The Restoration of All Things: Preaching Irenaeus of Lyons

It's sort of like what's happened to my 9-month-old daughter. She broke her leg. It was mostly an accident—but not entirely. No matter how many toys and pieces of Tupperware we surround her with, she inevitably wants what she can't have, demonstrating quite vividly her own human nature. One of her taboos is the TV remote that sat atop an ottoman. She uses the ottoman to pull up, but seeing the remote, she overreached to obtain the object of her desire. Letting loose of a hand, she lost her balance and fell back onto her leg and fractured it. Now, as a result of the fall, she was in a cast for three weeks, her development sidetracked by having to haul around a pound of plaster. Granted, leaving the remote where it would tempt her was my doing, making me Satan in this analogy. But she did make a reach for it. She is partly to blame. But c'mon, she's a baby, she couldn't help it. "Cut her some slack, you're her dad!" Which was precisely Irenaeus' point. The childlike Adam and Eve, while at fault, receive ample amounts of grace from their heavenly Father. God explicitly cursed Satan for duping Adam and Eve, but Adam and Eve he only punished, leaving room for their ultimate healing redemption.

Of course, God knew this was going to happen. Which is why Revelation 13:8 describes Jesus as the "Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world." Redemption has always been in the works. In Christ, humanity gets a do-over. Irenaeus writes, Christ's "obedience on the tree of the cross reversed the disobedience at the tree in Eden; the good news of the truth announced by an angel to Mary undid the evil lie that seduced Eve. As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in turn was given the good news by the word of an angel and bore God in obedience to his word . . . Christ gathered all things into one, by gathering them into himself. He declared war against our enemy, crushed and trampled on the head of the one who at the beginning had taken us captive in Adam."

Jesus saves not only by his atoning death, but by his obedient life too. He paves the way for our created destiny. "The Son of God has always existed with the Father," Irenaeus wrote, "but when he was incarnate and became a human being, he recapitulated (did over) in himself the long history of the human race, obtaining salvation for us, so that we might regain in Jesus Christ what we had lost in Adam; that is, being in the image and likeness of God . . . Our bodies, which have been nourished by the Eucharist will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father. Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature in immortality and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility, for God's power is shown most perfectly in weakness."

True for the creature, true for creation. In the end the world that came from God will return to him again. We get redeemed and so does the earth. The dust of creation to which all living things return when they die is the same dust out of which resurrection and new creation emerges. In Romans, Paul writes how "the creation waits in eager expectation;" our new birth signals its new birth. "The creation itself," Paul writes, "will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God." "God is rich in all things and all things are his," Irenaeus wrote, "it is right, therefore, for this created order to be restored to its pristine state, and to serve the just without restraint." Instead of the eventual decimation of a universe spun out of control, instead of an earth fried up or freeze-dried a billion years hence, Scripture envisions its glorious restoration by God's creative and redemptive hand. As for us, the ineffable light of God's glory breaks back into our present beckoning on toward becoming the people in Christ we already are. And in that day when we are who we are, we will join with the ancient-future chorus of Revelation that finally fulfills its purpose in the unending praise of God.

12/26/2011 5:00:00 AM
  • Preachers
  • The Church Fathers ABCs
  • Creation
  • Destiny
  • History
  • Irenaeus
  • Preaching Resources
  • Christianity
  • Evangelicalism
  • Daniel Harrell
    About Daniel Harrell
    Daniel M. Harrell is Senior Minister of The Colonial Church, Edina, MN and author of How To Be Perfect: One Church's Audacious Experiment in Living the Old Testament Book of Leviticus (FaithWords, 2011). Follow him via Twitter, Facebook, or at his blog and website.