August 23, 2018 Chapel Service — Dr. John Tweeddale

Posted On August 23, 2018

John Tweeddale
“The Cross of Christ and the Study of Theology”
—1 Corinthians 2:1-5

Dr. John Tweeddale is academic dean and professor of Theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Fla.

 

Transcript 

Would you please open your Bibles, this morning, to 1 Corinthians 2, and as you are doing so, it is a great joy to be with you all and to open the Word of God with you. Just by way of a caveat, this is not a typical expository sermon, but I tend to take these opportunities that I have to preach and think about particular texts and themes that relate to our life together here at Reformation Bible College. And so, this morning I want to think with you about the relationship of the cross of Christ to our theological studies here at RBC. And so, with that in mind let’s turn our attention to 1 Corinthians 2 and we’ll pick up reading in verse 1 and read down to verse 5. Hear now the Word of the Lord:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

Amen. And this ends the reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He add His blessing to us here this morning.

Everything about Christianity hangs on the cross of Christ. It forms the centerpiece of our message, our worship, our ministry, and our lives. And so, if you want to become a Christian, you must know Christ. And if you want to know Christ, you must know His cross. And so, the logical is inescapable; without the cross there would be no Christianity, no Christian, and no Christ. Everything about Christianity hangs on the cross of Christ. This is why Jesus, Himself states in Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” So, my friends, if you want to follow Jesus, you must deny yourself and embrace His cross, no matter the cost.

Well, the focus on the cross of Christ, as the center of Christian life and ministry, is encapsulated for us here in Paul’s well-known words in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “I decided to know nothing among except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” These words summarize Paul’s eighteen-month ministry in the city of Corinth. We read about this ministry in Acts 18. You remember in Acts 17, Paul has left his ministry in Athens and then he goes to Corinth for approximately eighteen-months where he goes into the synagogue, and the marketplace, and wherever he goes, he preaches Christ and Him crucified. Now throughout the opening of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul discusses how others viewed his preaching of Christ. You see, in his preaching he refused to adopt the practices of Greek orators and philosophers. He also refused to accommodate the religious demands of the Jews. And as a result, when he went into the synagogue or went into the marketplace, he was resisted by the Greeks and the Jews who saw his message as folly and as a stumbling block to their philosophical commitments and beliefs. And so, rather than adopting the practices of the Greek orators or accommodating the religious symbols and demands of the Jews, Paul says here that he proclaims the testimony of God with a simple message of a crucified King in order to not display his learning, but to display the power of God in His spirit. In other words, his ministry was not about himself, but his ministry was about the crucified and risen King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And so, what I want all of us to do this morning, is to think about how the cross of Jesus Christ relates to our ministry, and relates to our lives, and relates to our work here at RBC as theological students. And I think we can take this verse in relationship to our studies, in a least one of two ways.

And the first place, we think about the cross of Christ and the content of theological education. The cross of Christ and the content of theological education. Now one of the great joys of being a theology professor is watching students discover how Jesus is the sum and substance of all our theology. And what a joy it is to study Scripture, and theology, and history, and practice, and see how it all relates to the person and work of Christ. And what a great joy it is to see how Christ is the key of Scripture. Right, how Christ is the coherence of our doctrine. How He’s the hero of our story and how’s He’s the answer to all of our problems. And yet, the temptation that we have as theological students is to reduce our biblical, systematic, historical, and practical theology to a Christological equation. And as a result, dear friends, over time we begin to equate knowing the right answer with knowing Christ himself.

And so, my fear is, as theological students, we again reduce our theological education to a list of having the right answers. And so, as we pursue our studies, as we learn the biblical languages, as we think through the logic of theology, as we trace the trail of redemption, as we think about problems of Christ and culture, we know all the right answers. We understand that there is Nicene Trinitarianism, we know there’s Chalcedonian Christology, we know that there is something called Reformed Thomism, we know that there is confessional Orthodoxy, we know that there is redemptive, historical hermeneutics, and we can check every box. And we could go down the line and say we know the right answers, we have the Christological equation and yet the one thing we missed is actually Christ Himself. That we fail to look up from our studies and actually behold the very one our theology proclaims and dear friends, when we do that, we’re actually guilty of the very thing Paul here is criticizing.

Because Paul says here, as a theologian and as a theological student, our goal is not to parade our learning, is not to show forth our piety, is not to display our exegetical skills, but our job is to hold forth a ridiculed and crucified King that the world might know Him, not in the power of our learning but in the power of the Spirit of God as we proclaim and hold forth the crucified King as the only hope and Savior for sinners.

Oh, dear friends, you understand as theologians and theological students, we do not exist to be served by the Church, we exist to serve the Church. We follow a King and a Lord who did not consider equality with God, something to be grasped, but He made Himself of no reputation. Oh, dear friends, you can’t come to the task of becoming a theologian and think that this world is made for you. That you think that the work of a theologian is simply showing why everyone else is wrong. Oh, dear friends, the reason why we exist is to know Christ and to know Him crucified, and to proclaim the ignominy of the cross by the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God, and the good of the Church, and the salvation of the lost. That’s why we exist as a community. We are here not to parade our learning, but we are here to proclaim Christ and Him crucified. He is the content of our theology. So, when we labor to learn our Greek and Hebrew paradigms, when we labor to think through our Vosian, redemptive, historical hermeneutic, when we think through all of the interconnected layers of the low side method of theology, don’t miss the proverbial forest for the trees. Don’t miss Christ in our theology because it is entirely possible to get to the end of your education at RBC and miss the whole point.

You are here to grow in your knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. We want you to end your time here with a greater love for Him than when you came. We want for you to be able to open up the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings and see how they relate to the glory of the King of Kings. We want you to be able to expound the Gospels, and the Epistles, and the Apocalypse and show others how they declare the Lord of glory. We want you to be able to understand the coherence of the Doctrine of God, and the Doctrine of Scripture, and the Doctrine of Man, and the Doctrine of Christ, and Salvation, and the Church, and Last Things and see how each of them tell us something about Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King. We want you to be able to trace the story of history as you look at the failures, and fumblings, and successes, and victories of heroes of the faith, and see how the Church ultimately is a testimony of Christ’s promise to build His Church; not because of us, but instead of us and yet through us. And we want you to be able to think about the needs of a very hurting world and see that only in Christ is the answer for those who desperately need a redeemer to heal their souls.

We want you to love Him more than you love being a theologian. Who cares about being a theologian if does not lead to the knowledge of Christ as Savior and King? Ah, my friends, you understand that the gospel is about seeing Christ, not only as the Savior, and the Lord, and the Prophet, the King, and the Priest; the gospel is about seeing Christ as my Lord, my Savior, my Prophet, King, and Priest. I long to know Him and the power of His resurrection. I long to be able to meet the Triune, glorious God in the cross of Christ, so that my faith one day will become sight as I behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus. You understand, my dear friends, you’ve got to get your eyes off yourself, you’ve got to get your eyes off your studies, and realize that the quest of theology is to lead you on to the path of a greater knowledge of God in Christ by His Holy Spirit. You’re not here to display to your colleagues, your peers, your family, your churches, or the world your learning. You’re here to display to your friends, to your colleagues, to your friends, and to your family, and to your world your Savior. That’s why we’re here.

And so, the content of our theology very much is summarized and comprehended in the person and work of Christ. That is why we are here. The cross of Christ and the content of theological education. Dear friends, do you know Christ? Have you bowed the knee before Him? Do you know Him? Do you love Him? Do you worship Him? Do you serve Him? The cross of Christ and the content of theology.

Secondly, I want you to think, for a few minutes then, about the cross of Christ and the cost of theological education. I want to ask a very important question. It’s a very basic question for you to ask at the very beginning of another academic year: Why are you here? Do you know that the decision to come to RBC is the most foolish decision you have ever made in your life? It lacks wisdom, it breaks conventional wisdom, it makes absolutely no sense. Why would you come to an experiment? A podunk little college that’s un-accredited, tied to a parachurch ministry, that is in the center of a swamp. Are you mad? What are you thinking, why would you come here? You understand that’s very much of what the world thinks, that’s even what the Church thinks. Why would you waste your time? You’re young, you’re bright, you have the career in front of you, you have the world in front of you, coming here will never open doors in the halls of power. I suspect that even some of your friends and family have wondered that very same thing: Why are you here?

Well, we are here because what we’re doing, in many ways, is the most important thing in the world. Because what is folly to the world represents the wisdom of God. We’re here because we are called, we’re here because we are devoted, we’re here because we believe in the calls that this place represents. We can say “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, the body they may kill but God’s truth abided still.” We come to this place because we believe in what it stands for. That’s why the Apostle Paul said, in ministry at Corinth, he resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That’s why we’re here today, that’s why RBC exists. And yet, in saying that Paul decided to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, we need to nuance what we mean.

You see, I do not think that Paul meant that all he did was talk about the cross, so that we can reduce everything we say, and every paper, and every sermon, and every conversation, and every prayer simply to the cross of Christ. Don’t think that’s what Paul is saying here. And we know that by simply looking at the book of Corinthians as a whole. Because even in this very own book, Paul talks about more things than just the cross. He talks about the incomprehensibility of God, the ministry of the Spirit, the importance of discipline, and the meaning of marriage, the role of the Lord’s Supper, the value of spiritual gifts, the priority of love, the hope of the resurrection, the necessity of forgiveness, he talks about a panoply of theological doctrines that even go beyond the cross. So, what is Paul saying here?

Well, perhaps Paul is saying something like this — that no matter what people think of the cross, no matter how foolish people think the cross is, Paul is going to proclaim Christ. To say it another way, no matter how shameful the cross, I am going to do whatever it takes to know Jesus. Reputation does not matter. No matter what people think, I care more about what Christ thinks. You see, people look at us and they wonder why we’re giving ourselves to a beatnik wonder-worker. Why do we follow a crucified carpenter? Why do we devote ourselves to a faith that is over 2,000 years old, to a Messiah that we cannot see? They think it’s foolish. They hear our message and they label us bigots. And we say with the Apostle Paul, no matter how foolish people think the cross is, our goal in life is to know and proclaim Christ. No matter the shame, no matter the scorn, no matter the rejection, I understand that less cannot satisfy and more cannot be desired than what is found in Christ.

You see, if you come here and you pursue Christ, it is going to cost you something. Perhaps it already has in your own families, perhaps you’ve been rejected, perhaps you’ve been ostracized, perhaps you’ve been overlooked. Dear friends, you understand that these things no longer matter. You don’t come to a theological college to build a brand, you don’t come to a theological college to establish a platform, you don’t come to a theological college to start a legacy, or to begin a movement, you come to a theological college to know a crucified King. That’s why we exist— to spite the reputation; no matter what I desire, to know Christ. No matter what people think of the crucification, no matter how narrow people think we are in believing this exclusive gospel, nothing is going to keep me from Christ, no opinion of another person is going to diminish my resolve to know Christ more. That’s essentially what Paul is saying here. Ah, dear friends, what is keeping you from Christ today? Are you still beholding to the opinions of others? Are you fearful of what some might say if you follow this Christ? Or do you let all of that go knowing that being a disciple is going to cost you something. And you say, “Oh, I understand that less will never satisfy and more will not be desired and everything else is but dung if it does not lead to knowing Christ. ‘Let goods and kindred go.’” But it’s going to cost you something.

But you come here not for a reputation, there are better ways to do that then coming to RBC. That’s not why we are here, but we are here to lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaimed. He is why we exist as a community. And so, dear friends, I pray that nothing would keep you from knowing this Christ and having this resolve in life and in ministry. And so, my friends, I pray that you will maximize your time, that you’ll not only study for an exam, but you’ll study to know Christ. You’ll work not only to earn a degree, but you will work to magnify the glory of God in Christ. You’ll use the connections, and the friendships, and the relationships you have not to make much of yourself, but to use these relationships to extol the majesty of Christ. I pray that you will conspire together with your friends to use every opportunity to herald the glories and the ignominies of the cross of Christ.

You know there’s a beautiful expression in Calvin’s commentary in 1 Peter where he comments and says that God has so orchestrated the Church that death is the way to life and the cross is the way to victory. It’s a beautiful comment, isn’t it? You see, as Christians, we kind of think we can have all of the benefits without the cost. That we can come and we can have a life of ease, that we can have a crown without a cost. Right? Careers and success without suffering. And yet, we fail to see the path before us is a path that’s been paved by this crucified King. That death is the way to life and the cross is the way to victory. And so, dear friends, as you begin your studies here at RBC or as you finish them, I pray that you will resolve to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. That He will be the content of your study and that you will understand that the cost of theological education pales in regard to what is gained in knowing Christ and the fullness of His person and work. And so, may we end our time here with a greater for Him than when we began. Let’s pray.

Our gracious God and heavenly Father, we thank you for this day, we thank you for your grace, and we thank you for your Son. O, Lord, I pray that nothing would stand in the way of our beholding Him, and knowing Him, and worshiping Him, and loving Him, and proclaiming Him. So, forgive us when we take our eyes off of Christ and place them on ourselves. Forgive us for using ministry to display our learning rather than your wisdom. And so, as we begin this year, help us to have a singular focus to grow in our love and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ as he is offered to us in the Gospel. So, hear our prayers, forgive our sins, and draw us to Christ and it’s in His most precious name that we do pray. Amen.


Transcripts are lightly edited.