Thursday, April 30, 2009

Christ in the Flesh

It turns out that to learn more about a problem, all I have to do is keep reading. This morning I was reading the appointed Book of Concord section, from the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord (I'm turning into a really Lutheran nerd: not a bad thing), and I found this. No thoughts of my own, today, just those of some old Lutherans:

"Our basic arguments, on which we have always stood in this matter since the outbreak of the dispute regarding this article, are the same as those that Dr. Luther set down in the following words initially against the sacramentarians. (Dr. Luther in his Large Confession concerning the Holy Supper): My reasons upon which I rest in this matter are the following:

1. The first is this article of our faith: Jesus Christ is essential, natural, true, perfect God and man in one person, inseparable and undivided.

2. The second, that God's right hand is everywhere.

3. The third, that God's Word is not false, nor does it lie.

4. The fourth, that God has and knows of many modes of being in any place, and not only the single one concerning which the fanatics talk flippantly, and which philosophers call localem, or local.

Also: The one body of Christ [says Luther] has a threefold mode or all three modes of being anywhere.

First, the comprehensible, bodily mode, as He went about bodily upon earth, when, according to His size, He vacated and occupied space [was circumscribed by a fixed place]. This mode He can still use whenever He will, as He did after the resurrection, and will use at the last day, as Paul says, 1 Tim. 6:15: "Which in His times He shall show, who is the blessed God [and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords]." And to the Colossians, 3:4: "When Christ, who is our Life, shall appear." In this manner He is not in God or with the Father, neither in heaven, as the mad spirits dream; for God is not a bodily space or place. And this is what the passages how Christ leaves the world and goes to the Father refer to which the false spirits cite.

Secondly, the incomprehensible, spiritual mode, according to which He neither occupies nor vacates space, but penetrates all creatures wherever He pleases [according to His most free will]; as, to make an imperfect comparison, my sight penetrates and is in air, light, or water, and does not occupy or vacate space; as a sound or tone penetrates and is in air or water or board and wall, and also does not occupy or vacate space; likewise, as light and heat penetrate and are in air, water, glass, crystal, and the like, and also do not vacate or occupy space; and much more of the like [many comparisons of this matter could be adduced]. This mode He used when He rose from the closed [and sealed] sepulcher, and passed through the closed door [to His disciples], and in the bread and wine in the Holy Supper, and, as it is believed, when He was born of His mother [the most holy Virgin Mary].

Thirdly, the divine, heavenly mode, since He is one person with God, according to which, of course, all creatures must be far more penetrable and present to Him than they are according to the second mode. For if, according to that second mode, He can be in and with creatures in such a manner that they do not feel, touch, circumscribe, or comprehend Him, how much more wonderfully will He be in all creatures according to this sublime third mode, so that they do not circumscribe nor comprehend Him, but rather that He has them present before Himself, circumscribes and comprehends them! For you must place this being of Christ, who is one person with God [for you must place this mode of presence of Christ which He has by His personal union with God], very far, far outside of the creatures, as far as God is outside of them; and again as deep and near within all creatures as God is within them. For He is one inseparable person with God; where God is, there must He also be, or our faith is false. But who will say or think how this occurs? We know indeed that it is so, that He is in God outside of all creatures, and one person with God, but how it occurs we do not know; it [this mystery] is above nature and reason, even above the reason of all the angels in heaven; it is understood and known only by God. Now, since it is unknown to us, and yet true, we should not deny His words before we know how to prove to a certainty that the body of Christ can by no means be where God is, and that this mode of being [presence] is false. This the fanatics must prove; but they will forego it.

Now, whether God has and knows still more modes in which Christ's body is anywhere, I did not intend to deny herewith, but to indicate what awkward dolts our fanatics are, that they concede to the body of Christ no more than the first, comprehensible mode; although they cannot even prove that to be conflicting with our meaning. For in no way will I deny that the power of God may accomplish this much that a body might be in many places at the same time, even in a bodily, comprehensible way. For who will prove that this is impossible with God? Who has seen an end to His power? The fanatics indeed think thus: God cannot do it. But who will believe their thinking? With what do they make such thinking sure?" (Article VII: The Holy Supper, paragraphs 93-103).

I certainly don't pretend to understand all of this, but at least it's an explanation of a problem that has been vexing me for some time now.

Also, how wonderful it is that the Book of Concord may be read in its entirety on the internet!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Humble Pie

I'm sitting here "enjoying" a big slice of that bitterest of pastries...

The Good Lord showed me today in a real way that I'm not as smart as I thought I was. These gentle, or not so gentle, reminders of my sin and my need for Him should be cause for me to repent and thank Him for His mercy to me for Christ's sake, to show me my sin rather than to simply destroy me and have done with it. Its a further indication of this quagmire of sin that I know I should be thankful that my Abba is disciplining me, but I'm finding that hard to muster. My old sinful nature cries out, "Ow, that hurts! I am content thinking that I know it all and I do not welcome your suggestion that I'm not as together as I think I am. Leave me alone in my comfortable sin."

So it's time to go back to the font for a good, old-fashioned, daily drowning once again... let the kicking and screaming on the way to the waters begin.

Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"I am with you always, even to the end of the age"

I've been very confused and dismayed-- although I'm not sure that is the correct word to describe the feeling-- by two conversations I've had lately-- lately isn't exactly accurate, either... one conversation was yesterday, the other back in January. While both conversations were simply chats with Christian friends and otherwise unrelated to one another, a troubling statement was made by my friends in each. They both claimed that Jesus is no longer a man, that He no longer has a human body and now is only God, as He was before the incarnation.

This of course, set off all kinds of warning bells and whistles in my mind. Jesus not a man? What are you talking about?

Unfortunately, I didn't really get a chance to press the issue either time, the first because the flow of the conversation quickly departed and I wasn't exactly sure what to say, how to respond. The second time a response was not possible because the language barrier could not allow for it.

So I wanted to process through this here. I also hope that some of you could give me some wisdom in this.

I wonder where these friends of mine think exactly happened to Jesus' body between the Ascension and today. And what about His promise to return bodily at the Last Judgment? I facetiously wonder if they view it as though Jesus took off His "man suit" after He arrived in heaven at the Ascension and that He's going to put it on again right before He cues the archangel to blow the horn just before He comes on the clouds of glory...

The main issue for me is the nature of the Incarnation. Did not the eternal Son of God irreversibly take on human flesh when He deigned to be made in human likeness?

I decided to consult my library on this issue...

Question number 120 in the Explanation of the Small Catechism asks "How do you know that Jesus Christ is also true man?"
Because the Scriptures
A. clearly call Him man;
401 1 Tim.2:5 There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
121. What two natures, therefore, are united in the one person of Jesus Christ?
The divine and the human natures are united in Jesus Christ. This personal union began when He became man (incarnation) and continues forever.
410 Col. 2:9 In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form
Both of these Scriptures speak about Christ in the present tense as being man, God in human flesh. So, as long as there is a day called Today, these statements are true about Christ Jesus.

Also, as Hebrews 2:14 says, it was necessary for Jesus to share in our humanity in order to make the appropriate sacrifice for the sins of mankind and to destroy the devil, who held the power of death over us. Romans 6 discusses that we have been united with Christ in His death by our baptisms so that we will also be united with Him in His resurrection. Doesn't it follow that, if Jesus had to die in His human body to win our forgiveness of sins, had to be resurrected in His human body to give us the promised resurrection, shouldn't He have to maintain His human body to maintain the promise? After all, Jesus promised in John 14:19 "Because I live, you also will live." And why would He abandon His human body temporarily before He returns, bodily, on the Last Day to separate the sheep and the goats?

What about the relationship between the two natures, the human and the divine, present in Jesus Christ? The Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Article VIII. Concerning the Person of Christ (paragraph 18):
Christ is and remains for all eternity God and human being in one inseparable person, which is the highest mystery after the mystery of the Holy Trinity, as the Apostle testifies [1 Tim. 3:16]. In this mystery lie our only comfort, life, and salvation.

So, this settles it for me about the question of whether Christ is still human as well as God. The next question is "Where IS Jesus, then?"

The easy answer is what we confess in the Apostle's Creed: He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. Before He died, He told His disciples that He was going ahead of them to prepare a place for them in His Father's house (John 14:2-3).

Lutherans (and Catholics, and maybe Anglicans, too-- I can't remember) also believe that Christ is truly present bodily at His Supper every time it's celebrated. How is this possible? Well, the same article in the epitome, paragraph 16 says that:
He did not reveal his majesty at all times but only when it pleased him, until he completely laid aside the form of a servant [Phil. 2:7] (but not his human nature) after his resurrection. Then he was again invested with the full use, revelation, and demonstration of his divine majesty and entered into his glory... not only as God but also as human creature, as he himself testifies, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" [Matt. 28:18], and St. Paul writes: He ascended "above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things" [Eph. 4:10]. As present everywhere he can exercise this power of his, he can do everything, and he knows all things. Therefore, he is able-- it is very easy for him-- to share his true body and blood, present in the Holy Supper, not according to the manner of characteristic of the human nature, but according to the manner and characteristic of God's right hand. This presence is not an earthly presence, but at the smae time it is a true and essential presence, as the words of his testament say, "This is my body," etc.
Arguments against this say that it's not possible for Him to be present everywhere in His body because that is apart from the attributes of his human nature. But it is plain in scripture that Christ's exalted, glorified body breaks the "rules" of what we consider to be true human nature when he appears to the disciples in the middle of the locked upper room in the evening of Resurrection day (John 20:19), or when he disappeared from the midst of the other two disciples after breaking bread with them in Emmaus (Luke 24:30-31). If Jesus can, in His human nature, appear and disappear from places, behaving in a way which we don't normally consider to be human, then it's not a big leap for us to accept that He would be able to be in all places where His Supper is being received by His Church.

I suppose I'm done processing. Ideas? Comments? Questions?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Words Engraved in the Rock Forever

Then end of the first week of Easter is here, and still no comment from me here yet? Unbelievable. My soul has been crying within me of the joys of my Savior. How wonderful it is that I have been baptized into His death, and that I am now united with Him in His resurrection! Because of the manifold joys in my soul, my mouth has no choice, nor any desire, but to sing the praises of my Risen Lord. Because the best way to worship my God is to speak His words from Holy Scripture back to Him, I cry and confess with blessed Job:
"Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!" (Job 19:23-27, ESV)
The benefit that I-- that we-- have in living after Christ's resurrection that Job didn't have, is that we know that his words ARE engraved forever, in God's Holy Scripture which stands forever (Is. 40:8), far better than any earthly rock that we know will be destroyed with fire in the last day (2 Pet. 3:10). We know more fully the truth that our Redeemer does in fact live, because we know the details of the history, as recorded in the four Gospels. Though we know more details than he, our faith is the same as his, because our hope is the same. We know that because our Redeemer lives, that we too shall live. And we hope to see Him with our own eyes. I can barely wait for that blessed day, when we will bid good-bye to all tears and sinning!

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." Rom. 6:3-5

Monday, April 6, 2009

Holy Week

My absolute favorite week of the whole year is HERE!!!! I love everything about it. I love Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I love the image of the people lying down their cloaks and palm branches to carpet his path, of them proclaiming "Hosannah!" to the king that they didn't really understand. I love that Jesus spent the week teaching in parables in the temple, that he cleared the temple of the crooked moneychangers and merchants, that the woman anointed him in Bethany.

How beautiful that Jesus celebrated the Passover seder with His disciples on the night before He was betrayed by Judas. He showed His disciples the full extent of His love by washing their feet, He instituted His last will and testament, which we believers still receive, receiving not only the bread and wine, but the body and blood of our Lord as He promised we would, whenever we eat it.

Jesus prayed that night for His disciples, for those who would believe in Him in coming generations, and for Himself, that if it would be possible for the cup He was about to drink (of death) to pass from Him. It wasn't possible. In spite of His intense duress, He was still full of grace when His captors came to arrest Him in the middle of the night, full of love for those who mistreated Him, which He showed when He restored the ear to the high priest's servant after brash Peter sliced it off with his sword.

Like a sheep before His shearers, He was silent when He was subjected to His unjust trials, blindfolded and abused, mocked by the guards. The people demanded His blood, crying to Pilate "Crucify him!" and He underwent flogging, being crowned with thorns, and carrying His cross up the hill to Golgotha. By that time, exhausted and nearly physically destroyed, He couldn't muster the strength to continue carrying the cross Himself, and so Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross for Him.

Once on the top of the hill, His hands and feet were pierced, nailed into the cross, and His body was lifted up and He hung there for three hours, enduring the concentrated, entire wrath of God the Father, and completing the payment for the whole of human sin throughout all of time, past, present and future. And after suffering on the cross for three hours, He breathed His last and gave up His spirit, having put an end to the necessity for sons and daughters of Adam to try to make restitution of their own sin.

On the third day, He rose again from the dead, conquering the grave once and for all.

Because of Jesus' perfect life, death and resurrection, we no longer have to fear sin, death, and the devil. Because of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, we are no longer in slave to our sin, no longer objects of God's wrath. We have been reconciled to Him and we have the promise of our own resurrection to eternal life with our God in the new heavens and earth.

As a Christian, how could I not be so excited about this week?

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 3:21-26
image: "The Crucifixion" by Gustave Doré