Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jesus' Humiliation: Born under the Law

We continue meditating on the humiliation of Jesus. It has several steps. We are continuing in the second step, his life of suffering.

In this posting we see one aspect of this suffering: he was born under the law.

Scoffers and Schizophrenia

This is part of Jesus’ voluntary humiliation.

“God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.” (Gal 4:4-5)

Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15)

Scoffers say, “Man is born under the law. Jesus was a man. It’s no big deal that he should be under the law like the rest of us. How can you say that this was suffering and humiliation?”

Believers also have difficulty with Jesus’ life under the law. We know that Jesus is both God and man. We tend to view him as having a split personality. We are prone to thinking that it was easy for Jesus to obey the law because He is God’s Son. He obeyed, we think, from his divine nature. His human nature hardly had any part in it.

The schizophrenia is not in Jesus but in our view of him. Jesus is not schizophrenic. He is a Mediator.

The Mediator between God and Man

Our text above pictures Jesus:
  •  “God sent forth His Son” – his divinity
  •  “Born of a woman” – his humanity
  •  “Born under the law” – his humility
  • “To redeem those who were under the law” – his office as Mediator between God and man
Because Jesus is God and man, he can be the Mediator between God and Man.lace “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” (1 Tim 2:5-6)

His office as Mediator is the key. At different times, Jesus either used or chose not to use his divine powers. His decision was based on this: what was necessary to fulfill his office as Mediator.
Jesus always had divine powers. We see them break forth at times, as when he fed the five and the four thousand, raised Lazarus from the dead, cleansed lepers, and cast out demons. He did those things to fulfill prophesy and to create faith. When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent disciples asking,

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Mt 11:3-6)

Doing the prophesied divine works was necessary to mediate between John and God, and then between all of us and God. Therefore Jesus chose to use his divine powers to do the prophesied divine works.

How Jesus Humbled Himself

Usually, however, Jesus laid his divine powers aside and did not use them. While Jesus could walk on water, he usually used a boat. While he could turn water into wine and multiply loaves and fishes to feed thousands, he usually used food and drink that was furnished naturally.[1]

As Mediator, he came “to redeem those who were under the law.” To mediate, Jesus needed to be under the law in the same way as those he would redeem were under it: as humans.

Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient.” (Phil 2:8) This is the humbling: while still having full divine powers that he could have used, Jesus voluntarily laid those powers aside and did not use them.[2] Instead, he lived under the law only by human power. He could have used his divine powers, but that would not “redeem those who were under the law.”

He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Heb 2:17)

How This Is Suffering

We think it is tough for us to live under the law. We have taken the easy way out. We have given in to temptation.

In our resistance to temptation, we keep no vigil. We resist now and then. We resist for brief periods of time. We do not maintain full vigor. We experience surges in our struggle, and surges show that most of our resistance is lazy.

To keep a fully vigorous vigil would exhaust us. In Gethsemane, it actually put the disciples to sleep after one hour.

He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt 26:40-21)

Let’s not think ourselves better than these guys. These are the best disciples Jesus has. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.

“The law … was weak through the flesh.” (Rom 8:3) Jesus had to resist temptation in that weakness. Jesus’ flesh, his human nature, was weak. He had to fight from weakness, just like we would, if only we would fight. He had to watch. He had to pray. He had to defeat the Devil and the world every moment.

Under the Law for Us

As Jesus tired in his resistance to temptation, was there a temptation we don’t face? In his struggling, was He tempted to quit using only his human powers? Was he tempted right at the point of his humility, his voluntary laying aside of his divine powers? Was He tempted to pick up and use his divine powers to save his holiness?

We have our easy way out. We just give in to temptation. He had an easy way out. He could have quit his office as Mediator. He could have abandoned us in our sin. He stuck with the hard way.

[1] Pr. William P. Terjesen, “Jesus Humbled Himself”,
[2] Francis Pieper, II Christian Dogmatics, pp. 281-92. (Concordia Publishing House, 1951). The Incarnation itself is not part of the humiliation of Christ. Id., p. 292. Nor does the humbling or emptying of Christ mean that he lost his divinity, that He lost his divine powers, or that his divine powers were diminished. Id., pp. 292-01.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Jesus' Humiliation: A Holy Man of Sinners

We are meditating on the humility of Jesus.

In previous postings, we set the stage to show his humility in his voluntary humiliation. Then we began to look at the humiliation itself. It has several steps. In the last posting, we looked at the first step: his birth in poverty. We saw that Jesus, by his own humility, not by having it forced upon him, brought himself low into poverty, into nowhere, into bad reputation.

We carry on now to the second step: his life of suffering.
In every moment of his life, Jesus was a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Is 53:3) We will paint his life of suffering with a small number of brisk brushstrokes. Even limiting ourselves to that, we cannot look at it in a single posting.
In this posting we focus on one vital aspect of his life of suffering. Jesus was a holy man of sinners.

Damning Jesus by Faint Praise
Many damn Jesus by faint praise. They call him a “man of the people.” People suffer, and lowly people suffer more. They say he associated himself with people, especially lowly people. They say this shows his humility. That is true, but faint.
The faintness causes unbelievers to scoff saying, “Man suffers. Jesus was a man. It’s no big deal that he should suffer like the rest of us. What is so special about his suffering?”
What is Special about Jesus’ Suffering?
Before their fall into sin, Adam and Eve did not suffer. Everything was beautimous!
But then they turned from faith in the word of God to unbelief. Unbelief in their hearts moved their hands and feet to trespass against the law of God. Then, pain and suffering began.
To Adam, God said,
Cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread. (Gn 3:17-19)
To Eve, He said,
In pain you shall bring forth children. (Gn 3:16)
Look at our condemnation in the text: “because of you,” the ground is cursed. “Because of you,” in pain you shall eat of it. This is our blameworthy guilt: our unbelief. All havoc is wreaked by this. All pain and suffering comes from sin.
All are sinners. Well, not quite all. Here is what’s special: Jesus alone was not a sinner.
John’s Baptism of Repentance
John the Baptist preached and baptized with a baptism of repentance. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt 3:2) People were baptized by him, “confessing their sins.” (Mt 3:6) Ordinary people, tax collectors, and soldiers asked John what they should do to repent. He gave them specific answers. (Lk 3:10-1)
But then John saw people coming for baptism who were not confessing sin, who were not repenting.
He said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (Mt 3:7-8)
Without confession and repentance, John did not baptize.
Jesus Insisted on Being Baptized
John said Jesus was coming with a greater baptism.
I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Mt 3:11-12)
Who can baptize with the Holy Spirit? Who can baptize with fire? Who can burn chaff in unquenchable fire? This must be a holy person. This holy person was Jesus.
So, when Jesus came to be baptized by John,
John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. (Mt 3:14-15)
Jesus already was righteous, and fully. He came from heaven that way. He could not confess sin. He could not repent. He had no sin, nothing to repent about. So what was he talking about?
He was talking about fulfilling righteousness on our behalf. He was talking about being baptized for repentance on behalf of sinners.
Holy Suffering for Us
The atonement already was under way at the river Jordan. Jesus, a holy man, the Second Adam, already was carrying your sins. He was being baptized with a baptism of repentance for you. This was part of his fulfilling all righteousness for everyone. He was baptized for the sins of the whole world with a baptism pointing to the cross. (Mk 10:38-39; Lk 12:50)
Jesus was not just a man of the people. He was a holy man and a man of sinners. He did not just associate with people. He took the place of sinners.
Jesus’ suffering is special because he suffered innocently. None of us do that. When we suffer, it is less than we deserve. I am a farmer. I am under the curse of the ground because of my sin. I fight weeds. (Gn 3:17-18) My income tax Schedule F shows that I spend more on herbicides than on fertilizers, more even than on land, more than on anything else on the farm. This is the consequence of my sin, but God in his mercy does let me farm. I do get a crop. I suffer less than I deserve. Jesus suffered without deserving any of it.
Jesus’ suffering is special because he suffered on our behalf, in our place. We sinners are too selfish to do anything like that, and our blameworthy, guilty suffering would do no one else any good. We can’t even do ourselves any good by sorrowing or grieving. “The sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Cor 7:10 NKJV) “Worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor 7:10 ESV)
We sinners are too proud to confess and repent. The humility of Jesus is that he confessed and repented for us without himself deserving condemnation. Then he presented his confession and repentance to the Father, and the Father credited us with these merits of Christ. Christ doesn’t keep even these merits for himself, but gives his suffering life away, as a ransom for the world.

Jesus' Humiliation: Birth in Poverty

We are meditating on the humility of Jesus.

In previous postings, we set the stage to show the humility of Jesus in his voluntary humiliation. Now we are ready to look at the humiliation itself. The humiliation of Jesus has several steps. His humiliation would climax on the cross where it was severe and mind boggling. Leading to the cross was a life of raw suffering by the Man of Sorrows who was acquainted with grief.

First: his birth in poverty.

He Had Been Rich

Jesus had been rich. For our sakes, he chose poverty.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9)

Jesus had glory with the Father before the world existed. (Jn 17:5) From eternity, he was with God, in the bosom of the Father. He was a member of the Trinity, love’s eternal home, the home of perfect love. He left his riches.

Born in Poverty

Mary and Joseph were nobodies in the world’s eyes, and they were not well off.

Though he was the King, though he owned “the cattle on a thousand hills,” (Ps 50:10), Jesus was born in a barn. He was laid in straw in a manger. Maybe the straw was, umm, clean. Maybe it wasn’t. Either way, the smell was something. He was wrapped in strips of cloth, not store-bought, cute and cuddly baby clothes.

Two kinds of people visited him in his infancy: poor shepherds and foreigners, the wise men from the East. King Herod knew the King of the Jews was born in Bethlehem. That was walking distance from Jerusalem. No doubt Herod had a carriage or chariot. He didn’t visit. He was troubled by the birth of Jesus, and all Jerusalem was troubled with him. (Mt 2:3) They all knew about his birth, but none of them visited. He was beneath them.

He’s a Real Nowhere Man

The Beatles sang, “He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land.” Jesus was a nowhere man in a nowhere town for 30 of his 33 years.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth. This town was mentioned nowhere in the Old Testament. Besides that, it was mentioned nowhere in the Apocrypha (additional scriptures accepted by major branches of Christianity), nowhere by Josephus (the noted ancient Jewish historian), and nowhere in the Talmud (a central text of mainstream Judaism). American archeologist James Strange estimated that the population at the time of Jesus was no more than 480.[1]

Bad Reputation

“The people of Nazareth had established a rather poor reputation in morals and religion.”[2] The no-account and evil reputation of Nazareth is reflected in Nathaniel’s reaction to Philip’s claim that he had found the Messiah.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:45-46)

That was not a question. That was a statement. Nothing good can come out of Nazareth.

The region around Nazareth was considered bad, and Nazareth was its worst. Nazareth was in Galilee, and Galilee is called not “Galilee of the Jews,” but “Galilee of the Gentiles” or “Galilee of the Nations.” (Is 9:1) In other words, Jews of Judea hardly considered Galilee, much less Nazareth, part of their country. It was “of the Nations,” not of Israel.

So here is a 30 year old carpenter from a nowhere town with a bad reputation in a land of Gentiles who owns no property but the clothes he is wearing, and he is supposed to be the King of the Jews. Fat chance, says Nathanael.

Lower than the Animals

After seeing Jesus perform miracles, a scribe came to Jesus and tried to enlist as a disciple. He said, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.'' Jesus did not turn him away, but he wanted the man to know what he was letting himself in for.

And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.'' (Mt 8:20)

Nowhere to lay his head. Jesus, while inaugurating his kingdom with miracles, was still the nowhere man.

Jesus is the Son of God and the King of the Gospel. But in answering that scribe, Jesus called himself the Son of Man. Jesus demoted himself in title. He demoted himself in property. He demoted himself in comfort. His words placed him not only lower than God; they even point lower than animals.

Though the humble animals can count on places of rest and comfort, Jesus, who possesses unparalleled authority, nevertheless will not carry out a ministry that secures this comfort and stability for himself or (by implication) for his disciples.[3]

Other people had regular houses, but not Jesus. In one scene we see that, “Everyone went to his own house. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” (Jn 7:53-8:1)

Our Greed and His Poverty

When Jesus' parents appeared for Mary's purification in the Temple, they offered a pair of turtledoves. (Lk 2:24) This was the usual offering of the poor. "If she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves." (Lev 12:8) When Jesus was challenged to pay the Temple tax, he did not have a shekel. He had a disciple get one, by miracle, from the mouth of a fish. (Mt 17:27) When he died, he made no will. He had no burial plot, no tomb. A secret disciple put his body in one of his tombs. (Lk 23:50-53) He could not provide for his mother. From the cross he put her into the care of his disciple. "And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home." (Jn 19:27) Jesus had no home.

Today we think it is awful suffering to be foreclosed out of a $400,000 house and be forced to rent a $175,000 house. We live above ourselves. We do not act our wage. Ours is only a case of being brought to our right station.

But Jesus was the King of the Gospel. He should have been exalted. But he was brought low into poverty, into nowhere, into bad reputation. He was not a victim. This was not forced on him. His own humility brought on his humiliation. He made himself poor, “so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)

1.  E. Meyers & J. Strange, Archaeology, the Rabbis, & Early Christianity Nashville: Abingdon, 1981; Article “Nazareth” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
2.  Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 574.
3.  Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 1:1-11:1, Concordia Commentary, pp. 433-34.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Volunteer for Humiliation

In the last two postings we have seen that the gospel is the Gospel of the Kingdom, and that Jesus is the King of the Gospel. That is the context of Jesus’ humiliation. The context lets us see that in his humiliation, Jesus was humble.

When a lowly person remains low, that is not a humiliation. When an exalted person is forcibly brought low, that is a humiliation, but the person is not necessarily humble. He is humiliated by force, not by his own humility.

Jesus’ humility can be seen in this:
  • As King of the Gospel, Jesus should be exalted, but Jesus was humiliated.
  • Jesus’ humiliation was voluntary. His own humility brought on his humiliation.
In this posting, we consider Jesus as a volunteer for humiliation. In further postings, we will look at the humiliation itself.

A Volunteer, not a Victim

Before we look at Jesus’ humiliation, we need to realize that he was not a victim. Jesus was humiliated because he volunteered to be humiliated. No one forced it on him.

He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Eph 2:8)

Jesus knew that he was going to be humiliated.

He began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.” (Mk 10:32-34)

When Jesus was arrested, one of his disciples tried to prevent the humiliation. Jesus rebuked him because he wanted to fulfill the Scriptures.

One of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. … Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled?’” (Mt 26:51-54)

Jesus said no one was taking his life from him, but he was laying it down.

I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. (Jn 10:17-18)

Obeying His Father’s Commandment

Some object to saying that Jesus volunteered. They point out that the Father gave Jesus a commandment to lay down his life, so he was not a volunteer.

This is a half truth. The part about the command of the Father is true. Above I quoted John 10:17-18, but not completely. I left out the last part of verse 18. The whole verse says:

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (Jn 10:18)

True enough. The Father charged Jesus to lay down his life. The command does not prevent Jesus from being a volunteer. The text still says, “I lay it down of my own accord.” The Father commands, and Jesus accords.

What is Freedom?

Sinners view commandments as enslaving. We feel that being told what to do is oppressive. When we consider whether a commandment from the Father made Jesus a victim rather than a volunteer, we have to remember: Jesus was not a sinner. His view would not be like ours. For Jesus, to obey the commandments of his Father is freedom, not victimhood.

Jesus knows what freedom and slavery are. On our own, we do not.

They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. (John 8:33-34)

When they said, we have never been enslaved to anyone, they left out a few things.
  • The enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt.
  • Seven cycles of enslavement of Israel to the Philistines in the book of Judges.
  • The Babylonian Captivity of Israel.
  • Their enslavement to the Roman Empire at the very moment when they denied ever being anyone’s slave.

We are like them. We leave out that we are slaves to the Devil, the World, and the Sinful Self. We like it this way. By nature we have no understanding of freedom, no capacity for it, and no desire for it. We are like Israel after the Exodus. They looked back at Egypt and hankered for it. We also hanker for the World.

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (Gal 4:3)

Two Adams and their Wills

Adam was created with a free will. He decided to sin, and that was the last decision he made. After that, his will was in bondage to sin. He no longer had the power to choose Christ.

Jesus is the Second Adam. (1 Cor 15:45-49 ; Rm 5:12-21) He descended from Mary, but not from Joseph. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He was born without sin. Like the first Adam before his fall into sin, Jesus, the Second Adam, had free will. Unlike the first Adam, he retained his freedom. He retained it by obeying his Father’s commandment.

Jesus was free, and he was the only man on earth who was free since the fall. He was free to obey his Father, which no son of Adam could do. In this freedom, Jesus volunteered to be humiliated by obeying his Father’s command to take on himself the sins of the whole world.

King of the Gospel

In a prior posting, we considered the Humility of the Father. Because the Trinity includes the Father and the Son as distinct Persons, humility is possible. The Father exalts the Son, not himself. Without the Trinity, humility is abolished. Humility is something a one-person god cannot do. A one-person god has no one but himself to exalt.

We will consider the humility of Jesus. To see his humility, however, it is helpful to set the facts of his voluntary humiliation in context. The context is: the kingdom and the King. The King should be exalted, but Jesus was humiliated – voluntarily.

In the last posting, we saw the kingdom. We saw that the gospel is the “gospel of the kingdom.” John the Baptist, Jesus, the Twelve, the Seventy-Two, and the Apostles preached the kingdom. The Beatitudes begin and end with the kingdom. Typically, a parable of Christ is a parable of the kingdom. They begin, “The kingdom of heaven is like …” Jesus told us to “seek first the kingdom of God.” We must be born again and converted, but why: so that we can see and enter the kingdom. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come.”

In this posting, we will see the King.

David’s Throne

God sent Nathan to tell David:

I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. (2 Sam 7:12-14)

The pious longings of faithful Jews during the time between the Testaments looked forward to the coming of a powerful, victorious king who would be a son of David. Matthew provided the genealogy of Jesus showing that he is a son of “David the king.” (Mt. 1:6) This qualified Jesus to sit on David’s throne.

David’s City

Luke records that because of the Roman census,

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. (Lk 2:4-5)

So Jesus was born in the city of David the king.

Homage of the Wise Men

Wise men came from the east looking for Jesus. The asked King Herod,

Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. (Mt 2:2)

Jesus had a royal star. The wise men recognized it. They found Jesus and paid him homage as a king. They gave him gifts fit for a king.

John the Baptist Announced the Kingdom

John the Baptist came ahead of Jesus to “prepare the way of the Lord.” (Is 40:3; Mt 3:3) He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt 3:2)

What does this mean? The kingdom of heaven was at hand because Jesus was at hand. Where the King is reigning, there is the kingdom. The word translated as “kingdom” means the “acting reign” of a king.

To speak of a “reign” is to imply that a king is present to act as such, “to reign.” If “the reign of heaven/God” stands near, then the God of heaven has come down to reign, to perform his kingly deeds. Thus, the reign of God is not primarily a place. Rather, it is a divine action that occurs where Jesus is, through his words and deeds. … The reign of God is in Jesus. (Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 1:1-11:1, Concordia Commentary, pp. 48-49, emphasis in original)

John’s message was, “The King has come and he going to actively reign, so repent.”

Herod Attempted Regicide

For Herod, the gospel of the kingdom of Jesus was not good news. It was troubling news. When he heard the wise men say that the “King of Jews” had been born, “he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Mt 2:3) Notice: all Jerusalem was troubled with Herod. Jesus as king had notoriety.

Herod had coined the title “King of the Jew” for himself. Now some other “King of the Jews” had a star in the sky and foreigners visiting to worship him. Pretty gutsy of those foreigners to ask the “King of the Jews” where they could find the King of the Jews.

To rid himself of his infant rival, Herod “killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under.” (Mt 2:16) The mothers (described as Rachel), and probably some fathers too, wept so that their crying was heard loudly. (Mt 2:18) They knew what was going on. Jesus as king had notoriety.

The Sanhedrin and Rome Achieved Regicide

The rulers of Israel had superficially different reasons than Herod for wanting to kill the King. Because of Roman occupation, they did not have the power to carry out capital punishment. They had to arouse the Romans to execute Jesus. They did this by charging that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews. This would make Jesus a rebel against Caesar and subject to capital punishment.

Their timing was opportune. Jesus had just made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem with crowds shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Mt 21:9) “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mk 11:10) “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (Jn 12:13) The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Mt. 27:11) Jesus as king had notoriety.

This happened at the time of the Feast of the Passover. Pilate had a custom of releasing to the Jews at the feast one prisoner whom they could choose. A crowd came and asked Pilate to follow this custom again. Pilate brought out to the crowd Jesus and a rebel named Barabbas. Pilate said to the crowd, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” (Mk 15:9) Jesus as king had notoriety.

The crowd demanded that Pilate release Barabbas and crucify the King of the Jews. Pilate ordered Jesus executed by crucifixion, “and over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’” (Mt 27:37)

Jesus as king was killed in front of the nation and world. Israel was at the tri-way crossroads between Rome, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. The world was always passing through. At the Passover, Jews from the world over made pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Israel was like a server on the Internet transmitting data packets heralding the crucifixion of the King of the Jews to the whole world.

Prominence of the Kingdom and the King

The last posting showed the prominence of the kingdom and that the gospel is the gospel of the kingdom. In this posting we have seen the notoriety of Jesus as the King.

This is the context of the voluntary humiliation of Jesus: the kingdom and the King. As King, Jesus should be exalted. Instead, he is humiliated – voluntarily. With this context in mind, we are ready to consider next the humility of Jesus.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gospel of the Kingdom

We have been considering in a series of postings the importance of the Trinity to the ordinary Christian. We have considered love, fellowship, obedience, forsakenness, submission, and atonement. The Trinity is vital to all of these. We saw that without the Trinity, love and the atonement are abolished. Love and atonement are not things a one-person god can do.

We reached the point of saying, “The Trinity shows humility, and humility shows the Trinity.” We considered the Humility of the Father. The Father exalts the Son, not himself. We will consider the humility of Jesus and the Spirit.

To see the humility of Jesus, however, it is helpful to set the facts of his voluntary humiliation in context. An important part of the context is this: the gospel is the gospel of the kingdom. This posting provides this context for future postings.

400 Years of Silence

Between the Old and New Testaments, between Malachi and Matthew there are 400 years of silence. God never said anything to Israel. Suddenly John the Baptist appeared. Through John, these are the first words from God in four centuries: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt 3:2)

When John was put into prison, Jesus began preaching. These are the first words publicly preached by the long-awaited Messiah: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15)

How Jesus Divides the Word of God

“The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached.” (Lk 16:6)

What Jesus Preached

Jesus explained the seed in the parable of the sower. “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.” (Mt 13:19).

Jesus’ most famous sermon is the Sermon on the Mount. It begins with the Beatitudes. They begin and end with the kingdom. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3) “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:10)

Between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus taught his disciples. What he taught them was the kingdom. “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)

What the Twelve and Seventy-Two Preached

Jesus sent out the Twelve. “He called the twelve together and … sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:1-2)

Jesus sent out the Seventy-Two. “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. ... Whenever you enter a town ... say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Lk 9:1-2, 9)

What the Apostles Preached

After his ascension, Jesus sent the Apostles. They preached the kingdom. Here are examples:

  • Phillip in Samaria – “When they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized.” (Acts 8:12)
  • Paul for 3 months in Ephesus – “He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8)
  • Paul for 2 years in Rome at the end of his life – “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:30-31)

What the Parables are About

Typically, a parable of Christ is a parable of the kingdom.

  • The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. (Mt 13:24)
  • The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. (Mt 13:31)
  • The kingdom of heaven is like leaven. (Mt 13:33)
  • The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. (Mk 4:26)
  • The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. (Mt 13:44)
  • The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls. (Mt 13:45)
  • The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet.t (Mt 13:47)
  • The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. (Mt 18:23)
  • The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. (Mt 20:1)
  • The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son. (Mt 22:2)
  • The kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. (Mt 25:1)
  • The kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country. (Mt 25:14)

How Jesus Rates the Importance of the Kingdom

Jesus rates the importance of the kingdom highly.

  • It is what we are to seek first. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Mt 6:33)
  • It is more important than burying our dead. “Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.’” (Lk 9:60)
  • It is where history is going; the end of the world is keyed to preaching the kingdom in all the world. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Mt 24:14)

We Must Be Born Again, but Why?

The purpose of being born again is so that we can see and enter the kingdom.

Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.'' Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?'' Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (Jn 3:3-5)

We Must Be Converted, but Why?

The purpose of being converted is so that we can enter the kingdom

Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:4)

What the Thief on the Cross Wanted

The kingdom is what the thief on the cross asked for and was promised. “Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’”(Lk 23:42)

There is much more showing that the gospel is the gospel of the kingdom, but the examples given here are enough to alert us to the prominence of the kingdom.

With this context of the prominence of the kingdom, and that the gospel is the gospel of the kingdom, in the next posting we will consider the focus on Jesus as the King to round out the context of his voluntary humiliation.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Humility of the Father

The Trinity shows humility, and humility shows the Trinity.

In this posting, we consider the humility of the Father.

Baptism of Jesus

When Jesus was baptized,

he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11).

The Father glorified Jesus by saying:
  • Jesus is His Son
  • the Father loves Jesus
  • the Father is well pleased with Jesus
The Father glorifies his Son; He does not glorify Himself. The Father is humble.

This is true because of the Trinity. The words “Father” and “Son” are not just different titles for one person. Though God is one, yet God is three distinct Persons. At his baptism, Jesus is not practicing ventriloquism. He is not throwing his voice to sound as if it is coming from heaven and saying of himself, “With you I am well pleased.” That would be one person saying how pleased he is with himself. That would be vainglory. Because of the Trinity, the voice really is from heaven. The voice really is from another Person, the Father. The Father is not speaking of himself, but of another Person, the Son.

Wilderness Temptation of Jesus

Immediately after his baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. (Mark 1:11-12) The Father had just said to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son.” What does the Devil say?

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3)

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here [the pinnacle of the Temple].” (Luke 4:9)

The temptation was to unbelief. The temptation was to doubt the word of the Father. The Father had just lately said, “You are my beloved Son.” The Devil immediately says, “If you are the Son of God.”

If Jesus were to test the Father to prove his sonship, that would arise from a sensation that the Father’s word alone was not sufficient. A humble Person’s mere words are sufficient. It is not a humble Person who needs to be tested, whose words need to be proved. The self-glorification of vain persons calls for testing their claims, but Jesus knew the humility of the Father.

Transfiguration of Jesus

When Jesus was transfigured,

a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matt. 17:5)

In this, the Father repeats the three previous glorifications at the baptism, and He adds a fourth glorification of Jesus, saying:
  • listen to him
The Father directs attention away from Himself to his Son. The Father is humble.

Opposition to Jesus

When Jesus experienced conflict and opposition, he was stable and assured by his Father. When people said to him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me.” (John 8:54)

Jesus had not been destabilized by temptation from the Devil, and he did not lose his assurance by opposition from people. He trusted the Father to glorify him.

Resurrection of Jesus

When Jesus was resurrected, the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to a mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matt 28:18)

The Father gave all authority in heaven and on earth to Jesus. The Father is humble.

Ascension of Jesus

When Jesus had died, was buried, and was resurrected, He ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. (Acts 2:32)

God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11)

The Father adds more glorifications of Jesus:
  • highly exalted him
  • gave him the name above all names
  • at the name of Jesus, every knee everywhere should bow
  • every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
The Father is a busy Person. He is busy glorifying his Son. He tells his Son to rest at his right hand while the Father does the work of defeating the Son’s enemies.

Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. (Acts 2:34; 13:33; Heb 1:13; Psalm 110:1)

Yes, the Philippians text also says this is “to the glory of God the Father.” It is to the Father’s glory that He rejoices in someone’s glory besides his own. He rejoices in Jesus’ glory, and he busies himself with glorifying Jesus.

Marriage of Jesus and the Church

When the church is resurrected, she will ascend into heaven. At that time, the Father will make something of a production. The production will not center on the Father himself. It will center on Jesus, the Lamb of God, and his marriage to the church.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

For the Lord our God
   the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
   and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
   and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
   with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev. 19:6-9)

The Father continues into eternity humble. Because of the Trinity, the Father’s continuing exaltation of the Son really is the glorification not of himself, but of Another.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Being clear on the Trinity let’s us know Jesus.

In previous postings we have seen that the Trinity lets us make sense of the:
In this posting we look farther into his life and death of obedience by considering his submission to his Father. The Trinity lets us see the reality of his submission.

Suppose there were no Trinity. Suppose “Father” and “Son” were just different titles for the same person as in the error Modalism. What would it mean to say that Jesus submitted to his Father? Is there any such thing as submission with only one person?

Prayer in Gethsemane

Shortly before his death on the cross, Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.

Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:38-39)

If God were a one-person god, Jesus would be talking only to Himself. He would not be submitting to anyone but Himself. He would not be giving up His will for the will of His Father. He would be only self-willed.

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. There is a conflict of wills. The Son says, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

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

This conflict of wills was resolved by submission. The Son submitted to the Father. In Gethsemane we are not viewing melodrama. Because of the Trinity, both the conflict and the submission are real.

Submission Should be More Unpopular

Submission is not popular. Its unpopularity is easy to illustrate. Consider this text: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Eph 5:22). This cuts against the grain of our human nature.

Let’s be clear why it does. It cuts against our grain because this is the submission of one person to another. The words “wife” and “husband” are not just two titles for one person, even though in marriage husband and wife are one flesh. They really refer to different persons. That’s what makes submission real, and that’s what makes submission unpopular. If somehow submission let one person follow his or her own will, the unpopularity would evaporate.

Part of the unpopularity arises from our human nature being fallen. That is a topic for another time. Another part of the unpopularity, however, arises for a legitimate reason. Submission can be distorted into slavery. In a servile type of submission, a slaver, a pusher, a driver lords it over another who is subjugated.

Slavery and subjugation should be unpopular. I say, they should be more unpopular than they are. That fact is that everyone who accepts a one-person god has accepted slavery and subjugation. Without the Trinity, submission is something god never does. Without the Father and the Son, submission is something god demands from man but never lifts a finger himself to do.

Islam: Submission to a god who never submits

Ironically, Islam provides a handy way to show the senselessness of the submission of Christ without the Trinity. “Islam” means “submission.”

A “Muslim” is “one who submits” or “one who commits himself to Islam.”  The word Islam [comes from a word] meaning “to accept,” “to submit,” “to commit oneself,” and means “submission” or “surrender.” (John B. Noss, Man’s Religions, p. 507 (Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York 1974).

In Islam, Allah asks people to submit. Does Allah submit? To whom might he? Perhaps he could submit to people or angels. The Koran never shows Allah submitting to people or angels. Since Allah is a one-person god, there is no one else to whom he could submit.

Islam presents the strange situation of a religion asking people to do something its god does not do. Allah only does his own will. He is self-willed, never submitting to anyone.

Divine Submission, Divine Companionship

When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he really is a leader.  He has gone before us. He is not asking us to do what He himself never would do. Christ is ahead of us, submitting to his Father, and asking us to submit with him. His name is Immanuel, God with us. When we submit to the Father, Jesus is our companion in submission.

During World War II, a general gave his army a command to march a great distance in a blizzard. The march involved hard suffering. Think of the grumbling. During the march, the general was seen in the line, trudging in the snow and leaning into the freezing wind. There was less grumbling than there would have been otherwise. This general did not ask his soldiers to do what he himself never would do.

Because of the Trinity, submission is divine. Submission is something God does. When God asks us to submit, he is asking no more than he does himself.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph. 5:1-2)


Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Being clear on the Trinity let’s us know Jesus.

In previous postings we have seen that the Trinity lets us make sense of the identity and work of Jesus (Withness: the God of Bosom // Forsakenness). Next we consider how the Trinity lets us make sense of his life and death.

How did Jesus explain his life?

How are we to understand the life of Jesus? What was He doing? What does His life mean? Jesus Himself explained this.

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:34)

Jesus speaks in practical, vital terms. Instead of using philosophical sounding words like “my purpose” or “the meaning” of my life, he uses the words “my food.”  More than the meaning of His life, more than His mission, more than His purpose, to do the will of His Father is Jesus’ food.

What happens to people without food? First they get hungry. They become faint. Then they starve. Finally, they die. This is how Jesus wants us to understand the place in His life of doing His Father’s will. He has no life without doing the will of his Father.

Obedience or Self-Will

Suppose there were no Trinity. Suppose “Father” and “Son” were just different titles for the same person as the error of Modalism. Then what would it mean to say that Jesus came to do the will of His Father? Is there any such thing as obedience with only one person? Wouldn’t that be just one person doing his own will? Instead of being an obedient person, wouldn’t Jesus be just a self-willed person?

Without the Trinity, we can make no sense of the life of Christ. With the Trinity, the obedience of Jesus to his Father makes sense. It really is obedience of one Person to Another.

In another place, Jesus said,

I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 5:30)

In this saying, Jesus makes an awful lot depend upon the Trinity.  He can do nothing on his own. He cannot judge without hearing from the Father. His judgment is righteous because He seeks not His own will but the will of the Father. Take away the Trinity and Jesus cannot judge. Take away His obedience to His Father and Jesus judges unrighteously. To understand his life and work, we must know Jesus through the Trinity.

His Obedience our Salvation

This matter of obedience, this Trinity event of Jesus doing the will of the Father, is vital to our salvation.

All that the Father gives me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.  For I have come down from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.  (John 6:37-39)

Why won’t Jesus ever cast out one who comes to him? He won’t “for I have come … not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” On the last day, Jesus will resurrect all who come to him. Why? “This is the will of the Father who sent Me.”

If The Father and the Son were just one person using two names, what sense would it make for Jesus to say he came not to do his own will but the Father’s will? There would be no difference of wills without a difference of Persons. His claim would turn into a sham. What makes his claim real is that, with the Trinity, the difference of Persons is real. Therefore his obedience is real.

Obedience to the Point of Death

We have seen that the Trinity makes sense of the life and work of Christ.  Also prominent in our faith is the death of Christ.  What sense can we make of his death?  He volunteered to die on the cross. What was He doing?

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. (Heb 5:8-9)

Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-8)

The voluntary death of Christ on the cross was a Trinity event. The Son obeyed his Father. Without the Trinity, without the will of the Father, without the Son obeying his Father’s will, there would have been no death of Christ on the cross, and there would be no resurrection from the dead for us. The Trinity makes the obedience of Jesus real, and that obedience is key in our salvation.

For as by the one man's [Adam’s] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's [Christ’s] obedience the many will be made righteous. (Rom. 5:19)


Sunday, February 6, 2011


At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  (Mark 15:34)

When Jesus cried "My God, My God," what was He doing? Was He just crying to Himself? In a god of only one person like the Modalism of today's church, there would be no other person to whom Jesus could cry. Modalism would say something about this cry and who Jesus is. The Trinity says something vastly different. Who is Jesus? Why was he crying?

Psychological Self-Talk

In the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Spirit are one God, but different Persons. Those who reject the Trinity must see the experience of Jesus on the cross as one person forsaking himself and crying out to himself. They try to psychologize the cross away.

They see heaven as being in touch with oneself rather than in touch with the Father. They see hell as being alienated from oneself rather than being alienated from the Father. Theirs is a doctrine of self from beginning to end. With their doctrine of self-esteem, they view Jesus’ cry as negative self-talk. They view it as dysfunctional and out of touch with reality.

This self-esteem doctrine is heartless. It refuses Jesus a fair hearing of his cry. It can't be bothered with listening.

Psalm 22

Jesus was reciting Psalm 22. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1)

In  Psalm 22, David is the prophet of the crucifixion of Jesus. This Psalm is loaded with the facts of the cross. The facts all point to a real forsakenness of one Person by Another.
  • "They have pierced my hands and feet." (v 16b)

    Thomas "said to them, 'Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.' Eight days later ... [Jesus] said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here, see my hands; and put out hand, and place it in my side." (John 20:25-27)
  • "They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots." (v 18)

    "They crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take." (Mark 15:24)
  • "All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 'He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!'" (vv. 7-8)

    "Those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ... 'If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.' So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ... 'He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him.'" (Matthew 27:39-44)
  • "My tongue sticks to my jaws." (v 15)

    "I thirst." (John 19:28)
  • "All my bones are out of joint." (v 14)

    Hanging by nails through the wrists, the body sags. After some hours, bones go out of joint.
  • "My heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast."

    Among many medical effects was "congestive heart failure with the rapid accumulation of pericardial and perhaps pleural effusions." (William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, Floyd H. Hosmer, "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ," The Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986).

Facts are Stubborn Things

For those who reject the Trinity, somehow everything here is real except the forsakenness of Jesus. Real hands, feet, cross, nails, piercings, division of garments, casting of lots, mocking, wagging of heads, insults in the exact words prophesied by David, real tongue, sticking of tongue to jaw, thirst, bones, disjoining of bones, heart, and real melting of heart.

For them, somehow his cry is only negative self-talk. There is no forsakenness. He is just out of touch with himself. He’s just lacking self-esteem. If only Jesus would realize the words Father and Son are only different titles of one person. Then he would realize that he is the Father. He needs to stop esteeming the Father as if the Father really were another Person.

But facts are stubborn things. The fact of forsakenness is like all the other facts of the cross. All those facts are real, and this really is forsakenness. It is one Person abandoned by Another. It is the Son who had always been “in the bosom of the Father” under the wrath of God.

An actual and dreadful separation took place between the Father and the Son; it was voluntarily accepted by both the Father and the Son; it was due to our sins and their just reward; and Jesus expressed this horror of great darkness, this God-forsakenness, by quoting the only verse of Scripture which accurately described it, and which he had perfectly fulfilled, namely, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, InterVarsity Press, p. 81)

Wrath: a Trinity Event

Wrath is God’s holy reaction to evil. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18) Before the cross, we all “were by nature children of wrath.” (Eph 2:3)

On the cross, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21). When Jesus took our place, God’s wrath was poured out on his Son for us. This pouring was a Trinity event. The Father forsook his Son. The Son died.

Before Jesus volunteered to take it for us, that cross was ours. The sin and evil were ours. The punishment of sin was ours.

This is where the real rub lies with the forsakenness deniers, wrath deniers, and Trinity deniers. They deny their sin. In their view, they have no sin problem, only low self-esteem. Low self-esteem calls for therapy, not wrath. It calls for a support group, not forsakenness. The cross is an offense, a scandal because it tells us how evil we are. It tells what had to be done to atone for our sin. It tells us Who it had to be done to.

The Trinity shows us who Jesus is. Jesus is the Son forsaken by the Father. Jesus is no victim. Jesus is a volunteer savior. There is a vast difference between a victim and a volunteer. Jesus is both Volunteer and Victor, because of his other-esteem for his Father, and for you and me.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Withness: the God of Bosom

John calls Jesus "the Word." Using that name, John reveals who Jesus is. He is the divine person who was with the Father before creation. He is the divine person who became a man.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Considering John’s original Jewish audience, this style of writing was intended to remind readers of Genesis 1, "In the beginning, God created." John is indicating that the Word is God by showing that the Word preceded creation and "all things were made through him." Then John says it directly, "the Word was God."

By identifying the Word as Jesus and saying the Word became flesh, we know that the Word is a man, a person with human nature.

John also says, "the Word was with God." Does it make sense to say that one person is with himself? What does John want us to understand by saying not only that the Word was God, but that the Word was with God?  What does withness add to our understanding of who Jesus is?

Withness means a difference of persons by showing their fellowship. When John says "the Word was with God," he reveals the Father and the Son as different persons who are fellowshipping together. The combination of "was God" and "with God" shows the Trinity. The Father is God. The Word is God. The Word is with God. The Father and Son are different persons but still one God.

Face to Face

There are thirteen words in the Greek New Testament that are all translated into English as "with." John uses a particular one of those when he says "the Word was with God." The English word washes color out of picture. The phrase could be translated, "the Word was facing towards God," or the Word was "face to face with God," meaning that the Word had a "living relationship, intimate converse," with God.

Richard C. H. Lenski, a linguist, explains John’s meaning this way:
The idea is that of presence and communion with a strong note of reciprocity. The Logos [Word], then, is not an attribute inhering in God, or a power emanating from him, but a person in the presence of God and turned in loving, inseparable communion toward God, and God turned equally toward Him. He was another and yet not other than God. (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel, Augsburg Publishing House, 1943, p. 32).

As revealing as Greek word study can be, the truth of Jesus is clear enough in our English translations. John says:
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:18)
Withness means that Jesus is in the bosom of the Father. Here is a word we can see, we can handle, we can touch. Here is a word we know: bosom.  Jesus is in the bosom of the Father. Skip the dead illustrations of the Trinity and get sight of this picture: bosom.

By this we understand the Trinity for sure. John could not be saying that the words Father and Son are just two titles for one person so that the Father is in His own bosom. No, one person is in another’s bosom. God is the God of bosom, the Triune God.

Bosom and Betrayal

John uses the word "bosom" another time where a contrast highlights what "bosom" is.
When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said,"Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me." Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it." And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. (John 13:21-26)
Betrayal and bosom. Such a contrast! Judas in betrayal of Jesus while John is in the bosom of Jesus. See the intimacy of John leaning on Jesus’ bosom, turned toward Him, face to face, speaking and being spoken to, asking a secret and being told a secret, a momentous secret. Even Peter is not leaning on Jesus’ bosom. Only John is. Only John is told. Peter must ask John. This gives some picture to our physical eyes of how, in the spiritual realm, the only begotten Son is in the bosom of the Father.

A Lamb like a Daughter

The prophet Nathan, when confronting David over his sin with Bathsheba, used the word "bosom" in a tender image.
Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. (II Samuel 12:1-3)
That lamb lay in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Jesus, Lamb of God, is in the bosom of the Father, and He is son to Him.

Through the Trinity, we know who Jesus is. Lord, let the sight of Jesus in the bosom of the Father touch our hearts.

No Dead Illustrations of the Trinity

We know we are supposed to believe in the Trinity so, when asked, we say we do. But for many of us, it is a distant truth. It seems academic or technical. It is often out of mind and has yet to touch our hearts.

Part of the trouble is the illustrations of the Trinity generally used. For example, I've heard it compared to an egg: the yolk, white, and shell.

The paradox involved in the "one and three" is never enlightened by inanimate examples such as ice, water, and steam; three leaf clovers; or that the sun is round, hot and light. The most enlightening path is to keep as close to scripture and the actual saving experiences of Christians as possible. To do otherwise is to worship (and become like) something less than human. (C. Fitzsimons Allison, The Cruelty of Heresy, p. 72)

The usual illustrations sap the personhood, life, love, and saving acts right out of the Trinity. That's what deprives the Trinity as presented of its intimacy in our salvation, life, love, and destiny. It doesn't have to be that way.