Friday, March 27, 2009

A Lengthy Response - RE: Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up

If you've been following the comment string of my previous article: Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up, you may have noticed an escalating string of comments from an anonymous reader. I admire the thought and clarity with which he/she has responded and I think there are valid questions raised worth addressing, so I have decided to create a lengthy response to the most recent comment in this new post.

In an item-by-item fashion, allow me to reply...
1. Christianity is not a divine religion. It is a political creation of the Roman Empire designed to control the Jews.
Yes, and Judaism is not a divine religion either, it's the syncretistic product of an Egyptian outcast fascinated with the Messopotamian mythologies and Semitic culture... fooey. To establish a pacifying religious figure-head amid the rebellious Jewish people may seem a plausible scheme of the Romans, until you consider: just how big of a threat were the Jews to Rome? Did they merit such an outlandish ruse? If they could pull off such a covert operation with such success that nobody diverted from the political line for centuries, maybe they should have dreamed up such a plan for dealing with the Visigoths?

What's more is the the Biblical writings don't support the notion at all. Yes, as mentioned before, it may seem appealing to invent a character such as Jesus who may pacify the Jews, but it's obvious from the beginnings of the Gospels that the Jews rejected Christ. If the intent in creating a false religion was to win over the rebellious Jews to follow their pacifist leader, would the gospels and Acts have portrayed Jewish rejection of Christ so clearly?

No, this is not a valid approach to history.

2. There is no place in Judaism for a messiah that does part of his job, then dies, then comes back and finishes the job.
Well, then it appears the Romans didn't do their research before defining this character that they invented, eh? Oh, sorry... I digress. We're on the 2nd point now. Right.

Could it also be said that there was no place in Judaism for God to make Abraham into a great nation... destroy it... and then do it all over again? Actually, my friend Anonymous, I agree with you. Inasmuch as Judaism had become by the 1st century more of a pattern of traditions than (as you called it) a "divine religion," there was no place in their tradition for a Messiah such as Jesus was and is. You are quite correct.

However, I believe what you may have been trying to say is that there is no place in the divine Hebrew texts (our "Old Testament") for such a Messiah. I confess that I'm not as well versed in Old Testament theology as I should be, so I won't dare venture into a passage-by-passage discourse of how each prophecy can be reconciled. However, I would like to submit that Hebrew writings were never very exact when it came to chronology and continuity (except in cases when they expressly aimed to be, such as Jonah's 3-day visit to fish gut).

By way of example, I'll offer two: first, Adam was told not to eat of the tree for, "when you eat of it you will surely die" (Gen. 2:17). Yet, he did not die... at least not "when" he ate of it. Secondly, consider David's anointing (Messiah) as King. In 1 Samuel 16, David is anointed as king by the prophet of God and Saul is proclaimed to no longer be king. But, David is not king for another 30 years. He was king already, but not yet.

I will, again, reiterate my agreement with Anonymous that this sort of "already but not yet" messianism has no place in traditional Judaism. But it is nonetheless a hermeneutically sound approach to the Messianic prophecies.

3. There are 5 or 6 things that the Jewish messiah must do in order to qualify. These include (off the top of my head) - gather the exiles, build the temple, usher in an era of peace (perhaps preceded by a large war according to some people's interpritation)... and there are others I can't remember right now.
Ahh, and there lies the real issue. All of the items cited herein are a part of traditional Jewish Messianism. On these grounds, the earlier point that Jesus did part of His job, died, and will later return to finish it is actually misrepresented. Jesus did not do any part of this "job" according to the Jewish Messianism. He promised it. He predicted it. But he left every ounce of it undone at His death. In fact, it should interest Jewish readers that the New Testament writings from Acts through Revelation (especially Revelation) express a burning desire to see all of the traditional Jewish Messianic prophecies fulfilled.

However, Jesus' first trip to this terrestrial ball had other goals in mind. He was fulfilling Jeremiah 31:31 before Isaiah 11:6. Christianity does not claim that Christ has already fulfilled all of the Messianic roles. The chief difference in a Christian's present anticipation of a future Messiah and the Jew's present anticipation of a future Messiah is that Christians already know Him by name.
4. ...The Christian interpritation of the messiah involves supernatural stuff, the Jewish messiah is an emancipated empowered mortal human being who brings about real dramatic change to the real world...
How sad a prospect to think that God cannot accomplish the "supernatural." What do Jews do with the "supernatural" elements of their own cherished scriptures? Which is easier, to part the red sea or to raise a man from the dead? And, if you cannot trust that God really parted a sea, then why would you believe his promise to send a peacemaker in the future--mortal or otherwise?
Jesus was a great man... to be denied messiahship is not an insult, it is a great credit to him that he was a contender.
Ah, yes, just as it was an honor for Yahweh to be a 'contender' for the Israelite's worship, right up there with all the other gods... oh, wait, that's not how God thinks at all. "I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another" (Isaiah 42:8).

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Jesus is Lord

In our continued study of the Person and Work of Christ, we come to the study of His Lordship. The earliest creed of the church, recorded in Romans 10:9-10, is a simple three-word phrase that's rich with meaning. "Jesus is Lord." What does it mean to confess with one's mouth that Jesus is Lord? And, more importantly, what does it mean that Jesus is Lord?

First, a confession that Jesus is Lord is a statement of allegiance. Satan is god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4), ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph. 2:2). But when we confess with our mouth that he is not Lord, Jesus is Lord, we defect from the rule of darkness and claim citizenship in heaven—in a kingdom that we eagerly await here on earth. We henceforth make ourselves outcasts. Surrounded by devout patriots in an evil dominion, we have confessed publicly that Jesus is Lord. We have no inheritance, no place, no citizenship in this realm anymore.

So, who is the Lord for whom we have abandoned all comforts to follow? Ephesians 1:20-23 gives the clear description of how total and sovereign His rule really is. "Far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given," Jesus is in fact sovereign over Satan himself.

What's more, He is Lord over us all men as well. As we read on in Ephesians 2, we see the effect of our former allegiance to the kingdom of this age, that we were by nature objects of wrath. We were dead in that transgression prior to defecting to the Lord. So, by what means did we defect to Jesus' reign? God "made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:5).

It is in this truth that we realize the fallacy of the misinterpretation of this verse, that we are saved when we "make Jesus Lord in our Lives." We do nothing to make Jesus Lord. He is Lord. The earliest creed found in Romans 10 is a humble confession that He is Lord. He is the Lord so powerful that He saved us while we were unable to save ourselves, unable to defect.

But praise be to God. By grace He has called us, and in faith we respond confessing, "Jesus is Lord."

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Five Things Every Christian Should Know About the Kingdom of God

In our continued study of the Person and Work of Christ, we come this week to Jesus' earthly ministry. I've been rather enjoying this week of preparation in the gospels, seeing anew the old stories I thought I had learned as a child. Of particular interest has been the topic of the Kingdom of God, and seeing as how I wrote a book on the topic, you might say I have a special fondness for it. This morning, let me share with you 5 things I think every believer should know about the Kingdom of God.

  1. It's within you.
    In Luke 17:21, Jesus says that "the kingdom of God is within you." Now, though Christ has ascended, the Spirit remains to rule in our own hearts. In the Kingdom of Eden, Adam was able not to sin (posse non peccare). Prior to the giving of the Spirit, men were not able to not sin(non posse non peccare). In the present age of the inaugurated Kingdom, His subjects are able not to sin as Adam once was. But, as we will see below, we await a final consummation of all the Kingdom promises when we will be not able to sin (non posse peccare).
  2. It's among you.
    An alternate translation of Luke 17:21 might rightly read, "the Kingdom of God is among you." In fact, I believe this translation is more likely what Christ meant as He spoke and what Luke intended to communicate. Remember, at the time Jesus spoke these words, the Spirit had not yet come. In fact, Luke's gospel places little emphasis on the coming Spirit, it's in John that we find strong teaching on the role of the Spirit. The Kingdom of God was "among you" when Christ was here because the King was here. How could they fast with the King present? Why were the Pharisees asking when it would come while their King was among them?
  3. It's already come.
    As I mentioned in the first point, the Kingdom has been inaugurated now. We live in an age of Christ's rule on earth unlike any in history. He is transforming His people via the sanctifying work of the Spirit to be conformed to His likeness. In this present Kingdom, with our sins now forgiven we can approach the throne of God confidently. In fact, for those who wait for "the resurrection," it, too, has also begun as Christ was resurrected so that He might be the first.
  4. It's yet to come.
    Christ spent most of His earthly ministry filling the role of a Prophet to Israel. As a prophet, His message was to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. He taught His disciples to pray saying, "your kingdom come" (Luke 11:12). He warned them about what would happen "in those days" (Mark 13:17). Even after Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, Paul wrote, "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there" (Phil. 3:20). There are numerous promises that we are waiting to be fulfilled in the final consummation of God's Kingdom on earth.
  5. It's the same thing as the Kingdom of Heaven
    A little anticlimactic, I know, but I had to slip this little tidbit into the top 5 list so that no believer would be led astray by false dispensational teachings on Matthew's use of "Kingdom of Heaven." As Matthew wrote to his Jewish readers, he respected their reverence for the name of God and substituted the word heaven in it's stead. Be assured, Christ's message recorded in Matthew on the Kingdom of Heaven is one in the same with Mark and Luke's account of the Kingdom of God.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Adultered and Killed, then Born Again:
The Relationship of the Atonement

In our exploration of the Person and Work of Christ, we have come to the pinnacle work of Christ: the Atonement. Last week we looked in depth at the religious aspects of the atonement—the sacrificial and substitutionary aspects—while this week we discuss the relationship aspects. The relationship of God to Man is most commonly paralleled to the marriage covenant (or vise versa, technically speaking). So, how does the atonement, Christ's death on the cross, fit into our marriage with God?

In Jeremiah 31:32, God delivers a shocking verdict: "they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them." This is the picture of an adulterous wife, forsaking her husband for the sinful pleasures of another man. That is Israel, and that was even us who now make up the Church. But God makes an amazing promise in Jeremiah 31. He will establish a new covenant with them. He will remarry an adulterous wife!

As if the mercy of this new covenant offer were not amazing enough, the mystery deepens as we investigate further just what adultery meant in the Law. The punishment for adultery was death (Lev. 20:10). Another option, however, presents itself later in Deuteronomy 24, divorce, which is later cited by the pharisees in Matthew 19:7. When we read the parameters from Deuteronomy 24:4, we learn that even after divorce the Law forbids a husband to remarry the adulterous wife. In the case of God, it would be as though He sent us away to serve other gods for a time, only to change His mind and bring us back to Him. It cannot be so. We are defiled, unholy, and unable to enter into covenant relationship with God.

So then, we are left with one conclusion. With regard to our status, "What a wretched man I am!" and with regard to our sentence, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). God deals with our adultery according to Leviticus 20, not Deuteronomy 24. He pronounces the sentence of death, not divorce. He chooses to propitiate His wrath in the death of His Son rather than divorce us and seal our fate in everlasting covenant with our idols and with satan.

It is here, in the choosing of a death sentence rather than divorce, that we see the providence of God in stunning ways. Dead with Christ, we are now dead to the Law (Romans 6-7). Given new birth, we are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5). As new creatures with the lawful wrath satisfied, we can finally see how God is both just and the one who justifies. He could not re-marry us if we did not first die, but we have indeed died with Christ and are given new life through His resurrection (1 Peter 1:3; Romans 6:4).

"Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" -- Romans 7:25

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Friday, January 30, 2009

The Religion and Relationship of the Atonement

As I think about the people I've talked to, heard speak, or read their writings on Christ's atoning works, I realize that there are distinctly two approaches to the cross, and most of us are dominated in our thinking by one or the other. Even when we hear one perspective dripping all over a message, we may filter it through our lens on the cross and apply totally different points. Neither perspective is wrong, and neither is fully right, but they're two sides to the same coin.

First, there is the religious thinker. Theologically minded and committed to analyzing doctrinal nuances, the religious thinker is quick to identify the liturgical beauty of Christ's death. Typically this is flows from a modern mindset, very scientific and ordered. We see definite links being built between the sacrificial requirements and Christ's death. We find significance in the semantics of God's holiness, righteousness, justification, imputation, propitiation, etc. The religious thinker is able to explain the unquestionable validity of our justification by faith according to the religious codes that God Himself has established. And he's right.

Next, however, is the relational thinker. Emotionally guided and driven by the reality and impact of God's love, the emotional thinker finds solace in the wonderful act of mercy and grace that God bestowed on us in order to adopt us as His children. Typically this flows from a post-modern mindset, very compassionate and socially minded. We see emphasis placed on the suffering of Christ, the magnificent sacrifice of God to send His only son, and the heart-melting love story that the Gospel narrative unfolds. The relational thinker finds it impossible to contain his passionate response of love to the Father who first loved us. And he's right.

I've heard it said that "Christianity is not about religion." That's a relational (post-modern) fallacy. As our society swings more and more toward an outright hatred of religion and absolutes, I want to emphasize that Christ died to satisfy the very absolute realities that God had set up in His religious Law delivered through Moses. The substitutionary and sacrificial aspects of the atonement are meaningless without the context of the Law.

Yet, the power of the Gospel doesn't end there. In fact, we must remember why the Law itself was ever bestowed upon Israel, "it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers" (Deut. 7:8, emphasis mine). God is not bashful of the fact that He wants to relate to men and women at the deepest level of emotion. He shares His emotions with us in His word—love, joy, anger, and sadness. There is deep emotion and desire for relationship (note, His desire is not a need born out of weakness as the human desire often is) that surrounds Christ's atoning death. Without the expiation and reconciliation that comes through the cross, the religious context of the atonement is also meaningless.

Doctrine is nothing without grace, and grace is nothing without doctrine.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cosmic Child Abuse: The Atonement Under Attack

In his book, The Story We Find Ourselves In, Brian McLaren introduces a not-so-new concern about the atonement as his fictional character observes the atonement calling it "divine child abuse." McLaren, however, is not necessarily the front runner of this position. Steve Chalke has openly defended the atonement as "cosmic child abuse" in his papers and the book The Atonement Debate. The fact is, this line of logic does not stop with abandoning merely the idea that God intended to inflict His wrath of Christ, but leads many thinkers on the path toward total denial that God would have wrath in the first place.

I would submit to you that not only is this logic unbiblical and heretical, but it leaves one with a host of unanswered questions. Why do we commemorate and revere Christ for His death after all? How can one adopt the Christian faith in a true sense and deny the very reason for Christ's death? Can you really "follow Christ" with merely a set of moral imperatives and "love thy neighbor" ideologies? Is it true, as the world has tried so desperately to affirm, that Christ was merely a good man whose death bears no theological ramifications that would dare to impose a set of propositional truths on our convenient world of relative reality? Will we profit the human race if we can but succeed in defining God according to our ideals—with no wrath, discriminatory judgments, or sovereignty over this world?

In my last post, I posed the rhetorical question "Who Needs an Atonement Anyway?" The answer, if Mclaren and Chalke are to believed, would be nobody at all. But, praise God that we can see plainly His plan in scripture to redeem His people by the very intentional means of substituting His son in our place to expiate the Father's wrath.
"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us." — 2 Corinthians 5:21

Not only that, but the plan was not a mystery to the Son. This cannot be considered child abuse as the Son fully understoods the will of the Father when he emptied Himself in order to carry out His purpose.
"The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." — Matthew 20:28
Substitution is at the heart of what the atonement means. It is the very reason that Christ can now be king over an everlasting kingdom (Heb. 1:3). It is the perfect fulfillment of God's plan, not the ugly mark of some disgraceful temperament that we should be ashamed to proclaim. God is rightfully wrathful. He is just and righteous in His judgment. I find it rather laughable that the flawed, sinful human would render judgment on the legitimacy and fairness of God's own judgment.
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God... Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?" — 1 Corinthians 1:18,20

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Who Needs an Atonement Anyway?

As we reach the mid-way point in our series on The Person and Work of Christ, we are at the pinnacle of Christ's past work: Atonement. Sadly, however, the very need for an atonement has been abandoned by some in exchange for a much less offensive picture of God. Without a proper understanding of Why the atonement was required, we can never fully appreciate What the atonement was and is. The seemingly "unfriendly" attributes of God—His wrath and justice—cannot be denied without also defaming His glorious love and mercy.

There are four bases on which the full beauty and praiseworthiness of Christ's work of atonement rests. Ironically, the first two are anything but beautiful. The first basis for an atonement is the existence of sin itself. Even this core principal of the Christian faith has been dismissed of recent by pastors who desire to preach a less offensive gospel. But, my friends, we cannot preach a gospel that is altogether unoffensive to a people who offend God most severely. Without an understanding of sin, who needs an atonement anyway?

Second, I'm afraid, is even far less popular than the first: God's wrath. The Biblical truth that God is wrathful toward sinners is a fundamental basis for the atonement and crucial in understanding the splendor of what Christ did for us. As far back as Genesis 2:17, "when you eat of it you will surely die," we see God's ordained retribution for disobedience. Nahum 1:3 assures us that, "the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished." Elsewhere we read, "the wages of sin is death," (Rom. 6:23) and a host of other verses that I couldn't even begin to count or cite. The fact is, as surely as you and I have sinned, we deserve to have God's wrath executed upon us, causing eternal death and torment in total separation from Him. If there were no wrath—no imminent punishment for sin—then who needs an atonement anyway?

Third, and often overlooked, is God's righteousness. Not only does God possess wrath, but He possesses wrath in tandem with a perfect righteousness that requires His justice be fulfilled. He cannot dismiss the verdict, death. He cannot merely brush off and forget the wrongs we have done. I refer to this as "grandpa in the sky" theology, or GITS, as I've come to call it, somewhat tongue in cheek. God's wrath and His righteousness (i.e. justice, see BSL - Righteous) together exclude any option of an acquittal. He will not simply lighten up in order to help some failing students pass. He will not write pardons just to boost his popularity. God will prove Himself to be a righteous Judge. If He were to abandon strict justice, then who needs an atonement anyway?

But finally, just as it seems all hope is lost, the fourth basis for an atonement is equally as certain as the first three: God's mercy. In His mercy, God determined a plan by which our sin, His wrath, and His righteousness could converge in one act of mercy on His children and provide a means for our salvation. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (Rom. 5:21). After all, without God's mercy, who could be atoned for anyway?

Over the next two weeks, I'll be diving deeper and deeper into the aspects of the atonement. I pray that through a greater appreciation for what Christ did, we may develop a deeper sense of worship for who He is.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who Else but Christ?

I have been reviewing miles of commentary and articles published on messianism and messianic prophesy and have found an amazing amount of varying theories. Most pertinent to the Christian faith is the messianic beliefs of God's covenant people, Israel, at the time of the appearance of our Christ, Jesus.

It is no secret to most Christians that the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus' day were anticipating somewhat of a prominent political and military leader to arrive, overthrow the imposing power (Rome as it were), and re-establish the Davidic throne, borders, etc. This is clearly the root of much of their skepticism that we see depicted in the Gospels. But, knowing this fact, are you keenly aware of why they believed so? Or, more importantly, why are we believers so convinced of another picture of the Messiah?

Jewish messianism is rooted most fundamentally on Daniel 9 as the lens through which other messianic prophesy is viewed. Daniel 9 describes the Lords anointed as just the political leader we described earlier. Likewise, texts such as Isaiah 9:6 seem to support this view. So, where do we get off thinking there's another interpretation?

First, it is of chief importance to realize that the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (namely, to have a king on the throne) is only one aspect of the Messiah promised to Israel. But, I also want to stress that the Jewish anticipation of an Anointed to take the throne and rule assertively was not at all wrong, as some have thought, but merely incomplete and out of sequence.

Before the Davidic covenant, God promised Israel a future prophet. This future prophet would be like Moses. Deuteronomy 18 tells us that He will speak the very words of God (verse 18) and failure to heed those words will invoke judgment from God (verse 19). With that in the background, consider then how often Jesus says in Matthew, "You have heard it said... but I say." He quotes Moses and the Law, offering new revelation and illumination into the Word of God.

Then, in the Davidic covenant, there is evidence that the true fulfillment of the covenant could only come from God incarnate. Who else could sit on the throne forever. As Peter exegetes in Acts 2, "David said about him: '...because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.'... I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne." Consider also the Isaiah 9:6 passage mentioned earlier: "His name shall be... Mighty God." Who else could this Messiah be but the God incarnate Jesus Christ?

Finally, Christ was anointed not only as king and prophet, but as priest. Hebrews chapters 4-9 detail the splendor of God's plan to make the old covenant obsolete with a new high priest who no longer has to sacrifice for Himself. Only by the permanent sacrifice of Christ can our sins be truly forgiven forever as God had promised in Jeremiah 31. By what means could this promise have come true under the Old Testament Law?

But as I mentioned earlier, the Jew's anticipation of a ruling king is not wrong, merely incomplete. The Son will return to take His throne. In that day, Israel will see and believe. God has reserved for Himself a remnant. In a sense they are correct: their Messiah is yet to come, we simply (by faith) have had the privilege of a sneak peak.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up?

I'm going to go ahead and admit it: I love Wikipedia. Although I'm not always assured of it's accuracy, it offers an excellent resource for a cursory introduction to any topic, as well as cited resources where one can find primary research. I was digging on the subjects of Christ this week (which, by the way, offer great examples of how the world in wiki-collaboration will defame Christ and distort the truth), when I stumbled upon this article: Jewish Messiah Claimants.

In a word: fascinating. First of all, of the five so-called messiah claimants prior to Jesus, two were emperors who would have likely claimed the title "Anointed" for political reasons. There is no evidence to support that these men were believed to be, or believed themselves to be, the Jewish Messiah in the covenant sense. Next, Judas son of Hezekiah was himself in the royal family of Judah and would have likely claimed the title "Anointed" for similar political reasons--to emphasize his claim to the throne of David. Finally, Asthrongs and Simon were men of more humble origins, yet their claim to the title "Anointed" was nonetheless political. As they endeavored to lead their Jewish brethren in rebellion, they needed to make strong claims to their authority. What better way than to profess a direct anointing of God?

It should be clear to you by this point, if it was not already, that the term Messiah has not always born such a weighty religious definition as it does in modern context. It has gained a more mystically slanted definition in today's culture as a direct result of a widespread misunderstanding of the term's application to Jesus, and of course, a widespread misunderstanding of who Jesus Himself is.

If you continue down the list of claimants in the Wikipedia article, you'll soon realize that in fact nearly all of the men listed were leading a rebellion of some sort. In order for their plot to succeed, they would need the trust of the people. What better way to trust the people than to call yourself by the same title as the ancient kings?

So did any one on this list really mean "Messiah" in the way we think of the term? Were any of them ever thinking of themselves as more than a temporal king or leader of Israel? Did anyone on the list actually use the word mâšîah to mean the ultimate fulfillment of God's covenant? Well... there was this one guy. You know His name. Jesus!

That's right. Jesus the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah, was and is the Anointed in a unique way. "Anointed" became a political term in Judea because of the implication of kingship, but Jesus knew that He was Anointed as much more than that. He is King in the line of David. He is the prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-20), and even greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6). He is our high priest, even greater than Aaron (Hebrews 4:14-16).

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Impeccability: Could Christ Have Sinned?

In this week's class, as I had somewhat expected, the discussion of Christ's humanity led directly to the question of whether or not it was possible for Christ to have sinned. The Impeccability Doctrine (for those of you who may not be familiar with the debate) hinges on the dilemma that if Christ could have sinned, then we are at risk of implicating His divine nature in sin as well, and yet if he could not have sinned, then how was He truly tempted? It's no trivial matter and one that is hotly disputed in the study of Christology.

Could Christ have sinned? No. How can we know? We know today that He could not have sinned becayse we know today that He did not sin. Confused? Allow me to explain.

I'd like to begin by reducing the debate to it's core. To posit that Christ could not have sinned on the basis that He was God assumes the fact that God Himself is impeccable. So I ask: why is God unable to sin. As I consider the truth of His sovereignty, it's become more and more troubling to me to resolve that He cannot sin simply because He is moral. Can some outside moral structure of existence impose upon God the limitations of His action? As gravity dictates our abilities as humans, is God dictated to be sinless by some moral order of the universe? No.

This view is known as voluntarism, which is a deeply entangled term that can have many implications. For this topic, I simply mean to present that God is sinless because God has willed to be sinless. God, being omnipotent and omniscient, determined and willed according to His good pleasure to be sinnless, moral, faithful, and the host of other communicable attributes that we identify in God.

As we consider this, the question of Christ's impeccability becomes invariably clear. Could Christ have sinned? No. Why? Because God the Father ordained it. In the same way that He ordained that the pharisees would reject Him, that Peter would deny Him, and that Rome would Crucify Him, God ordained Christ to be sinless.

Now, as surely as we recognize this exhibition of God's sovereignty we must also recognize the mysterious reality of compatible free will. Inasmuch as we each have the genuine choice of what to eat for dinner tonight, that choice is no less real to us in the present despite the reality that God already knows what we'll eat. In the same way, Christ's temptation was no less real to Him during His life on earth. In fact, to all of creation—Jesus' human form included—the impeccability doctrine was yet undecided prior to Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension. However, to the only God the Father, it most certainly was. He was not sitting on the edge of His seat for some 30 years, hoping like mad that His plan would come true. No, the sovereign Father says:

"I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is
still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I
please" (Isaiah 46:10).
So, what can this possibly mean for us? How can I take this philosophical proposition that appears to be nothing more than an extension of the age-old free will debate and actually apply it to my life? First, take heart: we have a mediator who was indeed tempted in every way we were. Not only that, but rejoice in the confidence that we have. The child of God is predestined to be conformed to the likeness of the Son, not because he can stand sinless in his own power, but because "the Lord is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4). This power of God has been evidenced for us in Christ's life that He might be the firstfruits among many brothers: the second Adam, our glorious Head.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Christ the Mediator: the Westminster Confession of Faith

In my continued study of the Person and Work of Christ, I come to this—perhaps the most comprehensive and clear description of the Hypostatic Union:
"The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man. " (Westminster Confession of Faith, VIII.II)

Where do I begin! Well, I suppose I'll begin by saying, "no, I'm not a Presbyterian." That said, I do respect the work of the learned men of England from 1646, but that should not implicate me in agreement with their every statement. Which ones with which I differ is a topic for another time.

Let's begin with the first clause. I have spent the past three weeks writing about Christ's deity and the implications of Christ's deity. However, in this first clause of the confession's statement about Christ and the hypostatic union, we see clearly the cost of taking on human nature: infirmities. Not merely servanthood, but a weakness not worth comparing with God's omnipotence. Not merely sickness, but mortality. He did not, however, take on the sinful nature that is the weakest part of us all. How?

Christ's link to Adam was broken. Being made of the substance of Mary, He was not conceived of Adam (Joseph). Whether you believe in seminal or federal original sin (or have no decided position), one thing is certain: sin is passed on via the male of our species, a necessary contributor to each new person... except for Christ.

Finally, at the heart of the Hypostatic Union, these two natures were joined "without conversion, composition, or confusion." Without conversion: neither nature was modified to fit the other. Without composition: the natures did not combine in such a way so as to compose a new nature. Without confusion: the two natures did not blend together, each taking attributes of the other. Jesus was both fully God and fully Man.

So, what does this mean for us? In short, it means that when we read that we were called to emulate Christ, we should first understand that we were called to emulate God. However, the truth does not end there. See, it was not until the New Testament, when God was revealed in the flesh as Christ, the Son, that He commanded His followers to imitate Himself. We aren't called to the impossible task of imitating the Almighty God the Father, but the prototypical man Jesus Christ. In imitating Jesus, we reflect God's glory on earth as He did. Jesus lived His life as a man—learning as we do, feeling as we do, and even tempted as we do—and yet was without sin, the exact representation of the Glory of God (Heb. 1:3). That is a model we can follow if we face life as Christ did—a student of the scriptures, devoted in prayer, and submitted to God's will.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

An Attitude the Same as Christ: Learning from the Kenosis

I read an article this week related to the topic at-hand: Jesus is Fully Human, from the Desiring God blog. In it, the author walks through a simple progression of concepts from the simplest to grasp to the most profound. Jesus had a human body. Jesus had human emotion. Jesus had a human mind. And finally, Jesus had a human will. While the mystery of the last statement is certainly an inviting topic for anyone seeking a stimulating whirlwind of thought and study, I don't want to move on too quickly from the first. That God Himself would take on a human form is, second to Christ's death on the cross, is the most astonishing manifestation of His love we could ever imagine.

Theologians often use the term "kenosis," and while I don't want to puff myself up with fancy vocabulary and 5-dollar words, the roots of this term should be meaningful to us all. the Greek ?e??? (kenoo) means to empty out, like pouring out a pitcher until it's entirely empty. It's a total dispelling of all that one has. Christ emptied Himself in order to be found in the likeness of a man so that He might die the death that we deserve.

But how did He empty Himself? What is it that emptied Christ of His equality with the Father and His glorified state? Not the subtraction of a divine nature, but the addition of a human one. Subtraction by addition... much in the way that adding new paint on top of the Mona Lisa would empty it almost entirely of it's value.

I must give credit for this "Emptying by Adding" interpretation to Gerald Hawthorne, professor at Wheaton College who has published commentary on Philippians. To affirm that Christ was emptied of His deity is called the Kenotic Heresy. Scripture and Church History both affirm that Christ is both fully God and fully Man. So, what does that mean for us?

First, your attitude should be like that of Christ. He sacrificed so much to be our savior... to be our God who would tabernacle among us. What can we withhold in our worship? What do we have that we do not owe Him?

More than that, what excuse do we have as we continue to fail in our obedience to God. Living in His totally human nature, albeit not sinful nature, but nonetheless susceptible to temptation in every way that we are, Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, resisted temptation entirely. He was not spared from sin because He was God. No, indeed He endured by the same strength that we now have available to us through the indwelling Counselor, the Holy Spirit.

Peter offers a daunting charge for all of us, yet it was not Peter who charged it first. Inasmuch as we have been called, we are called to this: perfection.
"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth'" (1 Peter 2:21-22)

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

We Beheld His Glory - Part II

In my last post, I discussed the deity of Christ and His praiseworthiness as such. As believers, we find so much joy and inexpressible awe before God at His good and perfect plan to take on flesh for our sake. But, this linchpin belief of Christology is often at the center of Satan's attack and the world's attack on our faith in the very God who saves us. Why is Christ's deity under such scrutiny? More so than the doctrine of scripture, the mere existence of God, or even the seven-day creation, the world seeks to deny that Christ was God in the flesh.

The reason is simple: If Jesus was God, then we must believe what He said. Christ brings a simple message that God is in control. Christianity is a faith of submission, of confession, and of reliance upon one that shows us for who we really are. "If we can but show that Christ is not God," the world says, "then we can continue to be god to ourselves."

To receive Christ is to cast out the tattered being that we are and accept from God the promise of redemption by His power and not of our own. How distasteful to an enlightened people! How humiliating a thought to a society that has evolved from ape to this higher being. How ridiculous a discipline to deny one's self in light of all we as men are capable of.

That's certainly what the Jews must have thought in their seemingly "perfect" execution of the religion they thought was Judaism. But Stephen told them what Christ revealed, "You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts... you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it" (Acts 7:51-53). When Stephen looked to heaven he declared aloud what he saw: Christ with God as the eschatological Son of Man figure from Daniel 7. It was a convicting statement that, if they were to believe Christ, would require that they admit their frailty and failures and humbly ask forgiveness. Instead, they found murder to be an easier resolution.

But, I do not wish to conclude this thought with the harsh convicting power of Christ that damns those hardened in unbelief. We do well to recall who it was that presided over this rage-filled murder of Stephen: the young Saul. As we see evidenced in Saul's conversion, the power of Christ is not merely the power to judge, but the power to save. Jesus is Lord! By His power—the almighty power of the only true God—Jesus saves us! Praise Jesus for being God. Amen.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

We Beheld His Glory

As we get ready this week for the second installment of a 9-week course on "The Person and Work of Christ," I've been working very hard to consider not only the theological and doctrinal study of Christology, but also to see the truth anew and reconnect with the deep impact it had on me in the times when God first revealed Himself to me in scripture. There comes, I'm sorry to admit, a staleness to knowledge when we disconnect it from it's implications. I'm thoroughly enjoying a new discovery of how profound this simple truth really is: Jesus is God!

Jesus is God! He is the one and only omnipotent God, full of mercy and faithful to His covenants. He came down, took on our desperate condition in order to "tabernacle" among us, and suffered the worst of our physical and spiritual depravity as He suffered on the cross—all because of His faithfulness (and not ours) to fulfill His covenant.

Jesus is God! He is exalted with the names of God alone: Theos, Lord of Glory, Son of Man, Son of God, Beginning and End. It is praiseworthy for us to recognize Jesus, not merely as a man, but as God. The world wishes to pay lip-service to the Christ by some seemingly well-intentioned acknowledgment that He was a good teacher or an exemplary model of loving sacrifice, but how can anything less than the glory He is due be anything more than insulting? He is God!

Jesus is God! As we consider this fact and continue to renew our commitment to the Gospel day after day, let's stop to consider that through Christ and Christ alone we can behold the glory of the one and only true God. Not only that, but we also glorify God through meditation and proclamation of God the Son:

"every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:11).

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Person and Work of Christ

Over the past few weeks, I have been traveling around the Midwest, visiting various family members to celebrate Christmas together (which explains the long break since my last post, sorry). In between driving, dinners, and Christmas cantatas, I spent several hours preparing for my next class: The Person and Work of Christ. Coupling this study with the message of the Christmas season has been a true joy.

The Son, 2nd person of the Trinity, came into human flesh. In his lecture on the Apostles Creed topic "suffered under Pontius Pilate," Dr. Albert Mohler described that not only did Jesus suffer on the cross, but His very incarnation was suffered for our sake. For God to become Man is a sacrifice that we should not quickly forget. Mohler went on to say that many people have died martyrs, but only one was born one: Jesus Christ.

But, as is fitting given the setting of this holiday season, we will start this Sunday, the first class of the series, at the beginning. However, praise God that Jesus' beginning was not in the manger. No, in fact, John makes it very clear in John 1 that Jesus was not created (begotten of the Father, yes, but not created by Him). Instead, quite the opposite: "Through him all things were made" (John 1:3).

From His eternal existence to His deity, humanity, roles, atonement, and future works... we will study over the coming nine weeks the Person and Work of Christ, the Son of God. As we study the single most scrutinized and publicly defamed character of world History, I hope that we may honor God in this course by holding "firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught," and that as a result those taking the course will be emboldened to "refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9). To recount a previous question posted on this blog by anonymous, I pray that I my split these doctrinal hairs responsibly and in accordance with God's word.

(Audio mp3 lectures will be posted weekly here.)

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Person & Work of Christ - Teaching Materials

Course Description: The central figure in the Christian faith is Jesus Christ himself. We confess our faith in Jesus Christ. We pray to God in the name of Jesus Christ. We sing about Him. We try to model His life. So, who is Jesus Christ? This course will be an in-depth study of who Jesus Christ is and all that He has done, is doing, and will do. We will investigate His various roles, divinity, humanity, and the multiple aspects of His greatest work: the atonement.

Course Materials: Download full lecture notes, handouts, and mp3 audio of actual class sessions. These teaching materials are designed to help those in the Church with the spiritual gift of teaching to deliver scholar-level classes in interactive and engaging style.

While the most blessed time in a teacher's week is often the preparation time spent in the word, these materials help teachers focus their preparation research, reducing time in tedious searches as well as offering ready-made handouts for classroom use.

View the Course Syllabus | View a Sample of Lecture Notes

Purchase the course materials in digital/downloadable format—including PDF's of all 8 lectures and corresponding class handouts, as well as mp3 audio of all 8 live class sessions—for just $25.00.


Recorded Lectures - The Person & Work of Christ

To download any of the following MP3's, right-click on the file and select 'save target as.'