What the Bible is all about

On Sunday we read the entire Passion narrative from Matthew 26-27.  Read what our pastor said about it in a sermon that contains the “God  who didn’t act like a God” bit that I blogged about yesterday.  From Rev. James Douthwaite, St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Palm / Passion Sunday Sermon:

You just heard the story that all the Bible is about. This is not just part of the story, this is what it’s all about. Take this story out and the Bible is just another holy book – teaching us what to do and how to be good. But with this story, the Bible becomes a wholly different book, and everything in it gains new meaning. Everything in the Bible must be understood through the lens of this story, or not be understood at all. [Read more...]

An evangelist to theologians

This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of a theologian I had never heard of but whose Christ-centered approach to theology sounds very promising:  Thomas F. Torrance of the Church of Scotland, described in First Things as “an orthodox, ecumenical, and pastoral theologian”:

He considered his primary calling to be a minister of the Gospel and an evangelist to theologians. Modern western theology, he believed, has been trapped in an obsolete, dualist mindset that detaches Jesus Christ from God, worship and mission from Christ, and biblical and theological study from fellowship and communion with the living God. [Read more...]

God is present vs. God is present for you

I hope you had a happy Quasimodogeniti, the Second Sunday of Easter with perhaps the coolest name in the Church Year (which comes from the Latin for the first words of the Introit of the day from 1 Peter 2:2:  “Like newborn infants. . . .).  We had another powerful sermon from our pastor, Rev. James Douthwaite, preaching on John 20:19-31:

And the disciples did. Was God with them in that room behind locked doors because God is present everywhere anyway? Sure. But that wasn’t much comfort. Jesus knew they needed not just a “well we know He’s here, somewhere” God, but a “He’s here for me” Saviour. Jesus knew, and so He came. In the flesh. To raise them from their sin and fear to a new life in Him.

And Jesus knows that’s what you need as well. “I know God is with me because He’s present everywhere” just doesn’t cut it when you’re locked in fear and sin and darkness and impending death and God seems a million miles away. Like the young child crying out for mom in the middle of the night, who knows mom’s there, in the house, maybe even right in the next room, but that’s not good enough. That’s a million miles away in child miles. He needs mom there. She needs mom’s touch. [Read more...]

Good Friday

 

He made Himself nothing

What a sermon we had on Palm Sunday to introduce Holy Week!  Pastor Douthwaite preached on Philippians 2:5-8:  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

He made Himself nothing.

The word used there is the word ekenosen, which means He emptied Himself. Some Bibles translate it that way, and so its important to know what that means, and what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that the Son of God left His godness behind in heaven when He became a man. It doesn’t mean He left His power and glory in heaven when He became a man. It doesn’t mean that when He was arrested and manhandled by the Roman soldiers, when He stood before Pilate, and when He hung on the cross, He was helpless and couldn’t do anything about it. He could have. Easily. The same Son of God who healed folks of every disease and sickness, who knew the thoughts and hearts of men, who could command all creation by His Word, whose glory shone in His transfiguration, and who had power over death – that is the Jesus of the Passion. The Son of God who willingly didn’t use all that power when it came time to save Himself. He made Himself nothing.

Yet perhaps we could go even farther than that, if that’s possible – He made Himself less than nothing. Taking upon Himself the sin of the world, He was the greatest sinner ever. Whoever you usually think has that title, the most evilest person you can think of, you’re wrong – it’s Jesus. He is the worst idolater, the worst unbeliever, the worst hater, the worst scoundrel, the worst murderer, the worst adulterer, the worst thief, the worst liar, the worst cheat, the worst everything . . . because He’s got all your sins and all my sins and all the sin of all the people out there, on Him.

Unfair? No. He took them. He wanted them. So that they would be on Him and not on you. So that they would be held against Him and not against you. So that He would be forsaken for them and die for them and not you.

He made Himself nothing.

The king becomes a servant. God becomes man. The One subject to none makes Himself subject to all. The author of life dies. The glory of God is hung on a cross.

Why? For you.

That’s what this day, and all this week, is all about. With all that you hear today, all that you hear this week, the thought to put in your mind is this: He did all this for me. For me. Not just for the world. For me. He made Himself nothing, to make you something. To make you a child of God. And that was worth it. For the Father, that was worth sending His Son. For Jesus, that was worth all the pain and agony and death. You were worth it. You may not be anything in anybody’s eyes; maybe not even in your own eyes. But you are in God’s eyes.

Maybe you think you’re nothing and that’s why you spend so much time trying to make yourself something. But there is simply nothing greater you can do or make yourself than what Jesus has made you: a child of God. That gives you more value than anything else in this world. And God has done that. He said it to you when you were baptized: You are now My beloved Son.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Palmarum/Passion Sunday Sermon.

Christology

We’ve been discussing the Christological dimensions of the Ascension, including the Lutheran view that not only Christ’s divine nature was taken into the Godhead, but that also His human nature–body and all–is now part of the Trinity, sharing in the divine attributes such as omnipresence.  Thus, Christ, in His body and blood, can be truly present on all the world’s altars celebrating Holy Communion.

I just had a related conversation with a friend of mine who said that he had been taught that only Christ’s human nature died on the Cross.  His divine nature did not.

A while back ago, we discussed the passage in the Lutheran Confessions that insists, against a number of opponents, that it is correct to say that “God died” on the cross.  Again, we have “the communication of attributes.”

Otherwise, it seems like the Incarnation is being split, if not undone.  The Son of God is both true God and true Man even in Heaven.  And the Son of God is both true God and true Man who is “with us always.”  God is still and always incarnate in Jesus Christ.

It’s hard to imagine how Christ’s death could have such an effect–bearing our sins and griefs and atoning for them–if it were just His human nature, or just His body that suffered.   Surely only the death of God–not the Father, but the Son–could accomplish things of such magnitude.

I’m starting to see how, as David Scaer has put it, “all theology is Christology.”

UPDATE:  Here is a link to the earlier post, along with a substantial quotation from the Formula of Concord, Article VIII: That God Died.

That God died

I had assumed that yesterday’s post about Crucifixion, in which I talked about how God died, would attract objections. This was actually a big controversy during the Reformation, with Zwinglians in particular denying that God could be said to have died on the Cross. The human nature of Christ died, of course, but divinity–conceived in the Aristotelian way as an impassive, unchanging Being–could not be said to have died. The Lutherans responded with their unique Christology, which teaches the communication of the attributes, that what can be said of Christ’s human nature can be said of His divine nature, so that His human body can truly be omnipresent on all altars at Holy Communion, and that in the incarnation God was so united with human flesh that we can say that Mary was indeed the mother of God and that God died on the Cross. This is affirmed in the Lutheran confessions, in The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article VIII:

If the old weather-witch, Dame Reason. . .would say, Yea, divinity cannot suffer nor die; you shall reply, That is true; yet, because in Christ divinity and humanity are one person, Scripture, on account of this personal union, ascribes also to divinity everything that happens to the humanity, and vice versa. 42] And it is so in reality; for you must certainly answer this, that the person (meaning Christ) suffers and dies. Now the person is true God; therefore it is rightly said: The Son of God suffers. For although the one part (to speak thus), namely, the divinity, does not suffer, yet the person, which is God, suffers in the other part, namely, in His humanity; for in truth God's Son has been crucified for us, that is, the person which is God. For the person, the person, I say, was crucified according to the humanity. . . .

Dr. Luther says also in his book Of the Councils and the Church: We Christians must know that if God is not also in the balance, and gives the weight, we sink to the bottom with our scale. By this I mean: If it were not to be said [if these things were not true], God has died for us, but only a man, we would be lost. But if "God's death" and "God died" lie in the scale of the balance, then He sinks down, and we rise up as a light, empty scale. But indeed He can also rise again or leap out of the scale; yet He could not sit in the scale unless He became a man like us, so that it could be said: "God died," "God's passion," "God's blood," "God's death." For in His nature God cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is correctly called God's death, when the man dies who is one thing or one person with God.

This high view of the Incarnation, this notion that God is to be known not as an abstraction as in theologies of glory but in Christ crucified, is at the essence of Luther’s theology. Zwingli taught that Christ could not be bodily present in the sacrament, since He ascended bodily into Heaven. The Lutherans, though, taught that since He ascended into Heaven, His body COULD be present by virtue of the omnipresence of the Godhead. Lutheran Christology looms behind many other doctrines, but it is much neglected today. (“Like what?” you may ask. I’ll let you readers answer that question.)