Holy Saturday: A Reflection on the In-Between Now and Not-Yet

Recycling a post that is probably around eleven years old now.

holysaturdayHoly Saturday is the time that the “Western Church,” Protestants included (well some), contemplate the moment between the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the contemplation of the burial in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4. that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, . . .

What a time to contemplate the time between the now and the not yet. This time between Christ’s cross and humiliation of unspeakable depths, and the glories’ of His coming resurrection and ascension; analogically represent the time we inhabit now. We currently wait to fully realize the glory that Jesus has shared with the Father before the world began. And like the Apostles, Disciples, and hopefuls who followed Jesus to the cross, during this time of Jesus’ silence we can despair, be full of fear, angst, anxiousness, etc. We often wonder is this it? We face circumstances that seem overwhelming, that seem to eclipse and overcome the life of Christ . . . that make it seem as if Christ stayed in the grave. As Christians in this big world, some-times like the disciples of Christ (during this time in history), we can cower behind locked doors, scratch our heads, and wonder, “what now?”

If only the disciples would have remembered, and put 2 + 2 together, what Jesus had said to them in the past (easy for me to say):

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ ~ Matthew 17:9

maybe their despair, their bewilderment, would be turned to joy. Maybe their burden would have been light. Maybe they would have been grieving as ones with real hope. But they forgot, at that moment of time they became so gripped with fear they could not really function (at least some of them, His closest). Even though we know the story, because we can read about it at one sitting, don’t we live like Jesus’ end was the grave? We fall into caverns of unbelief that seem to eclipse and overshadow what we know to be true . . . if only we would remember the hope, the hope that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 17, and the hope that was realized in Matthew 28:1-10.

As we look forward to Sunday, lets not grow weary by the unanswered questions and grief of Saturday. Instead of forgetting what Jesus has said about the resurrection (i.e. His second advent), lets glory in advance, in anticipation of the glory that will be revealed in us, as we are hidden in Christ. While we live in Saturday, in anticipation, lets rest with Jesus, lets, with Jesus say: ” . . . Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Lk 23:46).”

I think the best thing about this analogy, of “Holy Saturday,” is that it breaks down at a point. We don’t despair as if there is no resurrection, in fact as Christians we have been brought into the heavenly places with Christ (cf. Eph. 1), now; we have intimate union with Him now (cf. I Cor. 6:17); we have been given the Holy Spirit now (cf. Jn 14–16); and a whole array of distinguishing factors from those disciples of the first century. So take heart, don’t forget, this Holy Saturday, Jesus’ words of glory in humility:

. . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33

 

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‘He Descended to Hell’: How Historic Protestants Interpreted this Phrase in the Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

This Maundy Thursday I thought it would be fitting to press into the reality of what in fact took place not only on Good Friday, but Holy Saturday. In the Apostles’ Creed we have the (not uncontroversial) phrase ‘he descended into hell.’ For the remainder of this post we will look at how this phrase has been taken in and among the Protestant Reformed and Lutheran traditions; particularly as that developed in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Richard Muller in his book Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (which I am currently working through) offers this definition on the Latin phrase descensus ad inferos (‘the descent into hell’),

viz., that portion of Christ’s work, in the text of the Apostles’ Creed, is mentioned immediately after the death and burial of Christ and immediately before the proclamation of the resurrection. The concept was a cause of debate between Lutherans and Reformed and subject to various interpretations on both sides. In general, the Reformed view the descensus as the final stage of Christ’s state of humiliation (status humiliationis, q.v.), while the Lutherans view it as the first stage of the status exaltationis (q.v.), or state of exaltation. Among the Reformed, Martin Bucer and Theodore Beza viewed the descensus as identical with the burial of Christ, while Calvin referred the descensus to the suffering of Christ’s soul coincident with the death and burial of the body. The Reformed scholastics tend to draw these themes together and argue that, loosely, the descensus refers to all the spiritual suffering of Christ’s passion and death and, strictly, to the bondage to death indicated by Christ’s three days in the tomb. The Reformed deny both the idea of a local descent of Christ’s soul into a place called hell or Hades and the teaching (based on 1 Peter 3:19) that he entered Hades to preach salvation to the patriarchs or to men from the age before Noah. Two sixteenth-century Lutheran theologians, Aepinus and Parsimonius, expressed doctrines similar to the Reformed. Aepinus clearly placed the descensus as the final stage of the status humiliationis and viewed it as the suffering of Christ’s soul in his conquest of death. Like the Reformed, Aepinus denied the relevance of 1 Peter 3:19. Parsimonious denied any physical or spatial descensus and similarly referred the descensus to Christ’s suffering. The Formula of Concord condemned speculative controversy on the descensus and argued that the descensus indicated Christ’s deliverance of believers from the “jaws of hell” in and through his victory over death, Satan, and hell. This positive, redemptive reading of the descensus carried over into Lutheran orthodoxy where the descensus ad inferos is interpreted as spiritual (i.e., neither physical nor local) descent to the domain of Satan to announce victory and triumph over the demonic powers. In this interpretation, 1 Peter 3:19 is not an evangelical preaching of salvation to the inhabitants of Hades but a legal preaching of the just damnation of the wicked. This is an act, not of the humiliated and suffering Christ, but of the exalted Christ. According to Lutheran dogmaticians, the descensus follows the quickening of Christ’s body and is the first stage of the status exaltationis.[1]

This provides insight into the ways that the primary traditions that developed out of the Protestant Reformation read the Apostles’ Creed and its phrase descensus ad inferos. No matter what emphasis we want to place on whichever theological syllable, what stands out is the wonder of the reality that God in Christ graciously humbled himself to the point of becoming man and was obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross; and this for us.

Beyond the mystery of it all there is a concrete physicality to it and existential grist that is felt in our lives as we participated with Christ, as he first participated with us, in the death, burial, and resurrection (cf. Rom. 6). The fact that he humbled himself also, as apiece, means that he exalted himself and this for us that we might be what he is, by adoption, and become flesh and blood children of the living God. The only thing I really know to say is: thank you, Lord.

[1] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 89-90.

Israel’s Purpose is Christmas

Have you ever thought about how related Israel’s history is to Christmas? When Jesus came that apocalyptic night there was a whole complex of promises that had set the stage; the fullness of time, if you will. Israel was God’s vehicle of mediating His salvation to the world; and without her there would be no Jew from Nazareth for the world. T. F. Torrance makes this point.

. . . If it is the historical factuality of Jesus that is of controlling importance, then that Jesus must be presented as really embedded in history, embedded therefore in the hard stubborn history of Israel. That is precisely the case with Jesus. Even if it is the historical factuality of Jesus that is the controlling factor, how did it come to exercise that control over the minds of the witnesses and the church? How did it interpret itself, and with what categories and conceptions did it operate? The answer to this question is clear all over the pages of the New Testament, evident not only in the face value of the witness itself, buf from the most exhaustive lexicological examination of its language and concepts. The historical fact of Christ is embedded in the history of Israel, and is the actual fulfillment of the purpose embedded in its long history. Thus the interpretative categories and conceptions through which the fact of the historical Jesus imposes itself upon the witnesses, and by which it controls their witness are not their creation and are not imported by them from outside this historical context, say from the mystery religions of Greece, but derive from the actual history of Israel in which Jesus is embedded and from which he emerges. [T. F. Torrance, Incarnation, 17.]

So the purpose of Israel is void without Jesus, and the substance of Jesus’ Incarnation is grounded in the history of Israel (as given by Yahweh in the first place); wherein Israel’s purpose takes shape.

Next time you look at a nativity scene ponder the “backstory,” the narrative situation within which that manger finds its significance. God not only promises and prepares, He fulfills. Is Israel important as a nation? Indeed, but only for the same reason anyone is, because of Jesus!

_________

*Art Credit: G-Owen

A Reflection for Holy Saturday: The Chasm Between Now and Not Yet

Recycling a post that is probably around nine years old now.

holysaturdayHoly Saturday is the time that the “Western Church,” Protestants included (well some), contemplate the moment between the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the contemplation of the burial in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4. that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, . . .

What a time to contemplate the time between the now and the not yet. This time between Christ’s cross and humiliation of unspeakable depths, and the glories’ of His coming resurrection and ascension; analogically represent the time we inhabit now. We currently wait to fully realize the glory that Jesus has shared with the Father before the world began. And like the Apostles, Disciples, and hopefuls who followed Jesus to the cross, during this time of Jesus’ silence we can despair, be full of fear, angst, anxiousness, etc. We often wonder is this it? We face circumstances that seem overwhelming, that seem to eclipse and overcome the life of Christ . . . that make it seem as if Christ stayed in the grave. As Christians in this big world, some-times like the disciples of Christ (during this time in history), we can cower behind locked doors, scratch our heads, and wonder, “what now?”

If only the disciples would have remembered, and put 2 + 2 together, what Jesus had said to them in the past (easy for me to say):

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ ~ Matthew 17:9

maybe their despair, their bewilderment, would be turned to joy. Maybe their burden would have been light. Maybe they would have been grieving as ones with real hope. But they forgot, at that moment of time they became so gripped with fear they could not really function (at least some of them, His closest). Even though we know the story, because we can read about it at one sitting, don’t we live like Jesus’ end was the grave? We fall into caverns of unbelief that seem to eclipse and overshadow what we know to be true . . . if only we would remember the hope, the hope that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 17, and the hope that was realized in Matthew 28:1-10.

As we look forward to Sunday, lets not grow weary by the unanswered questions and grief of Saturday. Instead of forgetting what Jesus has said about the resurrection (i.e. His second advent), lets glory in advance, in anticipation of the glory that will be revealed in us, as we are hidden in Christ. While we live in Saturday, in anticipation, lets rest with Jesus, lets, with Jesus say: ” . . . Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Lk 23:46).”

I think the best thing about this analogy, of “Holy Saturday,” is that it breaks down at a point. We don’t despair as if there is no resurrection, in fact as Christians we have been brought into the heavenly places with Christ (cf. Eph. 1), now; we have intimate union with Him now (cf. I Cor. 6:17); we have been given the Holy Spirit now (cf. Jn 14–16); and a whole array of distinguishing factors from those disciples of the first century. So take heart, don’t forget, this Holy Saturday, Jesus’ words of glory in humility:

. . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33

 

The Apostle’s Creed, Easter Before Good Friday, and Dogmatics in Outline

Was Crucified, Dead, And Buried, He Descended Into Hell

How do you think of God revealed in Jesus? Do you primarily think of him through the lens of the cross? Then you might be a Western Christian (which most of us are). Or maybe you think of him primarily in and through the lens of the resurrection, yeah? It is probably best, instead, to think of him in both his humiliation (cross) and exaltation (resurrection, ascension, heavenly session, and crucifiedconsummation), and to think ourselves from within this nexus of being of God and [hu]man[ity] in Christ and his hypostatic union. This represents a genuine dialectic, right? And it also illustrates how we ought to think reality from God’s Self revelation in Christ. But I digress.

Karl Barth speaks of this kind of theologia crucis and theologia gloriae more pointedly than I can, and he hearkens us back to Martin Luther’s ‘theology of the cross’ (which I think dialectically has a proper understanding of ‘theology of glory’ embedded in it) as he reflects upon this article of The Apostles’ Creed: Was Crucified, Dead, And Buried, He Descended Into Hell.

The mystery of the Incarnation unfolds into the mystery of Good Friday and of Easter. And once more it is as it has been so often in this whole mystery of faith, that we must always see two things together, we must always understand one by the other. In the history of the Christian faith it has, indeed, always been the case that the knowledge of Christians has gravitated more to the one side or to the other. We may take it that the Western Church, the Church of the Occident, has a decided inclination towards the theologia crucis—that is, towards bringing out and emphasising the fact that He was surrendered for our transgressions. Whereas the Eastern Church brings more into the foreground the fact that He was raised for our justification, and so inclines towards the theologia gloriae. In this matter there is no sense in wanting to play off one against the other. You know that from the beginning Luther strongly worked out the Western tendency—not theologia gloriae but theologia crucis. What Luther meant by that is right. But we ought not to erect and fix any opposition; for there is no theologia crucis which does not have its complement in the theologia gloriae. Of course, there is no Easter without Good Friday, but equally certainly there is no Good Friday without Easter! Too much tribulation and sullenness are too easily wrought into Christianity. But if the Cross is the Cross of Jesus Christ and not a speculation on the Cross, which fundamentally any heathen might also have, then it cannot for one second be forgotten or overlooked that the Crucified rose again from the dead the third day. We shall in that case celebrate Good Friday quite differently, and perhaps it would be well not to sing on Good Friday the doleful, sad Passion hymns, but to begin to sing Easter hymns. It is not a sad and miserable business that took place on Good Friday; for He rose again. I wanted to say this first, that you are not to take abstractly what we have to say about the death and the Passion of Christ, but already to look beyond it to the place where His glory is revealed.[1]

This challenges me. Admittedly I have thought from the ‘Western’ proclivity much more than the ‘Eastern,’ if we can even speak from this divide any longer. We might like to skip over Good Friday though altogether, but I don’t think Barth is calling for that. We might like to live our ‘best life now’ (pace Joel Osteen), and live a Christian spirituality that has no cruciform or cross-shaped anything; we might like to pretend that there are no people locked up in insane asylums, or who live in the squalor of their birthed existence into Sudanese poverty and affliction (for example); but this isn’t what Barth is suggesting by inverting Good Friday with Easter. I think it is more profound, what Barth is suggesting, it is in line with what the author of the epistle of Hebrews has written (I think):

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.[2]

Christianity represents a glorious way to think, but glorious in cruciform shape. This Easter season, let Easter hope condition the whole season. Walk through the ‘stations,’ but do so from the hope that He is Risen, Indeed!

10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.[3]

                       


[1] Karl Barth, Dogmatics In Outline (London: SCM Press, 1949), 114.

[2] Hebrews 12.1,2 NKJV.

[3] II Corinthians 4.10 NKJV. 

Holy Saturday, The Chasm between ‘Now and Not Yet’

Wrote this about seven years ago.

holysaturday

Holy Saturday is the time that the “Western Church,” Protestants included (well some), contemplate the moment between the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the contemplation of the burial in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4. that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, . . .

What a time to contemplate the time between the now and the not yet. This time between Christ’s cross and humiliation of unspeakable depths, and the glories’ of His coming resurrection and ascension; analogically represent the time we inhabit now. We currently wait to fully realize the glory that Jesus has shared with the Father before the world began. And like the Apostles, Disciples, and hopefuls who followed Jesus to the cross, during this time of Jesus’ silence we can despair, be full of fear, angst, anxiousness, etc. We often wonder is this it? We face circumstances that seem overwhelming, that seem to eclipse and overcome the life of Christ . . . that make it seem as if Christ stayed in the grave. As Christians in this big world, some-times like the disciples of Christ (during this time in history), we can cower behind locked doors, scratch our heads, and wonder, “what now?”

If only the disciples would have remembered, and put 2 + 2 together, what Jesus had said to them in the past (easy for me to say):

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ ~ Matthew 17:9

maybe their despair, their bewilderment, would be turned to joy. Maybe their burden would have been light. Maybe they would have been grieving as ones with real hope. But they forgot, at that moment of time they became so gripped with fear they could not really function (at least some of them, His closest). Even though we know the story, because we can read about it at one sitting, don’t we live like Jesus’ end was the grave? We fall into caverns of unbelief that seem to eclipse and overshadow what we know to be true . . . if only we would remember the hope, the hope that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 17, and the hope that was realized in Matthew 28:1-10.

As we look forward to Sunday, lets not grow weary by the unanswered questions and grief of Saturday. Instead of forgetting what Jesus has said about the resurrection (i.e. His second advent), lets glory in advance, in anticipation of the glory that will be revealed in us, as we are hidden in Christ. While we live in Saturday, in anticipation, lets rest with Jesus, lets, with Jesus say: ” . . . Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Lk 23:46).”

I think the best thing about this analogy, of “Holy Saturday,” is that it breaks down at a point. We don’t despair as if there is no resurrection, in fact as Christians we have been brought into the heavenly places with Christ (cf. Eph. 1), now; we have intimate union with Him now (cf. I Cor. 6:17); we have been given the Holy Spirit now (cf. Jn 14–16); and a whole array of distinguishing factors from those disciples of the first century. So take heart, don’t forget, this Holy Saturday, Jesus’ words of glory in humility:

. . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33

 

A Good Friday Reflection. God’s Atonement in Christ is Love

The Good News (the ‘Gospel’) is that Jesus died for everyone, which is what we are celebrating this Good Friday evening. There is something very profound that happens in the atoning work of Christ, of course! And as usual there are various readings of the implications of what Jesus did, and these readings are informed by how we first think of God. I think one of the most important premises that we can read the atonement from is that God loves us first that we might love Him (I John 4:19); and God loved us first, because He is love (I John 4:8). It is this love that was demonstrated so many years ago now at the cross. It is this love that holds all of the treachery and vicissitudes of human history together. Without this love, nothing makes sense; everything is aimlessly bounding as Jude says ‘like wandering stars’.

Holbein Dead Christ, detail

Thomas Torrance offers us some enlightening words on the significance of Christ’s death as he reflects on the theology of John Knox:

[S]everal comments on this understanding of Christ’s sacrifice may be in place. While traditional forensic language is used, the atoning sacrifice is not to be understood as fulfilled by Christ merely as man (which would imply a Nestorian Christology), but of Christ as the one Mediator between God and man who is himself God and man in one Person. This means that ‘the joyful atonement made between God and man by Christ Jesus, by his death, resurrection and ascension’, is not to be understood in any sense as the act of the man Jesus placating God the Father, but as a propitiatory sacrifice in which God himself through the death of his dear Son draws near to man and draws man near to himself. It is along these lines also that we must interpret the statement of the Scots Confession that Christ ‘suffered in body and soul to make the full satisfaction for the sins of the people’, for in the Cross God accepts the sacrifice made by Christ, whom he did not spare but delivered him up for us all, as satisfaction, thereby acknowledging his own bearing of the world’s sin guilt and judgment as the atonement. As Calvin pointed out in a very important passage, God does not love us because of what Christ has done, but it is because he first loved us that he came in Christ in order through atoning sacrifice in which God himself does not hold himself aloof but suffers in and with Christ to reconcile us to himself. Nor is there any suggestion that this atoning sacrifice was offered only for some people and not for all, for that would imply that he who became incarnate was not God the Creator in whom all men and women live and move and have their being, and that Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour was not God and man in the one Person, but only an instrument in the hands of the Father for the salvation of the chosen few. In other words, a notion of limited atonement implies a Nestorian heresy in which Jesus Christ is not really God and man united in one Person. It must be added that perfect response offered by Jesus Christ in life and death to God in our place and on our behalf, contains and is the pledge of our response. Just as the union of God and man in Christ holds good in spite of all the contradiction of our sin under divine judgment, so his vicarious response holds good for us in spite of our unworthiness: ‘not I but Christ’…. [Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell, 18-9.]

As usual, there is a lot packed into a little space by Torrance. There are two things I want to focus on: 1) God initiates for us, because of who He is, Love! He does not initiate for us after He has chosen us, but He has chosen Himself, His own being as Father of the Son consummated in the communing love of the Holy Spirit; and as a result of this shape of God’s inestimable Triune self, as a result of His over-abundant life, He has showered this upon us in Christ, His Dearly beloved Son. And all of this ever before He gets to us. He chooses us not arbitrarily or in an ad hoc fashion, but instead, because of who He is in Himself. There is no abstract notion, no speculative conceiving upon ‘who’ God has chosen for Himself; He has chosen Himself in His Son who is for us by the conciliation of the Spirit. He has not chosen us based upon an utilitarian mechanism of Divine favoritism, or upon the meeting of some sort of conditional law-code; He has chosen us because He is Love, and He has embedded the trajectory of all of creation and re-creation in Love, the Father in Love with the Son. 2) And so God, because He is love, and because the greatest exemplum of this is in His Son on the cross, has hidden us in Himself, in the Yes of the Son first pronounced in contradiction as the No to sin. We have no resource in ourselves, we have no assurance to be groped for in the excesses of our humanity; He has left no room for us to shimmer around in our strength and angst. He has taken us all the way down to the grave in Himself and brought us back up in the resurrection and ascension. Our Yes comes from His Yes for us. We say Yes by the same Spirit that Jesus said Yes from, and it is through this Divine undertaking of super-abounding Love made intimate in the Son for us that we find rest; even, and especially in the death of ourselves.

So God is Love this Good Friday evening, and God’s Love is Yes for us in the vicarious humanity of Christ seated at the right hand of the Father. There is nowhere to look this evening, but in anticipation of what Saturday will bring, and Sunday morning will hatch anew. I look forward to the resurrection! amen.

Merry Christmas and Happy Incarnation Day from Thomas Torrance

Here Torrance is speaking of John’s accounting of the Word made flesh:

. . . In its prologue it speaks of the Word made flesh, and that light sets the whole gospel as the revelation and reconciliation of God in Christ, but it then moves on from the prologue to speak all through of the Son in his obedience to the Father and in his fulfilment of the role of the servant. That belongs to the very nature of the case, for the incarnation of the Word means an incarnation in which the Word is not simply addressed to man from without but so enters into human existence that it becomes a word that is heard and appropriated by man, and a word that is answered for man by this man in the whole course of his obedient life. Thus within the incarnation, the Son is the fuller category, for the Son hears the word of the Father, and the son answers the Father by word and life, and the revelation mediated through the Son is the reveltion of the word (logos) which he has received from the Father and now speaks in the language (lalia)of man. Of all the books of the New Testament none more than the fourth Gospel presents Christ as the servant-Son obedient in everything to the Father, doing only those things that please him, and from beginning to end fulfilling his will. It is thus that he the Son declares, ‘exegetes’ the Father, and reveals him to and within human life on earth and in history. (Thomas F. Torrance, “Incarnation,” 67-68)

What a great Christmas truth! Our knowledge of God comes from within God’s life in Christ for us. This quote illustrates the importance of vicariousness,and how that coinheres with what Christ as mediator is all about. The incarnation is such a profound thing, that even the manger and its “hiddeness” become a vehicle for displaying the glory of God that culminates in the cross for us.

Merry Christmas!

Holy Saturday, The Chasm Between Now and Not-Yet

Wrote this about seven years ago.

holysaturdayHoly Saturday is the time that the “Western Church,” Protestants included (well some), contemplate the moment between the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the contemplation of the burial in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4. that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, . . .

What a time to contemplate the time between the now and the not yet. This time between Christ’s cross and humiliation of unspeakable depths, and the glories’ of His coming resurrection and ascension; analogically represent the time we inhabit now. We currently wait to fully realize the glory that Jesus has shared with the Father before the world began. And like the Apostles, Disciples, and hopefuls who followed Jesus to the cross, during this time of Jesus’ silence we can despair, be full of fear, angst, anxiousness, etc. We often wonder is this it? We face circumstances that seem overwhelming, that seem to eclipse and overcome the life of Christ . . . that make it seem as if Christ stayed in the grave. As Christians in this big world, some-times like the disciples of Christ (during this time in history), we can cower behind locked doors, scratch our heads, and wonder, “what now?”

If only the disciples would have remembered, and put 2 + 2 together, what Jesus had said to them in the past (easy for me to say):

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ ~ Matthew 17:9

maybe their despair, their bewilderment, would be turned to joy. Maybe their burden would have been light. Maybe they would have been grieving as ones with real hope. But they forgot, at that moment of time they became so gripped with fear they could not really function (at least some of them, His closest). Even though we know the story, because we can read about it at one sitting, don’t we live like Jesus’ end was the grave? We fall into caverns of unbelief that seem to eclipse and overshadow what we know to be true . . . if only we would remember the hope, the hope that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 17, and the hope that was realized in Matthew 28:1-10.

As we look forward to Sunday, lets not grow weary by the unanswered questions and grief of Saturday. Instead of forgetting what Jesus has said about the resurrection (i.e. His second advent), lets glory in advance, in anticipation of the glory that will be revealed in us, as we are hidden in Christ. While we live in Saturday, in anticipation, lets rest with Jesus, lets, with Jesus say: ” . . . Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Lk 23:46).”

I think the best thing about this analogy, of “Holy Saturday,” is that it breaks down at a point. We don’t despair as if there is no resurrection, in fact as Christians we have been brought into the heavenly places with Christ (cf. Eph. 1), now; we have intimate union with Him now (cf. I Cor. 6:17); we have been given the Holy Spirit now (cf. Jn 14–16); and a whole array of distinguishing factors from those disciples of the first century. So take heart, don’t forget, this Holy Saturday, Jesus’ words of glory in humility:

. . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33

 

A Good Friday Reflection: The Death of Christ as God as Love In Vicariousness

The Good News (the ‘Gospel’) is that Jesus died for everyone, which is what we are celebrating this Good Friday evening. There is something very profound that happens in the atoning work of Christ, of course! And as usual there are various readings of the implications of what Jesus did, and these readings are informed by how we first think of God. I think one of the most important premises that we can read the atonement from is that God loves us first that we might love Him (I John 4:19); and God loved us first, because He is love (I John 4:8). It is this love that was demonstrated so many years ago now at the cross. It is this love that holds all of the treachery and vicissitudes of human history together. Without this love, nothing makes sense; everything is aimlessly bounding as Jude says ‘like wandering stars’.

Holbein Dead Christ, detail

Thomas Torrance offers us some enlightening words on the significance of Christ’s death as he reflects on the theology of John Knox:

[S]everal comments on this understanding of Christ’s sacrifice may be in place. While traditional forensic language is used, the atoning sacrifice is not to be understood as fulfilled by Christ merely as man (which would imply a Nestorian Christology), but of Christ as the one Mediator between God and man who is himself God and man in one Person. This means that ‘the joyful atonement made between God and man by Christ Jesus, by his death, resurrection and ascension’, is not to be understood in any sense as the act of the man Jesus placating God the Father, but as a propitiatory sacrifice in which God himself through the death of his dear Son draws near to man and draws man near to himself. It is along these lines also that we must interpret the statement of the Scots Confession that Christ ‘suffered in body and soul to make the full satisfaction for the sins of the people’, for in the Cross God accepts the sacrifice made by Christ, whom he did not spare but delivered him up for us all, as satisfaction, thereby acknowledging his own bearing of the world’s sin guilt and judgment as the atonement. As Calvin pointed out in a very important passage, God does not love us because of what Christ has done, but it is because he first loved us that he came in Christ in order through atoning sacrifice in which God himself does not hold himself aloof but suffers in and with Christ to reconcile us to himself. Nor is there any suggestion that this atoning sacrifice was offered only for some people and not for all, for that would imply that he who became incarnate was not God the Creator in whom all men and women live and move and have their being, and that Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour was not God and man in the one Person, but only an instrument in the hands of the Father for the salvation of the chosen few. In other words, a notion of limited atonement implies a Nestorian heresy in which Jesus Christ is not really God and man united in one Person. It must be added that perfect response offered by Jesus Christ in life and death to God in our place and on our behalf, contains and is the pledge of our response. Just as the union of God and man in Christ holds good in spite of all the contradiction of our sin under divine judgment, so his vicarious response holds good for us in spite of our unworthiness: ‘not I but Christ’…. [Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell, 18-9.]

As usual, there is a lot packed into a little space by Torrance. There are two things I want to focus on: 1) God initiates for us, because of who He is, Love! He does not initiate for us after He has chosen us, but He has chosen Himself, His own being as Father of the Son consummated in the communing love of the Holy Spirit; and as a result of this shape of God’s inestimable Triune self, as a result of His over-abundant life, He has showered this upon us in Christ, His Dearly beloved Son. And all of this ever before He gets to us. He chooses us not arbitrarily or in an ad hoc fashion, but instead, because of who He is in Himself. There is no abstract notion, no speculative conceiving upon ‘who’ God has chosen for Himself; He has chosen Himself in His Son who is for us by the conciliation of the Spirit. He has not chosen us based upon an utilitarian mechanism of Divine favoritism, or upon the meeting of some sort of conditional law-code; He has chosen us because He is Love, and He has embedded the trajectory of all of creation and re-creation in Love, the Father in Love with the Son. 2) And so God, because He is love, and because the greatest exemplum of this is in His Son on the cross, has hidden us in Himself, in the Yes of the Son first pronounced in contradiction as the No to sin. We have no resource in ourselves, we have no assurance to be groped for in the excesses of our humanity; He has left no room for us to shimmer around in our strength and angst. He has taken us all the way down to the grave in Himself and brought us back up in the resurrection and ascension. Our Yes comes from His Yes for us. We say Yes by the same Spirit that Jesus said Yes from, and it is through this Divine undertaking of super-abounding Love made intimate in the Son for us that we find rest; even, and especially in the death of ourselves.

So God is Love this Good Friday evening, and God’s Love is Yes for us in the vicarious humanity of Christ seated at the right hand of the Father. There is nowhere to look this evening, but in anticipation of what Saturday will bring, and Sunday morning will hatch anew. I look forward to the resurrection! amen.