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Posts Tagged ‘salvation’

Famously Adolf Von Harnack asserted in the History of Dogma that much of Christian theology betrayed the “work of the Greek spirit on the soil of the gospel.”  Now to be fair, the old liberal didn’t have much gospel himself but the observation has something to it.

On the one hand we have the Scriptures beginning with a very good creation, full of promises of land and seed and a Saviour taking flesh to renew heaven and earth.  On the other we have a Hellenizing spirit which pits body and soul, earth and heaven, time and eternity against each other.   When this spirit meets this gospel – and Harnack was right, this is a perennial danger – it always yields bad fruit.

But in this series I want to look at two towering exceptions in the history of theology – Irenaeus and Athanasius.  In their day they resisted ‘the Greek spirit’ and called the church back to the fertile soil of the gospel.  There they found the Fountainhead of those unities which escaped the philosophers of this age.  In Jesus Christ they saw creation and salvation held together as one work performed by one Word.  And from there flowed a unified account of all reality.

In our own day we would do well to hear their voices.  Because we too find it completely obvious to fall for the old dualisms.

In the realm of the body, we see self-harm and eating disorders, promiscuity and confusion over sexual identity, compulsive dieting and body-building, cosmetic surgery and gender re-assignment.  These are problems commonly found in the world but also in our churches.  We seem deeply uncomfortable with our bodily existence.

In the realm of the environment, we see the extremes of those who simply consume the earth and those who worship it.

In worship there are the ritualists who consider their sacramental practice to work ex opere operato and there are the low church minimalists running scared from anything physical.

And theologically, as we consider the relationship of creation and redemption, some mistake political harmony, social justice or economic liberation for salvation.  In reaction, some cut loose creation from salvation with an anti-physical gospel and an escapist eschatology.  And some will dissolve any final distinction between creation and redemption and opt for universalism.

In view of this, the proper co-ordination of creation and redemption (and its attendant co-ordinations of body and soul, time and eternity, etc, etc) is a vital task for us all.

Irenaeus and Athanasius are going to help us massively.  And they will help because they put Jesus Christ at the centre of their thinking.

This is a repost.  The subsequent posts are here: part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.

And here is Mike Reeves introducing Irenaeus and Athanasius – well worth a listen!

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In the King’s English I have a chapter on “Ye must be born again.”  Here’s a key paragraph:

At Christmas, Jesus was born into flesh-life.  On Good Friday He put flesh-life to death.  On Easter Sunday, He rose up to Spirit-life. Therefore on Easter morning Jesus was born again.  He’s the One to go through flesh-life and into Spirit-life in that ultimate sense.  He’s the Pioneer of the new birth.  He was born once from the virgin womb, and born again from the virgin tomb.

Let me justify that statement, because to speak of Christ’s new birth seems nigh on blasphemous to some people.  It can sound like I’m suggesting Jesus needed to “get forgiven of His sins” or “become a Christian.”  But that’s not what I mean.

I am not impugning Christ’s spotless perfection.  Christ is not a sinner – though on the cross He became sin.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

But here’s the thing: on Easter Sunday, the Bible speaks of a significant newness regarding Jesus.

Romans 1:4 says “through the Spiritof holiness [Jesus] was declared with power to be the Son of God.”

Jesus was already the Son of God, but Easter “declared” Him to be so with power.

Colossians 1:18 says Jesus is “Firstborn from the dead.”

Jesus was already Firstborn (Colossians 1:15) but He was not Firstborn from among the dead until Easter morning.  This was very much a new birth for Jesus.

1 Timothy 3:15 says Jesus was “justified in the Spirit” (referring almost certainly to His resurrection).

Again, He was always righteous – indeed He is the Righteous One.  Yet He is vindicated to be so when He rises from the dead.

1 Peter 3:18 says Jesus was “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit.”

Once more, Jesus is the Living One – indeed He is the Author of life.  But His resurrection marks a movement from flesh-life to Spirit-life.  In other words, there is a movement from the life He took on in incarnation to the glorified humanity He receives in resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15 is a sustained meditation on this resurrection reality.  First comes the natural body then the spiritual (v44).  The fact that we pass from natural to spiritual is because Jesus is the Firstfruits (v20-23).  He is the Pioneer of this movement from flesh-life to Spirit-life.

In this sense I say that Jesus pioneers the new birth.  He passes through death and judgement (a death and judgement which He did not deserve).  He comes out the other side in glorified, resurrection life.  And the new life He offers to us is a participation in His new life.

I think part of the misunderstanding on this issue involves a misconception about salvation.  At a popular level we understand salvation fairly Christlessly.  We imagine that getting saved means “getting zapped” by God.  It’s something that lands on sinners by the power of the Spirit and brings them to God.  And Jesus is not really a part of the equation. Therefore since Jesus isn’t a sinner in need of ‘getting saved’ we see no role for Jesus.  This Spirit-centric view of salvation leaves Jesus out of regeneration.

But salvation centres on Jesus.  He works it.  Through His doing and dying we are saved.  And the Spirit seals us into Him.  Thus salvation is located in Christ.  If we have eternal life, it’s His eternal life.  If we have righteousness, it’s His righteousness.  If we have a new birth, it’s His new birth.

Another problem in our understanding is conceiving of the “new birth” much more narrowly than the Bible.  Remember that heaven and earth will be made new (e.g. Isaiah 65:17).  In Jesus’ words, there will be a “regeneration” of all things (Matthew 19:28).  It is not simply sinners who need the new birth.  New birth is required for the whole old order.  And only Jesus can bring it to us.

Here’s how He does it.  Jesus enters into the world and takes on our flesh.  He takes responsibility for this old world by standing at its Head.  He takes the old world and the old man down into death.  But God raises Him by the Spirit to newness of life.  As Firstborn from among the dead He offers us a share in His Firstborn-ness (if I can put it like that).  As Firstfruits He offers to graft us in to His fruitful new life.  As Risen One, He offers us new birth into His living hope (1 Peter 1:3).

That’s the sense in which Jesus was born again.

Make sense?  Convinced?  Let me know.

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Implications

We’ve been following the thought of Irenaeus and Athanasius and have seen creation and salvation united as the one divine work of the one divine Word.  Creation is a gospel project for the Gospel God.

Let’s sketch out some implications.

Perhaps the first application of these truths should be in the realm of evangelism.  Such a theology of creation and redemption means that the call to “trust Jesus” is not just for Christians.  It is the calling of every creature.  All are to find their peace, their life, their goal in Him.  If, as the Apostle Paul says, “All things are made by [Christ] and for [Christ]” then the question for every creature is, “Am I for Him?”  Christians must have no embarrassment about the greatness of the commission laid upon them for the One they herald is not simply a spiritual Teacher for spiritual people.  He is the Maker and Heir of each one of us.  Pointing to Jesus is not simply a special calling for sprecial Christians but our vocation as human beings.

Secondly, the ‘cultural mandate’ as it’s often called (‘fill the earth and subdue it’, Gen 1:28) is recapitulated in the great commission.  If Irenaeus is right that Adam’s is a ‘sketched out’ ensouled humanity to be filled out by Christ’s spiritual humanity then it is right to see Adam’s commission as similarly recapitulated.  In Matthew 28 Christ, as the Second Adam, tells His people to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with the gospel.  “Making disciples” is not a second task alongside a quite separate ‘cultural mandate’.  That would be to assume that God has two works, creation and redemption rather than one work of creation-redemption.  Therefore, making disciples is the renewed and elevated mandate given to new creation people.  This means that care for the environment and socio-political involvement must be strictly co-ordinated under the over-arching requirement of gospel proclamation.  We are to care for this old creation, but we are to do so by pointing to its one hope, Jesus.

Thirdly, the gospel we proclaim needs to be much more comprehensive than the communication of certain moral or spiritual truths.  The gospel is about everything.  In fact, it is the reason foreverything.  In ‘pointing to Jesus’ we are not narrowing things down to a small range of religious truths.  Rather we must see how all of history, philosophy, science and the arts, all of created life, is a gospel reality.

Fourthly, we should beware of escapist eschatologies that despise the body and our earthly future.  Our great hope is not some aphysical, anaemic vision of heaven, but of a renewed creation summed up under Christ.  Yet this rightly orients our concern for the environment.  It is not environmentalism that will save the world but Christ Himself.  Our love for the world must take its shape from God’s gospel love for the world.  This will entail a passion for His gospel mission.

Fifthly, we must take seriously our embodied physicality in life.  Our bodies are neither to be despised as unspiritual nor merely indulged or worshipped but they are “instruments for righteousness” (Rom 6:13). More specifically, our gendered embodiment, as part of God’s good creation, is internal to our identity and not something incidental to our personhood.  It is a neo-Gnostic spirituality that would tell us that we are ‘trapped’ in the body of the opposite sex or that a union of bodies is not really a union of persons or that gender is immaterial to such unions.  In modern debates about gender or sexuality, the liberal arguments may present on the surface as a celebration of bodily life.  Yet this is quickly undermined as soon as it is asserted that “my gender or the gender of my partner is immaterial.  What counts is…”  Such arguments are a rejection of our concrete creatureliness in order to ground our true being elsewhere.  It becomes the very opposite of a celebration of bodily life.  We need to return to the more robust doctrine of creation provided by the bishops (the ancient ones, that is).

Sixthly, we must take seriously our embodied physicality in worship.  The evangelical wing of the church will more usually emphasize worship as an all-of-life sacrificial service (Rom 12:1).  This is a right application of the creation-redemption union.  But the catholic wing of the church points with equal and justified concern to a right reverence for the sacraments.  It is not more spiritual to bypass the creaturely gifts of water, bread and wine.  It is not more spiritual to close our eyes and disregard the bodily.  Our spiritual life takes shape precisely in our creatureliness and will do so eternally.  This is not a fact to be lamented but celebrated.  These two wings of the church can help each other to live out the creation-redemption link in worship.

Conclusion

Wherever salvation is spiritualized, wherever the body is denigrated, wherever gender is trivialized, wherever the future is immaterial, wherever the sacraments are Platonized, wherever worship is merely internalized, we have lost the insights of Irenaeus and Athanasius.

Irenaeus must be heard again as he proclaims the triune Creator’s good purposes for this world.  Man ruling under God was the creation blueprint realized in Christ, the Heavenly Man ruling under God in the redeemed creation.  Christ’s work is the triumphant reversal of Adam.  More than this, it is the kingly accomplishment of God’s eternal plan for the creation.  Christ reigns from the tree.

Athanasius must be heard as he holds out Christ as the divine Agent of creation and redemption.  The incarnate work is nothing less than a re-creation of the de-created cosmos disintegrating under the weight of sin and death.  The Redeemer is therefore no-one less than the Creator taking responsibility for His handiwork and making all things new.

When we fail to hold together creation and redemption, Christ’s work is entirely misunderstood.  It is either considered as a superfluous addendum to the purposeof creation or it achieves a goal subordinate to it, or it begins a work alien to the creative intention or, worst of all, it is won as a salvation from the created order (and perhaps even from the Creator).  Yet none of these say what the Scriptures insist and what Irenaeus and Athanasius knew must be proclaimed.  That is, that redemption is the accomplishment of the one work of God, encompassing both creation and redemption.  Christ’s work is not an awkward adjunct but rather the accomplishment and consummation of His own creative intent.

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For more applications see Dev’s recent post.

Here’s Leon Sim on Irenaeus and the Trinitarian OT – great stuff.

Dan Hames on Irenaeus.

And Mike Reeves’ introductions to Irenaeus and Athanasius
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Is salvation achieved merely by the incarnation?

Both Irenaeus and Athanasius are commonly accused of making the ‘bare fact’ of incarnation the sum total of Christ’s saving work.  Yet this is unfair.

For Irenaeus, Christ’s filling out of Adam’s distorted image means necessarily a “filling up [of] the times of his disobedience” (Ad. Her. III.21.1)  In taking on Adam’s substance, He took on Adam’s curse – this He satisfied at the cross, ‘propitiating indeed for us the Father, against Whom we had sinned’ (Ad. Her. V.17.1) and ‘redeeming us by His own blood’ (Ad. Her. V.14.3).  Having put Adam to death, the resurrection then realizes Christ’s spiritual body bringing about the true glorified humanity to which the redeemed will belong and on which the renewed creation will be patterned.

Athanasius calls the cross “the very centre of our faith.”  For him, the curse of death is a key consideration.  Within the creation narratives comes God’s decree: “You will surely die.”  The word of Genesis 2:17 must be maintained lest God be proved false and, ironically, the serpent proved true.  Christ’s incarnation is therefore that by which the Word can take a body capable of death “so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished.” (De incarn. 8) Moreover this death is specifically a sacrifice (De. Incarn. 9; 10; 20) made under God’s curse (De incarn. 25) and offered without blemish (De. Incarn. 9) so as to be a ransom (De. Incarn. 9; 25) freeing us from Adam’s ‘primal transgression’.  “In the same act also He showed Himself mightier than death, displaying His own body incorruptible as the first-fruits of the resurrection.”

Thus, while the Bishops both see the union of divine and human as the goal of God’s creation-redemption purposes; and while the ‘Word become flesh’ is their sole hope for this union; the ‘bare fact’ will not do on its own. The nature of Adam’s race requires much work to be done.  Mankind must turn from idols to the Truth, we must receive and truly own an active righteousness before the Father, Satan has to be defeated, justice must be upheld, sin must be dealt with, incorruptibility must be won.  Thus, Christ’s divine teaching, His demonstrations of authority over man, nature and the devil, His active obedience, His suffering, His death, His resurrection and His ascension are all crucial in order to accomplish redemption.

Yet, against those (especially the Arians), who would uphold the necessity of these works yet deny the Person who worked them, it must be maintained that the Agent of these works is God and the locus of their working is man.  These works are, therefore, only effective because they are the works of the God-Man.  Thus, the incarnation is the necessary cause of redemption, but sufficient only when articulated as the full work of the Incarnate, Creator-Word.

In the final post I’ll draw out some implications for today…

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The Fall – the Need for Re-Creation

In the philosophies of the third and fourth centuries, creation came out of great ruptures (e.g. wars in heaven).  Against this, Athanasius maintained that physicality is not the issue for the creature before God.  The problem – that is, the fall – occurs after creation.  Thus it is humanity’s disobedience that gives rise to the rupture between God and man: an ethical rather than ontological problem.

The fall was a rejection of the Word, in consequence of which mankind no longer knew God and instead pursued false images (idols), not the true Image. Since God’s intention for creation is His fellowship with man in His Image, then this disruption affects the whole cosmos.  The fall is thus ‘the work of God… being undone’ – de-creation.

Time and again Athanasius stresses how ‘supremely unfitting’ and ‘unthinkable’ it would be for the ‘All Good’ ‘Father of Truth’ to allow His creation to run such a ruinous path.  He also notes that humanity has no resources within itself to remedy the situation.  Thus God’s commitment to creation demands a reversal of the fall.  Without redemption, God’s “consistency of character with all” is compromised.  Or as Irenaeus had said, God must act lest He “be conquered [and] His wisdom lessened.” Since the fall was a ‘de-creation’ so redemption must be a re-creation.  And if this is so, then the Creator Himself must be the Redeemer.  Thus, creation and redemption are held together by the One Divine Word.

The Fall – the Need for Recapitulation

Where Athanasius speaks of re-creation, Irenaeus speaks of recapitulation.

Recapitulation (anakephalaiosis; see especially Ephesians 1:10; also Romans 13:9) has been variously understood: to sum up, to go over the same ground again, to unite under a single head, to restore to the original, to bring to a climax.  All of these capture something of Irenaeus’ meaning though I prefer the picture of ‘a spiral climb’.  It means going over the same ground but thereby raising it to a higher plane.  Fundamentally, redemption is described as God “recapitulating in Himself His own handiwork.” (Adv.H., III.22.1)

Thus “what we had lost in Adam – namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God – that we might recover in Christ Jesus.” (Adv. H., III.18.1)  Christ achieves this by taking the very flesh of Adam (Adv. H. V.1.3) – the head of the old humanity – and, going over the ground of Adam’s history.  E.g:

just as Adam had no earthly father, so too Christ (III.18.7); just as Eve was disobedient, so Mary is obedient (V.19.1); just as Adam was tempted through food and failed, so Christ was tempted through fasting and succeeded (V.21.2); just as Adam was disobedient with the tree, so Christ is obedient on the tree (V.16.3) etc. etc.

Christ achieves victory where Adam failed.

“He has therefore, in His work of recapitulation, summed up all things… in order that, as our species went down to death through a vanquished man, so we may ascend to life through a victorious one; and as through a man death received the palm [of victory] against us, so again by a man we may receive the palm against death.” Adv. H. V.21.1

Thus Christ can become the Head of the true spiritual humanity to which we must belong. This is, of course, not an innovation of Irenaeus’, but the plain teaching of the Scriptures –  Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 44-50.

What’s important for out purposes is the fact that God’s creative work has moved in this direction from the beginning.  Adam is always heading towards Christ.  Eden is always heading towards the New Jerusalem, etc, etc.  Christ’s incarnate work is completely ‘of-a-piece’ with His creation.  The goal of all God’s ways with the creation has ever been to sum up everything under the Heavenly Man, Christ (Eph 1:10)

Thus, the humanity of Adam, for Irenaeus, was ‘sketched out’ expressly as that which must be filled out by Christ.

“The Word – the Creator of all – prefigured in Adam the future economy of His own incarnation.  God first sketched out the ensouled human being, with a view to his being saved by the spiritual human being.  Since the Saviour was already in existence, the one who was to be saved had to come into existence, or the Saviour would have been Saviour of no one.” (Adv.H. III.22.3)

Notice that Adam was always ‘to be saved’ and that Christ is ‘Saviour’ even before the fall.  Thus Minns must be right when he says of Irenaeus’ theology:

“Adam’s sin conditions the salvation to be worked by the incarnate Word but it does not call it into existence.  For the earth creature does not come to be in the image and likeness of God until God becomes flesh, until the human being in whose image Adam was created stands on the earth.” (D. Minns, Irenaeus,  p87)

For Irenaeus, Christ’s work is not simply the answer to sin (though it certainly accomplished this).  Christ’s incarnate work inhabits and realizes the one dynamic story of creation’s fulfilment moving from Adam to Christ, from flesh to spirit, from Eden to the New Jerusalem.  Salvation is not a response to the fall and it’s not paradise restored.  Salvation is the drawing into God of what has been made through the Son.  And what has been made has always been destined for this redemption.

Thus, creation and redemption are not just held together by One Divine Word, they are also held together as one divine work.

More to come…

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The purpose of creation

In a key passage of De Incarnatione, Athanasius defines the purpose of creation:

…why should God have made them at all, if He had not intended them to know Him? But, in fact, the good God has given them a share in His own Image, that is, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and has made even themselves after the same Image and Likeness. Why? … [so that] they may be able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him to apprehend the Father; which knowledge of their Maker is for men the only really happy and blessed life. (De incarn. 11)

The creature is willed by God out of His abundant goodness as the overflow of His triune life.

It is absolutely foundational to Athanasius’ doctrine of God that He is ‘good’.  On the Incarnation abounds with the ‘goodness’ and ‘sheer goodness’ of the ‘All-good God.’ E.g.:

For God is good—or rather, of all goodness He is Fountainhead, and it is impossible for one who is good to be mean or grudging about anything. Grudging existence to none therefore, He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. (De. Incarn. 3)

Athanasius’ doctrine of God is a decidedly happy one!

Therefore from God’s overflowing goodness, He does not will to be God alone.  And so the creature is brought into being, not in independence but in happy dependence to know God.  As one made after the true Image – the eternal Word – the proper destiny of man is to participate in the divine life.  Man, in union with Christ – who is “Man among men – is to be taken up to the Father, by the Spirit, and so to participate in God.

This participation is described variously by the two:

For Irenaeus it’s ‘passing into God’ (Adv. H., IV. 33.4.); being ‘promoted into God’ (Adv. H., III.19.1.).  And most famously he says:

Our Lord Jesus Christ… did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself. (Adv. H., V. pref.)

For Athanasius:

He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God.’ (De incarn., 54);

The Word became flesh in order both to offer this sacrifice and that we, participating in His Spirit, might be deified. (De Decret., ch 14)

What is the essence of this participation in God?  Obviously neither of the Bishops could speak of this deification in ethereal ways.  For theologians who look to Christ to see the fullness of deity, ‘becoming God’ couldn’t possibly mean becoming less human.  Any more than Christ’s becoming Man meant His becoming less God!  No, participation in God is not about dissolving into a divine stuff.  It’s about participating in the relationships of the trinity – being loved by the Father in the Son and through the Spirit.

Listen to Irenaeus explain deification:

“Those who receive and bear the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son.  But the Son takes them up and presents them to the Father, and the Father bestows incorruptibility.  Therefore one cannot see the Word of God without the Spirit, nor can anyone approach the Father without the Son.  For the Son is the knowledge of the Father, and knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit.  But the Son, in accord with the Father’s good pleasure, graciously dispenses the Spirit to those to whom the Father wills it, and as the Father wills it.” (Demonstration. 7)

Participation in God does not mean participation in some omni-being of attributes.  It means being properly related to our triune Creator.

Creation has come out of the triune love of God and its goal is to be drawn back in.  Not in dissolution we must add.  Creation remains truly itself as it participates in the love that birthed it.  As all things are drawn by the Spirit under the feet of Christ, the world maintains – and actually achieves – its concrete otherness because the love of God does not dissolve but affirms distinction and difference.

But this is the goal of creation – many brought into God in the Son.

In the heresies we have met, the divine could not be divine in its engagement with the creation.  Nor could the creature attain to the divine without escaping the created.  Yet the Triune LORD’s relationship to the creation allows the Eternal Word to be Himself even as He works immanently in, with and through His world.  And we can truly participate in this triune God even as we live our creaturely lives.  We can be truly spiritual and truly physical all at once without falling off one side of the horse or the other.

The fall, though, threatens to thwart God’s goal.

More to come…

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Creation

Where has creation come from?  There are three popular options.

1) Maybe it’s come out of some problem in the heavenly realms.  Perhaps it’s the body of a slain monster as in the Babylonian myth Enuma Elish – literally a monstrosity.  Perhaps, as the Gnostics would have it, creation arises after a member of the spiritual realm has been sin-binned for some misdemeanor.  Again, this being who is outside the spiritual constitutes creation.  Perhaps – a popular one today – it’s arisen from explosions and endless struggle.  In these variations on a theme the underlying belief is that fall precedes creation and gives rise to it.

2) Another option is to say that creation has always existed.  It’s just an immovable, eternal fact – godlike in its own right.  Here, if you believe in God, he’s got his hands tied and basically does his best with the materials available.

3) A third option is to say creation is a matter of the will.  There is first a God (or some power or principle), and creation exists alongside as a demonstration of his power.  To get to the heart of all things is not to find a heart at all but only force.

Interestingly our modern creation myth is a synthesis of all these errors.  We are the result of explosions, chaos, death and struggle; God (if he exists) is a far-off clockmaker and really the only way to live in such a world is to acknowledge that might is right and propagate our selfish genes.

But there is another way to see creation.  And the trinity is crucial.

As Irenaeus and Athanasius saw it, the Father of all was first Father of the Son Whom He loves.  And this Father-Son love in the Spirit provides the key to understanding creation rightly.  Robert Jenson puts it well:

The Father’s love of the Son is… the possibility of creation.  Insofar as to be a creature is to be other than God, we may say that the Father’s love of the Son as other than himself is the possibility of creation’s otherness from God. (R.Jenson: Systematic Theology, vol 2, p48.)

The massive significance of this can be seen when we ask the question, what is it like to be ‘other’ than God?

With option 1) above, to be other than God is to be a cosmic embarrassment, the fruit of a defect.  With option 2) to be other than God means to be a cog in an impersonal machine.  With option 3) to be other than God is to be a slave.  But with the triune God, to be Other than God is to be beloved and included.

In eternity the Son has been Other to God.  He is the Father’s eternal complement as Body to Head (1 Cor 11:3).  Otherness is therefore not competitive or defective but corresponding and desired.  And creation that is in Christ and through Christ and for Christ is the extension of this eternal love-for-otherness.  Colin Gunton says:

To create in the Son means to create by the mediation of the One who is the way of God out into that which is not Himself.  (Triune Creator, p144)

Before creation there was not nothing and there were not wars, there was a Loving Father eternally anointing His Son in the Spirit.  And as Irenaeus has said, that Son is called Christ “since through Him the Father anoints and adorns all things.” (Demonstration §53)

That’s worth meditating on!

For Irenaeus, even our individual formation in the womb comes through Christ.  (Ad. Her. IV.31.2; V.15.3)

The Father of Jesus brought all things into existence from nothing through His two hands – the Son and the Spirit, His Word and Wisdom.

For the hands of God in Scripture see, for e.g. Isaiah 48:13, 51:9; Psalm 98:1; Ezekiel 3:14,16; Daniel 5:5; 10:10f; Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20.

So Irenaeus says:

This hand of God which formed us at the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning back His own, and taking up the lost sheep upon His shoulders, and with joy restoring it to the fold of life.  (Ad. Her. V.15.2);

And, because God is rational, he therefore created what is made by his Word, and, as God is Spirit, so he disposed everything by his Spirit. (Demonstration. 5.);

For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things. (Ad. Her. IV.20.1)

On all these points, Athanasius was in agreement.

The key advance which Athanasius made with regard to a Christological doctrine of creation was his definitive differentiation between the Son’s eternal generation from the Father and creation’s in-time manufacture.  Irenaeus would surely have agreed with Athanasius on these points but he didn’t have an Arius forcing him to articulate his position in quite the same way.

The issue arose because for Arius the world was willed by a God who is not essentially Father and therefore not essentially Lover.  The world is a product of will.  And Christ too is the off-shoot of this will since he must be made as a demi-god mediator in order to (somehow!) bridge the infinite otherness-gap of God and creation.  All of this is the absurdity of unitarianism.  Yet it was Arius who found trinitarian thinking absurd.

He would ask Athanasius, “Why do you say there was a time when creation began to exist, but not a time when the Son began to exist? What convincing distinction can be made between begetting and making?”

Athanasius answers that there is a crucial distinction between what is begotten and what is willed.  Paternity is a matter of essence, not will. As soon as a father has a son he is a father.  Therefore the Father has always been Father just as the Son has always existed.  Yet creating is a matter of will not essence – one can be a maker before one actually makes.  Therefore, just because God has always been Maker does not mean that there has always been something that is made (i.e. creation).

So creation has a beginning in time but the Son does not.  Jesus is the Father’s Son by nature (or essence), creation is God’s handiwork by will. He is Begotten not Made as the creed now says.

But here’s the good bit – the Father has willed a commitment to the creation that is very much tied to His essential commitment to the Son.  The creature is lovingly and purposefully willed by the Father as that which is ‘after’ His eternal Image Whom He loves. His love for the creature corresponds to His love for the Son, for when He beholds the creation He delights ‘in seeing the works made after His own Image; even this rejoicing of God is on account of His own Image.’ (Contra Arianus. II.82)

Because of the mediation of the Son, creation could never be a matter of indifference to the Father.  The love with which He has loved the Son is now bound up in the world He has made for Him.  But precisely because it is for Him then Athanasius has successfully reversed Arius’ heretical proposition:

It is not He who was created for us, but we are created for Him. (Contra Arianus, II.31)

A properly trinitarian account of creation has therefore preserved the honour of Christ as Divine Creator but also the honour of the world as beloved creature.

Where have we gotten to?

I do not live in a monstrous reality arising from chaos.  I don’t live in a grand, impersonal machine.  And I don’t exist for the magnification of might.  I am from the Father, created purposefully out of His overflowing love through the Son, and – by the Spirit – for Him.

It’s that “for Him that’s we’ll discuss next time.  We will consider the purpose for creation.

More to come…

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…continued from here

To know Christ is to know the ‘one Lord… through Whom all things came and through Whom we live.’ (1 Cor 8:6).  Therefore, without a Christological doctrine of creation, it is not simply that Christ’s work will be incomprehensible, Christ Himself will be blasphemed.

Thus, against the heresies of the sub-Apostolic era, it fell to theologians such as Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 200) and Athanasius (c. 297 – 373) to uphold the continuity of creation and redemption.  They were able to do so precisely because, for them, Christ and His work was not a metaphysical conundrum to be solved – how can the Creator-Word become flesh? Instead, the Word-become-flesh was the Rock upon which they built (cf Col 2:8f; John 14:6; Matthew 11:25-27; Colossians 1:15; John 1:18)

Trevor Hart makes this analysis of Irenaeus:

[he made] the person of the Incarnate Son his dogmatic starting point, rather than the dualistic framework provided by the categories of Greek thought.

(T. Hart, ‘Irenaeus, recapitulation and physical redemption’, Christ in Our Place, Ed: Trevor Hart and Daniel Thimell, Paternoster, 1989. p.179)

Athanasius’ starting point is similarly Christocentric:

The first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning.  (De incarn. 1)

These men were not concerned to hold creation and redemption together in an abstract sense (so as to keep a balanced theological ledger).  Rather their commitment to Christ as Beginning and End of all things forced them to think through creation and redemption as the one divine work of the One Divine Word.  The Bishops of Lyon and Alexandria were therefore able to maintain the coherence of creation and redemption in Christ and therefore to guard the gospel that still speaks powerfully today into our confusions.

To begin with, we will look at the confusions of their day as the context for their theology.

Heresies

The early Church was assailed on all sides by those who divorced their understanding of Christ and His work from their understanding of the creator God.  Those heresies which were most pernicious were precisely those which insisted on the centrality of Christ to redemption.  Yet immediately the question must be raised ‘Redemption from what? And to what? And by Whom?’

The answers given by Marcion (c.80 – c. 160) were disturbing.  Christ saves us from the Creator God of the Old Testament who is bad (viz. involvement with creation), capricious, legalistic and not the Father of Jesus.  The death of Christ purchases salvation and His soul’s rising from death gives hope for our own soulish afterlife.

The Gnostic, Valentinus (in Rome from c. 136-165), provided Irenaeus with his chief ‘whipping boy’.  He taught that the creator is not the Supreme Being but, as Irenaeus caricatures, ‘the fruit of a defect’ existing in a long chain of deity (the pleroma) which kept the created order at a great (almost by definition, unbridgeable) distance.  Christ is simply one emanation from this pleroma (lit. ‘fullness’) as opposed to the One in Whom all the fullness of God dwells (Col 2:9).  He came to save the true pneumatikoi (the ‘spiritual’) from this material world through imparting secret gnosis (‘knowledge’).

Arius (c. 250 – c. 336), was perhaps the most serious threat to orthodox Christianity because his account of Christ’s saving work was so apparently Scriptural.  The ‘what’ of the cross was set forth plainly.  Yet the ‘Who’ of the cross proved the decisive error.  Arius committed the fundamental mistake outlined in the introduction – that of deciding his doctrines of God, of man and of creation in advance of considering the God-Man Creator.  For him, the Divine Being is unitary and without distinctions, must be un-begotten, can have no contact with creation and can never partake in human (i.e. changeable) existence.  Of course he could subscribe to none of these views if Christ were his dogmatic foundation. Thus it fell naturally to Athanasius, whose Christocentricity we have noted, to defeat this terrible heresy.

All of these heresies fail, not only on the point of Christ’s identity but also on the goal of His redemption.  And such failures have contemporary echoes.  If God and the created order are necessarily incompatible then you may have an earthy salvation but not true fellowship with God (think of Islam where paradise is exceedingly carnal but a place from which Allah is conspicuously absent).  On the other hand you might have a spiritual future but only by escaping the creation (think of Buddhism or the new age movement).  But how do you have both?

You need to affirm what Irenaeus and Athanasius saw so clearly: creation and salvation are part of the one divine work of the one divine Word.

More to come…

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Famously Adolf Von Harnack asserted in the History of Dogma that much of Christian theology betrayed the “work of the Greek spirit on the soil of the gospel.”  Now to be fair, the old liberal didn’t have much gospel himself but the observation has something to it.

On the one hand we have the Scriptures beginning with a very good creation, full of promises of land and seed and a Saviour taking flesh to renew heaven and earth.  On the other we have a Hellenizing spirit which pits body and soul, earth and heaven, time and eternity against each other.   When this spirit meets this gospel – and Harnack was right, this is a perennial danger – it always yields bad fruit.

But in this series I want to look at two towering exceptions in the history of theology – Irenaeus and Athanasius.  In their day they resisted ‘the Greek spirit’ and called the church back to the fertile soil of the gospel.  There they found the Fountainhead of those unities which escaped the philosophers of this age.  In Jesus Christ they saw creation and salvation held together as one work performed by one Word.  And from there flowed a unified account of all reality.

In our own day we would do well to hear their voices.  Because we too find it completely obvious to fall for the old dualisms.

In the realm of the body, we see self-harm and eating disorders, promiscuity and confusion over sexual identity, compulsive dieting and body-building, cosmetic surgery and gender re-assignment.  These are problems commonly found in the world but also in our churches.  We seem deeply uncomfortable with our bodily existence.

In the realm of the environment, we see the extremes of those who simply consume the earth and those who worship it.

In worship there are the ritualists who consider their sacramental practice to work ex opere operato and there are the low church minimalists running scared from anything physical.

And theologically, as we consider the relationship of creation and redemption, some mistake political harmony, social justice or economic liberation for salvation.  In reaction, some cut loose creation from salvation with an anti-physical gospel and an escapist eschatology.  And some will dissolve any final distinction between creation and redemption and opt for universalism.

In view of this, the proper co-ordination of creation and redemption (and its attendant co-ordinations of body and soul, time and eternity, etc, etc) is a vital task for us all.

Irenaeus and Athanasius are going to help us massively.  And they will help because they put Jesus Christ at the centre of their thinking.

More to come…

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Mike Reeves talks about Adam and Christ in these great audios on sin and evil.  Once we frame creation and salvation as the story of two men we see things much clearer.

For one thing we’re able to honour Christ not only as Substitute but also as Representative.  And we need both.

You see Christ drinks the cup so that – in one sense – we don’t have to (Mark 10:38).  But in another sense we do drink the cup He drinks and are baptised with the baptism with which He is baptised (Mark 10:39).  He does die for us so that we do not face that same judging fire – this is His substitution.  But we also die in Him experiencing it as a purifying fire – this is His representation.

We tend to be good at ‘substitution’ talk but not so good at ‘representation’ talk.  Consider this fairly common way of conceiving salvation and judgement…

salvation-judgement1

Here the key players are the saved and the damned.  Christ is not in the picture.  But of course once we’ve set things up like this, Christ becomes extremely necessary.  But He’s necessary in that the cross becomes the accounting tool required to balance the justice books.  Without the cross the story doesn’t work.  So in that sense Christ is central.  But in effect, He’s a peripheral figure only required because other factors are calling the shots.

When things are viewed like this, Christ is very much thought of as ‘substitute’ but not really ‘representative’.  And, when the details are pressed, even His substitution will start to look very unlike the biblical portrait.

We need a better formulation.  We’ll think of 1 Peter 4 and then tie this back to Adam and Christ.

In 1 Peter 4:17 it says that judgement begins with the house of God.  It doesn’t say ‘Judgement avoids the house of God.’  It begins there.  It begins with Christ, the true Temple of God.  It continues with the church, the temple of God in another sense.  But then it flows out to the world – God’s house in yet another sense.

salvation-judgement2

Here humanity is judged.  And this is where Adam and Christ will be so helpful for us.

The LORD pronounces His curse on Adam.  And all humanity is in him.  “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12)  It is a universal judgement.  No exceptions.  The only path to salvation is the path through judgement.

But Adam is a type of the One to come (Rom 5:14).  He was only ever setting the scene for Christ to take centre stage.  And He does so, assuming the very humanity of Adam as substitute and representative.

salvation-judgement31

Here centre stage is not occupied by the two bodies of people (the damned and the saved).  What’s driving everything is the two humanities (Adam and Christ).  And the former is expressly a type of the Latter.  And the Latter expressly assumes the fate of the former.  So that in all things Christ will have the preeminence! (Col 1:18)

These diagrams were originally used in a blog post on judgement and salvation in Isaiah and for a sermon on Isaiah 2:6-22 (listen here).

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We’ve thought a little bit about how glory language is introduced in Exodus.  Of course John’s Gospel makes for a fascinating study in ‘glory’.  But it would be too easy to camp out in John and refuse to engage the other ‘glory’ Scriptures.  So let’s think about three other key texts in the glory debates: Isaiah 42; Ezekiel 36 and (in the next post) Ephesians 1.  If you’ve got others on your mind, raise them in comments:

Isaiah 42:1-8

“Here is My Servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen One in Whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him and He will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; 4 He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth. In His law the islands will put their hope.” 5 This is what God the LORD says–He who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, Who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness; I will take hold of Your hand. I will keep You and will make You to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. 8 “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols.

Usually it’s only verse 8 that’s quoted in the glory discussions.  But the context is crucial.  Here is the Beloved, Spirit-filled Servant of the LORD.  And He Himself is a covenant for the people.  The love of Father for Son spills over to the whole world and this is all a part of the integrity of the Creator.  The Maker of the ends of the earth will bring reconciliation through His Servant.  Therefore – verse 8 – He will not accomplish His creation-reconciliation project through anyone other than His Beloved, Anointed Son.  And this very commitment is the commitment to be the over-flowing, self-giving God of redemption.

So, no self-centred glory here.

What about, Ezekiel 36:16-32

16 The word of the LORD came to me: 17 “Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. 18 So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. 19 I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. 20 But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.’ 21 But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. 22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God…. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

You will notice here that the issue is the ‘name of the LORD’s holiness’ which is not exactly the same as ‘glory’ – but they’re pretty connected I think everyone will agree.

The “name” of the LORD has always been the gracious, saving character of the Gospel God (Exodus 34:6-7; see also Num 6:23-27).  It’s the name that is in His Divine Angel and, again, is expressed through His deliverance of the people (Exodus 23:20-23).  This name dwells in the temple (Ex 20:24; Deut 12:5) and just as the priests are to put the name on the people (Num 6:23-27), the people are meant to reflect the name out to the nations.

In Ezekiel, the LORD’s Glory (Christ) has departed from the physical temple (ch8-10) because the Israelites have profaned it (5:11).  Yet He Himself has been a sanctuary for the people (11:16) – in exile with His people!  And He promises that He will return as the LORD’s Servant – the True King David – to make His sanctuary with His people forever (Ezek 37:21-28).

But here in chapter 36, the Israelites have not ‘sanctified’ but rather ‘profaned’ the name of the LORD’s holiness.  God’s people – as the priests He has made them to be – ought to be reflecting out to the world that same out-going goodness of God which they themselves have received.  Instead they do the very opposite.  And the thing that really profanes the name is that the saved people of God have become the wicked and exiled people of God (v20).  The LORD has tied His name so closely to His people that when they are profaned – He is profaned.  He has chosen to be so at one with His people that His destiny and reputation is bound up in their destiny and reputation.

And so He makes them know that this salvation He is about to work is His gracious initiative and not something they’ve provoked either by their goodness or their badness.  It’s certainly not that the Israelites have cleaned up their act enough for God to save.  And it’s not even that they are now so pitiable that God goes soft on them.  What moves Him to act is His fierce determination to be this kind of saving and forgiving God.  His gospel name will be vindicated because that is simply who He is.

And in fact verse 23 says the LORD will vindicate His holiness by saving a wretched people!  What kind of holiness is this that is expressed when renowned offenders are treated with extravagant grace?  This holiness is not the holiness of ‘splendid isolation’ but of gospel grace.

So again, these verses are not proof that God is, after all, self-centered.  The very opposite.  All that He does is motivated by a gospel character that will not be thwarted even by the worst opposition of His own people.  His name, His glory and His holiness are not considerations that would keep Him from engaging His wrath-deserving people.  They move Him out into costly, shame-bearing, sacrificial redemption.  Because His grace is His glory.

UPDATEDave Bish has some great thoughts on Ezekiel 36 just posted.

Next post: Part 5


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I love the story Cornelius Van Til tells about  hearing an Arminian preach (sorry, can’t remember where).  The Arminian likened salvation to a bus driver coming into town and preaching in the public square through a megaphone, “I’m off to Fort Knox where there’s gold enough for everyone.  Whomsoever wishes may come aboard my bus and we’ll receive the gold together.”

I’m trying to remember the details – it’s a while since I heard the lecture.  But as I remember it Van Til went up to the preacher afterwards and thanked him for a brilliant illustration.  “I’d make only one change to it,” he said.

“Instead of pulling up at the town square, I’d have him preaching at the cemetary.”

Evangelism is basically Ezekiel 37 – prophesying to dry bones.  The people are dead.  Whomsoever may come.  But the star of the show is the Spirit, giving life through the word.

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A Sermon on John 3:3 – Audio Here

Mum and Dad bring their newborn baby girl to church to show her off.  Everyone gathers around and sighs and makes faces and says things like “What a beautiful baby!  What a gorgeous little nose!  How soft her skin is!  She’s just adorable!  She’s just perfect!”  One woman calls her husband over and says “Jim, what do you think of the newborn baby, isn’t she just perfect.”  Jim looks her up and down, frowns and asks the mother – “When was she born?”  The mother says “10 days ago.”  Jim says, “I think she needs to be born again.”

Isn’t that the most offensive thing to say?  You need to be born again.  Her mother would be likely to say – “What was wrong with her first birth??!  How dare you say she must be born again!”  It’s very offensive isn’t it?

And it’s no better if you say it to a grown-up.

I was once speaking to a woman at a bus stop.  And we started talking about Christian things – she was a Roman Catholic and told me that she loved the teaching of Jesus.  I said, “Me too, I was reading just last week John chapter 3 – do you know the story of Nicodemus.  She said, ‘Of course.’  I said, well it’s interesting that Jesus says to this very religious man: ‘You must be born again’.”  I asked her – “Have you been born again?”  Instantly she frosted over.  She turned her shoulders 15 degrees to the left and raised her chin 15 degrees in the air, and that was the end of the conversation.  It made for an awkward few minutes before the bus came.

But that’s what happens when you start talking about being “born again.” It is dynamite.  It is offensive.  But Jesus is unrelenting.  He says it again and again.  Verse 3:

3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Verse 5:

5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

Verse 7:

7 You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.’

You must, you must, you must be born again.

[SLIDE – You must be born again]

Jesus says “Don’t be surprised at this”.  We are surprised though.  Perhaps we’re like Nicodemus, coughing and spluttering in amazement, v4:

4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Is that what you’re suggesting Jesus?  Going back into my mother’s womb?  I don’t think I’d like that, and I’m pretty sure she would object.

No says Jesus – not that.  But nonetheless, you MUST be born again.

Are you born again?  I look out on a room and there’s one thing I can safely assume about you.  I assume that you have been born once.  That’s a fair assumption – everyone in this room has been born once.   But I don’t assume that everyone here has been born again.  I imagine there might be quite a few here who have been born once, but not born again.

And Jesus says, v3, unless you are born again you can’t SEE the kingdom of God.  Or again, v5, unless you are born of water and the Spirit which is another way of saying unless you are born again – you can’t ENTER the kingdom of God.  You MUST be born again.

Are you born again?  Jesus says “You must be born again.”  What about your family members.  Bring to mind family members – they must be born again.  Bring to mind friends – they must be born again.  Bring to mind neighbours – they must be born again.  Bring to mind work-mates – they must be born again.  Everyone you pass in the street today – they must be born again.  As we approach the mission next week, may that shape our prayers and our inviting.

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After some very feeble posts by myself (sorry I’ve had no time recently!), Jacky brings things back to the boil.  This is really great stuff – enjoy!

Read Exodus 23:10-32

The Israelite Calendar

We approach the three significant appointed times of the year according to the Israelite ecclesiastical calender:

(i)  Feast of Unleavened Bread: also known as the ‘Passover‘ (Pesach) in the first month (15th to 21st day), the month Nisan/Abib (v.15); the Paschal Lamb killed on the 14th, and the Paschal feast from 15th to 21st

(ii)  Feast of Harvest: 6th day of Siwan/Sivan, the third month of the ecclesiastical calender (this is also known as Shavuot/the Pentecost/Firstfruits of Wheat Harvest)

(iii)  Feast of Ingathering:  known as Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles (firstfruits of wine and oil) occuring from 15th to 21st of the month Tishri, the seventh ecclesiastical month

These are the three memorable days where all the males appear before God.  Unsurprisingly, these three festivals mark important dates in Scripture: the year opens with the reminder of Jesus’ death on the cross; followed by the Pentecost in the middle of the year, reminding us of the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit given to all men (Acts 2) which also occured on the Shavuot.  This being in the sixth month, on the sixth day, is the mark of man equipped and blessed by the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel, and also to be sanctified (as day six represents that of the creation of man and woman, just as the Spirit is given to all men and women.  For six days shall man labour; and so for six days shall we labour with the Holy Spirit for God’s Holy Work of salvation.  This is closely followed by the seventh month, symbolising a time of reaping of rewards, the firstfruits of wine and oil, and unlike the Feast of Weeks, this is similar to the Passover, a seven-day celebration.

Interestingly, following the Feast of Ingathering there is approximately 5 months before the next Passover… and this contributes to the seasonal cycle of Scripture – through death, comes life, and returns to death again, comes life again.  This is no Buddhist samsaric realm – rather, this is an observation of our life on earth, a shadow of the great event of Christ being thrown into the pit, rising as a new creation and ascending as our present Intercessor before the Heavenly Father.  Just as we are made from dust, we are given the firstfruits of new life by the Spirit; then we return to dust.  But we will rise again, breaking away from all seasons in new creation, and will eternally live in the Feast of Tabernacles where there is eternal wine and oil of gladness, where there is the eternal Tabernacling of the Lamb with us in New Jerusalem.

Perhaps there is something more I’d like to note:  Three times the male appears.  Why?

The first festival relates to CHRIST, in memory of the death of the firstborn.

The second festival relates to the SPIRIT, in memory of the giving of the Spirit to all who stand in the Son.

The third festival… relates to the FATHER – whom we will no longer conceive as invisible, but visible when we are given new bodies:

Job 19:25-27  For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  (26)  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,  (27)  whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!

And thus, the three periods of the year bear witness to the Triunity of the God in becoming, the cyclical nature of His outpouring love for us taking us from Christ, in the Spirit, to the Father from the victorious opening of the year to the even more glorious close of the greater hope in seeing the Father in our new creation bodies, in the new heaven and earth.

Conquest of Canaan in the Name of the Angel

From the great establishment of the yearly reminder of the Triune glory, we move on to vv.20-21 which speak of the divine archangel which Philo considered to be God the Father’s chief messenger, and no doubt, Jesus is the Father’s chief and foremost messenger.  The Angel of the LORD, who has the name of GOD himself, has the power of pardoning one’s transgressions.  The Father tells Moses to relay to the Israelites that this Angel must not be disobeyed (v.22).

Vv.23-24 then relate to the essence of Christian proclamation – v.24: “you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces”.  Indeed, Christ, the Angel, is the one who brings the victory – God the Father is the one who blots them out (v.23), but WE are the ones who invoke the Angel’s Name to destroy the idols according to the victory won by the Redeemer.  Such is the stuff of the Christian faith, when we are brought into the warm embrace of the Triune love!  Glen has written another great post on faith here.

And that fight of faith, by the victory of the cross and by the power of the Spirit (explained by the festivals), shall result in the symbolic treasures of Canaan.  The land will be enlarged, the people will no longer be barren… but v.33 ends on an important caution: “They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”  Yet, the irony is the prophetic nature behind this statement – STRAIGHT after Moses speaks to the Father, Israel is already serving their self-made calf.  Will the Israelites ever inherit such blessings, with their terrible track-record of being dissatisfied with the symbolic quail, manna and living water?  It is so laughable that we, like the Israelites, would however always promise God – “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do” (chapter 24v.3).

Clearly, the answer is found in the victorious Angel.  The answer is found in the annual reminder of the three-fold festivities.  The answer is found in the perfect fulfillment of the law.  What is the meaning of the law?  It is to bear witness to the Christ Who can do these things.  What is the meaning of the law?  It is to bear witness to the Seed, the God-man, who is the Redeemer of the ancient Christians.  What is the meaning of the law?  To display how utterly fallen we are, and our utter incapability of fulfilling it by ourselves, except in the eternal Mediator alone.  Through Him, we will see the Father, and inherit the blessings of New Jerusalem in true Canaan (v.23-32).

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Dev’s glorious blog is here. His last Exodus offering was here.

Exodus 20:2  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

The land of Egypt, the iron furnace, is well-known as a picture of the slavery to sin and the dominion by the wicked snake-prince of this world. Under the illusion of creating a glorious empire, the people are subject to a harsh reality of brutality and despair.

Yet the reason the people of God are in the land of Egypt does not seem to be the same as the one they end up being sent to Babylon. In the latter scenario, it is very clear that the people have been willfully engaging in rebellious behaviour against the Living God, participating in every possible sinful activity – until sin reached its full potential – and the consequence of that gestation was exile – being cast away from the presence of God (represented by His dwelling in the holy temple).

However, no such obvious rebellion has occurred for the people to end up in Egypt. Why are they there – what did they do to deserve such harsh treatment for this prolonged period of time? We know that slavery in the spiritual sense is indeed because of sin, and Satan then is given full authority over those that would allow his whispers to enter into their hearts.

The reason for Israel being in Egypt seems to be one of famine.

Genesis 41:57   Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.

Indeed a global famine, such that all the earth comes under the dominion of that old Pharaoh. But perhaps the famine was instituted by God so that the whole world would come under the reign of Joseph, God’s Elected Prince.

Now if we then back-track to the reason Joseph is in Egypt, it is because of the murderous intentions of his brothers –

Genesis 37:20-21   Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.”

Thus there is one sin that has indeed in some sense caused their ‘exile’ from Canaan to Egypt – and it is the murder of God’s Elected Prince.

John 3:18   Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

The sin of Adam is the same sin of all of us, the sin that we will all be judged for on that day – and it is the rejection, or the murder of the Christ.

Genesis 50:20   As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

The rebellion of a few against the Messiah was commuted to all, so that all may have life an provision in Him, the new prince of the world.

Now as our champion who we once crucified, He holds it not against us and declares:

Genesis 50:21   So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Isaiah 55:1-3   “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

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Read Exodus 17

The Angel of the LORD is in the midst of His saving work as promised in 3:12.  He has brought His people out of slavery, and now He is bringing them to the mountain to worship God.  In the meantime He leads them “by stages” (17:1, ESV) through a desert wasteland where all they have to sustain them is the Angel Himself.  He – the LORD Jesus – is the Rock who accompanies them and provides them with both their natural and spiritual sustenance (1 Cor 10:3-4,9).   The Israelites are being taught a lesson summed up well in the experience of one African Bishop:

“I never knew Jesus was all I needed until Jesus was all I had.”

That’s the lesson for the Israelites in the desert.  There is no natural sustenance for the people of God as they wait their mountain-top experience.  All they have is Jesus.  But they are being taught time and again – all they need is Jesus.  (For more on this theme see The Church in the Wilderness.)

In chapter 16 we saw grace for the grumbling.  The people complain at their spiritual leaders (16:2) and wish themselves back in slavery.  This is bad enough but Christ reveals that this is really grumbling against Himself (16:8) (pause for thought when you’re next tempted to roast your Christian leaders!).  Their sin is much worse than they imagine – but His grace is much greater too.  He would feed this mutinous rabble with the food of angels.  And on Calvary He would reveal the full depths of this grace – He would be torn apart as Bread for the world to feed wicked and desperate grumblers like us.

Chapter 17 shows this cycle of grace for the grumbling repeated.

The people “quarrel” with Moses (v2) – but it’s clearly a test of the LORD (cf Ps 95:8-9).  We know what should happen to those who quarrel:

1 Samuel 2:10 Those who quarrel with the LORD will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the LORD will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His King and exalt the horn of His Anointed.

Christ, who does not quarrel (Matt 12:19), will be the anointed Judge of all those who quarrel.

So when the LORD commands Moses to take up the staff from which the plagues of Egypt have flowed (v5), we know what should happen next.  He should strike down those horrible ingrates in judgement as a little sign of what the true Anointed King would do.

Except that’s not how it works out.  Instead the LORD Jesus stands on a Rock in front of all the elders.  Remember that “The Rock” is a favourite name for Him (e.g. Gen 49:24; Deut 32:4ff).  So He’s associating Himself very strongly with this physical rock.  And then He says to Moses, Don’t strike them, strike the rock.

Water comes out and their thirst is slaked.  It’s incredible grace towards the grumbling.  Not simply are they spared, they are positively blessed in response to such wicked quarrelling!  And wonderfully, Numbers 20:13 describes this event as one in which the LORD “showed Himself holy.”  The holiness of the LORD is not simply that which zaps sinners, but it shines forth when the Rock is struck and the grumblers are graced.

Centuries later, the One who stood on that rock – the Spiritual Rock who accompanied the people – came to a quarrelsome, grumbling, evil rabble.  But again, it was not the rabble that was struck.  He was struck by the rod of divine judgement and the life-giving waters of the Spirit flowed.  That same grace is extended to we grumblers today.  Our thirst is slaked because when our Rock was struck, Living Waters flowed from within Him (John 7:38; 19:34).

From v8, the Israelites learn that their LORD doesn’t only provide our necessities – He fights our battles.  We read of the attack of the Amalekites and we are introduced to Joshua for the first time.  His name simply is Jesus.  Here is the one who would bring them into the promised rest.  Moses can only bring the people so far – the one called Jesus must bring them home.  And here this young man will overcome the enemy while Moses holds his hands out on the mountaintop.

So the LORD provides food and drink and guidance and victory for a people who doubt and question and quarrel with Him at every turn.  They groan when oppressed and then grumble when freed.  They will be brought kicking and screaming to the promised rest only by the steadfast love and kindness of the LORD.  They can count on no-one and nothing else for their identity, security, strength and salvation.  The LORD alone is their banner (v15).

A sermon on Exodus 16-17 (audio of second half)

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Rich continues from yesterday’s post.

Read Exodus 15:1-21

We now find ourselves encamped on the Eastern shore of the Red Sea looking back on the great salvation worked by the Father’s Saving Angel.  His glories shining as brightly here as they would by the waters of Galilee.

Moses has just seen the two biggest, most dramatic and loudest multi-media presentations of the gospel the Hebrews would ever see.  He saw them.  More, he even experienced the Lord’s salvation.  His clothes still smell of roasted lamb, his hair and beard have the salt spray of the Red Sea matting it together.  The cloud of smoke which concealed the Angel of the Lord is billowing just a few metres away.

No wonder he broke out singing the first ever Christian hymn recorded!

Before we delve into the joy of this hymn, we need to consider the terror of it.  This is the reality of the gospel.  There is no salvation without judgement.  Hell will be suffered.  Either by Christ or by you.  For those who reject the Lord’s salvation, like the Egyptians, there is death but for all those who are in Christ Jesus, those who shelter under the blood of the lamb, those who pass through the cloud and the water there is life.

Considering the many warnings Pharaoh had, the mistreatment of the Hebrews and contempt towards the Word of Yahweh, we can (I think) feel that this is just. The Egyptians had ample opportunity to join Israel (as some of them did – Ex 12:38) but they hardened their hearts to the clear gospel presentations they received and so the inevitable consequence for them is to be thrown into the chaos and darkness of the deep.

I am not going to pretend that I find rejoicing in this aspect of our gospel particularly easy – I have to look again at what The Lord Christ has achieved for me for that joy to overwhelm my sadness at the hard hearted rejection of the free gift of salvation.

Moses’ hymn reflects on the events of that night in explicitly salvific language. Moses knew his salvation yes in terms of the great events which he lists and amplifies in verse, but also in terms of his relationship to his Saving Lord. He doesn’t just focus on the events and signs and forget who did them and how real he is – there is no depersonalised view of God here.

Verse 2 – he is my strength and my song and my salvation.  He is my God.  He knows his name verse 3.  Salvation from verse 12 is described in terms of a loving relationship.  Love which leads, which guides and keeps with God’s own strength.  It is pastoral language.

Just think about what this “unfailing love” meant to Moses, in his experience.  In the face of such a strong captivity, such an awful cost to salvation, such a dangerously narrow path. It is so rich a term!  He hadn’t forgotten his people.

Now think what it meant to Moses that God’s people are lead, what Moses knows and saw about His strength and His guidance and leading of His people.  It certainly wasn’t a case of throwing them a map and legging it!  It wasn’t even that he pulled some strings from on high to work salvation from a distance.  He was there.  He was with them.  He stoops down to save.  By his own Right Hand the Father works salvation for them.

This gives him great confidence going forward too.  If His great and unfailing love has moved Him to come in person and lead us thus far, then He will surely bring me my inheritance.  Moses looks beyond the Red Sea to his future hope.  Verse 17 – he is looking forward to being grafted into Zion – not just a bit of land in the Middle East, but the Lord’s actual sanctuary – the one He built and verse 18 his eternal reign.

His rejoicing is relationally focused and that relationship has this eschatological edge to it. He knows the Lord and he wants to know Him eternally. He depends on his guidance, strength and leading to establish him in his future kingdom for all eternity.

Such trust and dependence is built on the affirmation “be still and see the salvation of the Lord, see him fighting for you”.

If you are in Christ today, the Lord is with you – to guide, to provide, to lead you. His Spirit’s great work and goal is to bring you to the Father’s rest, to keep you in his fold, to keep your eyes focused on the gospel of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.

Rest in Christ, be still. Enjoy the fellowship of the Spirit as He works to bring you home.

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Rich Owen is a minister at City Evangelical Church in Leeds and has some cracking sermons here.

Read Exodus 13:17 – 14:31

Everyone else at the hotel had hired 4x4s to take them to see the lions, but we figured that would show a lack of faith in our clapped out minibus – how hard can it be?  Well, we saw the lions, but we didn’t half get battered about as our driver hurtled round the *bumpy* Ugandan wilderness in his beloved Isuzu.

There is a sense in which we can view the Christian life like holding on white knuckle style, until we get to heaven.  You are saved and now you strive and get battered about trying to live in the light of the promised future – bluntly, between salvation and consummation, we are abandoned to joyless religion.

Our lives are indeed a journey through the wilderness, and Canaan’s rest is still far away.  But we are not left without a guide, a friend who lights our path to the oasis, one who cares and comforts his people and with whom we can fellowship.

This pillar of cloud and fire of verses 21 and 22 acted like a tour guides umbrella leading the people from place to place.  The umbrella shows the tourists where the guide is. Stay with the blue brolly, and you know you are with the guide and heading in the right direction.  Likewise, as Ch 14:19 states it was the Angel of the Lord who was leading the people – he was in the cloud and fire. Walk with the cloud and you know you are walking in the immediate presence of God the Son.  A gospel sign with the gospel word.  Pretty cool huh?

Ch 13:17-21 shows how God wasn’t unsympathetic to the Israelites concerns.  He knew how easy it would have been for them to want to go back and so he leads them via a desert path.  It’s not the easiest route but it is the best one – the one that keeps them in his fold.  The Angel of the Lord was Israel’s shepherd-guide, leading them in person along the way which is best.  He doesn’t chuck a map at them and then leg it!

This is great news for the Hebrews – I love the fact that verse 8 of Ch 14 has them marching out boldly!  Their Saving Lord, the Divine Angel ahead of them in the cloud, they pursued Him with boldness, walking 10 feet tall with their God.

Pharaoh’s pursuit however was equally as bold (Ch 14:1-9).  He sent the best forces after them to cut them down.  They headed the Israelites off and hemmed them in by the sea.

The Israelites thought that they had been abandoned in the wilderness to die by Pharaohs sword.  They turned their eyes from the saving Lord who was with them and instead looked at what was coming and believed that they would have to fight.  Do you see the problem?

They stopped resting upon their communion with the Angel of the Lord.  They un-hid themselves from the Rock and were found standing only on desert sand.  Take your eyes off the Lord Jesus and you end up looking at self and at the world and the inevitable conclusion is fighting, striving … religion.

So what happens next? What should we do when we doubt the presence and fellowship we have with the Father, through Christ and by the Holy Spirit –  His care, his provision? Lets see what happens here first:

A)    Moses delivers a rip snorting call to battle… “you people of the Living God who face adversity, who waver, who have fear, who long for better times, who take their eyes away from the goal – dig in, hold on tight, white knuckle style to the bitter end…”

Or…

B)    They are simply reminded of the glorious gospel of free grace which had saved them.  All they need in the face of the wilderness, the enemy and the longing, is to have their eyes turned back to the Lord, their Immanuel.  “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today… The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Ch 14:13-14)

Look at the one who fights for you.  Look to the Son of the Most High who brought you out of tyranny, who dwells with you.  Stand upon the Rock and be still for he stands before you to face the great enemy.  He will defeat death this day.  He will loose you from your chains and by the breath of his Mighty Spirit he will provide a path to the rest and perfection of his eternal Kingdom.

In other words, WE don’t DO anything except receive again the gospel. Moses and the Israelites were told to stand a watch – they are given another gospel sign.

And so verse 21 (cf 15:8,10) by His Spirit, the Lord drove back the sea which stood in front of them while Himself guarding them against the Egyptians behind them.  The invitation to cross was clear. They came into and received the Lord’s salvation.  Interestingly, the Lord draws the great enemy into his chosen way to save his people.  It is here that he throws the accuser down.  Salvation for his people and victory over evil occur at the same place.

What a gospel we have!

Be still – your efforts won’t save you.  Rest in the Christ who has gathered you into himself, has gone through the waters for you, lived for you, who has taken you through death defeating the enemy, brought you into new life and taken you to the Father’s side.  Be still and see the salvation of the Lord.

The Israelites saw the salvation of the Angel of the Lord and placed their trust in Him (14:31).

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