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Posts Tagged ‘christology’

From this sermon on Matthew 1:1-17 preached yesterday.

Jesus was the One Person who could choose both His friends and His family.

And He chose a family full of liars, prostitutes, murderers, adulterers and idolaters.   All of us would want to cover up the skeleton’s in this genealogical closet.  But on the contrary the bible goes out of its way to emphasize the scandalous origins of Jesus of Nazareth.

He is not ashamed to call them brothers (Heb 2:11).

Not only is Jesus the ‘friend of sinners’ (Matthew 11:19).  That would be wonderful enough.  But He goes further.  He’s not simply our friend.  He chooses to be family.  He is not just a divine visitor condescending to sit at table with us.  Not just the Angel of the LORD granting us favours.  No, God the Son becomes God our Brother.  Born into our race, grafted into our family tree, forever sharing in our humanity.  He draws very near.  Bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh – now and forever more.  Truly He is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23).

And He does all this to end our exile.  Matthew 1:17 is clear that Jesus ends the exile.  Not Zerubabbel or Nehemiah or Ezra – Jesus.  Estrangement from God is over in the presence of Jesus.  He says plainly “The time has come, the kingdom of God has drawn near.  Repent and believe the gospel.”  (Mark 1:15)  Fellowship with the Most High is simply given to us in Jesus.

And this is why the 3 fourteens are stressed by Matthew (1:17).  42 generations from the foundation of Israel until her Messiah comes.  In months, the number 42 represents a time of suffering.  It is three and a half years – perfection (7) split in two.  (Rev 11:2ff; 13:5).  But considered as multiples of 7, we have six sevens.  And any time you have a six in the bible – you’re just waiting for the seventh.  Jesus is the seventh seven.  The Sabbath of sabbaths.  The complete rest.  And His reign will usher in the true Jubilee.  (Deut 25:8ff)  At the end of His seven, the trumpet will sound and Jubilee begins.  (Jubilee means ram’s horn!)  And it’s Jesus who ends the exile.

The Son has become our Brother to bring us to the Father. And in this reconciliation the whole creation is freed.

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Preached on John 1:1-2 this morning (audio here).

My last two points were this:

Jesus is God-sized

and

God is Jesus-shaped

 

I wonder whether much of our evangelism is aimed at persuading people of point number one.  And I wonder whether that emphasis, if divorced from the second point, is quite dangerous.

Here’s what I mean – when we tell an unbeliever that Jesus is God, this is what they hear:  “You know the god of the pub discussion – the distant, arm-chair deity, uninvolved and uncaring?  That god is who Jesus is!”

“Oh” says the unbeliever.  “Because Jesus looks quite different to that.”

“Yeah, I know” we say.  “But you need to look past all that stuff.  Whatever you see in Jesus that doesn’t look like ‘the god you’ve always believed in’ – that’s just Jesus’ human nature.  No, that’s dispensible.  What you really need to know is that Jesus is God.”

And what’s the result?  Well how many Christian testimonies run something like this…

“I have always believed in some kind of god.  And then I met Jesus.  And the preacher told me that Jesus is the god-I-always-believed-in.”

Do you see what’s happened here?  Some supposed natural knowledge of God is determining a person’s view of Christ and determining it from the outset.

It should be the other way around.  Knowledge of Jesus should revolutionize our view of God. We should tell people not only that Jesus is God-sized, we should tell them that God is entirely Jesus-shaped.

As Archbishop Michael Ramsey once said (riffing on 1 John 1:5): “God is Christlike, and in Him there is no unchristlikeness at all.”

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“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4:12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of him (1 Corinthians 1:30). If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects (Hebrews 2:17) that he might learn to feel our pain (Hebrews 5:2). If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross (Galatians 3:13); if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other”.

Calvin’s Institutes, II.xvi.19

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From Stand Firm in Faith

Any number of things madden me about this:

1. If Jesus is a ‘mechanism’ for Schori – she ain’t a sister.  She’s just not.  If Jesus is incidental to the identity of ‘God’ she’s got the wrong god.

2. Apparently Schori looks to fruits of the Spirit in religious teachers to demonstrate their closeness to God.  But then for ‘conservatives’ to insist on the confession of Christ as Lord amounts to works.

3. Her arguments are about the Abrahamic faiths – but just how does the Dali Lama fit into this?  Is he an anonymous Abrahamite?  Just who is the ‘God’ who’s in charge of this ‘salvation’?  Apparently he’s not even as specific as the God of Abraham.  Apparently His identity just isn’t important.

But one other thought:

4.  I believe we Evangelicals are a bit hamstrung when it comes to answering Schori whileever we remain unclear that Jesus just is the God of Abraham.  When our own reasoning also runs along the lines of “Jesus is essential for us, but not for them” our opposition to this teaching will not be as strong as it should be.

Just a thought.

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The dumb thing about blogging is that you’re always burying your old stuff with whatever nonsense occured to you in the shower that morning.  Almost 500 posts on it occurs to me that newer is not necessarily better and, apart from Bobby, I’m not sure how many of you were following the blog from the beginning.  So because of that (and because I’m lazy!), I’ll repost some older stuff.  Probably not every Thursday, but getting old stuff out of the freezer on Thawsdays appeals to me.  Anyway, here’s my third ever post.  It’s called:

God is not revealed in His Twin

This should be very obvious, but we easily forget it.  Even in the verses that most directly uphold the full and complete revelation of the Father in the Son, the differentiation of Father and Son are also prominently in view:

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3)

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Col 1:15)

“…see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God… For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:4-6)

The Father is perfectly revealed, not by His Twin, not by a Clone, but by Someone who is His Complement.  The Father is revealed in His Son, the Firstborn, His Image, His right-hand Man-Priest.  Self-differentiation is at the heart of God’s revelation.  Jesus is not the same as His Father and yet fully reveals Him. More than this – this difference is of the essence of the divine self-disclosure.  Self-differentiation in communion is the being of God – all of this is perfectly revealed in, by and through Jesus of Nazareth.

Now to say that Jesus is other to His Father is not an Arian position.  On the contrary this is a determination to see Jesus’ revelation as a full disclosure of the life of God.  It was Arius who would leave us short of full revelation in Jesus.  Here we are embracing the otherness of Father and Son as the very deepest revelation of the divine nature. It is because of His equality with the Father that Christ’s otherness must be taken as part and parcel of the divine revelation. Because Jesus fully reveals the divine life by speaking of Another, thus He is not obstructing our view of this Other.   Rather the interplay of He and the Other are constitutive of the divine life which He reveals.  Arius is refuted at the deepest level, and all by heeding this simple truth: God is not revealed in His Twin but in His Son.

This should be so obvious and plain and yet so many take their opposition of Arius in precisely the opposite direction.  Their first and fatal move is to maintain that homo-ousios commits us to three-fold repetition.  They assume Father and Son are identical from the outset – all in the name of Nicene orthodoxy (of course ignoring ‘God from God…’).  Now when they approach the eating, sleeping, dying, rising Jesus they must account for these differences while upholding that the Father and Son possess identical CVs.  What to do with the discrepancies?  Simple.  Ignore the fact that Nicea pronounced the homo-ousios on Jesus of Nazareth and instead attribute all discrepancies to a human nature that is distanced from His divine nature. 

The cost of such a move?  Immediately, the otherness of Jesus is not revelatory of the divine nature, in fact it impedes our view of God. Now to see Jesus is not to see divine life, but merely human.  We have in fact lost the one Image, Word, Representative and Mediator of God.  Jesus of Nazareth has become, to all intents and purposes, homoi-ousios with the Father.  Question marks hover over everything we see in Jesus as to whether or not this reveals the divine life.  We have returned to Arius’s problem via another route – we are left short of full revelation in Jesus.

Now if we took seriously the fact that God is not revealed in His Twin but in His Son we would be saved from all of this.  Christ’s humanity neither commits us to an eating, sleeping, dying, rising Father, but nor does it distance us from a true revelation of God.  Instead Christ’s eating reveals a Father who provides in our frailties, His sleeping reveals a Father who protects in our weakness, His death reveals a living, judging Father, His resurrection reveals a justifying, reconciling Father.  We see into the very heart-beat of the eternal trinity when we see Jesus of Nazareth in all His glorious humanity. 

And all because we have remembered the simple adage: God is not revealed in His Twin, but in His Son!

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John Owen’s masterpiece On Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost was written at a time when Socinianism (a form of Unitarianism) was infiltrating England.   Their belief (as expressed in the Racovian Catechism) was that Jesus was essential for salvation.  He was manifestly predicted and prophesied in the OT.  The Hebrew Scriptures were indeed a word about Christ.  But, for the Socinians, Christ existed before his birth only inasmuch as God always had a plan (or ‘word’) which Christ fulfilled in the NT (‘was made flesh’).  Christ’s pre-existence then was not as a distinct, concrete Person in the Godhead, but as a saving/revealing disposition belonging to the one God of Israel.  Thus Jesus was not the eternal word/wisdom/revelation of God but only the ultimate word/wisdom/revelation of God.

John Owen considered this to be a foul assault on the divine Person of Christ.   This was a re-incarnation of Arianism – the great heresy of heresies.  Perhaps his major response was Christologia in which one of his key arguments is that the OT also reveals Christ as a ‘distinct Person within the deity.’ (a repeated phrase).   Perhaps we’ll look at that book another time.  But for now let’s look at Communion with God penned 20 years earlier.

His main premise is that there is a distinct and distinguishable communication of grace coming from each Person of the Trinity.  The saints should therefore have distinct communion with each Person of the Trinity individually.  The rest of the book unfolds the ways in which we hold communion with the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

What’s interesting for our current purposes is that Owen argues for this distinct experience of each Person from both testaments.  According to Owen the OT also reveals the distinct Persons in their distinct roles.

I will list his OT Scriptures regarding the distinct Person of the Son.  I am not including his verses on the Song of Songs or verses teaching more general truths about God’s character.  But these, according to Owen, are specific verses about the Son :

Gen 3:15

Gen 49:8-12

Psalm 2

Psalm 21:5,6

Psalm 22:1

Psalm 25:14

Psalm 40:7,8

Psalm 45

Psalm 110

Prov 1:22

Prov 3:13-15

Prov 8:22-31

Prov 9:1-5

Isaiah 4:2

Isaiah 6:2

Isaiah 11

Isaiah 28:5

Isaiah 35:8

Isaiah 40:11

Isaiah 42:16

Isaiah 45:22

Isaiah 49:15-16

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 54:5

Isaiah 61:1,2,10

Isaiah 62:3,5

Isaiah 63:3,4,9

Jeremiah 23:6

Ezekiel 16

Daniel 2:44

Daniel 7:9,27

Daniel 9:24

Hosea 2:19-20

Zephaniah 3:17

Micah 5:4,7,8

Zechariah 3:9

Zechariah 6:13

 Zechariah 13:7

Malachi 3:1

Malachi 4:2

I hope you see the importance of these verses.  Owen uses these as proof texts that the Son is distinct and known as distinct from the Father and Spirit.  Owen’s argument doesn’t work if they’re just verses about ‘God’ in general and ‘hey, Jesus happens to be God too!’  It’s about proving from all of Scripture that the Son is revealed in His deity and distinction.

I maintain that it’s this kind of biblical theology that will protect us from unitarian pressures in our own day.

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I recently re-read Nathan Pitchford’s excellent short article on the reformers’ hermeneutic.

His basic point is that Sola Scriptura always leads to Solus Christus.  The literal reading simply is the christocentric reading.

For Luther, the grammatical-historical hermeneutic was simply the interpretation of scripture that “drives home Christ.” As he once expressed it, “He who would read the Bible must simply take heed that he does not err, for the Scripture may permit itself to be stretched and led, but let no one lead it according to his own inclinations but let him lead it to its source, that is, the cross of Christ. Then he will surely strike the center.” To read the scriptures with a grammatical-historical sense is nothing other than to read them with Christ at the center.

And yet, claims Pitchford, many evangelicals today have a basically un-Christian reading of the OT.

[What I mean is]…  they employ a hermeneutic that does not have as its goal to trace every verse to its ultimate reference point: the cross of Christ. All of creation, history, and reality was designed for the purpose of the unveiling and glorification of the triune God, by means of the work of redemption accomplished by the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The bible is simply the book that tells us how to see Christ and his cross at the center of everything. It tells us who God is by showing us the person and work of Christ, who alone reveals the invisible God. If we do not intentionally ask ourselves, “How may I see Christ more clearly by this passage,” in our reading of every verse of scripture, then we are not operating under the guidance of Luther’s grammatical-historical hermeneutic. If we would follow in the steps of the reformers, we must realize that a literal reading of scriptures does not mean a naturalistic reading. A naturalistic reading says that the full extent of meaning in the account of Moses’ striking the rock is apprehended in understanding the historical event. The literal reading, in the Christ-centered sense of the Reformation, recognizes that this historical account is meaningless to us until we understand how the God of history was using it to reveal Christ to his people. The naturalistic reading of the Song of Solomon is content with the observation that it speaks of the marital-bliss of Solomon and his wife; the literal reading of the reformers recognizes that it has ultimately to do with the marital bliss between Christ and his bride, the Church. And so we could continue, citing example after example from the Old Testament.
 

So what went wrong?  How come the reformers’ understanding of a “literal hermeneutic” gets used today to justify un –Christian interpretation?  Well, historically the influence of academic liberalism turned ‘the literal reading’ into ‘the naturalistic reading’.  And that’s quite a different thing. 

Nathan ends with 6 points at which the naturalistic reading fails:

1. A naturalistic hermeneutic effectively denies God’s ultimate authorship of the bible, by giving practical precedence to human authorial intent.

2. A naturalistic hermeneutic undercuts the typological significance which often inheres in the one story that God is telling in the bible (see Galatians 4:21-31, for example).

3. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for Paul’s assertion that a natural man cannot know the spiritual things which the Holy Spirit teaches in the bible – that is, the things about Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Corinthians 2).

4. A naturalistic hermeneutic is at odds with the clear example of the New Testament authors and apostles as they interpret the Old Testament (cf. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, Paul’s interpretations in Romans 4 and Galatians 4, James’ citing of Amos 9 during the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, the various Old Testament usages in Hebrews, etc.).

5. A naturalistic hermeneutic disallows a full-orbed operation of the analogy of faith principle of the Reformation, by its insistence that every text demands a reading “on its own terms”.

6. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for everything to have its ultimate reference point in Christ, and is in direct opposition to Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:16-18, and Christ’s own teachings in John 5:39, Luke 24:25-27.

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Really great stuff, go read the whole thing.

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