The Word became flesh

The-Word-Became-Flesh

 

David Mathis:

What Is the Incarnation?

The incarnation refers literally to the in-fleshing of the eternal Son of God—Jesus becoming human. The doctrine of the incarnation says that the eternal second person of the Trinity took on humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. A helpful way to remember the key aspects of the incarnation is John 1:14: “The Word became flesh.”

The Word…

The Word refers to the eternal Son of God who was “in the beginning with God” and who himself is God (John 1:1). From eternity past until he took on humanity, the Son of God existed in perfect love, joy, and harmony in the fellowship of the Trinity. Like the Father and the Spirit, he was spirit and had no material substance. But at the incarnation, the eternal Word entered into creation as human. He became a first-century Jew.

…became…

Became does not mean that he ceased to be God. In becoming man, he did not forsake his divine nature. It means that he became man by taking on human nature in addition to his divine nature. It is essential to the incarnation—and very helpful throughout all theology—to recognize that divinity and humanity are not mutually exclusive. The Son of God didn’t have to pick between being God and being man. He could be both at the same time. The eternal Word became human.

…flesh.

Flesh isn’t merely a reference to the human body but the entirety of what makes up humanity—body, mind, emotions, and will. Hebrews 2:17 and 4:15 teach that to save human beings Jesus had to be made like us “in every respect” except our sin. In the incarnation, everything proper to humanity was united to the Son of God. The Son of God didn’t only become like man; he actually became truly and fully human.

The Word Became Flesh

So the eternal Son of God, without ceasing to be God, took on a fully human nature. This is the incarnation.

And what a magnificent doctrine and fuel for worship this is! Jesus didn’t just become man because he could. This was no circus stunt, just for show. He became man “for us and for our salvation” (in the words of the old creed). The Word became flesh to save us from our sin and to free us to marvel at and enjoy the unique union of divinity and humanity in his one spectacular person.

The incarnation is not only the way in which Jesus became Immanuel—God with us—but it’s an eternal testimony that he and his Father are unswervingly for us.

The incarnation of Jesus

incarnation2

 

Joseph Scheumann:

Christmas is about the incarnation of Jesus. Strip away the season’s hustle and bustle, the trees, the cookies, the extra pounds, and what remains is a humble birth story and a simultaneously stunning reality — the incarnation of the eternal Son of God.

This incarnation, God himself becoming human, is a glorious fact that is too often neglected, or forgotten, amidst all the gifts, get-togethers, pageants, and presents. Therefore, we would do well to think deeply about the incarnation, especially on this day.

Here are five biblical truths of the incarnation.

1. The Incarnation Was Not the Divine Son’s Beginning

The virgin conception and birth in Bethlehem does not mark the beginning of the Son of God. Rather, it marks the eternal Son entering physically into our world and becoming one of us. John Murray writes, “The doctrine of the incarnation is vitiated if it is conceived of as the beginning to be of the person of Christ. The incarnation means that he who never began to be in his specific identity as Son of God, began to be what he eternally was not” (quoted in John Frame, Systematic Theology, 883).

2. The Incarnation Shows Jesus’s Humility

Jesus is no typical king. Jesus didn’t come to be served. Instead, Jesus came to serve (Mark 10:45). His humility was on full display from the beginning to the end, from Bethlehem to Golgotha. Paul glories in the humility of Christ when he writes that, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking on 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” (Philippians 2:6–8).

3. The Incarnation Fulfills Prophecy

The incarnation wasn’t random or accidental. It was predicted in the Old Testament and in accordance with God’s eternal plan. Perhaps the clearest text predicting the Messiah would be both human and God is Isaiah 9:6: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

In this verse, Isaiah sees a son that is to be born, and yet he is no ordinary son. His extraordinary names — Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace — point to his deity. And taken together — the son being born and his names — point to him being the God-man, Jesus Christ.

4. The Incarnation Is Mysterious

The Scriptures do not give us answers to all of our questions. Some things remain mysterious. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God,” Moses wrote, “but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Answering how it could be that one person could be both fully God and fully man is not a question that the Scriptures focus on. The early church fathers preserved this mystery at the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) when they wrote that Jesus is “recognized in two natures [God and man], without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.”

5. The Incarnation Is Necessary for Salvation

The incarnation of Jesus does not save by itself, but it is an essential link in God’s plan of redemption. John Murray explains: “[T]he blood of Jesus is blood that has the requisite efficacy and virtue only by reason of the fact that he who is the Son, the effulgence of the Father’s glory and the express image of his substance, became himself also partaker of flesh and blood and thus was able by one sacrifice to perfect all those who are sanctified” (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 14).

And the author to the Hebrews likewise writes that Jesus “had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).

The incarnation displays the greatness of God. Our God is the eternal God who was born in a stable, not a distant, withdrawn God; our God is a humble, giving God, not a selfish, grabbing God; our God is a purposeful, planning God, not a random, reactionary God; our God is a God who is far above us and whose ways are not our ways, not a God we can put in a box and control; and our God is a God who redeems us by his blood, not a God who leaves us in our sin. Our God is great indeed!

Jesus is the Key to the Bible

ryle-banner-cropped

 

J. C. Ryle:

In every part of both Testaments, Christ is to be found – dimly and indistinctly at the beginning – more clearly and plainly in the middle – fully and completely at the end – but really and substantially everywhere.

Christ’s sacrifice and death for sinners, and Christ’s kingdom and future glory, are the light we must bring to bear on any book of Scripture we read…

Some people complain that they do not understand the Bible. And the reason is very simple. They do not use the key. To them the Bible is like the hieroglyphics in Egypt. It is a mystery, just because they do not know and employ the key.

In the last place, read the Bible with Christ continually in view. The grand primary object of all Scripture is to testify to Jesus.

  • Old Testament ceremonies are shadows of Christ.
  • Old Testament judges and deliverers are types of Christ.
  • Old Testament history shows the world’s need of Christ.
  • Old Testament prophecies are full of Christ’s sufferings, and of Christ’s glory yet to come.

The first advent and the second, the Lord’s humiliation and the Lord’s kingdom, the cross and the crown, shine forth everywhere in the Bible. Keep fast hold on this clue, if you would read the Bible aright.

(HT: Trevin Wax)

A real coronation

utrecht

 

“When Christ uttered, in the judgment hall of Pilate, the remarkable words – ‘I am a king,’ he pronounced a sentiment fraught with unspeakable dignity and power.  His enemies might deride his pretensions and express their mockery of his claim by presenting him with a crown of thorns, a reed and a purple robe, and nailing him to the cross; but in the eyes of unfallen intelligences, he was a king.  A higher power presided over that derisive ceremony and converted it into a real coronation.  That crown of thorns was indeed the diadem of empire; that purple robe was the badge of royalty; that fragile reed was the symbol of unbounded power; and that cross the throne of dominion which shall never end.”

J. L. Reynolds, quoted in Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville, 2012), page 77, footnote 33.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

He has anchored himself to us by the message of the Cross

Machen-Edit-3

 

We ought never to set present communion with Christ, as so many are doing, in opposition to the gospel; we ought never to say that we are interested in what Christ does for us now, but are not so much interested in what He did long ago. Do you know what soon happens when men talk that way? They soon lose all contact with the real Christ; their religion would really remain essentially the same if Jesus never lived.

That danger should be avoided by the Christian man with all his might and main. God has given us an anchor for our souls; He has anchored himself to us by the message of the Cross. Let us never cast that anchor off; let us never weaken our connection with the events upon which our faith is based.

Such dependence upon the past will never prevent us from having present communion with Christ. Unlike the communion of the mystics it will be communion not with the imaginings of our own hearts, but with the real Saviour Jesus Christ. The gospel of redemption through the Cross and resurrection of Christ is not a barrier between us and Christ, but it is the blessed tie by which He has bound us for ever to Him.

— J. Gresham Machen What Is Faith? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 153-54

(HT: Of First Importance)

Your church: where Jesus calms the storm

Rembrandt_Christ_in_the_Storm_on_the_Lake_of_Galilee

 

Ray Ortlund:

“How wonderful it is to come every Sunday into a liberating church!  All week long we swim in an ocean of judgment and negative scrutiny.  We constantly have to comply with the demands of a touchy world, and we never measure up. . . .

Then on Sunday we walk into a new kind of community where we discover an environment of grace in Christ alone.  It is so refreshing.  Sinners like us can breathe again!  It’s as if God simply changes everyone’s topic of conversation from what’s wrong with us, which is plenty, to what’s right with Christ, which is endless.  He replaces our negativity, finger-pointing, and self-attack with the good news of his grace for the undeserving.  Who couldn’t come alive in a community which inhales that heavenly atmosphere?

Here is where every one of us can happily take our stand right now: ‘The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).  Our self-focus was crucified with Christ.  The need to conceal failure and display false superiority no longer lives.  Christ is enough to complete every one of us, without adding anything of ourselves.

As we humbly keep in step with the truth of this gospel, people will find a new kind of community in our churches where sinners and sufferers can thrive.”

Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How The Church Portrays The Beauty of Christ (Wheaton, 2014), pages 90-91.

The Will of God Expressed in Christ

St Cyprian of Carthage

 

Now the will of God is what Christ both did and taught:

  • Humility in conversation
  • steadfastness in faith
  • modesty in words
  • justice in deeds
  • mercifulness in works
  • discipline in morals
  • to be unable to do a wrong
    and to be able to bear a wrong when done
  • to keep peace with the brethren
  • to love God with all one’s heart
  • to love Him because He is a Father
  • to fear Him because He is God
  • to prefer nothing whatever to Christ
    because He did not prefer anything to us
  • to adhere inseparably to His love
  • to stand by His cross bravely and faithfully
  • when there is any challenge on behalf of His name and honor
    to exhibit in our speech a consistent confession
  • in torture, that confidence with which we do battle
  • in death, that patience whereby we are crowned.

This is the desire to be fellow-heirs with Christ.

This is to do the commandment of God.

This is to fulfill the will of the Father.

- Cyprian, The Treatises of Cyprian: On the Lord’s Prayer, 15 [Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5], adapted

(HT: Trevin Wax)

We must get to the cross, and dwell there

images

 

Every plant must have both soil and root. Without both of these there can be no life, no growth, no fruit. The root is ‘peace with God’; the soil in which that root strikes itself, and out of which it draws the vital sap, is the free love of God in Christ. ‘Rooted in love’ is the apostle’s description of a holy man.

The secret of a believer’s holy walk is his continual recurrence to the blood of the Surety, and his daily intercourse with a crucified and risen Lord. All divine life, and all the precious fruits of it, pardon, peace, and holiness, spring from the cross. All fancied sanctification which does not arise wholly from the blood of the cross is nothing better than Pharisaism.

If we would be holy, we must get to the cross, and dwell there; else, notwithstanding all our labour, diligence, fasting, praying and good works, we shall be yet void of real sanctification, destitute of those humble, gracious tempers which accompany a clear view of the cross.

— Horatius Bonar God’s Way of Holiness

(HT: Of First Importance)

Our representative and our substitute

images

 

God displays his righteousness by judging sin as sin deserves, but the judgment is diverted from the guilty and put on to the shoulders of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God acting as wrath absorber.

The atonement had to be costly because it was necessary in light of the nature of God, which must inflict retributive punishment on sin.

A marvelous wisdom of God consists in his establishing the Lord Jesus as our representative and our substitute because only he could bear and absorb the judgment due to us. Being our representative makes him our substitute, and so he suffers and we go free.

— J. I. Packer “The Necessity of the Atonement” in Atonement, ed. Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2010), 15-16

(HT: Of First Importance)

Life Together

images

 

Justin Taylor:

Bonhoeffer on What a Christian Under the Cross Can Offer that a Secular Therapist Cannot

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together:

Whoever lives beneath the cross of Jesus, and has discerned in the cross of Jesus the utter ungodliness of all people and of their own hearts, will find there is no sin that can ever be unfamiliar.

Whoever has once been appalled by the horror of their own sin, which nailed Jesus to the cross, will no longer be appalled by even the most serious sin of another Christian; rather they know the human heart from the cross of Jesus.

Such persons know how totally lost is the human heart in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin—and know too that this same heart is accepted in grace and mercy.

Only another Christian who is under the cross can hear my confession. It is not experience with life but experience of the cross that makes one suited to hear confession. The most experienced judge of character knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the cross of Jesus.

The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot comprehend this one thing: what sin is. Psychological wisdom knows what need and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the ugliness of the human being. And so it also does not know that human beings are ruined only by their sin and are healed only by forgiveness. The Christian alone knows this. In the presence of a psychologist I can only be sick; in the presence of another Christian I can be a sinner.

The psychologist must first search my heart, and yet can never probe its innermost recesses. Another Christian recognizes just this: here comes a sinner like myself, a godless person who wants to confess and longs for God’s forgiveness.

The psychologist views me as if there were no God. Another believer views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the cross of Jesus Christ.

When we are so pitiful and incapable of hearing the confession of one another, it is not due to a lack of psychological knowledge, but a lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 5 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 114-16.

The necessity of a right gospel order

returnofprodigalson-rembrandt

 

Mark well the great advantages you have for the attainment of holiness by seeking it in a right gospel order.

You will have the advantage of the love God manifested towards you, in forgiving your sins, receiving you into favor, and giving you the spirit of adoption, and the hope of His glory freely through Christ, to persuade and constrain you by sweet allurements to love God again, who has so dearly loved you, and to love others for His sake, and to give up yourselves to the obedience of all His commands out of hearty love to Him.

You will also enjoy the help of the Spirit of God to incline you powerfully to obedience, and to strengthen you for the performance of it against all your corruptions and the temptations of Satan, so that you will have both wind and tide to forward your voyage in the practice of holiness.

— Walter Marshall
The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification
(Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1999), 97

(HT: Of First Importance)

Prophet, Priest and King

Priest-Prophet-King

 

Seventeenth-century Genevan theologian François Turrettini (1623–87), a major exponent of the Reformed tradition, here sets out the understanding of the threefold ministry of Christ:

This mediatorial office of Christ is distributed among three functions, which are individual parts of it: the prophetic, priestly, and kingly. […] The threefold misery of humanity resulting from sin (that is, ignorance, guilt, and the oppression and bondage of sin) required this threefold office. Ignorance is healed through the prophetic office, guilt through the priestly, and the oppression and bondage of sin through the kingly. The prophetic light scatters the darkness of error; the merit of the priest removes guilt and obtains reconciliation for us; the power of the king takes away the bondage of sin and death. The prophet shows God to us; the priest leads us to God; and the king joins us together with God, and glorifies us with him. The prophet illuminates the mind by the spirit of enlightenment; the priest soothes the heart and conscience by the spirit of consolation; the king subdues rebellious inclinations by the spirit of sanctification.

McGrath, Alister E. (2011-07-12). Christian Theology: An Introduction (p. 321). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The folly of the cross and the wisdom of God

images

 

Sam Storms:

What would have become of us if Jesus had died before he reached the cross? What would have happened if he had died in Gethsemane, or anywhere else for that matter, other than on a cross?

If he had, the true significance of his death would not have been apparent. Something more than merely dying was needed. It needed to be made perfectly clear that he was altogether innocent and righteous and was unjustly condemned by a human court. It was essential that he be subjected to a public judicial process in which he was condemned as a common criminal, although plainly innocent. His death was the sacrifice of the innocent for the guilty, or as Peter put it in 1 Peter 3:18, “the righteous for the unrighteous.”

It was essential that his death be more than merely a physical expiration. He had to be hung on a cross and exposed to public humiliation and made the object of human taunting and slander and mocking. In this way he took upon himself the shame of our sin and suffered to the full the wrath of God that we deserved.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:18, 22-24).

Is it not because you are looking to yourself?

bible

 

Is not the forgiveness of all your sins– the full justification of your person– your inalienable adoption into God’s family– the complete payment of all that great debt you owed, and the assured and certain prospect of being where Christ is, and with Christ, beholding His glory forever, a well-grounded source of joy? Most truly!

Why, then, are you not a more joyful believer? Why go you mourning all your days, without one gleam of sunshine, one thrill of joy, one ray of hope, one note of praise? Is it not because you are looking to yourself and within yourself, to the almost entire exclusion of Christ and of the great and complete salvation wrought for you in and by Christ?

— Octavius Winslow The Sympathy of Christ

(HT: Of First Importance)

Christ, not feelings

martyn-lloyd-jones

 

Do you want to know supreme joy, do you want to experience a happiness that eludes description? There is only one thing to do, really seek Him, seek Him Himself, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

If you find that your feelings are depressed do not sit down and commiserate with yourself, do not try to work something up but go directly to Him and seek His face, as the little child who is miserable and unhappy because somebody else has taken or broken his toy, runs to its father or its mother. So if you and I find ourselves afflicted by this condition, there is only one thing to do, it is to go to Him.

If you seek the Lord Jesus Christ and find him there is no need to worry about your happiness and your joy. He is our joy and our happiness, even as He is our peace. He is life, He is everything. So avoid the incitements and the temptations of Satan to give feelings this great prominence at the centre. Put at the centre the only One who has a right to be there, the Lord of Glory, Who so loved you that He went to the Cross and bore the punishment and the shame of your sins and died foryou.

— Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression117-18

(HT: Of First Importance)

Divine Child Abuse?

 

christcrucified

 

This is an excerpt from Donald MacLeod’s new book Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (IVP Academic)

We need a doctrine of the cross that faces up realistically to the enormity of the Father’s involvement at Calvary. Why did God do this—have to do this—to his Son?

And what of the more specific claim that the cross is an example of “child abuse” (the adjective “cosmic” is quite redundant here, since it was not the cosmos, but God the Father, who was allegedly guilty of abuse). The charge is completely inept, because it isolates the story of the crucifixion from the total New Testament witness to Jesus.

It ignores, for example, the fact that for most of his life Jesus enjoyed the love, protection, and encouragement of his heavenly Father. This is why he was able to live a life free from anxiety, confident that he was never alone (John 8:16) but that God was always within earshot; and this is why, too, he could say it was his meat and drink to do the will of the one who had sent him (John 4:34). An abused and damaged child he was not.

Similarly, the charge willfully ignores the obvious fact that at the time of the alleged “abuse” Jesus was not a child, but a mature adult, able to make his own free choices and willing to take responsibility for them. From this point of view, and even at its grimmest, the cross no more amounts to child abuse than did the action of the British government in dropping grown men and women behind enemy lines as agents of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War. Like them, Jesus was a volunteer. Once in the world, he had freely chosen the path that led to Calvary (Phil. 2:8), and, equally freely, he had resolved to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). In accordance with this decision, he made no attempt to escape when the arresting party approached, even though he had often evaded his enemies before. He says simply, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).

Even more glaringly, the child-abuse charge ignores the clear New Testament witness to the unique identity of Jesus. Not only was he not a child; he was not a mere human. He was God: the eternal Logos, the divine Son, the Lord before whom every knee will one day bow (Phil. 2:10). This is no helpless victim. This is the Father’s equal. This is one who in the most profound sense is one with God; one in whom God judges himself, one in whom God condemns himself, one in whom God lets himself be abused. The critics cannot be allowed the luxury of a selective use of the New Testament. The same scriptures portray the cross as an act of God the Father and also portray the sufferer as God the Son, and the resulting doctrine cannot be wrenched from its setting in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The “abused child” is “very God of very God.” It is divine blood shed at Calvary (Acts 20:28) as God surrenders himself to the worst that man can do and bears the whole cost of saving the world.

Yet Jesus is never, not even for a moment, man’s helpless victim. He is indomitable in his Spirit-filled humanity; and when he completes his mission by giving up his Spirit, God—the allegedly “abusive” Father—exalts him to the highest place, commands every knee to bow, and orders the entire universe to confess him Lord of all (Phil. 2:9–11).

But what can we say as to the precise nature of the Father’s action at Calvary? The New Testament answer is breathtaking. He acted in the role of priest. Just as Jesus “gave” his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) so God the Father “gave” his one and only Son; just as Christ ”delivered up” himself as a fragrant offering (Eph. 5:2) so God the Father “delivered up” his own Son (Rom. 8:32). Clearly, then, corresponding to the priesthood of the self-giving Son there is a priesthood of God the Father. From this point of view, Golgotha becomes his temple, where, far from abusing a child or sadistically inflicting cruelty, he is engaged in the most solemn business that earth can witness. He is offering a sacrifice. The cross is his altar, and his own Son the sacrifice.

The evidence that Jesus and his apostles understood the cross in terms of sacrifice is overwhelming. There is something deeper here, however, than the struggle of bewildered disciples to find concepts by which to explain the tragedy that had overtaken their master.

It was not human ingenuity that discovered in the Old Testament sacrifices an interpretative framework for the cross. On the contrary, God himself had provided that framework. In the order of knowing, the Levitical sacrifices came before the sacrifice of Calvary; but in the order of being, the sacrifice of Christ came first. He was the Lamb ordained before the foundation of the world, and the Levitical system was but his shadow. We need to be careful here: Christ was not a priest only metaphorically. He was the true priest, and his sacrifice the real sacrifice. Rather, the Aaronic priesthood was figurative, and its sacrifices were metaphorical. Just as Jesus was “the Root of David” (Rev. 5:5), so he was the root of the Passover, the sin offering and the scapegoat, all of which were divinely configured to prefigure him. The understanding of Jesus” death as a sacrifice is not a human convention, but a divine revelation.

From The Gospel Coalition.

God’s last and effective word

The Bible and Mission

 

The secret of the promise is the bearing of the curse so that the blessing may prevail. The gospel is that in Jesus Christ the curse has been set aside and God’s creative purpose for the blessing of his creation is established beyond any possibility of reversal.

God’s last and effective word is his blessing. It is a particular word spoken in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, broadcast by those who like Paul cannot but pass it on, so powerful is its effect, over flowing with blessing from those who, blessed by it, become a blessing to others.

— Richard Bauckham Bible and Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 35-36

(HT: Of First Importance)

He became a propitiation for us

2f-martin-luther

 

The very fact that Christ suffered for us, and through His suffering became a propitiation for us, proves that we are (by nature) unrighteous, and that we for whom He became a propitiation, must obtain our righteousness solely from God, now that forgiveness for our sins has been secured by Christ’s atonement. By the fact that God forgives our sins (only) through Christ’s propitiation and so justifieth us by faith, He shows how necessary is His righteousness (for all). There is no one whose sins are not forgiven (in Christ).

— Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI.: Kregel, 1976), 78

(HT: Of First Importance)

Curse Reversed

peters-mother-in-law

 

By Betsy Childs:

Summer in Alabama is hot and humid, but we have, as a consolation, delicious peaches. As I unpacked the basket of peaches I bought at a fruit stand, I thought to myself that a perfectly ripened peach eaten in season surely testifies to common grace. Then I saw it: the rotten peach at the bottom of the basket. I couldn’t throw the mushy thing into the trash fast enough.

I have experience with bad peaches. I know that if I left the moldy peach in the bowl with the others, it would take over. Even the peaches that were firm when I bought them would be rotten in no time. Fruit mold spreads. In the book Home Comforts (which I consider the highest authority on domestic matters), Cheryl Mendelson writes, Even a spot of mold is a call for action.”

The Levitical law shares this healthy fear of blight. If fabric showed evidence of mold, it was defiled. A house that showed persistent signs of mold had to be torn down. If not eradicated, mold will spread to whatever it contacts. The laws about mold are mixed in with laws about leprosy. As long as a skin disease was deemed persistent, the person with the disease had to remain apart from the community:

The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

Like mold on peaches, defilement spreads in only one direction. The Israelite who touched someone unclean became defiled because defilement travels from the unclean to the clean.

Jesus, knowing the Scriptures, would have known how to avoid becoming unclean. Yet he repeatedly touched things that should have defiled him. In the first chapter of Mark, when a leper approached Jesus and asked him to make him clean, Jesus touched him. For the first time, the trajectory of defilement was reversed. Rather than becoming defiled by the leper, Jesus made him clean. A few chapters later, Jesus was surreptitiously touched by an unclean woman. Again, the defilement reversed direction, and she became clean. It’s as if water suddenly flowed uphill.

Each time Jesus touched a dead body, he should have been defiled. When he touched the sick, he could have become sick. Instead, the dead became alive and the sick became well. Jesus’ life gave life, his cleanness so deep it was contagious.

Anyone can take what is clean and make it unclean. (I do it all the time accidentally when I dump my cup of coffee into a dishwasher full of clean dishes.) Only Jesus can reverse defilement. He doesn’t do it with bleach or burnt offerings or antibiotics. He does it by the sheer strength of his holiness.

He can make us clean too. At the cross our sins were laid upon him, blighting him with defilement so great that even his Father turned away. And yet cleansing and life flow from that death to all who will receive them. Ultimately, disease and death must retreat in fear before the one who says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

 

God’s glory in and for the world

You-Can-Change3

 

Jesus shows us God’s agenda for change. God isn’t interested in making us religious. Think of Jesus, who was hated by religious people. God isn’t interested in making us spiritual if by spiritual we mean detached. Jesus was God getting involved with us. God isn’t interested in making us self-absorbed: Jesus was self-giving personified. God isn’t interested in serenity: Jesus was passionate for God, angry at sin, weeping for the city. The word holy means ‘set apart’ or ‘consecrated.’ For Jesus, holiness meant being set apart from, or different from, our sinful ways. It didn’t mean being set apart from the world, but being consecrated to God in the world. He was God’s glory in and for the world.

— Tim Chester
You Can Change
(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 13

(HT: Of First Importance)