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?

1 comment:

elise said...

that's where the question came from!

i told T you were thinking this over and i cant remember his response.

does that help? ;-)

maybe i'll ask him again.