfied by the acquisition of wisdom but is that much more aroused. Likewise, lust for glory is not satisfied by the acquisition of glory, nor is the lust for control satisfied by power and authority, nor is the desire for praise satisfied by praise, and so on, as Christ demonstrates in John 4:13, where He declares, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again.”

So it stands that lust cannot be cured by satisfaction, but by extinguishing it. In other words, he whoever wishes to become wise does not seek wisdom by rushing toward it but becomes a fool seeking to be returned to foolishness. Likewise, he who wants to have a lot of power, honor, pleasure, and satisfaction in all things must run away rather than seek power, honor, pleasure, and satisfaction in all things. This is the wisdom which is idiotic to the world.

23. The Law works the wrath of God, lays slaughter, curses, accuses, judges, and condemns everything that is not in Christ.

Thus Galatians 3:13 states, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law,” and “For all who rely on works of the law are under the curse,” and Romans 4:15, “For the law brings wrath,” and Romans 7:10, “The very commandment which promised life proved to be the death of me,” Romans 2:12, “All who have sinned without the law will also perish without law.” Therefore whoever brags as if he were wise and educated in the Law brags about his confusion, being cursed, the wrath of God, and death. As Romans 2:23 puts it, “You who boast in the law.”

24. Yet wisdom is not itself evil, nor should the Law be avoided, but without the theology of the cross, man misuses the greatest things as if they were the worst things.

Indeed the Law is holy, every gift of God is good, and everything created is very good, as in Genesis 1:31. But, as stated above, whoever has not been torn down and driven back to nothingness through the cross and suffering, takes the credit for good works and wisdom and for himself while also not giving credit to God. And so he abuses and violates the gifts of God.

Whoever has been emptied by suffering recognizes that he no longer works but God works and does all things in him. So whether or not works actually happen in him does not matter. He does not brag if he does good works, nor is he worried if God does not do good works through him. For he knows that it is enough for him to suffer and be torn down by the cross with the result that he is brought to nothingness. It is this that Christ says in John 3:7, “You must be born anew.” To be born anew, one must first die and then be resurrected with the Son of Man. It is taught that to die means to experience death first hand.

Why did God put that tree in the Garden of Eden? Many have pondered this question through the ages. This is the tree from which Eve took the fruit, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is the tree upon which the fate of the human race depended. Why would God allow such a tree to exist in His beautiful garden?

God spoke His eternal word, and it was so. This was the beginning of all things. Light was spoken, light was created. Plants and animals, did what they were created to do: bearing fruit and living in harmony with their Creator. Man and woman were molded by the hand of God and given the breath of life. Everything that God brought into existence was right and good, very good, in fact.

So it was with that tree with the knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong. There the tree budded, grew and blossomed in God’s excellent creation. It sparkled with treasures greater than silver and gold. It swayed calmly in the rhythm of the morning and evening, just as God ordained. It prospered, bursting with the sweet-smelling fruit of understanding. This tree was very good, beautiful and alive, perfectly placed in the Garden of Eden.

Also in the garden lived man and woman. Created for one another, created to trust their God. Believing every Word from His mouth, sustained by every good thing He gave. They enjoyed God’s creation, food and protection, comfort and companionship. Yet there in the garden was also that tree with the knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong. A gift of God, indeed, but a gift not given to them.

“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Gen. 2:16-17)

Why did God put that tree in the garden? If God’s Law commanded that man and woman should not eat, why did He put it there in the first place? This very question demands the knowledge and understanding of God. He does not tell us why He placed the tree there, but we are told it is good. He speaks, and it is so. Just as Eve reached up in wonder to taste that glistening fruit, we also can’t help but reach out to grasp the unfathomable wisdom and knowledge of God.

Here is where we misuse the best – the good and right and just of God – for the worst. His Law, His commands, His wisdom, His tree: we desire what is God’s because we want to be like God, we want to save ourselves. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Gen. 3:5) Attempting to know His secret wisdom, we want to be able to judge what is good and evil. Hoping to discern His right and wrong, we want to take control of our own destiny. What is good when held in the hands of God brings death when we attempt to make it captive to the works of man.

By focusing intently on what one wants to avoid, we often crash right into the moral hazard we are trying to evade.

After devouring the first fruit of knowledge, you now feel His commandments press on your heart. You know you shouldn’t gossip or lie, murder or steal. You recognize there is a right way to live and a wise path to take. So you look at your works and measure them against the righteous Law of God. You try and seek out life and blessings. You try and discipline your body to conform to His wise decrees of life. You avoid the wicked path to give honor and praise to a holy God. You try to cling to the righteous, glorious path of wisdom that tree had taught us all.

But in your struggle to keep the wisdom of God, the demands of his Law, and the right and wrong of the tree, you have only earned yourself His wrath. This wisdom of glory which you seek but cannot have leaves you asking the same dangerous question: Why would God do it this way? Arrogantly, you thought you could do the right things God requires. Blindly, you imagined you understood the wisdom of God. Foolishly, your heart desires to misuse the knowledge of his Law. Although God’s right and perfect Law must be done, you are not able to do it. Although you know His penalty for failure is death, there is nothing you can do to escape it. Although you see what the righteous must do to live, your righteous work is not enough.

That good tree, this wisdom, and ultimately, God’s Law kill and condemn you just as God said it would in the beginning. It has no power to save you because you cannot do God’s Law. No understanding, no knowledge, no work will change your situation. That good tree, this wisdom, and the Law bring everyone death. Every single person since Adam deserves the curse of God’s abused knowledge, except for one.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Gal. 3:13).

Eventually, the tree boldly displayed what God spoke once we turned our backs on Him: Death. To reverse this word, a sinless Savior was nailed to that tree of man’s untrusting knowledge. He who spoke became a perfect sacrifice slaughtered on a tree for our taste of wisdom. On account of Christ, the deadly curse of that tree is destroyed. He was raised from the tomb and gifts us the assurance of eternal life. Now, the tree once bent into a bloody cross is revealed as the tree of life for all who believe.

Although we don’t have the answer to why God put that tree in the Garden, we have something better than that. Instead of searching for the knowledge and wisdom that can only bring you death, God shows you the tree that swallowed death. Where every last hope in yourself, in your wisdom, in your works, in your knowledge is rendered useless, a suffering of Christ is your comfort. Where you cower in fear because of the evil your hands are doing, His bloody cross of sacrifice is your focus. Where you are judged and accursed and put to death by the Law, the death and resurrection of your Savior is your life. The wisdom of the cross shames the strong and self-sufficient. The wisdom of the cross brings you to nothing, taking away everything for which you could boast. The wisdom of the cross looks foolish and weak, but it is the power of God.