Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sitting in the Biggest Corner Ever

Sidney Herald religion column published June 8, 2014

 

A mother ordered her naughty son to sit in a corner. After a few minutes, he told his mother, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!” He obeyed, but he didn’t submit. The conflict of wills between two different persons remained.

 

In Gethsemane, the Father told his Son to go and sit in the biggest corner ever, the corner of the sins of the whole world. He was to sit, not for any naughtiness of his own, but for the iniquities of us all. He obeyed. He went to the cross. Is that all, or did He also submit? Did Jesus sit down on the outside while standing up on the inside?

 

Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

 

Suppose there were no Trinity. Suppose “Father” and “Son” were just different titles for the same person. What would it mean to say that Jesus submitted to his Father? Is there any such thing as submission with only one person? If God were a one-person god, Jesus would be talking only to Himself. He would not be giving up His will for the will of His Father.

 

Because the Son and the Father are different persons, one person is speaking to another. Prayer is real. It is not psychological self-talk. When Jesus says to His Father, “Let this cup pass from me,” one person is speaking to another. The Father wants the Son to go to the cross. The Son does not want to go. This is a dreadful temptation to a conflict of wills. Prayer deals with real issues between real persons.

 

The language “not as I will, but as You will” reveals the temptation clearly: “I will” versus “You will.” The I and the You are real. “I” refers to one Person. “You” refers to another. The temptation shows the distinction of the Persons of the Trinity. They are different enough for Jesus to experience temptation to a conflict of wills, sweating blood.

 

The temptation was resolved by submission. The Son submitted to the Father. Through the submission of Christ, the unity of the Trinity was preserved. Because his submission was ready, the temptation did not lead to sin. R.C.H. Lenski says, “From the first word of the prayer to the last Jesus submits to his Father’s will.”

 

In Gethsemane we are not viewing melodrama. Because of the Trinity, both the temptation and the submission are concrete — a sweaty, bloody affair. The innocence of the suffering of Christ goes beyond obedience to submission. He sat down not only on the outside, but on the inside, in our corner, for us, for our sins.

 

The sacrifice for our sins needed to be perfect. It couldn’t be mechanical obedience. It couldn’t be simulated or half-hearted. Because Jesus not only obeyed, but obeyed submissively, He is perfect to the uttermost, and his submission saves us to the uttermost.

 

 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

You're Not Supposed to Hit a Substitute that Hard

Sidney Herald religion column published May 18, 2014

 

When the quarterback sprained his ankle, his substitute came into the game. On the next play, there was no backfield blocking. Both outside line backers came in fast and hit the quarterback hard. His helmet came off. The ball rolled out of his hands. He lay there dazed. Finally being shifted to a stretcher, he said, “You’re not supposed to hit a substitute that hard.”

 

How many real football players would say that? Not many. Being a substitute puts a player into the game fully for the starter.

 

Christ is our substitute. He is in fully for us. In Gethsemane, he had no backfield blocking. He got hit hard by two charging linebackers.

 

There, Jesus “began to be sore amazed” (Mark 14:33) The Greek word is ekthambeo. It means to throw into terror, to alarm thoroughly. He saw something appear suddenly. It already was approaching him when first he saw it. It had the drop on him. It forced itself upon him. It was an assaulting, menacing horror. Jesus saw a killing nightmare.

 

His saying, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34), was not a look forward to the cross. The horror was killing him already in the garden. The nightmare would have killed him on the spot had not an angel strengthened him. (Luke 22:43) He saw the twin causes of death: sin and wrath. Those were the two linebackers that hit him.

 

Jesus’ cries in Gethsemane are not cowardly snivels, as if whining that linebackers should not hit a substitute so hard. They are his heroic substitution for us in facing the wrath of God on our sin. Facing wrath is lethal. It was killing Jesus. Before the foundation of the world, He had agreed bravely to this suffering.

 

Because Jesus was acting as our Mediator to bring us to God, he also had no backfield blocking against being hit by sin in his conscience. The qualification of a mediator is sympathy. To bring alienated parties together, the mediator must understand each party. Without sinning, Jesus suddenly felt what it is to be a sinner. He saw sin in his conscience as a killing nightmare. His holiness and his sympathy for sinners made him feel sin the way we should but can’t.

 

Francis Pieper says, “The transfer of our sin to Him was a purely juridical divine act [but this] penetrated to the very heart and conscience of the suffering Christ. … He felt the sin and guilt of all men in His soul as His own sin and guilt.”

 

Jesus took sin and wrath to give us forgiveness and peace. “Bless the LORD ... who forgives all your iniquity.” (Psalm 103:2) In justification, God gives us Christ’s righteousness and declares us innocent. Christ’s righteousness brings peace and joy. “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” (Romans 5:1) Matthew Harrison explains Romans 14:17, “Where Christ’s righteousness is laid hold of [by faith], there is peace of conscience and where there is peace of conscience, there is a profound joy.”

 

 

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Can an Old Cigarette Ad Show Us about Gethsemane?

Sidney Herald religion column published April 13, 2014

 

Some of you remember. Before 1971, television had cigarette advertisements. After that, the ads were banned.

 

The jingle for one brand went, “Over, under, around, and through; Pall Mall travels pleasure to you.” The video showed smoke passing over, under, around, and through tobacco to the smoker. This illustrates something that happened to Jesus in Gethsemane.

 

There, Jesus said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” (Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34) The Greek word translated “exceedingly sorrowful” is perilupos. The second part of that word speaks of sorrow. The first part, peri, tells where the sorrow was. It was over, under, around, and through. Grief both surrounded and penetrated Jesus.

 

Jesus became “deeply distressed,” “very heavy,” or “full of heaviness.” (Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:33). The Greek here is ademoneo, the strongest word in the New Testament for depression. It means “sated to loathing.”

 

Sate simply means satisfying an appetite or desire to the full. After eating four pieces of cake with ice cream, you don’t feel like having more. If something forced you to eat more, you would go past being sated to loathing cake and ice cream. You would be full of heaviness. This heavy fullness amplifies that sorrow was over, under, around, and through Jesus.

 

Something glutted Jesus into severe depression by overfilling his mind. It was worse than tobacco, more toxic than tar and nicotine. It was our sin. Jesus loathed it and was saving us from it.

 

The atonement was under way in Gethsemane. Our sins were being laid on him as a sacrifice to reconcile us to God. This was a judicial assignment by God of our sin to him so that He, as our substitute, could satisfy God’s judgment for us. This assignment caused him to feel our sins in his conscience as if they were his. This does not mean He sinned. It means substitution, by his sympathy for us, went that far.

 

As sinners, we are dull or numb to sin. It takes a holy person to feel sin, to loath it, to be weighed down by sin into depression. Because Jesus is the only holy man, He is the only man who really felt sin.

 

These truths may weigh our hearts down, as they should. But take heart. God has brought joy from sorrow. The resurrection of Jesus shows that, though He suffered the sentence of death for our sins, He triumphed over sin and death. He can assign to us his holiness and life the way our sin and death were assigned to him.

 

As the assignment of our sins to him had an effect in his conscience, the assignment of his righteousness to us has an effect in our conscience. While the sacrifices of the Old Testament could not perfect the consciences of the worshipers (Hebrews 9:9), they pointed to Christ. Christ’s sacrifice cleanses and purifies our consciences by his blood (Hebrews 9:14; 10:22), and by his resurrection (1 Peter 3:21). Christ absolves us and gives us peace.

 

 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Left Alone, Entangled in Ourselves

President Ronald Reagan had good reason to say, "Trust, but verify." Is this a good approach to living by faith in God, however?

 

Faith trusts the promise of God. What happens when we mix trusting God's promise of justifying us, declaring us righteous in his sight, with verifying his word? What happens when we seek to monitor ourselves in the growth of faith and love, in the new obedience, following our justification. It returns us where we were before faith: left alone, and entangled in ourselves. Oswald Bayer explains:

 

What are our lives directed toward? This is the decisive point. It is decisive in the controversy of Luther's theology with Roman Catholicism and with Pietism about that which has been called -- differing from Luther's own theology -- the question of relating justification and sanctification. To what do we look? May we and can we look away from ourselves and solely at Christ? Or do we look back at ourselves as made anew, seeking to monitor ourselves in the growth of faith and love, in the new obedience, in the progress we make, even in the sanctification that is said to follow after justification? When we are blessed by God and born anew, do we seek to feel the pulse of our own faith? Doing this is a dangerous displacement that leads us away from the Reformation understanding of faith. The moment we turn aside and look back at ourselves and our own doings instead of at God and God's promise, at that moment we are again left alone with ourselves and with our own judgment about ourselves. We will then be inevitably entangled in ourselves. We will fall back into all the uncertainty of the defiant and despairing heart that looks only to self and not to the promise of God. That is why it is so important to take note of the means and medium by which justifying faith comes.

 

Oswald Bayer, trans. Geoffrey w. Bromiley, Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 2003), pp. 43-44.

 

 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

No CEO of Holy Spirit, Incorporated

Sidney Herald religion column published January 19, 2014

 

George Carlin said, “One nice thing about egotists: they don't talk about other people.” The Holy Spirit is not an egotist. He does not talk about himself. He talks about the Son.

 

Tom Peters wrote: “Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand. Here's what it takes to be the CEO of Me Inc.” He tells how to promote SELF™.

 

Such is the world. The Holy Spirit is not of the world. The Spirit is not of this Age of the Individual. He is not the CEO of Me Inc. or Holy Spirit Incorporated. He promotes a brand, so to speak, but not his own. The Spirit promotes the brand of Jesus.

 

John says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” (1 John 4:2-3)

 

We recognize the Spirit’s work by seeing where the brand of Jesus is recognized. Here is Jesus’ brand: the man Jesus is God come in the flesh. Wherever we see Jesus recognized as God incarnate, there is the Spirit.

 

“When the Helper comes …the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26) “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14)

 

The humility of the Spirit becomes clearer when we realize his magnificence in the Trinity. The Athanasian Creed summarizes from Scripture that the Spirit is uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty, God, and Lord. It says, “In this Trinity none is before the other or after another; none is greater or less than another.” The Nicene Creed says the Spirit “with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.”

 

The Spirit is glorious, but He makes little of himself. With the Father, He gives the Kingdom to the Son. At the end of the age, the Spirit, with the Son, will return the Kingdom to the Father. At different times, the Father and the Son have the Kingdom, but the Spirit never does. The Spirit always is building a Kingdom for Others.

 

The great promoter, P. T. Barnum, said, “Without promotion, something terrible happens: nothing.” Without the Holy Spirit, nothing happens. Paul said, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”(1 Corinthians 12:3)

 

So Martin Luther says in his Small Catechism: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called my by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

 

 

 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Finally! Some Satisfaction in the Atonement

Dying in a Garden

Ever since reading Gustaf Aulén's Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement, I have been studying in an intentional way the nature of the atonement.

 

This study has had two tracks. On one track, I went through the whole Bible reading it just for the purpose of finding its explanation of the atonement. What problem is the atonement solving? How does the atonement solve the problem? Specifically, why does substitution work?

 

Several times the Bible leads right up to the point of a direct, explicit answer, and then stops short. The climax of this is in Hebrews. The best thing I could conclude came in the linkage between Leviticus and Hebrews, where the sacrifice of Christ works not because of sacrifice or substitution per se (which would be only monism, where a principle of substitution would stand over God and require God to do things in a certain way), but because it was Christ the unique Christ who was sacrificed: it works because it was He who did it. As part and parcel of this view, sacrifice and substitution also work only because, firstly, God is triune. The Trinity accounts for the uniqueness of Christ, and it accounts for the effect on God of the sacrifice of Christ and his substitution for us in the sacrifice. The search for the theory of the atonement turned into the search for the identity of God and the identity of Christ; atonement works because of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

 

On the second track, I read from the church's literature on the atonement. I got a lot of good from some authors such as the several works of Leon Morris that relate to the atonement. I still recommend Morris and some others, but in general, I experienced a rising dissatisfaction with the leadership the theologians were exercising over us lay people concerning the atonement. This dissatisfaction reached a climax while reading James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL: 2006). There are more than four views, but this work selected four of them. It selected an author to represent each view. Each author contributed a chapter setting forth one of the views, and the other three authors contributed responses to that chapter.

 

This portrayed a church severely divided over an indispensable doctrine, the atonement. None of the authors succeeded in overcoming the views of the others. The divisions were not of kinds that could be either resolved or left satisfactorily to stand as paradox as we do with the Trinity, the Incarnation, and so on. This is like going to a committee of mechanics who are still arguing about what torque and drive train are. Disgusting. The sheep are led about by lost shepherds.

 

Of course, a major part of my problem is that I am not a theologian and lack the qualifications to be doing this work, most notably, any facility with Hebrew, Greek, or German. Two years of high school Latin help, but not that much. Yet, I am pressed into it because, like everybody else, I either live or die by the atonement. It is a matter of death and life. I am pressed into it also because I am a husband, father, and grandfather. It is part of the responsibility of these vocations to confess to my wife, children, and grandchildren what I believe about the atonement. Weight is there.

 

I give this background so that, by contrast with it, I can express to an extent my profound appreciation for the following excerpt from Albrecht Peters, trans. Thomas H. Trapp, Commentary on Luther's Catechisms, Creed, pp. 161-62 (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis: 2011). Here, Peters shows how Luther viewed two of the primary theories of the atonement. One of them is called variously the Latin, Anselmian, objective, payment, merits, or satisfaction theory. The other is called by Aulén and others the Christus Victor theory or the church's classical theory, in which Christ by conquest delivers us from tyrants. The tyrants are sin, death, the Devil, and the fallen world. If Albrecht is right, Luther, and so far as I know, only Luther, has accomplished something for my quest. I don't know yet whether this should be called a resolution, a harmonization, or what, but it looks very much like a solution to my problem.

 

The reformer thus takes up both constellations of motifs: on the one hand, Christ as the one who vanquishes all the powers of destruction and powers of death and, on the other hand, Christ as our substitute and as our propitiatory offering over against God's holy, judging wrath. Luther links both aspects in such a way that the hidden emphasis from the Western Church and the Middle Ages, on the punishing suffering of Christ, persists. The propitiation of God's wrath remains the center, in terms of content, in the catechisms as well; at the deepest level, it is God's curse of judgment that delivers us over to the powers of destruction. These powers stand in a unique relationship with God; according to the Large Catechism, on the one hand, they are our "tyrants," caught up in rebellion against God, and yet, on the other hand, they are the "harsh schoolmasters" that God Himself put in place, which means that they are the authorities who run the prison; the real prison came into existence for us when God gave us over under the condemning wrath of His Law. "Death, sin, hell, all of these come from the wrath of God; they are its harsh schoolmasters." Even among these ominous allies, Luther intimates that there is a pecking order; Satan stands at the top; he "clearly is to be identified as a prince over sin and the prince of death." This is the specifically theological dimension; to it corresponds an anthropological aspect. As we are free, in heart and conscience, from the accusation of the Law and from the wrath of God that thereby brings its onslaught, we are free, as well, with respect to the battle against the satanic demons; for us, these have been rendered harmless, because the wrath of God no longer stands behind them.

 

By means of these insights, Luther deepens and personifies both the "classical theory of the atonement" of the Christus Victor model as well as Anselm's teaching about satisfaction. By means of his hyper-realistic and drastic images of Christ's victory over the dark comrades, sin, death and the devil, he reaches back into the tradition of the early Church and the Eastern Church and renews its emphasis on the motif of a battle that encompasses the entire earth. But because he points out, in, with and under the onslaughts of the powers of death, how Christ fully suffers the deepest, holy wrath of judgment from God that hangs over all human guilt, and inserts the Law at this point as well, into the list of the powers that effect the curse, the reformer deepens the early Church's confession about Christus Victor by means of insights that are set forth initially by Paul: precisely by suffering the full consequences of the divine curse of judgment upon the guilt of human sin, Jesus Christ overcomes the original power of those that destroy.

 

Since Luther serves as a forerunner of the modern existential interpretation of Jesus' sufferings unto death by being struck down by the Law of God in one's conscience, he frees the Latin teaching and Anselm's motif of Christ's suffering as punishment, at the same time, from a type of moralism that is contractual and legal. Finally, in Jesus' cross and resurrection, the merciful love of God breaks right through God's own holy judgment. God does battle here with God.