Christianity 201

January 13, 2020

Jesus Identifies with Us in His Own Baptism

Yesterday (Sunday) was “the first Sunday of Ordinary Time” in the liturgical calendar. It kicks of with “the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.” We read that story in Matthew 3:

NIV.Matt.3.13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

A new author, who came recommended to us is Debie Thomas (no relation to yesterday’s author) at the website Journey with Jesus. This is an excerpt from a much larger article which tells some of her personal story and again, as I often do, I strongly encourage you to click the header below and read the whole thing if you’re able.

Stepping In

…[W]hen I read the story of Jesus’s baptism in this week’s Gospel, I don’t so much see a stepping out.  I see a very intentional stepping in.  A stepping into a history, a lineage, a geography, an identity.  In receiving baptism, Jesus doesn’t set himself apart from us; he aligns himself with us.  Baptism in Matthew’s Gospel story is not about Othering. It’s about solidarity.  About joining.

On the day I was baptized, I had no felt sense that I was giving myself over to something larger, older, wiser, and more capacious than my own one-on-one with Christianity.  Baptism, I thought, was all about my effort, my obedience, my responsibility.  So much depended on me!  There were so many ways I could mess up! I had no idea that my “personal decision to love God,” important though it is, pales in significance to God’s cosmic decision to love me — and the whole of humanity and creation along with me.  I didn’t know that God was ushering me into a Story — a huge, sprawling Story that began eons before I showed up in my father’s study with tiny fistfuls of belief.

In other words, I didn’t know the paradoxical power of stepping in.  Of giving myself over to something deeper and more trustworthy than the shifting sands of my own opinions, creeds, and doctrines: an ancient cloud of witnesses.  A worldwide community of the faithful.  A liturgy that endures.  A created universe that whispers, laughs, and shouts God’s name from every nook and corner.

According to Christian historian John Dominic Crossan, Jesus’s baptism story was an “acute embarrassment” for the early Church, precisely because of this stepping in.  Why would God’s Messiah place himself under the tutelage of a rabble-rouser like John the Baptist?  Why would God’s incarnate Son receive a baptism of repentance?  Repentance for what?  Wasn’t he perfect? Why on earth would he wade into the murky waters of the Jordan, aligning himself with the great unwashed who teemed into the wilderness, reeking of sin?  Worse, why did God the Father choose that sordid moment to part the clouds and call his Son beloved?  A moment well before all the miracles, the healings, the exorcisms, the resurrections?  A moment long before Jesus accomplished a thing worth praising?

Why, indeed?  And yet this is the baffling, humbling, awe-inspiring story we’ve inherited as Christ’s followers. Unbelievable though it may seem, Jesus’s first public act was an act of stepping into his humanity in the fullest, most embodied way.  “Let it be so,” he told John, echoing the radical consent of his mother, Mary, who raised him in the faith.   Let it be so at the hands of another, he decided, as he submitted to John the Baptizer, because what Jesus did and still does with power is freely surrender it, share it, give it away.  Let it be so here, he said, in the Jordan River rich with sacred history.  The Jordan where once upon a time his forbears, the ancient Israelites, entered the land of Canaan.  The Jordan where the prophet Elijah ended his prophetic ministry, and his successor Elisha inaugurated his.  The Jordan which flowed under the same “opened” sky God first opened “in the beginning,” at the very dawn of Creation.

In other words, in this one moment, in this one act, Jesus stepped into the whole Story of God’s work on earth, and allowed that story to resonate, deepen, and find completion.

So.  What part of this story is hardest for you to take in?  That God appears by means so unimpressive, so familiar, we often miss him?  That Jesus enters joyfully into the full messiness of the human family?  That our baptisms bind us to all of humanity — not in theory, but in the flesh — such that you and I are kin, responsible for each other in ways we fail too often to honor?  That as Christians we are called into radical solidarity, not radical separateness?  That we are always and already God’s Beloved — not because we’ve done anything to earn it, but because God’s very nature, inclination, and desire is to love?

To embrace Christ’s baptism story is to embrace the core truth that we are united, interdependent, connected, one.  It is to sit with the staggering reality that we are deeply, deeply loved.  Can we bear to embrace these mind-bending truths without flinching away in self-consciousness, cynicism, suspicion, or shame? …

 

May 8, 2018

Jesus’ Love Saved Him

by Russell Young

All believers accept Jesus as the God-Man. Care must be taken to distinguish these two aspects of our Lord as he walked this earth, however. Before the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him, he was made in every aspect as we are. “For this reason (to help Abraham’s descendants) he had to be made like his brothers in every way.” (Heb 2:17) That is, he was created in the womb just as you and I are created with the same possibilities and limitations. No special consideration or privilege had been granted him, although he had inherited the soul of his Father.

This reality should give us pause. The writer of Hebrews states, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15) He suffered the same temptations that are presented to all humans and was able to overcome them. His victory should not be taken as being availed through supernatural provision. Again, we are told, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he I able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18) Why is it that Jesus prevailed while humankind fall prey to temptations and sin?

The answer rests in the love relationship that Christ practiced and enjoyed with his Father. He was committed to obedience and to maintaining the relationship. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 6:38) He came to “finish [God’s] work” (Jn 4:34) which was to “destroy the devil’s work.” (1 Jn 3:8 ) He did not come to destroy the devil’s power—which existed in the law, but to destroy his work in this world, the manifestation of evil, of unrighteousness.

Could Christ have died? Yes! If he had died, so would have hope for all humankind. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7) Christ was fully committed to the task given him and suffered through temptations just as you and I might. He was heard because of his prayers and petitions and because of his reverent submission to his Father. Through singleness of mind and heart he overcame temptations and death.

I am doing just what the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” (Jn 14:31 NET) Jesus clearly made it known that his obedience was due to his love for his Father. It has also been revealed that those who seek his kingdom are to love Christ, and he defines love in the same manner, the practice of obedience. Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey what I command” (Jn 14:15) and promised that “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (Jn 15:10)

The Lord (sovereign authority) spoke much of the need for a love relationship with him, with the Father, and with others. His kingdom will be comprised of those who have reverently submitted to him, not with those who have made an empty pledge to do so. Unless the attitude of reverent submission based on a love relationship is the nature of those who would be in the kingdom of heaven, strife turmoil, and friction would remain a constant presence, even in his eternal kingdom. Peace would not exist, and the Lord’s work would never be completed. Believers are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29), having the same heart, committed to love through obedience.

Some promise the realization of an eternal hope by allowing that God’s grace will cover their sinful practices. However, Christ said, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41) Their having been weeded out will be because of their practices–defiance of the Lord’s commands. Christ did not sin, and he will not sin while present in the believer (Col 1:27). John has recorded, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” (1 Jn 3:6) They do not appreciate who he is or what he is about. Further, john has written, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:56)

The love of Christ for the Father saved him from death and the love of people for Christ will also save them from death. As in Jesus’ case, that love is expressed through obedience. “[W]ork out (finish) your own salvation through fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:1213) Love brings victory over death.

All scriptures NIV except as noted


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

 

July 23, 2017

The Humanity of Jesus, the Christ, and Eternal Salvation

by Russell Young

Before the sacrificial ministry of Christ can be understood, the fullness of his ministry as man must be appreciated since it is as man that he lived among humankind and that he died. It is easy to allow one’s mind to miss the extent of the Lord’s ministry on behalf of people and to fail to perceive the extent of his love, and even the means of eternal salvation without knowledge of his humanness.

Jesus was born from the womb of Mary possessing the human characteristics of all humankind. He had the same limitations and suffered the same temptations.  He came to help humankind, and to be effective in doing so he had to endure the flesh and its trials just as must all people. “For this reason [to help people] he had to be made like his brothers in every way in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” (Heb 2:16─17 NIV. Italics added.) There was nothing about the humanity of Christ that would distinguish him from anyone else. He was fully human. He hurt when his flesh was wounded and agonized over the death of friends.  He went hungry and became tired. His body exerted the same desires and demands as does that of all men.

The above passage goes on to say, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18 NIV) The temptations that afflicted the Lord caused him distress and suffering. A temptation is something that has a draw on the flesh and motivates for its appeasement. The writer of Hebrews has revealed the effect of temptations on Christ. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) The Lord fought his flesh and its draws; his interest in living a holy life and in pleasing his Father was greater than interest in his body.

Christ experienced the humanity of people and he understands it. His experience was necessary so that he could become our merciful and faithful high priest.  A high priest offers sacrifices for sins committed “in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7) Known sin is to be confessed in order to be cleansed (1 Jn 1:9); however, unknown sin, that not recognized as sin by the sinner, must also be cleansed.  According to his knowledge of the flesh and his mercy, Christ offers his blood to meet one’s need in this regard.

The human body and its interests are so prone to evil that Paul calls it “the body of death.” (Rom 7:24) The Lord’s experiential understanding is a blessing for those who seek righteousness, but is a curse for those who are willing to submit to carnal interests.  Paul wrote, “Now if we are children [of God] then we are heirs—if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may share in his glory.” (Rom 8:17 NIV Italics added.) The requirement for sharing in his glory is that people must suffer to gain victory over those unrighteous practices and thoughts that tempt the body and soul.  Paul taught, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (! Cor 10:13 NIV) John taught, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) The Lord triumphed over temptations so he knows that victory can be gained and the redeemed need to appreciate that he knows their commitment, or lack of it, to defeat sin.

The Spirit of Christ is there to help during times of temptation (Heb 2:18), but they, like the Lord, must seek it.  “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,” (Heb 4:16 NIV) Believers are not called to live a passive life. They are to contend for victory, just as Christ did, and they are to help one another in that battle.

Jesus came to defeat the Old Covenant requirements for righteousness’ sake and he had to accomplish these in his own flesh to be an acceptable sacrifice. The Lord now dwells in the bodies of those who have professed his lordship. The secret that had been kept hidden for so long is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) Just as he gained victory over the temptations that afflicted the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary, a body like our own, he is able to accomplish such in the bodies of the remainder of humankind provided they are willing to listen and to obediently follow his leading. He has provided all that is necessary for victory (2 Pet 1:3) but just as he had to suffer to gain it, so must those in whom he indwells.  He does not over-rule a person’s will. Those who truly desire to dwell in his presence throughout eternity will strive with him. They are to put forth every effort (Lk 13:24), are to die to self-interest (Lk 17:33; Gal 6:7─8), and are to follow him. (Jn 10:27)

It was the humanity of the Lord that enabled him to be an acceptable sacrifice for humankind and it was his humanity that allowed him to appreciate the trials of the flesh arousing his mercy and grace so that he might intercede for those seeking to walk in the light and to pursue righteousness. Many accept that his ministry for them was completed at the cross, however, it is on-going and will only be completed when his life in the confessor is quenched, thwarted, or denied or when death occurs. He is the second Adam, the victorious one, and the one that enables victory.


After next week, Russell Young’s articles will appear here on alternative Tuesdays. We’re introducing a recurring feature starting August 6th with all articles appearing under the title Sunday Worship. Feel free to recommend any writers or articles you think would fit here.



Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

April 1, 2017

Only One Plan

Bruxy’s book releases in May. Click the image for more details.

While I’m a huge fan of Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor of The Meeting House in Oakville just west of Toronto, Canada we’ve never included his writing here beyond a few quotations. So with the new book re(Union) due out in May, we thought this would be a good time to share his ministry with you. Click the link in the title below to read this at its source, and then take a few minutes to look around the rest of his website.

The scandal of particularity

When I was young, I wondered why Jesus didn’t come to earth as a woman (they seemed smarter to me). I also wondered why Jesus hadn’t come as an Irishman (our family is part Irish), or even as a three-toed sloth (my favorite animal). And why had he come only once, so long ago, instead of coming today and every day for a visit? Jesus coming only once, in one place, as one person, at one point in history—that just didn’t seem “fair” to me.

My dad was a gentle, gracious, and wise man. I often peppered him with my weird and wonder-full questions, and he would patiently help me think through possible answers.

“Why did Jesus not come as a woman?” I’d ask him.

“He could have,” my dad would say. “God can do anything. But men were the powerful people in that culture, as in most, and maybe Jesus came in that form in order to teach the people with power how to lay it down. Remember him teaching his disciples to wash feet? In that culture, a job like that was reserved for servants or women, who had no power. But as Jesus washed his all-male disciples’ feet, he told them they needed to learn how to wash feet too!”

“Why not an Irishman?” I’d probe.

“He could have. God can do anything. But he had already been patiently working with a group of people, the Jewish people, to teach them how to be the light of the world together. When they weren’t lighting up the world the way God wanted, Jesus came specifically to them, as one of them.”

“Why not a three-toed sloth?” I’d ask.

“He could have,” my dad would say, somehow still patient. “God can do anything. Back in the days of Moses, God became a fire in a bush and a pillar of cloud, so I’m sure he could become a three-toed sloth if he wanted to. But remember, of all creatures, we alone are made in the image and likeness of God. We were put in charge of the planet in order to take care of creation. Just think of it—through our choices, we can take care of three-toed sloths, or harm them by harming their environment. Our choices affect them in ways their choices will never affect us, just as our environmental decisions affect the lives of every species in ways that their decisions do not. We are the powerful ones in nature. But as we learned from Spider-Man, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ We are made like God, which means that we need to learn from God how to use power to love, to care, and to cultivate.”

“But why then and not now?” I’d say.

“He could have. God can do anything. But his timing does seem perfect. Back then, Roman roads had only recently made it possible for the gospel to travel far and wide with new directness. The Pax Romana (Roman peace) made it possible to travel those roads with reasonable safety. And a common language, Greek, started to be spoken among different people groups, allowing them to communicate with each other as never before. And the Romans executed people in a very bloody way—crucifixion—which would allow God to demonstrate the coming of the New Covenant and the end of all religious sacrifice to a people who saw blood as the centre of religious sacrifice. Once that was all in place, why wait another day?”

“Why not just come every day?”

“He could do that,” my dad would say, still with a patient grin. “God can do anything. In fact, he does that every day and every moment through his Holy Spirit. But Brux, if God was really going to become one of us through Jesus—I mean, really become human—then that means he doesn’t get to come every day in every place. Humans don’t live that way. Humans live one life in one place at a time. And God decided to become human just like us.”

My dad and my mom and my older sisters and Sunday school teachers and youth pastors—all of them had to put up with my many questions. And their patience paid off. I finally got it: God came to us as one of us. That’s the incarnation, and it’s central to the gospel. This idea of incarnation has profound implications. Theologians call this “the scandal of particularity.”

In becoming human, God became particular, a specific human, not just humanity as some generalized concept. And that creates particularity in time and space, gender and race. God became this and not that. God became a man and not a woman. God became a Jew and not a Gentile. God became an Israelite and not a Canadian. God became a poor person and not a rich person. God became a first-century person and not a twenty-first-century person.

The apostle Paul wrote:

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).

When the time had fully come. That’s when Jesus came. As one “born under the law,” Jesus came as part of one of the world’s rule-enforcing, ritual-observing, temple-building, animal-sacrificing, blood-spilling religions—to bring an end to it all, from the inside out. Through Jesus, God came to us at just the right time, in just the right way, to say everything God had to say. Now, with religion out of the way, God pulls us close, as his children. (We are called “sons,” not to exclude women but to emphasize the equal status women have in God’s family. See, at that time, daughters had no rights. So God says, to men and women,  you are all my “sons,” to emphasize that all of us, male and female, are heirs to the love and blessing God has for his kids.)

We are no longer slaves. Before Jesus, and even now apart from Jesus, we can all end up as slaves to something, to some system of belonging, even and especially the system of religion. But we are no longer slaves. We no longer have to serve our own fragile egos, always subconsciously clamouring for the affirmation and acceptance we so desperately desire. We are now God’s children. Let it sink in: we are God’s children. And, alongside Jesus, we share in our inheritance: God’s great love for his kids, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Yes, Jesus came “once upon a time” and “once upon a place.” But today, through the Holy Spirit, we not only have God with us, but within us, at all times, and in every place. Now that you’re done reading this post, take a moment to be aware—God is with you, within you, and all around you. Take a deep breath, and receive the infinite love that is your inheritance.

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November 22, 2016

God is Bigger than our Churches

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
  I Cor 15:58

God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
Acts 17:27,28

 

This is from Franciscan author and teacher Richard Rohr, whose writing is very popular right now among Christians from a variety of tribes. I don’t have the original link for this piece, but you can read current meditations by him at The Center for Action and Contemplation.

Bigger Than Christianity

The “Christ Mystery” is much bigger than Christianity as an organized religion. If we don’t understand this, Christians will have little ability to make friends with, build bridges to, understand, or respect other religions or the planet. Jesus did not come to create a country club or a tribe of people who could say, “We’re in and you’re out. We’ve got the truth and you don’t.” Jesus came to reveal something that was true everywhere, for everyone, and all the time.

Many Christians have a very limited understanding of Jesus’ historical or social message, and almost no understanding of the Cosmic Christ—even though it is taught clearly in Scripture (see John 1, Colossians 1, Ephesians 1, 1 John 1, Hebrews 1:1). Christ is often taught at the very beginning of Paul’s and other New Testament authors’ writings, yet we still missed it. But you can’t see what you were never told to look for. Once you do see the shape and meaning of this cosmic mystery of Divine Incarnation, you’ll be able to see that the Presence is everywhere—and the archetypal Jesus will not be such an anomaly, accident, or surprise.

God is saving everything and everybody, it is all God’s emerging victory, until, as Paul says, “God will be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). If Christ is truly the “savior of the world” (see John 4:42), then God’s shape, form, meaning, and message are all far bigger than any single religion. Talking to the intellectual Athenians, Paul is wise enough to say: “God is not far from any of us. It is in him [sic] that we live and move and have our very being” (Acts 17:28).

St. Augustine writes that through love we come to be in “the frame of the body of Christ” so that in the end “there shall be one Christ, loving himself.” [1] You are chosen in Christ (see Ephesians 1:4), and the purpose of being chosen is to let everyone else know that they too are chosen! We are not making a triumphal statement about the Christian religion here, but we are making a triumphal statement about the nature of Divine Love—which will finally win the day!

Loving both Jesus and the Christ is essential to a Christian’s growth and transformation. You might begin with one or the other, but eventually you should be drawn to love both. Too many Christians have started and stopped with Jesus, never coming to know the Universal Christ. Many who are not Christian have started with the Christ by some other name—after all, there is only One God, One Love. I have met Hindus and Jews who live happily and fruitfully inside this hidden Christ Mystery, and I have met many Roman Catholics and Protestants who are running away from any notion of an all-pervading, loving Presence. Their stinginess and exclusivity gives it away.

You can have the right words and not the right experience, whereas if you enjoy the right experience, the right words are of much less importance. God did not become Incarnate Love in the universe to create “word police” and debating societies.

October 16, 2016

The God-Man, Jesus Christ

by Russell Young

The mutuality of Christ, being very God and very man, with the implications attached can be very confusing.  The Word reveals that he is God. (Jn 1:1─5, 14, 3:13, 31; Col 1:15─20; Hebrews 1) He was also man.  He was born of Mary and the witness of his living presence among humankind reveals his humanity.

Jesus was made in the flesh just like everyone who walks this earth. The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” (Heb 2:17 NIV) Jesus cannot be seen as having any characteristics or abilities beyond those of created humankind.  He did not have the power to escape his enemies, or to create objects that would better his life.  He could not heal or avoid injury or sickness.  He could not supernaturally avoid sinning.  He was made like humans in every way.  This is the Jesus who was raised by Mary and Joseph.

The thought should not be entertained that the Lord possessed any special power that would grant him victory over sin.  The Word tells us that he suffered with temptations.  “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18 NIV) The Lord understands the trials we face and the issues of the flesh.  He knows! To be knowledgeable of the issues of humanity is part of the reason that he was incarnated in the flesh.  Because he understands, the excuses that will be offered at his judgment seat will be dealt with according to his understanding and all that has been provided.

How is it that he was without sin while the rest of humankind submit to its call?  First, he is the Son of his heavenly Father. The soul of Christ was of his Father, as were his interests and his disposition. Unlike those who have been born of their father, Adam, his interests and heart were in tune with those of his Father. The descendants of Adam have the heart of Adam.  The heart of humans has become afflicted with self-interest and all that such interest entails. It was the heart and soul of Jesus as his Father’s Son that made him unique and encouraged his fight for victory.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) He was not sinless because he possessed a supernatural ability to defeat sin; he was sinless because he sought to honor his Father and because he earnestly and reverently prayed for victory. Had his heart not been fully committed to loving his Father, he might also have sinned and his death would have resulted. The Lord’s commitment for victory over sin needs to be acknowledged. It was the application of his will toward obedience to the Father he loved, rather than to self, that provided victory. His heart and soul gained him victory over the flesh that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary.

Although Jesus was God, his godly power was not made available until his baptism.  “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:11 NIV) His Father had been “well pleased” because his obedience was complete and his heart fully set on his Father and upon loving and honouring him.  According to Luke, following his baptism he was filled with the Spirit and went into the wilderness for testing.  When he returned to Galilee it was by the power of the Spirit. (Lk 4:14)

Prior to the gifting of the Holy Spirit Jesus was godlike in soul only; following that gifting, he became godlike in Spirit as well.  He had all of the power of God available to him, in addition to the soul and heart of the Father.  At his resurrection the flesh that made him the Son of Man was left behind.

The redeemed should never excuse themselves for sinning.  They have all of the power for victory that Jesus had as he walked this earth and more than he had in the years before his baptism.  It is the darkness of a person’s soul and lack of love for the Father and for his Son, their lord and savior, that prevents a righteous walk. Peter said that “His divine power [his Spirit] has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3 NIV) The same Spirit that Christ had is the Spirit that indwells all who would call Christ lord and who desire to be transformed into his likeness.

Jesus came to do the will of the Father. (Jn 4:34, 8:28─29) He loved his Father and it was for this reason that he was fully obedient, even unto death on the cross.  As he entered Jerusalem before his crucifixion, he knew what lay before him, but he also knew what lay on the other side.  He would be gloriously united with his Father.  It was because of his great love that he would say while on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46 NIV) He was anguished in soul because of the pain, the load of sin that he bore, and the horrible separation from his Father that it had caused.

Adoration and wonder should overwhelm humankind knowing that the Lord has walked the walk that the rest of humankind has been unable to achieve.  As man his accomplishments in the flesh should cause all people to look to him in awe and with gratitude. Our sin that he bore and which separated him from the Father whom he loved so dearly should cause us grief.  His resurrected life which bears the power of God for victory over sin for those who obey him should cause rejoicing.

He is the God-Man Jesus Christ!

April 20, 2014

The Divine One Became Human

God is not a man

Numbers 23:19 God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?

The “God is not a man that he should lie” text may seem out of place on Easter Sunday. I hope to show how it fits.

Two women were having coffee on the back deck of a home overlooking a ravine. The 7-yearold son of the hostess walked out from the woods covered in mud, holding a hammer and a piece of wood and sporting a small cut on his forehead. The woman who was a guest couldn’t help but laugh at the sight, prompting the hostess to remark, “What can I say, he’s all boy.”

So was the incarnate Christ all human or all divine?  I believe that scripture teaches us that the second person of the triune God was all human in that he entered fully into the human experience, but that he was supremely divine.

What does it mean to be human?

Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…

We are somehow a reflection of God, but let’s not confuse that by thinking that God is not a whole lot different than us.  He is wholly different from us.  (See last month’s article on Transcendence.)

Next down the list of “beings” are the angels. And then we’re third on the list:

Psalm 8:4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?You have made thema little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.

This verse is reiterated in the New Testament:

Hebrews 2:7 You made them a little lower than the angels;
    you crowned them with glory and honor

So the hierarchy looks something like this:

  1. God
  2. Angels
  3. Mankind
  4. Horses
  5. Ants
  6. Cats

…well to some of you anyway. (I’m a cat-lover, but I know some of you feel the list is accurate!)

So the second part of God, who is three-in-one, doesn’t decide to enter our world as an angel — though some teach that this happens in what are called theophanies — but instead appears as a man.

And so we find this verse in Hebrews,

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—

which many might quote to show the humanity of Christ, but the verse in full reads:

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

That’s what it means to be divine.

Which is why I believe I can state with authority that Jesus was fully human, but was (and is) supremely divine.

It’s in that context that I was struck by the passage in Numbers we started with today. It’s the nature of humankind to lie. So Jesus enters in the the human condition, which is a condition filled with the vulnerabilities that led Eve and Adam to disobey.  The text in Numbers, “God is not a man that he should lie;” which is a prophetic word from God given through Balaam, reminds me of two things:

  1. Though co-creator and sustainer with God the Father and God the Spirit of all that we see on this planet, it is contrary to the very nature of God to enter into the human condition.  It would be like one of us incarnating into the form of one of the beings lower on the above list.
  2. Despite this, it was in the nature of humanity, the nature of us, that when one such as Jesus appeared, we killed him. If you met someone who never told a lie, would your first reaction be to kill them? I guess that depends on what they were being honest with you about!

The reason that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice is that he was “yet without sin.”  Despite his humanity, despite a 40-day fast in wilderness conditions, Christ showed himself triumphant over the worst temptations his greatest enemy had to offer.

Christ became human, but God is not a man. “What if God were one of us?” is the wrong question. “How can we become like God?” is also the wrong question.  The question is, and always has been,

Matthew 22:42 “What do you think about the Christ?

You can go to church when the pastor is preaching from I Corinthians 13, and totally get the whole thing about love. You can go to church when the minister is speaking from Ephesians 5 and grab on to the idea of mutual submission in marriage.

But if you only go on Christmas and Easter, you’re picking the two most obvious markers on the Jesus timeline, but also the two most difficult topics. I will never grasp the intricacies of incarnation and atonement. The more I look at these, the more I am lost in the absolute otherness of God’s ways and plans.

I stand in total awe and wonder at Amazing Love.

September 18, 2011

What It Means to Say, “He Emptied Himself…”

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  Phil. 2: 5-7 RSV

The phrase “he emptied himself” was, to me, an obvious reference to Philippians chapter two, but when I tried to find it, it occurs neither in the NIV or the King James version.  It actually appears in the RSV (Revised Standard Version)…

…Each weekend, Phil Johnson at the reformed blog Pyromaniacs posts something from Charles Spurgeon.  I discovered today I’ve had this one bookmarked for a few weeks.  In addition to seeing the humiliation of Christ’s incarnation, I hope it whets your appetite for reading more of Spurgeon and other classic authors.

Though he was rich, “he became poor.” I am only telling you something that you know full well, but let your minds be refreshed with the remembrance that Christ was so poor that he was swaddled with bands just as any other infant was. Although he was the Infinite, he was so poor that he had to be sheltered in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn. Afterwards, he was so poor that he was banished from his own country and had to flee into Egypt. He was so poor that he was the fit companion of a humble carpenter at Nazareth; so poor that, when he came out into public life, his dress was the common garment of a laborer, woven from the top throughout without a seam.

He had not where to lay his head, though foxes had their holes, and birds their nests. He was so poor that he was indebted for his daily bread to the charity of gracious women who followed him, and ministered to him of their substance. Though the cattle on a thousand hills were his, he sat upon a well at Sychar, and said to a poor woman, “Give me to drink.”

Oftentimes, he knew what faintness and hunger meant; and the longer he lived the more intense his poverty became, until, at last, he was left without a friend when most he needed sympathy,—without one to speak a good word for him when he was arraigned before the bar of those who had resolved to condemn him to death. Since was he taken out to die without a rag to cover him; and when he was dead, he was indebted for a tomb to one who lent it to him out of love.

Never was there anywhere else such poverty as the poverty of Christ, for it was not merely external, it was also internal. He became so poor, though bearing our sin, that he had to lose the light of his Father’s countenance; emptying himself of all the repute he had, he became a spectacle of scorn and shame because our shameful sin had been laid upon him. See him on yonder shameful cross, mark his many wounds, hear his expiring cry, and as ye gaze upon that spectacle of majestic misery, remember that although he was rich, he became thus poor.

Charles H. Spurgeon