Tag Archives: resurrection

Assumption and Salvation

“What Christ did not assume is not redeemed.”

That, or something like it, was a way that the early church fathers (Gregory? anyone help me out here?) reflected on the significance of Jesus’ incarnation and full humanity. Against the idea that he might not have had a human soul, for example, it was insisted that whatever we are must be what the Son became in order that we might become as the Son now is.

Advent is the perfect time to reorient ourselves to the fact that our savior was born truly human. Paul describes Jesus as being on earth “in the likeness of sinful flesh.”

This takes us back around to yesterday, and the question of hope and resurrection. The “assuming” part is crucial because it puts in place the pieces that are “redeemed” with the life, death, and resurrection.

With a human savior being raised from the dead, we are forever confronted by a proclamation of good news that refuses to be truncated by our favorite problems that need solving.

Yes, the gospel proclaims forgiveness from the guilt of sin. But if that’s your whole gospel you need to go back and ask yourself why this human was raised from the dead. Or, perhaps, what Mark 1-14 mean and why they qualify as the church’s good news.

Yes, the gospel proclaims freedom from oppressive powers. But if that’s your whole gospel, there’s a world of hunger and hurt that Jesus invites you to meet with healing and filling. The gospel is bigger than freedom.

Yes, the gospel tells us about the incomparable worth of humanity in the sight of God. But if that’s the sum total of your gospel, you need to keep asking questions: where are we, why does it matter, and what hope does creation have as it groans and waits?

Jesus did not only assume a human body, but the human situation as under God, under sin, under law; and as among other people, among sinners, and among saints; and as experiencing pain, experiencing hunger, and experiencing isolation; and as standing over the creatures, over the physical world, and over his disciples.

To be truly human is not only to exist as a soulish body, but to live on this world in this created order. This is the “assumption of human flesh” that Jesus entered into. And this is the extent of his redemption. And this is the extent of the hope that he extends.

He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found

Hope

“Hope is when you wish for something.”

“No, hope is when you really think something is going to happen.”

This conversation, overheard from the back seat of my car, embodies the dissonance many of us live in between hope as a powerful life-giving reality, and hope as a wishy-washy sense of desire.

I choose my words carefully: “live-giving” reality. “Life-giving” expectation.

Even when we’ve moved beyond the wishy-washy to something that might help us press forward, we are in danger of watering down hope. Hope is not simply a disposition. Nor is it simply the expectation that all things will work out in the end, if we just hang on long enough.

Hope, Christian hope, the hope by which the story of the world finds a hope that will not be disappointed, comes from the confession and belief that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.

The story of resurrection tells us that humanity is heading somewhere–somewhere beyond the power of the grave, beyond the power of sin, beyond the power of law.

The story of resurrection tells us that the cosmos is heading somewhere–somewhere beyond the power of supernovas, beyond the power of entropy, beyond the power of corruption.

The story of resurrection tells us, for sure, that our world has been imbued by its creator with a certain, inalienable hope. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. Humanity will be raised from the dead to its new-creation dwelling.

Hope for the future comes from the Event in the past that gives all history its meaning and its end.

Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Therefore, we have hope.

The Lord Becomes the Lord (Again)

Luke loves to refer to Jesus as the Lord.

Elizabeth calls Mary “the mother of my Lord,” when baby Jesus is in utero. Those petitioning Jesus for help will defer to him as “Lord.” It is “the Lord” who appoints seventy-two and sends them out on their mission.

And it is “the Lord” who turns to look at Peter after Peter has denied him for the third time (22:61).

And then… nothing.

Throughout the trial before the elders, Jesus is not referred to as “the Lord.”

Throughout the trial before Pilate, Jesus is not referred to as “Lord.”

Standing before Herod, he is simply “Jesus.”

Before the crowd, he is simply “this man.”

Led to the cross, he is Jesus. Crucified, he is mocked as the would-be Christ or would-be King of the Jews. But he is not called the Lord.

Through the taunting of the one bandit and the petition of remembrance from the other, he is derided as “the Christ” or simply called Jesus.

It is “Jesus,” not “the Lord” who gives up his spirit, and “Jesus” whom the women watch from afar.

“Jesus'” body is buried.

But on the first day of the week, when the women come to anoint the body with their aromatic spices they discover less than they came to find. And also find out that they should have been looking for more.

They find that the body of “the Lord Jesus” is missing.

The risen one is the Lord once again. And so the two who come running back from Emmaus say to the rest, “The Lord has really risen!”

And so Peter can say on the Day of Pentecost, in reference to the resurrected Jesus, “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The resurrection is an enthronement. It is the heavenly reinstatement of what Jesus showed forth and then set aside while on the earth.

Peter says in that same sermon in Acts 2: “Jesus was a man testified to by God through signs and wonders.” The Lord Jesus was acting on the power and authority of the Lord God. And was rejected: finally rejected by even his closest followers, he walks through the passion narrative as simply “Jesus,” as the messianic pretender.

But God witnesses to him again by the resurrection, enthroning him as the Lord once more. The missing body is not simply the body of Jesus. It is, once again, the body of the Lord.

Christ is All: Entry and Continuing

Continue as you were called. This is the admonition in Col 2:6ff.

And it underscores how important it is that we get our story straight right from the beginning.

The way that we come to faith, the story about Jesus that we hear and believe and fall in love with, is going to exercise a considerable power over our understanding of what the rest of our life might look like. And rightfully so.

The portrait of salvation in Christ that Paul depicts in Col 2 is full of indications of how we might misstep in walking after Christ, ways that our following might depart from our embrace by God.

The first admonition to allow deep roots and growth in Christ to overflow with Thanksgiving. Paul will go on to describe roadblocks to faithful Christian life–roadblocks, in essence, to thankfulness. A thankful spirit arises from knowing that the story with which God embraced us is the reality of our life in the present.

When we’re confronted with traditions of people–be they God’s people such as Israel or our Christian theological traditions–or the philosophies of other people, we are not in the presence of something that must be mastered in order to be fully embraced in the family of God. God has accepted us in Christ. Full stop. Thus, it is only in Christ that we continue with God.

Not only are philosophies and traditions “of people,” they hinder our thankfulness for this very reason. They raise a specter that must be conquered before one can “really” know God. They vacate the truth of our identity as God’s beloved children.

Christ is great: greater than any ruler or authority. And, this greatness is the source of our own life. We are in this great one, and therefore not in need of anything else to be esteemed in the eyes of God. We continue in him as we have learned him: Jesus is the supreme Lord of all, the one in whom God receives people to Himself.

Co-crucifixion with Christ has marked us out as God’s covenant people. We are in him. This means that both the guilt and the power of sin are done away. “God made you alive with Christ and forgave all the things you had done wrong” (Col 2:13, CEB).

The positive life we need to embrace is ours in union with the resurrected Christ. The life of sin and guilt and shame we need to leave behind is left behind in that old humanity who died with Christ on the cross.

We come to God only in Christ; and thus we continue only in Christ.

And, with such a holistic embrace by God, our lives are stirred to thanksgiving. We already have all that we need.

Don’t let anyone hoodwink you.

Shema Christology in 1 Cor 8

The illustrious James McGrath has raised the question of how we are to take the allusion to the shema in 1 Cor 8.

Here’s the verse in question:

There is one God the Father.
All things come from him, and we belong to him.
And there is one Lord Jesus Christ.
All things exist through him, and we live through him.

The issue, then, is what are to make of its apparent use and transformation of the language of traditional Jewish piety in its affirmation of YHWH as the one God:

Hear O Israel! The Lord is God, the Lord alone.

Does the reference in 1 Cor to Jesus as “the Lord,” in a sense, write him into the shema’, such that he participates in the divine identity? In other words, is this an early Jewish way of indicating that Jesus is God?

The view that this so identifies Jesus with God that Jesus becomes identified with the works of the God of Israel has a couple of things to commend it. First, there is the calling of Jesus “Lord,” which was how Jewish people were rendering YHWH from the OT, how YHWH would have been rendered in the shema’ itself.

So the pairing of the Father and the Lord with this shema’ language might point in that direction.

Second, Jesus seems to be associated with creation: all things exist through him.

There is one major point against this theory, however, and in my estimation it is decisive: Paul says that there is one God–the Father.

For all the “identification” of Jesus with God, for all the acting in God’s name and exercising God’s dominion over the cosmos through his resurrection Lordship that Paul affirms, he consistently refers to the Father as God. It seems to be irresponsible exegesis to say that Paul was saying in a Jewish way what the later creeds would affirm.

The Father is God. He alone.

Jesus is the Lord over all things.

How, then, are we to take this “Lord, through whom are all things”?

First, there is no problem at all with a Jewish person referring to someone, a King, as Lord alongside YHWH who is the Lord. In fact, as Ephesians can say that there is one Father in heaven from whom all families on earth derive their name, a Jewish person would probably say that there is one kurios in heaven–which is precisely why this Lord’s people can have a king whom we call The Lord.

The Lordship of the Messiah is derivative of the Lordship of Israel’s God.

What, then, are we to make of all things existing through him?

This comports well with what Paul says elsewhere about the advent of new creation with the death and resurrection of Jesus as Messiah.

“One died for all, therefore all died… so then, if anyone is in Christ–New Creation! The old things have passed away, behold! the new things have come!”

To say that all things are through him, that he sustains all things, that all rulers and powers are for him and under him–all of this is new creation language. It is a new creation that comes about through the death and resurrection of Jesus, as he is enthroned as Lord at God’s right hand.

We exist through him–he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died and rose again for them.

If the shema’ is altered in 1 Cor 8, it happens through the Christ event per se rather than as a description or realization of Jesus’ pre-existent ontological identity.

Forgiveness and Resurrection

Yesterday I did a little co-conspiring with Mark Scandrette and the guys from ikon here in San Francisco. We recorded a podcast about forgiveness (stay tuned for download details).

The conversation generated a number of thoughts and questions, not all of them worked out in our short time recording. Perhaps one of the most important has to do with entrusting judgment to God. At some level, especially for people who have been badly wounded, abused, left behind after a loved one has been killed, forgiveness will be tied to a conviction that the God of all the earth will do what is right.

Is that really the God who composes the Christian story? Is that really the God who beckons us to forgive and even to bless those who persecute us?

In my estimation, we have too often surrendered a major resource for answering this question because we have built our theology of forgiveness so much around the cross that we have neglected the crucial place of the resurrection.

Resurrection means not only that God has accepted and forgiven us in Christ. This much is true. But it also means, more generally, that the economy of this world is not equipped to bring about the just judgment of God.

The God of all the earth will do what is right, but this mortal life and its systems of power and even of justice are not the heavenly court.

Resurrection promises that there will be reversal. Injustice cannot escape the righteous judgment of God.

He Shouldn’t Have Done It

Reflections on resurrection from the Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”:

“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” the Misfit continued, “and he shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do now but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can–by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” he said, and his voice had become almost a snarl.

How much more if Jesus himself is raised.

Happy Easter!

Sure Deliverance

I’m not sure why, but the kids and I keep reading the Psalms.

I know, it sounds like a really great idea. But in the words of a friend who attempted the same and ultimately was punished by God for it with a PhD in Old Testament, “There’s some really strange stuff in there.”

Ok, so maybe “strange” isn’t the word for the dissonance I’m experiencing. But what I’m finding in the first dozen or so Psalms is that the core of Israel’s religious worship consists of an expectation that for the God of all the earth to what is right, Israel’s enemies must be sent running before her swords.

This, of course, is not everything. And perhaps it’s too much to call military victory the core. It closely resides next to the idea that the unjust will not escape the sight, or vengeance, of God.

As I read these poems, I am constantly moving among several thoughts in my mind. One is that the expectation of military victory as the means of YHWH’s engagement with the world is so deeply rooted that (a) I have constantly refreshed sympathy for the disappointed disciples of Jesus; and (b) I consciously wrestle out Christologically revisionist interpretations of the psalms in order to mesh them with a transformed understanding of the victory God has won, and is winning, through His King on behalf of the people of the earth.

The other is that the expectation that injustice will not succeed is weird. It seems off. It seems overly optimistic. It seems just plain wrong.

And here is where I get caught.

I suspect that for the singers of these songs, the tangible reality of injustice was much more acutely felt on a day-to-day basis than it has ever been in my own life. I bet that for them, there were particular faces of injustice to put to these general hopes.

And these songs were sung in faith.

The songs of deliverance are not, for the most part, triumphant proclamations of how God has socked it to the bad guys, but songs of invocation–celebrations beforehand of the just and powerful God that would not believe that evil will be allowed the last word here on earth, as it is not allowed it in heaven above.

The more that the songs strike me as wrong, as wishful, as overly optimistic, the more I am reminded that I need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.

I need to be reminded that the God of all the earth will not allow the unjust to escape his due recompense, that God will not turn a blind eye to the cheat and the swindler–that God will not allow the cry of the righteous to go unheeded.

And we have the resurrection to prove it.

Made Lord and Christ

Over the past couple of months I have been puzzling afresh over Acts 2:36: “Therefore, let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (CEB).

The clear implication is that Jesus became something that he was not previously: at the resurrection he becomes Lord and Messiah.

This has been judged problematic for Luke’s overall Christology. In particular, the verse sits in uneasy tension with the Gospel of Luke, where the idea of Jesus as lord, in particular, recurs throughout. How can he be made something that he clearly already was throughout his life?

Due to this tension, some scholars have argued that the verse is pre-Lucan, and not his own theology. Alternatively, some have argued that Luke composed it to give verisimilitude to Peter’s speech, but is not something he himself bought into.

This is problematic inasmuch as it does not take the larger context of the sermon into account–or the subsequent sermon in Acts 13. In both, the psalm’s declaration that God will not allow his holy one to see corruption is a clear indication that Jesus, at the resurrection, comes to fulfill the prophecy of an incorruptible Davidic king. In fact, the Acts 13 text cites Psalm 2, “You are my son, this day have I begotten you” in the same connection: Jesus is adopted king, enthroned, made Christ, at the resurrection.

How, then, can we have it both ways? How is Jesus the lord on earth and then made lord at the resurrection?

By taking the death of Jesus with utmost seriousness and by recognizing the resurrection as a fresh and creative act of God.

In an article wrestling with this very issue, Kavin Rowe draws attention to the fact that Jesus is called kurios, Lord, through Luke–right up until Peter denies the lord for the third time and the lord turns to look at him. Then Jesus is not referred to as lord again. Not, that is, until after the resurrection.

Perhaps Acts 13, the other sermon where Jesus’ resurrection is marked as his enthronement as lord and Davidic king, can be of help here.

There, Paul recounts Israel’s story. As he does so, he oscillates between God’s faithful action toward Israel and Israel’s rebellion against God:

    God delivered them from Egypt. Then he had to put up with them in the wilderness for forty years.
    God conquered nations and gave them judges. And the people came and asked for a king–they God Saul.
    God gave them a man after his own heart, David, from whose seed came Jesus as prophesied by John. And the people of Jerusalem killed him by having him executed by Pilate.
    God raised him from the dead, adopting Jesus as Davidic King, a king who will never see decay. Now what will you do?(Acts 13:16-41)

The life of the lord Jesus on earth was, in fact, the life of the lord and messiah. It was a divine visitation to the people from within the line of David. And the crucifixion is the rejection of God’s agent by the very people to whom God sent Jesus out of faithfulness, and as a great act of salvation.

The earthly reign of the lord Jesus is finished as he is rejected and killed. He is not called the kurios from Peter’s denial until the resurrection.

But God acts afresh. The man Jesus to whom God had testified while on earth by signs and wonders receives new testimony when God raises him from the dead, enthroning him in heaven as messiah and lord.

In the oscillation between divine act and Israel’s response, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are not of a piece in Luke-Acts. The life is one extended, God-endorsed act of saving presence that is rejected. The resurrection is the next.

When God makes lord the crucified messiah, Israel hears afresh the divine call, now administered through the one who has been given an incorruptible share in the name “lord” by which all people on earth can receive the forgiveness that leads to life.

The Righteousness of God (part 3a of 4)

Some time ago, I came to the conclusion that the fracas over the righteousness of God could not be separated from another favorite perennial NT question: the meaning of pistis, and the pistis Christou debate in particular.

Romans 1:17 reads: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed by faith unto faith as it is written, ‘But the one who is righteous by faith will live.”

Somehow, the good news reveals God’s righteousness “by faith”, as it is written, “But the one who is righteous ‘by faith’ will live.”

The ideas are brought together again at the end of Romans 3:

But now, without law, the righteousness of God has been made manifest (being witnessed by the law and the prophets), the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ (or, through faith in Jesus Christ) unto all who exercise faith. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being righteoused freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement through faith, by his blood, in order to show forth his righteousness, because in his forbearance he passed over the previously committed sins, to show forth his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus.

That is one mean sentence! Notice again that the way in which God’s righteous is made known is through faith: either the faith of Jesus in going to the cross or our faith in Jesus (3:22), depending on how you interpret the Greek, it is made manifest through faith and goes out unto the faith of all who believe. The pattern from Romans 1:17 is repeated: from faith unto faith.

But whose faith is it? Christ’s faith in going to death on the cross or our faith in Christ?

Later in the paragraph we’re told: it’s God’s putting forward of Jesus as a sacrifice in his blood that is the act of faith by which God’s righteousness is made known. So when we’re told that the righteousness of God is witnessed to by the law and prophets, it seems that the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus is the event which they foreshadow.

Thus, when we read in the very first scripture citation in the book of Romans, “the righteous one ‘by faith’ will live”, we do well to read this as a reference to the faithful Christ who was raised because of his fidelity.

This then brings us back to the question of what, exactly, this faithful death of Jesus has to do with the righteousness of God. How does the death of Jesus reveal the righteousness of God?

The passage in Romans 3 tells us that this death of Jesus reveals God’s righteousness because it enables him to justly justify his people.

So what?

Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you.