Samples from Seminary – “Cross, Cross,” and There Is No Cross!

We consider October 31 to be Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Historians view this as the start of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Today, we celebrate the 499th anniversary of this important event.

While this was an important event in church history, many of us have little knowledge of what Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses actually say. I certainly didn’t until they were assigned as reading for our church history class this semester. Today’s post will give a brief overview of the Ninety-Five Theses and then focus in on one of them.

In his Ninety-Five Theses, Luther shows the conflict between the practice of selling indulgences and true repentance. In Luther’s day, men such as Johann Tetzel were selling these indulgences, which were paper statements that could, according to the Roman Catholic Church, clear away the guilt of sin. Thus, the men who sold these indulgences were like prophets in Jeremiah’s day, who cried out: “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace. The people were led to believe that by purchasing indulgences, they could have their guilt removed and thus have peace with God.

Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses to undermine this practice and thinking.

Luther points out that there is no peace to be found in purchasing indulgence letters, for they cannot guarantee salvation. In addition, Luther notes the friction between indulgences and repentance. Luther writes, “It is very difficult… at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.” This was true because those who sold indulgences made repentance unnecessary. There is no need to poor out your heart to God in sorrow for sin when instead you can simply purchase an indulgence letter.

In opposition to this practice, Luther hammers home the importance of repentance from the very first thesis to the end. He maintained that those who truly repent have the right to the full remission of both the penalty and guilt of sin, even without indulgence letters.

This all leads up to Thesis #93, my personal favorite, which reads: “Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “cross, cross,” and there is no cross!” This stands in contrast to those who said, “peace, peace,” but there was no peace. The point of thesis #93 is this: due to the cross of Jesus Christ, there is no cross for us. In the cross of Christ, we have the remission of sins. Thus, those prophets are blessed who preach the cross of Christ and make it clear that there is no cross for us when it comes to paying for our sins.

Matt Kortus

What a Privilege!

As I was walking to class the other day, a thought crossed my mind. I walk a considerable distance every day to class, carrying a backpack laden down with my laptop, charger, notebooks, homework papers and other odds and ends. By the time I reach my destination, even on cooler days I am warm and sometimes a little tired! But how much easier would my walk be if I need not take that extra weight on my back? It would probably not feel like much exercise at all, but the extra pounds on my back make the travel just that much more difficult. Most college kids wouldn’t hesitate to call their backpacks weighed down with homework and supplies a “burden.”

I thought of the story of Christian, in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and how Christian goes through much of his life with a heavy burden on his back, and then he begins his journey to the Promised Land and along the way, loses the burden off of his back and rejoices at the cross that takes away that burden. Now imagine we all carry a heavy, tiresome burden, a burden much heavier than even the most dedicated college kid’s backpack. This burden of sin, sorrow and pain weighs us down, makes our travels difficult and we soon become weary. However, we can have that burden removed!

As I thought of how much easier my daily walk across campus would be without my backpack, I thought of how much easier my walk through life would be without my burden of sin. Without my backpack, I could walk more freely, I could enjoy the sights and sounds of early morning campus life, and I would probably enjoy the walk much more! Likewise, without this burden of sin, would we not enjoy life much more, the beauty of the sights and sounds of God’s world? Our sin, though, distracts us, and we want nothing more than to have the trials, the pain and the tears taken away.

The shocking thing is we can! In fact, we HAVE had this burden taken away. When we find ourselves bending under the strain of our burden, we (as Christians) turn to the cross. The cross of Christ and the marvelous work He performed there takes that burden away, just as it did for Christian in “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” Christian was overjoyed and astounded by the removal of his burden, and how coming to the cross took the burden away! We should remember this.

One of my favorite songs is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” because we are told that it is an incredible privilege to bring everything to God in prayer. It speaks of the peace we forfeit when we do not do so. Christian learned this when he came before the cross, and we can too. Our burdens can be removed, and we can go through life happier and full of the joy of Christ. We can have this simply by coming to the cross, coming before our Savior, bringing everything to God in prayer.

How incredible. This burden that is so much more tiring than any physical burden that we carry, heavier than any schoolbag can be removed. “Oh, what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!” That pain can be removed, completely disposed of by taking everything to God, by going to the cross, dropping our burdens and picking up the joys of Christ and amazing Christian living.

There will always be sin in the world. This life will never be perfect. The very world we live in is under the curse and is corrupted with sin. But our personal burdens often cause us so much pain, and we can have that burden removed. Even the most painful, sorrowful, broken heart can be healed. God will remove the burden of sin that often brings us to our knees in tears and agony, and He will replace it with the true joy of His love. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!

Suzie Kuiper

Peace through the Blood of the cross

At the close of this week we will gather for worship in order to commemorate the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on “Good Friday.”  This activity of course is not unique to that particular day, as if the commemoration of Christ’s death was not a daily occurrence in our Christian walk. We consider Christ’s death every Lord’s Day whenever we sit under the Word and listen to the preaching of Christ crucified, or whenever the confessing members of our churches partake of the Lord’s Supper, and indeed even when we witness the baptism of young child. Likewise in our personal devotions and prayers we constantly recall the work of Christ. As Reformed Christians we are, after all, Christ-centered people. This is not simply a characteristic of our theology or worship; it is what defines our very worldview. For us Christ is the purpose of all of history. Christ alone gives meaning and significance to every event in our lives, indeed, every event in the history of this world. Therefore when we gather together on Friday in commemoration of the real, historical death of Christ, we remember an event of cosmic significance.

Good Friday affords us an opportunity to take some extra time and reflect upon some of the deepest and most sacred aspects of our faith: the meaning of Christ’s death and its implications for us.  But what is the nature of this commemoration? What ought our attitude to be towards the death of our Lord? Consider the beautiful words of Colossians 1:12-22:

Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciledin the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight…

So much meaning is packed into these God-breathed words, one would do well to ruminate on them for a while so as to absorb fully their teachings. This man Jesus Christ: He is the dear Son of heaven, the very image of God. He is before all things, and through Him all things were created, and still, by His sustaining power all things continue to exist. Yet he took on the flesh of His own creation in order to die in the place of his own fallen creatures. This death, which occurred some two thousand years ago on a hill called Golgotha, is the greatest life-giving event which has ever been wrought in human history. And you and I, Christian brothers and sisters, are beneficiaries of that work. He who is very God, willingly submitted to death for the sake of sinners such as you and me, in order that we may be unreproveable in the sight of God. Let that sink in. We are unreproveable in the sight of God, it is truly a wonder. Moreover through the death of Christ we have been given, together with our fellow saints, an incorruptible inheritance. Our darkness has been turned to light, and we have been transferred from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. We who were once aliens and enemies of God have been made His covenant friends, even adopted sons and daughters, and therefore heirs to all the riches of His grace. In this regard, Good Friday, far from being a cause for grief, ought to fill us with inextinguishable joy and prompt us to unceasing thanksgiving.

And as a result of all of this we have peace, peace through the blood of the cross! This peace is all-encompassing. The guilt of our sin has been removed, and with it the penalty that was rightfully ours. Our eternal destiny is secure in the hands of God, whose own hands bear the engraved names of his people. Our every pain and sorrow in this life is infused with meaning and purpose, and we can rest in the confidence that all things are orchestrated by our loving Father for our good. What better response is there than to gather with fellow believers this coming Friday at the house of the Lord in order to render praise and thanksgiving to God for His indescribable gift in Christ: Peace with Him through the blood of the cross, peace which indeed passes all understanding.

JS