Alive in the Garden | Genesis 2:4-17

Though we were told explicitly that the seventh day was the final day of creation, the bulk of chapter two reads much like an alternate tale of the creation of mankind. For some scholars, this has led them to believe in the documents theory of Genesis, which claims that the book was written by multiple authors whose writings were compiled together much later. However, there is no reason to view this section of Scripture as conflicting with the verses that we have studied thus far. Instead, the narrative of the seven days of creation serves as the broad overview of God’s creating work, while the current verses of our focus provide a closer view of the creation of humanity.

THE LORD GOD // VERSE 4

This verse marks the beginning of the first major narrative section of Genesis with the words “these are the generations”. The same phrase is used ten other times as well throughout the book, each time to mark a new arch of Genesis’s story.[1] Furthermore, the rest of the verse serves as a transitory bridge between the broad and narrow focuses of Genesis 1 and 2, and it poetically does this in chiastic form. This means that the components of the verse mirror one another. Here is an outline to help, using the key words of the verse:

(A) heavens
(B) earth
(C) when they were created
(C’) in the day that the LORD God made
(B’) earth
(A’) heavens

This poetic form of structuring is frequently used throughout Genesis, as even this section of Scripture through chapter three is organized in this fashion.

Also, significant about this verse is the usage of a new name for God: LORD. We have already discussed the meaning and implications of Elohim as denoting the majestic glory of God, but now we are introduced to what is often called the personal name of God: “Yahweh” or sometimes “Jehovah”. While God is more generic, Yahweh is the specific and glorious name for the God of the Bible. Together, Elohim and Yahweh are by far the two most common names of God throughout the Old Testament. Thus, it is important when reading our English translations to understand that whenever we see the word “LORD” in all capital letters that the name Yahweh is being used. In fact, translators’ reasoning for using LORD gives light as to what meaning is implied at its using. Throughout the history of the Judaism, this name of God was considered to be so holy that the people would completely avoid speaking it for fear that they would use it in vain. However, this posed quite a problem since it is used so often in Scripture, which was regularly read aloud to all the people. Thus, the reader would say Adonai (the actual Hebrew word for Lord) instead of Yahweh during the reading of Scripture. Building upon this tradition, most English translators opt to use LORD.

Yahweh, therefore, seems to reflect primarily the holiness of God. Holiness, after all, is a term that only truly belongs to God, the characteristic of God that the Bible is most emphatic to express. Ancient Hebrew did not have underlining, bolding, or italics, so in order to provide emphasis they used repetition. This is significant because God is described as being holy, holy, holy.[2] Though God has many other glorious and wonderful attributes, only holy is used thrice in repetition. Therefore, every time that we see LORD throughout the Bible we should be quick to recall that God is holy, unique and separate from all others. Paradoxically, it also denotes the intimate personal nature of God. It is no mistake that Elohim is used throughout Genesis 1, where the focus on creation is large and epic in scope. Yet Yahweh is primarily used in Genesis 2, in which the perspective has greatly narrowed to accentuate the intimate dealings between God and humanity.

THE BREATH OF LIFE // VERSE 5-7

As mentioned briefly in the opening section, many people today view chapter two as distinctly separate from the creation account of chapter one. The description of the land and field not yet yielding shrubberies and other small plants has led some to consider this a contradiction to the first chapter. There man was created after the plants, but here it seems that man is created before them. However, this is not the case; the words “bush” and “small plant” indicate exactly what they are: particular types of plants. Instead, it seems that verses 5-6 are providing a flashback to the condition of the world before the creation of man. And the picture appears to be wanting. The reason given for the nonexistence of the shrubberies is apparently dryness, as it had not yet rained nor was man there to irrigate. The conditions appear to be incomplete without humans. However, God does provide for His fledgling creation by causing a mist to rise from the ground.

Though we were told in chapter one that humans were created in the image of God, we do not get a sense of how intimate that creation really was until now. Verse 7 sheds further light upon the special distinction of humanity from the other creatures.

First, notice that mankind’s position as image-bearers of God did not negate our lowly origin. It is fitting for us to always remember that we are fundamentally dust, lest we think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Since the ancients of Moses’ day were prone to believe that humans were descendants from the gods, our earthly beginning certainly sets us in our proper place.

Second, God formed the first man from the dust of the ground. Even though we are dust, God displayed His love by molding us into creation like a potter molds clay. There is a certain thoughtful and artistic care invoked from this statement.

Finally, the LORD breathes the breath of life into man, which makes the human a living creature. God graciously takes dust and forms it into a creature that would reflect Him. This means that, at the end of the matter, we are nothing more than dust that has been infused with the grace of God.

It is also important to note that when God exalts man from the dust, there is abundant life; however, when man exalts himself in chapter three, there is only death, a returning to the dust. The work of God breeds life, but sin will always reap death. Thus, in our sin-dominated and fallen lives, we can give thanks to God that He has done this process a second time through the work of Christ. Like Adam in the beginning of this verse, the ingrained sin within each of us left us nothing more than dust spiritually (and, eventually, physically). As the dust of the ground had no way of forming itself into a living creature, we had no hope of coming to life out of the death that our sin purchased for us. However, just as the breath of God came into man so the Spirit of Christ came into us, making us new creatures in Him!

THE GARDEN OF EDEN // VERSES 8-15

Another act of grace is given to the man by God creating a garden home for him to dwell within. God does not simply create man and then leave him to fend for himself; instead, He provides for the man a paradise home. Most people tend to imagine the garden and Eden to be synonymous terms; however, Eden is likely a region upon the earth with the garden only covering a portion of that land. Nevertheless, the emphasis here is certainly upon the joy and goodness of the garden. The name Eden means delight or pleasure, and He causes pleasant and good trees to fill the garden. Thus, the LORD has spared no expense for the first man by giving to him a garden that is pleasant, good, and full of delight.

The final compound sentence of this verse is rather mysterious. After God causes all the trees to spring up into the garden, two particular trees are mentioned as being in the midst of the garden. Both are trees of significant importance since they are the trees of life and knowledge of good and evil. Very little is known about these trees except for what chapters two and three of Genesis say, which is limited. Thus, we will not divulge into too great of speculation. We know that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the only tree that God forbids to be eaten, and that the result of Adam’s eating of the fruit results in the entering of death. As for the tree of life, we only know that it was not forbidden until after the Fall. We will discuss both trees to greater degrees as they are mentioned further in the narrative.

Next, we find in verses 10-14 a surprisingly detailed description of the garden’s geography. Though some like to view the garden in Eden as figurative or metaphorical, the description’s usage of proper names for rivers and regions (which the audience likely knew) grounds this account into reality. Of the four rivers mentioned, two are still in existence today (the Tigris and the Euphrates) and are located in Mesopotamia. Thus, the garden seems to have been in the general area of the Promised Land. Personally, I have a slight hesitation of attempting to give a certain geographic location for the garden because the Flood could likely have changed the landscape significantly or even moved Noah into Mesopotamia. However, the theological significance is clear. The garden of Eden was defined by the favor and blessing of God, and the Promised Land was meant to serve as a representation of that grace being restored to Israel.

Of course, even in the Promised Land and under the Mosaic covenant, the people still rebelled against God time and time again. Jesus, however, is the perfect fulfillment of the grace and blessing of God returning to humanity. In Christ, we are not only restored to paradise with God (as in Eden), but we now have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High. Eden was full of gold and onyx, and the Promised Land flowed with milk and honey, but in Christ, we find the fullest joy and delight in knowing the Creator God as our Father.

Once more, in verse 15, we are told that God placed man in the garden of Eden, yet two aspects make this account differ from that of verse eight.

First, though the putting of man in the garden is translated the same way in English, this verse uses a different Hebrew word than verse eight. While the word used in verse eight is the normal term for putting an object somewhere, the word in fifteen gives an added connotation of rest and safety. God did not merely throw man into the garden, but rather He lovingly placed him there, knowing that it was the best place for him.

Second, man’s purpose in the garden is made known: to work and keep it. These two verbs make man’s role in the garden distinctively priestly. In Numbers, God will command the Levites to the minister and guard the tabernacle, which are the same two words as given to Adam in the verse.[3] Thus, the tabernacle and the temple were both means of bringing humanity back into the presence of God as they were in Eden. Though man is given the task of working and maintaining the garden, the central goal of man is worship. Just as the tabernacle was worked by the priest and was the center of worship, so it is with the garden. Man’s working and keeping of the garden was simply the primary way that man worshiped God in the garden. Obedience to God’s commandments is always one of the highest forms of worship.

Finally, consider two more thoughts on Adam’s task in the Eden.

First, work is not a product of the Fall. As humans, we have been created to be productive and hard working. This is a good thing. However, as we will see in the next chapter, the Fall will fundamentally shift man’s relationship to work.

Second, the garden, along with the tabernacle and temple, is foreshadowing of the work of Christ. The crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ accomplished at once far more than all the sacrifices offered in the temple or tabernacle. By Jesus’ sacrifice, communion with God was restored and even made better. Jesus is a better Eden and temple because through Him the Holy Spirit now dwells within believers!

THE EDENIC COVENANT // VERSES 16-17

The LORD’s commandment to man here is sometimes called the Edenic covenant. Like all other covenants in the Bible, this serves as an agreement between God and man. Also like other covenants, there are two basic components: provision and restriction. First, God graciously permits Adam to eat the fruit from any tree in the garden. These are all trees that we previously described as being pleasant to the sight and good for food. Second, God restricts one tree. Out of the abundance of provision, God provides one prohibition, a means of testing the faith of the humans. Tragically, Adam and Eve will come to view this one tree as being pleasant to the sight and good for food. Such is the human heart. We desire that which is most poisonous to our souls, while repeatedly spurning the gracious love of God.

This is also the first mentioning of death. The phrase “in the day” is idiomatic for expressing certainty, so combined with the word “surely”, God is doubly declaring the punishment for disobedience. God is just and fair. Though it may seem a bit extreme to punish humans so severely for a seemingly minor disobedience, we must understand who is issuing this command. The nature of this commandment is nothing like a mom instructing her child against a second cookie; this God spoke light, land, and stars into existence. There is no such thing as petty disobedience against God. There is only cosmic treason against the LORD Most High. Thus, God is completely just in extending the punishment of death because of disobedience. By this, His grace is also further accentuated. We deserve death, but He freely imparts to us life, through the death and resurrection of His Son.


[1] The others can be found in these places: 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2

[2] Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8

[3] Numbers 3:7-8

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The Ascension

he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father

 

In our study through the Apostles’ Creed, we have now covered the work of Jesus up to His resurrection. The miraculous incarnation set the foundations for the redemptive work of Christ. It provided the platform by which God the Son became a man and lived a sinless life. The crucifixion was the means through which redemption would come. Because Jesus did live a sinless life without blemish, He is the only human in history not deserving of death. Yet because of His great love for us, Christ died in our place, making atonement and propitiation for our sins. However, this atoning sacrifice would not have been proven effective if the resurrection did not happen. Paul is correct in saying that without the resurrection we should be most pitied of all men.[1]

Indeed, the resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. However, I believe that we often leave out one more step in the redemptive work of Christ: His ascension. Rarely have I heard sermons explicitly expounding upon the significance of the ascension of Christ. Too often we view the ascension as simply a historical fact for why Jesus is not on the earth right now, and we fail to see the significant theological implications and effects of Christ’s ascension to into glory. But the creed sets forth Christ’s ascension as an essential tenant of the faith; my aim, therefore, will be to give an account of the effects and the implications of the ascension of Christ upon the lives of His followers.

THE ACCOUNT OF THE ASCENSION

Our primary text from which we will springboard into other sections of Scripture will be Acts 1, verses one through eleven. This section of Scripture provides us with the clearest description of the actual act of Christ’s ascension; therefore, we will first look at some important aspects from this text before launching into the effects and implications of the ascension.

First, verse 3 tells us that there was a forty-day period of time between the resurrection and ascension, and during that time period, Christ spoke to them about the kingdom of God. It is important to note the patient love of Christ being reflected in this statement. We know from other Scriptures, which we will discuss later, that Christ was not fully glorified until He ascended. If we couple that fact with the severity of the humiliation received by Christ on the cross, one would imagine Him wanting to receive His full glory as quickly as possible. However, Jesus does not operate as we do; He was continuously selfless even after His resurrection. He stayed upon the earth another forty days, teaching and instructing His friends and disciples about the kingdom of God. Accounts such as Jesus’ teaching of two disciples while on the road to Emmaus give us an idea of what Christ’s post-resurrection/pre-ascension ministry must have looked like: revealing to them the great plan of salvation as fulfilled through Him.

Second, in verse 6 we see that the disciples, even after forty extra days of learning from Jesus, still did not understand fully the work that Jesus had done and was still going to do. Though Jesus taught them for forty days about the kingdom of God, they still could not stop focusing upon the kingdom of Israel. They longed to see the day that God would fully establish Israel as the chief nation upon the earth, with Christ as their king. However, this was not the intent of Jesus, at least for that time. Christ’s focus was, instead, upon the kingdom of God that would not only impact Israel but also Samaria and the ends of the earth. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that Christ will one day return as a ruling king to bring all of the earth under His submission, but such was not the plan during the days of the disciples.

Third, verse 9 describes the literal ascension of Christ into the heavens. Though some people today may find difficulty with this account of Jesus ascending into the clouds and vanishing, we cannot ignore that the gospel writers portray this event as concrete fact. Granted, there is a level of mystery to this verse. For instance, what exactly does it mean that a cloud took Him out of their sight? Since we know now that beyond our atmosphere is a massive cosmos, we assume that He did not physically ascend beyond the atmosphere but rather was taken supernaturally into the heavenly realm, which is beyond human sight. Nevertheless, since the ascension clearly involved the supernatural working of God, it is mysterious but true. We must take the ascension as clear, historical fact, just as Luke does here.

I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU

There is no doubt that Christ’s ascension would have naturally caused worry and sorrow among the disciples. We see some evidence of that fact in verse 10, where it appears that the disciples are awestruck because of having just witnessed the ascension of their Lord into heaven. Though of course, we read at the end of Luke that the disciples left the ascension rejoicing and worshipping Jesus. How are we to explain the reason for their joy, when obviously it was difficult for them to lose the physical presence of Jesus?

We receive part the answer in the first verses of John 14. At the end of chapter 13, Jesus spoke to His disciples about His departure from them.  Apparently, this disheartened them because Jesus begins chapter 14 by telling them not to let their hearts be troubled. He then proceeds to tell them that He will be going to His Father to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house. Throughout history, the Father’s house has been most commonly seen to be a reference to heaven, and I see no reason why it would not be so. Thus, Jesus is indicating that He would be leaving them prepare a place for them in heaven.

Now, we must be careful with this text because some might take it to mean that the reason for Jesus’ 2000-year delay is because He hasn’t finished preparing all of the rooms in heaven. That seems to be a ridiculously interpretation of this text. Instead, Jesus is using imagery of Jewish matrimony to describe His relationship with the disciples. At that time, it was common for the bridegroom to return to his father’s house following the couple’s engagement, where he would prepare an addition onto the house where he and his bride will live. Thus, Jesus is using this imagery to describe something of the result of His ascension into heaven: Jesus’ ascension into heaven prepared the way for us also to enter into heaven.

Too often, we read this text and are too focused upon what Jesus might be describing heaven to be like. In fact, I heard many people, on multiple occasions, declare that they cannot wait for their mansion in heaven. The problem is that they placed their focus upon the wrong part of the text. Jesus’ point here is that because He is going before the disciples, He will also return for the disciples. The emphasis is not about what heaven is like but rather that Jesus’ ascension to heaven is a guarantee of His bringing us into heaven. Just as Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection, so His ascension guarantees our eternal home with Him.

But how did the ascension accomplish this? Hebrews 1 verse 3 seems to give us some indication. It claims that the act of ascension was Jesus “sitting down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” This means that the very act of Jesus ascending to heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father was symbolizing the completion of His atoning work on our behalf. Praise God for the ascension, confirming the accomplishment of the cross and resurrection!

THE PRIESTLY INTERCESSION OF CHRIST

Having seen that Christ’s ascension serves as our guarantee of heaven with Him, we now turn to the second reason for the importance of the ascension: the priestly intercession of Christ. The task of explaining this role of Christ is far too great for this short sermon, but I will try to cover the overarching purpose for it. The priesthood of Christ is one of the great themes of the book of Hebrews so I strongly suggest rereading the entire book for a better understanding of this matter.

However, there are two great texts within Hebrews for viewing this matter. First, Hebrew 9:11-12 tells us that Christ, our high priest, entered into the very presence of God (not simply the man-made Holy of Holies, found within the temple), bringing before God the sacrifice of His very blood to make propitiation for our sins. The weight of this sacrifice was so great that He only needed to make one ascension into the holy place and only needed to offer that one sacrifice in order to secure “an eternal redemption.” This is the significance of speaking of only one act of Jesus ascending, He did not need to do so repeatedly. There was no need for Christ to repeatedly enter into the holy place. His sacrifice was sufficient.

Still the high priestly work of Christ does not end there. Though obviously there is major and primary significance in the mediatorial work of Christ through the presenting of His blood on our behalf, such does not completely encapsulate the intercession of Christ for us. The final two verses of Hebrews 2 also gives us insight into the continuous high priestly work of Christ. There, the writer of Hebrews portrays Christ as being a high priest that relates to us and is merciful upon us. Since Jesus is fully man as well as fully God, He is able to be a sympathetic high priest. This means that Jesus’ work is also to continuously aid in our sanctification by petitioning the Father on our behalf.

THE GLORIFICATION OF CHRIST

The third effect of the ascension that we will consider is the glorification of Christ. We know, especially from texts such as the Christ hymn of Philippians 2, that the end result of Christ’s humility unto death was the exaltation and the glorification of Christ; however, we rarely view the ascension as having such an integral role in the glorification of Jesus. Verses 20-22 of the first chapter of Ephesians provided a clear link to these two concepts. Paul states here that following the resurrection Christ was seated at the “right hand in heavenly places” (the ascension) and that from this seat He is far above all powers and authority. The act of Christ ascending to the right hand of the Father is the very act of placing all other things under His feet. The ascension proclaims that Christ is Lord and that all things are in subjection to Him.

However, with this discussion also comes the question of why do things appear to be outside of the control of Christ. After all, if Jesus is truly as exalted as the New Testament describes, why does everyone not yet proclaim Him Lord over everything? The answer is simply within the word “yet”. Things do not always appear to be under Christ sovereign rule for now, but there will come a day when we will finally see every knee bow before Him and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father! Thus, the ascension of Christ is both the proclamation of His present glorification at the right hand of the Father and also of His future glorification as every creature in existence declares Him to be Lord.

THE SENDING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

For the final effect of the ascension, we turn our attention once more to the main text of our study: Acts 1. The ESV divides these first eleven verses of chapter one into three paragraphs. Found within each of those paragraphs is a concept that is key not only to understanding the significance of Christ’s ascension but also for understanding the nature of the Christian life as a whole: the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity is the mentioned often in this text because He is of absolute importance.

The first paragraph tells us that the power through which Jesus accomplished His entire earthly ministry was through the Holy Spirit, and since that is the case, the next two paragraphs are utterly astonishing. In verses 5 and 8, Jesus confirms to His disciples His previous promise of the Holy Spirit being given to them. This means that the disciples were ordered to wait for the very same power that empowered Jesus’ earthly ministry. Luke goes so far as to imply that, through the Holy Spirit, the work of the apostles in Acts would be the continuation of the ministry of Jesus Christ! This should give us an entirely new depth of meaning when we call the church the body of Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are meant to be the physical presence of Jesus in the world, even today.

Jesus gives emphasis to the importance of the Holy Spirit whenever He tells the disciples that it was better for them that He was departing from them because then He would send the Holy Spirit to them.[2] This is an incredible statement. Surely, there are times when each of us would love to be able to speak to Jesus face to face, to be able personally to be His disciple, yet Jesus Himself tells us that having the Holy Spirit is better.

Why is this so?

It is because the Holy Spirit dwells within us. The Holy Spirit is God Himself inhabiting our bodies just as the presence of God once occupied the temple in Jerusalem. This should be an incredible thought for any believer that God would choose to dwell within us! This Spirit within us is the “guarantee of our inheritance.”[3] He is the One by whom we are able to call God our Father. We also learn from Romans 8 that He makes prayers on our behalf to the Father, since we often do not know how to pray as we ought. In short, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential for the life of the believer. We simply cannot live the Christian walk without Him.

CONCLUSION

Finally, brothers, after we have seen the astounding effects of the ascension of Christ, upon both Jesus Himself and every believer in His name, we must give question to how they shape and mold our everyday lives. First, if we claim that Christ is the glorious treasure of our lives, do our hearts show to be with Him? Are our hearts within Him in His heavenly realm, where He has prepared the way for us to go?

Second, if He has truly ascended into heaven in order that we might forever dwell with Him, do we long for such? Do we long to be eternally with the infinitely glorious Christ in never ending worship of His supremacy and majesty?

Third, or perhaps do we look too longingly for the His return? Are we like the disciples who stood looking at the sky, seemingly in wait for His immediate return? Or will we in true obedience serve the Lord and make Him known since His return can come at any time?

Fourthly, since we are given the Holy Spirit to continue the work of Christ, how seriously are we taking that work? Are we faithfully going to the ends of the earth to carry the name of the Jesus, the ascended and glorified Christ?

Finally, if we have seen that the ascension is evidence of Christ’s completed work, do we trust in that completed work? Do we have full reliance in Jesus for our salvation, knowing that our greatest works are worth nothing at all?

We believe in the risen Christ, who ascended into heaven and is now sitting at the right hand of the Father as our ruling King and merciful High Priest.

Do you believe?

 

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:19

[2] John 16:7

[3] Ephesians 1:14

The Resurrection

On the third day he rose again

 

Having now addressed Jesus as the eternal Son of God who became flesh and was crucified for our sins, we now come to His resurrection. For Jesus’ first disciples, this event was significant enough to shift their weekly worship from Saturday (the Sabbath Day) to Sunday (which they then called the Lord’s Day). Indeed, we continue today to gather every Sunday morning to celebrate and worship Jesus as our risen Savior and Lord.

Like the crucifixion, the resurrection of Jesus fixes itself as a central matter of the Gospels. All four give an account of His rising to life. Why is this? Why is the resurrection an essential doctrine of Christianity? If His death atoned for our sins, why must we also believe that Jesus rose to life?

To quote Augustine, “He [Jesus] showed us in the Cross what we ought to endure, He showed in the Resurrection what we have to hope.” No better word exists to describe the glories of the resurrection than hope, an eager and expectant faith in what is still to come. In this study, we will see that the resurrection is our trustworthy, living, and eternal hope.

OUR TRUSTWORTHY HOPE

First, we must see that the resurrection vindicates Jesus. Throughout His ministry, Jesus made audacious claims about Himself.

He declared Himself to be the Son of God, which the Jews clearly understood to be a claim of being equal with God (John 5:18).

He claimed that He was eternally existing with the Father (John 17:5).

He used God’s holy name for Himself. One of the most notable examples of this occurs at the end of John 8 after the Jews question how Jesus could claim to have seen Abraham. Jesus responds by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). Such a statement was a direct reference to the God’s self-declaration to Moses in Exodus 3.

He claimed the authority to forgive sins. Once again, this was a claim of divinity since all sin is a direct offense against God and must, therefore, be ultimately forgiven by God.

He called Himself the Son of Man in direct reference to the figure in Daniel 7:13-14 who is “given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”

He stated that He would destroy and rebuild the temple (which was dwelling place of God’s presence among His people) in three days.

He claimed that Moses, the prophets, and the Scriptures all pointed to and centered around Him. In John 5:39-40, Jesus declared, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Then in verse 46, He claimed: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.”

Given all these claims, Lewis made the argument that Jesus could only be one of three things:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. …Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

The resurrection is perhaps our greatest confirmation that Jesus was who He said He was. In addition to these many claims, Jesus also prophesied repeatedly about His death and resurrection. He warned His disciples beforehand what would occur in order that they would remember His words later and believe.

And that is exactly what happened.

Upon His crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples scattered, fleeing for their lives. Yet after He rose from the grave, they each suffered horrific deaths because they would not cease proclaiming Jesus to be their risen Lord. The force and authority of these Galileans to reshape the Roman Empire could have been easily stopped if a body could have been found by the Roman authorities. Yet they could not.

But, you may ask, couldn’t the disciples have just hidden or burned Jesus’ body in order to say that He had risen? For what purpose and gain would the disciples have created such an elaborate hoax? For the vast sums of wealth that they received from those who converted to Christianity? Indeed, there is little indication that the Apostles were ever shown much more than suffering, rejection, and poverty throughout the remainder of their lives.

Furthermore, what influence or power would lying about Jesus’ rising have given them? Like Jesus Himself, they also became despised and rejected by men, the refuse of the world.

And how would they have bribed the more than five hundred people who claimed to have also seen the resurrected Jesus?

Indeed, the best and most reasonable assumption would be that these disciples saw the reality of Jesus as the Christ, as the Lamb that was slain and yet lives now and forevermore. The resurrection, more than the volumes that could have been written on the miracles and signs of Jesus, was and still is the greatest proof that Jesus was everything that He claimed to be, that He was the only Son of God. This is our trustworthy hope.

OUR LIVING HOPE

Second, the resurrection is essential because it presents to us a living Savior. Jesus not only died for our sins; He also now lives to forgive our sins. He did not simply shed His blood; He lives still to apply it for our redemption.

Too often, we can subtly begin to view Jesus as an especially important historical figure. We may affirm His resurrection, but subconsciously we don’t think of Him as being still alive today. Perhaps we consider Him as more of a purely spiritual being who returned to heaven and listens to our prayers. While it is true that the Father and the Spirit are spirit and not flesh, Jesus has eternally incarnated Himself. His resurrection did not, therefore, undo the incarnation. His body came back to life in a glorified state. He was certainly different as His interactions with the disciples reveal, but He is still flesh and blood. He ate with His disciples and allowed Thomas to touch His wounds. And He is still physically alive today. He is alive and in the flesh at the Father’s right hand.

Upon this living hope hangs our justification. After all, Paul wrote that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The resurrection is proof of our justification since it verifies Jesus’ substitutionary atonement for our sins upon the cross. It is our tangible evidence of the Father’s acceptance of Jesus as a sacrifice.

Indeed, so necessary is Christ’s resurrection to our redemption that Paul declared:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:14-17)

Without the resurrection of Christ, we are still in sin. Without Jesus’ triumph over death, the atonement is incomplete. Returning to our point about Jesus’ vindication, if Jesus stayed dead, we are then lying about God and His works. We are claiming that God has offered redemption when He has not. To lie about the resurrection would be adding misrepresenting God to our ever-growing stack of unforgiven sins.

But Jesus did not stay dead. He rose on the third, living now to be “the mediator of a new covenant” with His own “sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). Recall that Abel’s blood called out to God for vengeance upon Cain, and rightfully so. Jesus had even more right than Abel to call for vengeance, since He was slain not by His own brother but by those whom He created, and yet His blood cries out for forgiveness instead. In fact, Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, is now our living high priest who forever lives to usher us into the most holy place by His blood. Through Christ, we can now “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

This is glorious news! With Christ as our living high priest and mediator, we have unhindered access to the Father’s throne to receive mercy and grace from His hand. Indeed, the only hinderance we face is our own pride. The hymn speaks truly when it says, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit / Oh what needless pain we bear / All because we do not carry / Everything to God in prayer.” To our own harm, we pridefully remain prayerless, choosing instead to handle our own problems. May we come to understand the hope and confidence that we have in Christ so that we would revel in the joy of being able to speak to God as our Father. Let prayer never be a religious duty upon our backs but rather a marvelous privilege granted to us by our Lord.

Furthermore, let us obey the summons of Paul in Colossians 3:1-2, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Our minds must also enter into the holy place of God. We do this by meditating upon the Word of God, by pondering it day and night.

These two actions form the means of our communion with God, which has now been renewed by the death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, let us speak to God in prayer, and let us listen to Him speak through His Word.

OUR ETERNAL HOPE

Third, by the resurrection sealing our redemption, it reveals the hope of our own resurrection. Paul’s treatment on the necessity of Christ’s resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 is directly bound to the importance of our resurrection. In fact, Paul’s argument is that one necessitates the other. Without the resurrection of the dead, then Christ could not have been raised. If Christ was not resurrected, then we are without redemption. Our bodily resurrection is the capstone of our redemption; without it, our redemption is incomplete. And without our resurrection, as Paul says, “then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (15:18-19).

There is a growing trend to make Christianity an exclusively earthly religion. Somewhat mistaking the Christian faith for secular humanism, they argue that we must focus solely upon this life and leave whatever may then come to God. Such a view is as profoundly unbiblical as the gnostic rejection of the physical. Do not allow valid differing theories of how the end will come to dissuade you from the reality that it will come. We will be resurrected like Jesus was resurrected.

This resurrection will differ from Lazarus’ rising, since he died again. Our resurrection will be, instead, to eternal life. We will be given new life, forever to live in a new creation. Such a re-creation is necessary since the Fall broke the cosmos. All of creation has been groaning for new life, to be remade.

And Jesus is the first fruit of that coming joy. His resurrection is a constant reminder that we too will be resurrected. Just as Jesus’ perishable body was raised into an imperishable one, so too will ours be. This is the swallowing up of death in victory, the destruction of its sting.

Interestingly, Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 15 with verse 58, which says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Biblical hope is never purely futuristic. It always provides fuel for present obedience. Such must the resurrection be for us. Since the resurrection of Christ has already sealed our resurrection, since the end of our story has already been written, therefore we must be unyielding in our work for Christ in this life.

What is the work of the Lord? More than anything else, it is the final command He left to His people: to make disciples. Indeed, such joy overflowed from the Apostles upon seeing their risen Lord that they could do nothing else. They could not cease speaking of the wondrous reality that had occurred before their very eyes. God Himself had taken on flesh, died in their place, and risen to life that they might live as well. How could they contain such good news within themselves! Likewise, the glorious reality of the resurrection must propel our evangelism and discipleship.

In doing so, we must guard ourselves from treating Christ as just another preference among many available. This is the temptation of our secular age, as Alan Noble warns. We can so easily begin to view Christianity as merely one of many valid ways of seeing the world. Of course, we may not consciously declare other beliefs to be legitimate, but practically that is how we live. Ever so subtly, we have begun to take the secularism bait of making belief systems a choice of the individual alone, and the result is that we live as though following Jesus is merely one path to life and fulfillment.

But the reality of Jesus’ resurrection destroys that thinking. If the Gospels are true and Jesus is who He says He is, then Jesus is truth. Not a truth. Not one of many. He is truth itself, and there is no other. This must be the nature of our work in proclaiming Christ. The only option that Jesus gives is to either follow Him or reject Him. His call through us is to take up a cross, to live a crucified life, to die daily, but also to know Him who is eternal life.

This labor will not be in vain. Jesus has already risen in victory, and one day we will be raised with Him. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Until that day, we proclaim, steadfast and immovable, that the risen Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.

Do you, therefore, believe that Jesus rose to life on the third day? Do you believe in the reality of His resurrection? Do you believe that Jesus is alive today as the mediator between you and the Father? Do you believe that Jesus’ resurrection guarantees your resurrection, and are you joyfully sharing this eternal hope with others?

We believe in Jesus Christ, the crucified Son of God, who rose to life on the third day, triumphing once and for all over sin, death, and the grave for our redemption.

Do you believe?

Biblical Wisdom

Choose Wisdom | Proverbs 9

We now conclude our study through Proverbs’ introduction. Our text brings to close the messages and themes of the first nine chapters, while also inviting us to dive into the collection of proverbs that follow. In many ways, this chapter is an expanded and illustrated explanation of Proverbs 1:7. Two paths in life are before us: the path of wisdom and the path of folly. Here Wisdom and Folly are personified as women throwing lavish feasts and extending to us an invitation to join them. Each of us will ultimately dine with one or the other, so which will you choose?

TWO INVITATIONS // VERSES 1-6 & 13-18

Notice that there are eighteen verses in this chapter, and as such, it divides very nicely into three sections of six verses each. The poetic symmetry is astounding, and I will attempt to highlight this structure as we walk through our study of it. Verses 1-6 and 13-18 are reflexive of each other. The former is Lady Wisdom’s invitation to join her feast, while the latter is Folly’s counter invitation. Thus, we will compare and contrast these two feasts first before diving into Lady Wisdom’s final teaching to us in verses 7-12.

Notice first that verses 1-2 and 13-14 describe the context of their respective feasts. Wisdom’s house has seven pillars[1]. The beasts have been slaughtered. The wine is mixed. The table is set. Woman Folly, however, is loud, seductive, and vapid. She knows nothing (meaning that she does not possess true wisdom and knowledge), yet she sits at the door of her house, beckoning everyone to dine with her.

The primary difference between these two sets of verses is that Folly’s character is described rather than her feast being offered. This is essential because Proverbs has yet to introduce us to this personification of folly. We’ve already been given two speeches from Lady Wisdom in chapter 1 and chapter 8, but we haven’t met Woman Folly until now. We have, however, seen glimpses of her through the lens of the Adulteress. Indeed, we could view the Adulteress as the exemplary disciple of Woman Folly in the same way that the Noble Wife in chapter 31 is model follower of Lady Wisdom.

Next, verses 3-6 and 15-18 are the invitations to the paralleling feasts. Indeed, verses 4 and 16 are nearly identical to one another. Both women are targeting the same audience of those who are simple and lack sense. As we discussed previously, the person who lacks sense is a fool. He is one who is not following God’s wisdom but is, instead, wise in his own eyes. Or, as the phrase could be translated literally, the fool lacks heart. Following our own wisdom always results in the loss of our heart, the core of who we are. The simple, on the other hand, are those who are staggering between wisdom and folly. They are not outright fools, but neither are they wise. This, of course, means that throughout this life we will perpetually be simple to some degree. Each day certainly presents us with a renewed opportunity to choose wisdom or folly. These duel invitations also point to this constant limbo of life. Lady Wisdom calls out the simple and fools to come join her feast, to leave their foolish ways and embrace her path of life. Yet Woman Folly is always constantly wooing them to stay with her. As long as we are still breathing, we must constantly reject folly and choose wisdom.

Yet in verse 15 we learn that Folly is also calling out to another group: those who are walking straight on their way. This could mean two things. First, it could mean those who are presently walking down the path of wisdom, showing that she is actively hunting the wise. Second, it could be describing those who are unsuspecting. Either way she is being portrayed as a predator, whereas Wisdom is painted as offering nourishment to the weary.

Notice also the difference in how these women are calling us to join their feasts. Folly stands at the door of her house and cries out herself. Lady Wisdom, however, sends out her young woman to summon us. Why is this difference significant? The young woman who carry the message of Lady Wisdom are her disciples. Folly, though, has no disciples. She killed them all. Her previous guests are now dead, stored “in the depths of Sheol” (v. 18). When we consider that sin is embodiment and essence of folly, this makes complete sense. Sin’s allure is a promise that is never fulfilled. Sin promises a banquet, but it only yields death. Still, it continues to deceive. It continues to ensnare.

We, however, are called to be Lady Wisdom’s young women. We are meant to be her disciples, calling others to join us in her feast. The feast of Lady Wisdom is an actual feast, with other people and everything. Our very invitation is intended to be proof of the reality of the banquet. God chooses to let us take part in the expansion of His kingdom, in the invitation to His wisdom.

Both Wisdom and Folly are also offering bread and drink, our two primary elements of daily sustenance. This is highly symbolic for how we need wisdom only a daily basis. Just as we need food and water to sustain us, so we also require God’s wisdom to keep us on His path. Furthermore, God’s wisdom is a feast indeed. It connects us to one another, uniting us around the LORD. Indeed, community is an essential aspect of God’s wisdom. Community is necessity for wisdom.

Folly, however, cannot offer a feast. Her guests are dead, so there is no fellowship. She has no community to present; therefore, she invites us to partake in stolen water and secret bread. Sin can never build community and fellowship. It can only divide, isolate, and destroy. Folly and sin, therefore, thrive in isolation. Separating oneself from other believers is an invitation to folly and sin.

The ultimate difference between these two invitations is, of course, that Wisdom is calling us to life while Folly is beckoning us to death. Once again, this is yet another various of the two paths that every person must choose between. Jesus called them the narrow and broad roads. Here in Proverbs they have been the paths of wisdom and folly. Now they are presented as invitations to two feasts, one of life and one of death.

The question then that we should be left with after reading these two invitations is: how do we accept Wisdom and reject Folly? Thankfully, Lady Wisdom answers this question in verses 7-12.

LADY WISDOM’S TEACHING // VERSES 7-12

I’ve placed these verses last because I believe the chiastic structure of chapter is pointing toward them as the central focus of our text. As noted in the introduction, these six verses seem to be a reflection upon the thesis verse of Proverbs: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7).

Verses 7-9 are essentially an expanded view of the second half of Proverbs 1:7. These verses contrast the wise man with a scoffer, and the primary difference between them is teachability. A wise man loves reproof and instruction because they increase his wisdom. Correcting a scoffer, however, incurs their hatred and violence. Teachability is necessary for wisdom because wisdom comes through teaching. In fact, teachability could in many ways be used as a synonym for humility. Being teachable requires acknowledging the limits of one’s own understanding. Scoffers, however, are unteachable because they are proud. They are confident in their own knowledge and reject anything that challenges them.

What makes this difference between someone who is teachable, then, and someone who is a scoffer? Verse 10 gives us the answer: the fear of the LORD. Proverbs 3:5-6 is perhaps the great display of what fearing the LORD looks like: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Fearing God means seeing God as God. True humility and teachability begin here. If we will not be taught by the Creator of all things, how can we truly be taught anything? Indeed, wise teachability does not mean that we allow ourselves to be taught by anyone. Paul, after all, warned the Colossians to avoid being held captive by philosophies and empty deceits. We must be guarded against the lies that prevail throughout the world, yet when God speaks, we must listen. And we must obey. The very purpose of God’s inspired Word is to teach us, correct us, reprove us, and train us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

The epitome of foolishness is thinking that our few decades of experience make us wiser than God the Creator. Yet that is the very essence of sin. Whenever we sin, we declare that we are more knowledgeable than He who is omniscient. Fearing God, however, turns us from this foolish path of sin. It makes us teachable to God’s perfect instruction.

Verse 11 reminds us of another benefit of wisdom. By wisdom, our days will be multiplied, and years added to one’s life. As we previously discussed, this is generally true in the physical sense. Wisdom often prolongs life if for no other reason than it teaches us to avoid the dangerous practices of folly. Ultimately, however, it is true eternally. Those who follow God’s wisdom will have their days multiplied without end as we dwell forever with God.

Finally, verse 12 concludes with a final warning that is a perfect note on which to conclude our study through these opening chapters of Proverbs. “If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.” This is reminder that the choice between wisdom and folly is given to the individual.

No one can choose wisdom for you. You alone must obtain it, and if you instead choose to scoff, you alone will bear that consequence. You cannot rely upon the pedigree of your family or of your church. You either embrace Christ and His wisdom or you do not. God has called you to love wisdom, to fear Him. Community is certainly crucial for helping us continue choosing wisdom, but ultimately the decision is ours alone to make.

Consider the sobering reality of this choose. One day we will each stand before God, naked, bare, and alone. Before His holiness, our greatest deeds of righteousness will be truly seen as nothing more than filthy rags in His presence. On that day, we will either hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” or “Depart from me, I never knew you”. The wise will enter into Wisdom itself, while the scoffs will bear away their scoffing.

This is the weight behind these two feasts, these two invitations. The choice between wisdom and folly is an eternal one. It has many consequences on this present life, but its ultimate consequence is our eternal joy or eternal suffering. Biblical wisdom, therefore, is not optional; it is how we know God!

In fact, Jesus Himself invites us to a feast in the same vein as Lady Wisdom. In John 7:37-38, we read: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

Furthermore, John’s Revelation ends with this message from Jesus: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (22:16-17).

The feast of wisdom, the feast of Jesus Christ, is free to whomever will humble himself to come. May we come to His banquet. May we be sustained by His body as our bread and His blood as our drink. May Jesus be our wisdom as we follow wherever He leads. Furthermore, may we be His Bride who calls out for others to come. May we be the young women whom Lady Wisdom sends to the highest places in town, calling for the simple and fools to leave their simple ways and live. May we proclaim the wisdom of gospel to those ensnared by folly around us.


[1] Many theologians offer differing interpretations concerning what exactly the seven pillars represent. Since their suggestions are all speculative, I would offer that, since seven is a number often associated with God, they indicate that her house is built and established upon the wisdom of God.

The Crucifixion

suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.

 

Bruce Shelley opens his account of church history with this statement: “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God.” Indeed, it is no small fact that all four Gospels give extensive time and detail to the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus. If the Gospels, therefore, provide the very center of the biblical narrative and if the passion of Jesus Christ is the central event of the Gospels, then those dark days must be the most significant in all the Bible (and, thus, all of history). Paul affirms this by calling the word (or message) of the cross the very power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18) and claiming to know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

THE SUFFERING OF CHRIST

We must remind ourselves regularly of the death of Christ for our sins, yet we must never glance over the fact that Jesus suffered either. His death via crucifixion was not a pleasant or peaceful one. It was bloody, vicious, and sickening. Jesus suffered. He anguished and agonized.

Rome maintained its vast empire by having roads to quicken travel and by using the cross to discourage rebellion. The cross perfected wholistic torture. The body suspended upon raised planks of wood by nails driven through the person’s hands and feet. The scourging preceding crucifixion would rip skin and flesh to shreds, causing the condemned to lose enough blood to induce hypovolemic shock as their heart strained to provide enough blood to the vital organs, which would begin to ache with the strain of maintaining life. This trauma would cause fluid to build up in the lungs so that breathing could only be done by pushing against the nails in the feet. Between the constant lack of oxygen, the splinters digging into open wounds, and nails grinding against nerves, the cross punished more than the body; it broke the mind, the spirit, and the soul. After being suspended naked for all to see, the dead body would be thrown into the landfill, reminding everyone that this person had become nothing more than garage to be disposed of.

This was the suffering, the passion, of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.

The addition of suffering under Pontius Pilate into the Apostles’ Creed is significant. Pilate was the Roman prefect who governed over the province of Judaea from 26-36 AD. This subtly reminds us of the historical reality of what we believe. Jesus is not a myth. He is not a fanciful tale in line with the work of the Brothers Grimm. Jesus lived. He existed. He walked this earth two thousand years ago. He was executed by the command of Rome, the empire that continues to influence us today. The historical reality of Jesus is clear. The Gospels are themselves historical records of Jesus’ life. This Jesus suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried.

Next, the creed tells us that Jesus descended to the dead or, as many translations read, to hell. There are three primary views as to what is described here. First, it can be viewed as adding emphasis to what was already stated, that Jesus really died. He did not swoon or sleep; His body lay in the grave lifeless. Second, we could read it as Jesus descending into the holding place of the dead, a kind of limbo. This is typically coupled with the belief that Jesus went to liberate the Old Testament saints from their place in Abraham’s Bosom and bring them into the presence of the Father. Third, it can be viewed as Jesus descending into hell, the place of torment for our sake.

1 Peter 3:19 is a text that inspires this phrase, which states that Jesus “went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” Also Psalm 16:10 reads, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption”, which Peter explicitly applies to Jesus in Acts 2:31. Sheol, it should be noted, is the Hebrew equivalent of Hades, since both can mean the grave in abstract and the holding place of the dead.

Which then is the correct understanding? We can’t say. Such things will remain a mystery to us in this life. While none of the interpretations are heretical[1], I would encourage us to hold to the first. It is crucial to Christian orthodoxy that we believe that Jesus really died, and anything beyond that can too easily dive into dangerous speculation.

THE NECESSITY OF ATONEMENT

Now that we’ve addressed what the creed says about Jesus’ crucifixion and death, we must now ask the question: Why? Was the cross really necessary? Behind this question lies the necessity of atonement, which is the idea of repairing or satisfying a wrong that has been committed. While church history has produced numerous theories for how Christ’s suffering and death atoned for our sins, all Christians must agree that Jesus did atone for our sins by His crucifixion.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:3). The death of Jesus as reparation for our sins is of “first importance” to the Christian faith. This truth cannot be negotiated or removed without the entire message of Christianity collapsing into pieces. Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Without faith in the atoning death of Christ, one cannot truly be a Christian.

What then does it mean to believe in the atoning death of Christ?

First, a proper understanding of sin is required. Many branches of Christianity debate the extent of sin’s corruption, yet every Christian must acknowledge that our sin has severed our communion with God beyond repair. Our active choice to disobey the Most High removes us from His presence and eternal life in Him.

Further, we must also affirm our own inability to undo the effects of sin. We reject Christ’s death as being merely an example for pointing us down the path for reuniting with God. Such a stance views Jesus as nothing more than a spiritual guru showing us the way. It forces Christianity to become Western Buddhism. But Jesus did not come to make us enlightened; He came to restore our lost communion with the Father. We were utterly incapable of crossing the chasm between us and God caused by our sin, but Jesus did that very thing for us. Therefore, every Christian must recognize that “Christ died for ours sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”

The theory of penal substitution, I believe, gives the most encompassing view of how the Scriptures present Jesus’ payment of sin[2]. For instance, Isaiah 53 is one of the clearest teachings on the crucifixion, even though Isaiah lived 700 years before Christ. Verses 4-6 could almost serve as a definition of penal substitution:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Our sin is an act of cosmic treason against God. Therefore, each sin requires a just retribution by God. To do anything else would make God unjust. Jesus, however, gives Himself in substitution for us. This is what is meant by penal substitution. Jesus took the penalty of our sins upon Himself, satisfying the justice of God.

Or we could simply quote the words of Isaiah once more, “he was crushed for our iniquities.”

Unfortunately, some argue that this view of the atonement is nothing more than divine child abuse. Indeed “it was the will of the Lord to crush him” (v. 10), but the Father did not send Jesus as an unwilling sacrifice. As said already, Jesus came to give Himself as a ransom for us. Furthermore, Jesus claimed, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:11; 18). The plan to rescue us from our sins was a deliberate and loving act of the Triune God.

Why then did Jesus suffer the humiliating death on a cross?

To offer Himself as a substitute for us, to save us from our sins.

Second, we must also believe in the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. Multiple times, the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus died once for all of our sins, often contrasting the crucifixion with the Levitical sacrifices of the Old Testament. Unlike those sacrifices that needed to be made constantly, Jesus’ blood fully and completely paid the penalty of sin. If you are a follower of Christ, this means that He has already pardoned every sin that you have committed, are committing, or will ever commit. He cleansed it all in one horrific sacrifice upon the cross. This means that our best efforts to work off any guilt over our sin is, in reality, an act of scorning the cross. To attempt covering up sin on our own is effectively a declaration that Jesus’ death was not enough. It reflects a false view of the gospel.

A CALL TO COME AND DIE

How then are we to respond to the crucifixion of Christ?

In Matthew 16, after telling His disciples that He must suffer and die, Jesus then teaches them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v. 24). Notice that this is a blanket proclamation for all of His disciples, even us today. Whoever wants to follow Jesus must deny himself, grab a cross, and follow Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously summarized this by saying, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” He goes on to explain that while some followers of Christ may be called to a martyr’s death, every Christian is called to die to self. Following Christ means the denial of self, the crucifixion of self. Yet from this death comes new life in Christ. As Paul told the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And 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” (2:20). The Christian life, therefore, is very much a new birth, a death and resurrection. Our new lives are now marked by following Christ.

But how are we to follow Christ? What does being His disciple look like? More than any other factor, I would argue that a disciple of Christ is in love with His Word. Donald Whitney affirms this by stating, “No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture” (22). Indeed, this is because Bible is the inspired and collected writings of God Himself to us. It is the Bible that prophesied the coming of Christ and presents Him to us, crucified for our sins. The Bible gives to the teachings and commands of Jesus our Lord. In order to follow Jesus and deny ourselves, we must know what He has commanded of us. We must know the Scriptures. We must be saturated in them. To know and submit to the Word is the context for every step we take as we follow Jesus. We must daily crucify our wisdom and passions in order to abide in the wisdom and passion of Jesus our Redeemer. Many Christians will not suffer as martyrs, yet we are all called to unite ourselves to the suffering of Christ through following Christ instead of self.

Do you, therefore, believe that Jesus died for your sins? Are you following Christ? Are you denying yourself, crucifying yourself with Christ daily? Is your confidence entirely in Jesus’ finished work on the cross?

We believe in Jesus Christ, the God-man, who, suffered, was crucified, died, and buried as a substitute for us, paying the penalty of our sins. We, therefore, can never stop speaking of the wondrous cross of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Do you believe?


[1] Some may shirk to hear me claim that the view that Jesus descended hell as a place of suffering is not heretical. Word of Faith teachers have recently made this understanding so uncomfortable by explicitly claiming that Jesus needed to suffer in hell for our sins. This, of course, takes the focus away from the cross and is incredibly dangerous. However, the traditional understanding for this view by theologians like John Calvin is that descended into hell to “fight hand to hand the powers of hell and the terror of everlasting death” (Institutes, 251). This falls in line with one of the most popular theories of atonement: Christus Victor.

[2] This does not mean that the other theories of atonement are without biblical validity. Indeed, we should always strive to speak holistically about Christ’s atoning work. Just as Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, He is also our ransom from sin and the victor over sin.

Biblical Wisdom

Wisdom Speaks | Proverbs 8

Does not wisdom call?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
“To you, O men, I call,
and my cry is to the children of man.
O simple ones, learn prudence;
O fools, learn sense.
Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right,
for my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
All the words of my mouth are righteous;
there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
They are all straight to him who understands,
and right to those who find knowledge.
Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
and I find knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
I have counsel and sound wisdom;
I have insight; I have strength.
By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
by me princes rule,
and nobles, all who govern justly. 
I love those who love me,
and those who seek me diligently find me.
Riches and honor are with me,
enduring wealth and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
and my yield than choice silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
in the paths of justice,
granting an inheritance to those who love me,
and filling their treasuries.

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, 
the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man.

“And now, O sons, listen to me:
blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord,
but he who fails to find me injures himself;
all who that me love death.”

Proverbs 8 ESV

 

Chapter five through seven stand as dire warnings against sin, particularly the sin of sexual immorality. Solomon gave such extensive warnings because the dangers are far too real and immanent to ignore. But now the ancient Israelite returns to the plea for us to find wisdom. Last seen in chapter one, Lady Wisdom returns for the final two chapters of Proverbs’ introduction. To properly understand this chapter, we must remember that Lady Wisdom is Solomon’s poetic personification of the abstract concept of wisdom. He uses this literary device to further emphasize the necessity of obtaining wisdom at all costs.

THE CALL OF WISDOM // VERSES 1-11

The chapter opens with two rhetorical questions. Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? The answer, of course, is that she does. The final section of chapter one consisted of Lady Wisdom’s first address to the readers. In fact, verses 2-3 give a setting for this speech that runs parallel with her previous speech. Proverbs 1:20-21 described Lady Wisdom as a street preacher, crying out in the streets to anyone who would listen. The same is true here as well. She positions herself on the heights where her voice might travel further. She stands at the crossroads, gates, and city entrances, knowing that traffic will be heavy there. She goes to densely populated areas and cries out. In verses 4-5, she makes known her intended audience, the children of man, which is to say all of humanity. Verse 5 cites a more specific target for her words: the simple and the fools. We have already established who the fools and simple are. They are both without wisdom. The fool is in sin’s grasp, and the simple is in danger of becoming a fool. Yet Lady Wisdom calls out to these groups specifically, that they would learn prudence and sense. We should take heart upon reading these verses. Even if we are simple or foolish, there is still hope. God’s wisdom goes out to all people.

The glorious truth that God’s wisdom calls to everyone demands that we listen carefully. If this message is truly for all of humanity, we must diligently hear it. And this is precisely what Lady Wisdom calls us to do: hear. That is our command. God has spoken; we must listen. Accordingly, verses 6-11 tell us why we should hear. Verses 6-7 describe Wisdom’s speech as noble and true. Verses 8-9 describe Wisdom’s words as righteous and straight. And verses 10-11 describe Wisdom’s teachings as better than gold, silver, or whatever we may desire. Together these verses are reinforcing the necessity of hearing (and obeying) Wisdom’s teaching.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WISDOM // VERSES 12-21

As a nerdy history buff, I have a great appreciation for historians. They do the tremendously difficult work of learning and interpreting the lives of people they will (often) never meet. In order to do this well, a biographer (for example) will tend to rely as much as possible on the actual words of the person being studied. They do this because the greatest earthly authority on a person is that same person. For this very reason, verses 12-31 are particularly wonderful in Proverbs. Herein Lady Wisdom first describes herself (vv. 12-21) and then recounts a short autobiography (vv. 22-31).

Wisdom’s characteristics, as presented here, are also benefits to us whenever we possess wisdom. There are several distinct characteristics and benefits of wisdom presented here, so we will briskly walk through them. First, wisdom dwells with prudence, and she finds knowledge and discretion (v. 12). Prudence, a wise understanding of how the world works, walks hand-in-hand with wisdom. It is also worthy noting that craftiness, in many ways, is the ungodly foil of prudence. Both are forms of being street-wise, but craftiness seeks exploitation while prudence seeks God’s glorification. Knowledge, the accumulating of information, and discretion, the ability to develop and enact wise plans, are both outflows of wisdom. Of course, this is not to say that wisdom must always proceed knowledge. Knowledge, in fact, often proceeds wisdom. The point, instead, is that knowledge and these variously related attributes are all intricately connected to wisdom. Gain wisdom, and you gain knowledge, prudence, and discretion as well. To simplify: wisdom comes with many benefits.

Second, the fear of the LORD, which is wisdom’s beginning (9:9), is also the hatred of evil (v. 13). Because wisdom understands that God is worthy to be feared, wisdom despises wickedness. There can be no other way. Evil is an abomination to God; therefore, we cannot both fear Him and love (or even tolerate) evil. We simply cannot love God and remain apathetic to sin. Do you, therefore, hate sin?

Third, wisdom is necessary for righteous and just leadership (vv. 14-16). Counsel, sound wisdom, insight, and strength are benefits that accompany wisdom, and they are also qualities that are essential for leaders. But verses 15-16 provide an even greater benefit of wisdom upon leaders: it keeps them just. True wisdom guides toward righteous and just decisions.

Fourth, Lady Wisdom loves those who love her (v. 17). This is a wonderful promise for us to cling to. When we love and value wisdom, she loves us in return. When we diligently seek her, she will be found. But the inverse is also a tragic rebuke. If all who seek wisdom find it, then fools do not have wisdom simply because they refuse to seek after it.

Fifth, many riches are found in wisdom (vv. 18-21). Wealth often follows wisdom, as do honor and righteousness. But notice that the true treasure of wisdom is not material wealth because the fruit of wisdom is better than gold. What could possibly be better than gold and silver? The way of righteous is far more valuable than all the riches of this world. Wisdom takes us down the godly path, which leads to a true inheritance, full of treasures. Wisdom, by causing us to fear God, points us to the supreme Treasure. Jesus also affirmed this (and appealed to wisdom in gaining lasting treasure) in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:19-21 | Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

WISDOM’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY // VERSES 22-31

Lady Wisdom, having described her attributes, proceeds now to tell her autobiography. We have already read a short version of the story in Proverbs 3:19-20, but now wisdom provides a lengthier meditation upon her existence. The bulk of this autobiographical poem is meant to emphasize wisdom’s preeminence. Plenty of debate has been waged regarding the exact translation of possessed in verse 22. Many theologians hold that Lady Wisdom is actually pre-incarnate Jesus, so possessed makes more sense than fathered or created, which are possible translations. I have already discussed this issue from Proverbs 3:19-20, but I will reiterate it simply here. I do not believe that Lady Wisdom is Jesus. Many cite 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, where Jesus is called the wisdom of God, as evidence that the concept of wisdom in Proverbs is Christ. While I certainly affirm that Jesus is wisdom (which means that wisdom is an attribute of Jesus that He perfectly embodies), I do not believe that wisdom is Jesus. Once again, it is the same principle as saying that God is love, but love is not God. God is love because it is an attribute of His nature and He fully embodies love. But love, as an idea, is not God. We do not worship love; we worship God. Likewise, we do not worship wisdom; we worship Jesus. Again, I am not arguing that theologians who view wisdom as Jesus are heretical. That is not the case at all. But I do firmly believe that the safer and more biblical interpretation is that wisdom in Proverbs is an attribute of God and a principle upon which He ordered creation.

Wisdom as a principle (or perhaps we might say law or rule) upon which God ordered creation is the subject of these verses. Obviously, the primary emphasis of these verses is that wisdom was with God at the beginning of creation. But why is that significant? Buzzell provides, what I believe, is the best answer: “If God involved wisdom in His creative work, then certainly people need wisdom” (923)! If wisdom was with God creation and God even used wisdom to create the world, we should leap at the chance to partake in that wisdom.

FIND WISDOM; FIND LIFE // VERSES 32-36

In this final section of the chapter, Lady Wisdom reiterates the commands that Solomon has issued throughout the previous chapters. She even takes up calling the readers of Proverbs sons. What follows is a twofold pronouncement of blessing (vv. 32, 34), where the first is followed by a command and the second is followed by promise/warning. With nearly eight chapters behind us, these could be seen as Lady Wisdom’s closing words (with chapter nine providing the transition into the collection of proverbs). They certainly sum up the overall message of the Proverbs’ introduction; let us, therefore, obey Lady Wisdom by listening diligently to her.

The first declaration of blessing is to those who keep wisdom’s ways, meaning those who follow and obey wisdom. The command (v. 33) follows suit, calling us to hear instruction, be wise, and not neglect wisdom. Remember that God’s wisdom is ultimately found in His Word; therefore, hearing instruction is primarily a call to hear and obey the Scriptures. Of course, godly instruction can come from other sources, but we receive the teaching of wisdom first and foremost via the Bible. The second proclamation of blessing is fittingly to those who listen to wisdom, watching at her gates and waiting beside her doors. This describes someone who is actively looking and waiting for wisdom. The Bereans are a good example of this, of whom Luke wrote: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Let us too receive God’s wisdom and His Word with eagerness. How then are you keeping God’s Word? Are you actively listening for it? How has Proverbs’ repeated emphasis of this issue changed the way you read the Bible?

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it is important to remember that the movement of revival came from people longing to know God’s Word. That hunger for the Bible proceeded the actual reformers. MacCulloch writes about the revival of preaching in the centuries leading to the Reformation: “Surviving sermon texts suggest that sermons were long, and since there was then little seating in church, there must have been a popular appetite for absorbing ideas and biblical stories which overcame physical discomfort” (p. 31). Let us always strive to be a people whose love for God’s Word always triumphs over our physical discomfort.

Verses 35-36 close the chapter with a dichotic promise/warning. He who finds wisdom finds life, but those who hate wisdom love death (in many ways, this premise will be expanded in chapter nine, where we will be invited to feast with either Lady Wisdom or Lady Folly). The point here is that obtaining wisdom is not a secondary matter; it is life or death. Yes, life may function better with wisdom, but wisdom is far more valuable than helping life go smoothly. Wisdom means fearing God, loving and submitting to Him and His designs and instructions. We cannot follow Christ without wisdom because the very act of following Christ is wise. Conversely, denying Christ is the ultimate act of foolishness because it rejects trusting God in favor of leaning upon our own understanding. Be wise, therefore, and find life and favor in the LORD.

The Incarnation

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary

 

Our journey through the Apostles’ Creed brings us now into a multipart study of the life and work of Jesus, which, of course, begins at His birth. The virgin birth, which Lewis called the Grand Miracle, has long been given the rightful attention of theologians. As we will see, without this opening act of God, the gospel is undone. The incarnation of Christ and His virgin birth is not a belief to be negotiated; it is the wonder of all wonders. It is our hope and our redemption.

THE DOCTRINE

Far more can be said about Christ’s birth than what we have time for here; we will, therefore, paint with broad strokes, attempting to cover the basics of this doctrine. In doing so, let us begin with the title given for this event by which we still divide all of human history: the incarnation. Incarnation means the taking on of flesh, of a body. A central text from which we can center this study is John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This Word was both distinct from God, while also being God (1:1). This Word was the means by which God created all things, such that nothing created was created without Him (which can only mean that He, like God, was not created). This Word is Jesus, as is made clear in verse 17. He has brought life to men, shining light into our darkness. God the Son, the eternal Word, has displayed His glory to the world that He made, such glory that could only radiate from the Son as He comes from the Father. How did He reveal to us His gracious and true glory? He became flesh and dwelt among us. God the Son became human. This is the incarnation of Christ.

The Apostles’ Creed summarizes the incarnation with two phrases: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. The two are inseparably linked to one another. Without the conception by the Holy Spirit, the virgin birth is impossible. Without the virgin birth, the conception by the Holy Spirit rendered false. We cannot affirm one without the other; we must accept or reject them together.

But why were such things necessary? Let us begin with why a virgin birth was necessary. The virgin birth is not simply a silly myth for describing Jesus’ origin as a great teacher. It is a historical reality that is also a crucial component to the message of the gospel. In fact, the first promise of the gospel also prophesies the virgin birth. In Genesis 3:15, after humanity fell into sin, God pronounced this curse upon the Serpent: “I will put an enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The curse must have given comfort to Eve. She was deceived and led into sin by the Serpent, but one of her offspring would destroy the Serpent. Through a woman, Adam plunged humanity into sin, but through a woman would also come humanity’s Savior. The incarnation of Jesus only deepens this symmetry by revealing that the Serpent-Crusher was not just born of woman, but He was exclusively born of a woman since she was impregnated by no man.

Many theologians have pointed to the virgin birth, therefore, as the catalyst for Jesus coming into the world as the second Adam (that is, without inheriting sin). Being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, Jesus was born free from the cycle of sin, which, of course, made it possible for Him to live a sinless life. Without the virgin birth, Jesus could not rightly be called the second Adam, and He could not give His life as payment for our sins. The virgin birth, therefore, is necessary for the gospel.

Furthermore, the two statements also point us toward the two natures of Christ. As being conceived by the Holy Spirit, we affirm that Jesus was sent by the Father to earth. He did not begin existing with His conception because He was eternally existing as God the Son. He is, therefore, divine. He is God the Son sent by God the Father.

But He was also born of Mary the virgin. He was born. Think about it. He was born. Nine months of developing in the womb and the whole shebang. He came into the world like we all came into the world: by the body of our mother. Jesus, therefore, is human. While His birth was not the beginning of His existence, it was His incarnation, His becoming flesh, a human.

This stands beside the Trinity as one of the great mysteries of Christianity. Jesus is one person, yet He bears two natures, God and man. He is fully human and fully God. He is not a glorified man who looks kind of divine, as the Arians believe. Neither is He God who only appeared to look like a man, as Docetism teaches. He is not a demigod, who is part God and part man, nor is He sometimes God and sometimes man. The Chalcedonian Creed (or the Definition of Chalcedon) gives us very specific language for affirming this reality:

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the 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; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

APPLICATION

Having now addressed some of the basics for understanding the incarnation, we now will look at how this doctrine applies to us. While the applications for the incarnation are numerous, I will discuss three: 1) by becoming human while retaining His deity, Jesus is able to mediate between God and man, 2) since Jesus became flesh, our bodies are not evil, and 3) by condescending to us, Jesus is the supreme model of humility for us.

Jesus as Mediator

Paul wrote these words to his disciple, Timothy: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Jesus is only mediator between us and God. But why do we need a mediator at all?

Adam and Eve needed no mediator. They were free to bathe in the presence of God and to enjoy the world that He had given them to rule. But they rejected their communion with God in a feeble attempt to seize power. Their disobedience opened a chasm between them and their Creator. As a symbol of this separation, they were exiled from Eden, cast away from God’s presence. God gives the judgment, but the damage is self-inflicted. When we sin, we follow the footsteps of our ancestors and keep the path clear for our descendants to tread behind. We reject God, and there remains nothing for us except a gulf between us.

In His mercy, God repeatedly crossed the chasm to reveal Himself to His people. He spoke to them through prophets. He gave His Spirit to their kings. He established priests to pray and sacrifice on their behalf. Yet these were all messages from afar, letters to exiles to remind us that we were not forgotten nor unloved. But the abyss remained uncrossed.

Enter Jesus, who bridged the gulf. As a man, Jesus was able to be truly human, as we were designed to be. He became like us in every respect, except better, as we should have been. He became the second Adam, resisting the pull of sin that the first Adam fell into. When offered the forbidden fruit from Eve, Adam ate. He should have rejected the opportunity to sin. More than that, he should have offered himself to take the judgment of Eve’s rebellion. Instead of correcting and then dying for her, he chose to follow and then blame his wife. Jesus, however, never yielded to sin and died in our place to rescue His Bride.

Yet Jesus’ death would have been insufficient unless He was also God. How can one man’s physical death cover the eternal spiritual death that was the consequence of sin? Only the Infinite Himself could pay our infinite debt. Since God was sinned against, only God could also redeem. As God, the death of Jesus was the death of God. The Holy One died to make us holy, to bridge the chasm and restore our communion with Him.

Without both Jesus’ divinity and humanity, He could not be our mediator. Yet He, the God-man, is. He is the way that has been made across the divide, and there is no other. How could there be? To claim another path to God makes a mockery of the cross. Further, it makes a mockery of God humbling Himself to become a man. Jesus has not left other options open. We must either accept Him or reject Him, but we cannot view Him half-heartedly as one of many roads to God.

“There is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.”

The Flesh

Gnosticism was one of the first heresies to rise up against Christianity. Gnostics primarily believed that Jesus had given to some individual a secret knowledge that was hidden from the others. Who this individual was varied between different teachers (Thomas, Judas, Peter, Philip, Mary, etc.), which is why there are so many Gnostic Gospels. Yet most Gnostics shared the idea that this secret knowledge would free them from the physical world and enable them to transcend into the spiritual world. They longed for this because they believed all things physical to be evil and all things spiritual to be good. This view led to two extreme applications. First, some Gnostics would give themselves fully to ascetism, punishing their bodies and denying themselves any earthly pleasure. Second, others would yield entirely to self-indulgence, reasoning that the body could only do evil since it was evil so why try to stop it? Both were drastic attempts to be liberated from our flesh and from the material world. Doesn’t that sound spiritual?

This swaying between extremes is still present today. While Western culture has predominately been hedonistic (as consumerism must be), society almost always fights extremes with extremes; thus, when the American dream leaves us empty, many turn to an ascetic lifestyle. The flashy steam of dopamine that is social media is only fueling this division at an even quicker pace. Social media feeds are inherently hedonistic by design. The blend of having screens as buffers between us and others, endless information novelty, personalized news feeds, and vast social connectivity has created a kind of cognitive candy. We should not be surprised then to find the disillusioned turning to Buddhism and Stoicism (often condensed into the idea of mindfulness), both of which emphasize the primary importance of disciplining our desires and impulses. Islam fits this narrative as well by requiring physical acts of daily prayer and an extended time of fasting each year. They are appealing as ascetic alternatives to the Internet-driven hedonism. They appear to give an answer for what we are to do with our bodies. Feed them relentlessly, or starve them into submission?

Christianity reaches toward both with the truth as revealed in Christ. Jesus’ resurrection blasts a hole in the Gnostic logic of asceticism. God chose to dwell in flesh; therefore, flesh itself cannot be an inherent evil. Jesus comes to redeem our bodies, not destroy them. This will occur through the death of our current bodies, but when Christ comes again, He will resurrect us into new, glorified bodies. Our flesh is not evil, just broken. This means that the life of a Christian must embrace the shades of truth that mark both hedonism and stoicism. We must recognize that God purposely made us with taste buds. He also created chocolate with a different flavor than strawberries, and He made both of those flavors wonderful to combine. As His children, God delights whenever we enjoy the gifts that He has given to us. Yet because our flesh is marred by sin, we constantly valuing God’s gifts more than God as the Giver. We must, therefore, discipline our bodies so we are not consumed by the lure of more.

We see this balance imaged in marriage. Proverbs commends us to delight ourselves physically with our spouse. Properly understood, enjoying the body of one’s spouse is taking pleasure in a gift that they have given exclusively to you. Delight is statement of love, a declaration that their body and their self is satisfying and sufficient for you. Failing to enjoy your spouse can, therefore, rightfully be seen as being unsatisfied with them and their gift, while an obsession with your spouse’s body makes them into an object to used. Both extremes are unloving and ultimately destroy the pleasure itself.

The same can be said of every gift that the Father gives to us. To reject His gifts is a rejection of His gracious love toward us, but to be consumed by His gifts is an idolatrous rejection of Him. May we, therefore, as followers of One who is both God and man be the most satisfied in our enjoyment in our enjoyment of the earthly pleasures that the Father as given us, while also being the most disciplined against letting our desires and longings consume us.

Humility

Finally, the incarnation of Jesus teaches us by example what true humility looks like. Simply stated, Jesus becoming a human is only rivaled by His crucifixion as the greatest act of humility ever committed. Consider the reality of it. God became one of His creations, like a potter choosing to become a jar. The Infinite One became finite. He clothed Himself in the limitations of a body. He willing submitted Himself to hunger, thirst, and pain. He became like us in every respect yet without sin.

Indeed, Jesus was more human than us because of His freedom from sin. As Chesterton argues, sin deadens the senses, leading to a kind of spiritual and emotional paralysis or vegetation. Yet Jesus’ heart was not dulled by sin. His spirit was not deadened to the brokenness around Him. We flinch and distract ourselves from thinking too long or hard about the present reality of atrocities like the child trafficking for organ-harvesting or systemic rape in countries like Myanmar or Libya. Yet Jesus saw every single sin as the act of cosmic treason that it is. We, therefore, cannot even begin to fathom the depth of suffering that even viewing our “small” sins would have caused Him. Yet Jesus chose this life. He willingly descended from heaven to take on flesh and blood and to ultimately have that flesh and blood broken and spilled in our place for our sins.

We must follow His example of humility in at least two ways.

First, since Jesus humbled Himself to become flesh and came not to be served but to serve us, no one is too lowly for us to serve. As our Lord, Jesus modeled how we must live by serving. If we are not greater than Him, how then can we do anything but serve as He served?

But it’s not just the act of serving that Jesus has modeled for us, but also the heart of serving. If we are not guarded, too often serving others can actually build up our pride. We can subtly develop a pharisaical mentality where we believe ourselves to be superior to others precisely because of how selfless we believe ourselves to be. Indeed, this can also limit how we serve others. By believing that we are doing others a favor by serving them, we can view our acts of service with a kind of take-it-or-leave-it mindset, which is not an act of genuinely seeking their good. Therefore, we must be constantly vigilant to conform our hearts to the likeness of Jesus, who served out of selfless and humble love for others.

Second, as we studied last week, a failure to embrace Jesus as Lord is an obstinate declaration of our own supremacy, while bowing to Jesus as Lord is a humble act of submission to Him. Embracing Jesus as our Savior and Lord means dying to self and killing our pride. Yet this act of humility pales in comparison to Jesus’ descension into the flesh. When Jesus commands us to follow Him, He is not making a demand of us that He has not exceeded Himself. He humbled Himself to rescue us; therefore, we must also humble ourselves to receive Him.

Indeed, John Flavel writes a warning in vein of the author of Hebrews about pridefully neglecting “such a great salvation”:

Does he [Jesus] veil his insupportable glory under flesh, that he may treat the more familiarly and yet do you refuse him, and shut your heart against him? Then hear one word, and let thine ears tingle at the sound of it: thy sin is thereby aggravated beyond the sin of devils, who never sinned against a mediator in their own nature; who never despised, or refused, because, indeed, they were never offered terms of mercy, as you are. And I doubt not but the devils themselves who now tempt you to reject, will, to all eternity, upbraid your folly for rejecting this great salvation, which in this excellent way is brought down even to your own doors. (59)

Do you, therefore, embrace the incarnation of Jesus? Do you believe in the virgin birth? Do you believe that Jesus is fully human and fully divine? Do you believe that Jesus is the only mediator between God and men? Do you believe that He is your mediator? Are you caring for your body in reflection of the good gifts that God has given? Are you following Jesus’ example of humility? Have you humbled yourself to receive salvation from His hand?

We believe in Jesus, the eternal Son of God, who, by the Holy Spirit, was born of a virgin, becoming a fully human, while still retaining His divinity, so that He could stand as the only mediator between God and us. To embrace these things is to take hold joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Do you believe?