Monthly Archives: April 2012

Sorting out the INDIGNATION and GRACIOUSNESS of God

God is angered by habitual sin because it harms His creatures.  Therefore He may even punish or discipline His children in order to break the injurious habit.  However, there is no cosmic “necessity” for sin to be punished “in order for” God to be “satisfied” or “propitiated” or for sin to be “atoned for.”  And in any case this would be superfluous since all humans die as a penalty for their sins anyway, even those for whom Christ “especially” died.  God has no personal or “moral” need to vent His wrath somehow in order to legitimize or make possible His forgiveness, pardon, or remission–no, not even to “exhibit His holiness”!

The most telling argument against every vindictive theory of atonement is the nature of sin itself.  Sin is a violation, transgression, trespassing, infraction, or invasion of the sovereignty or property of another person…or even the inclination thereto.  The Torah was given through Moses in order to expose the existence of sin, but the penalty or “wages” of sin, i.e., death, existed in the world even before Moses, obviously (Rom. 5:12-14).  This Law simply defined some prime generic boundaries of sovereignty and authority, the violations of which were sins.  But the root of sinning is craving, covetousness, or lust.  And the reason for this condition is our deficiency of life, wholesomeness, power, and glory.  Human craving motivates us to sacrifice the possessions of others to satisfy our own needs for life, wholesomeness, power, and glory.  This disposition is not only destructive of peace or harmony in society, it is ultimately futile since we can only acquire lasting and satisfying life, wholesomeness, power, and glory directly from God the Creator.  Although God is certainly pleased when humans withdraw from sinning, regardless of motives, He knows that ultimately the habit or practice of committing sins cannot be broken unless we can somehow trust that He can and will “repay” us if we repent of our behavior.  This makes possible a less compulsive lifestyle, one that inspires the flow of goods from inward to outward, from egocentric to exocentric.  For the desire of God is that we learn how to love one another so that we sacrifice our own possessions for the good of others.  Accordingly, He pours out His love in our hearts by giving us His extraordinary gift of Wholesome Spirit in recompense for Christ’s suffering of unjust abuse.

God’s Proclamation of His Kingdom is perfectly suited to accomplish this feat of generating trust.  It is the narrative of His astonishing, miraculous reversal of the unjust sentence of death against His  only-born Son, even after the sentence was carried out to gory completion!  Yet this Resurrection was only the appropriate climax of a long recorded history of Jehovah’s behavior of covenantal faithfulness, trustworthiness, or troth; He had proven true to His voluntarily contracted promises of lovingkindness, benignity, and favor to all who trusted Him.  It is precisely such trust that pleases Him.  It motivates our actions of love that restore and maintain peace and prosperity among people.  It is our core confidence that even as He overcompensated Jesus for his gratuitous sacrifice of his existence for our sake, so He will “repay” us for our kindnesses, generosity, and goodness to others, even at great expense to ourselves.  It is this kind of trust that creates authentic human community, and even restores it when it is fractured.  God’s indignation continues to burn against stubborn sinfulness and cannot be averted by nominal “satisfaction,” vicarious or otherwise.  The sin must itself be cleansed, erased, released.

The blood of Jesus Christ is said to accomplish sin-removal for it symbolizes the sinless existence of God’s own Son poured out voluntarily in surrender to unjust and violent forces, yet repaid in vast overabundance of resurrectionary life, wholesomeness, power, and glory, in a word:  of Wholesome Spirit!  This is the rightful inheritance of all who trust Christ as the true unveiling of God’s heart.  The blood of Jesus pinpoints how God deals with sin in its core meaning:  by dealing the death blow to Death itself!  The murderous Crucifixion of God’s Son justified God’s invasion of the planet with life superabundant and free, with all its accompaniments, but first to him!  For this was the rightful due (dikaioma) of Christ for the enormity of the crime done to him.  The earnest of our future full inheritance of God’s Kingdom–the miraculous power of the Wholesome Spirit of life, present even now with amazing gifts from on high–materially shatters our fear of death by its inner witness and powerful disposition toward life and against our mortal flesh and its lusts.  Such fear of death played into Satan’s hands, arming him with the incentive that stirred up our cravings and bore vicious fruit for Death.  But if we need not fear death because Christ’s promise of agelong life was confirmed by God’s raising him from among the dead so that we may likewise firmly expect permanent return to life, with undiminishable wholesomeness, power, and glory, in spite of death, then we are really free to spend ourselves for Christ’s mission in spite of worldly (i.e., lesser) threats.  We know our sins are washed away, thus God’s anger finds no target in us.  His discipline still comes our way, to be sure, but it comes from a Father as correction so that we become fully mature in love, whereupon fright of God disappears (1 Jn. 4:17-19), and we may ourselves start “to avenge every disobedience” (2 Cor. 10:6), our own obedience having been completed.  [4/22/96]

There seem to be three reasons why God’s people suffer evils:  1) as the general fallout of the disruption of the world by sin, 2) as disciplinary action by our Father in heaven to lovingly correct the ways of His sons and daughters and future heirs on earth (here we see even the curses of the covenant enacted for our benefit, even though they bring sorrow for a season), 3) “for the glory of God” (Jn. 11:4, 2:11, 9:3-5, 24-5), that is to say, so that in the midst of the darkness that descended on the world through sin, God Himself may accredit His Son, Christ Jesus, by manifesting the light of His own astonishing justice/righteousness in avenging or reversing by way of overcompensation the evils that bring suffering and sorrow.  Hence the Gospel-illuminating function of signs and miracles.  They light up by their attention-getting, out-of-ordinary, creation-restoring, and generally amazing character, the truth of the Proclamation of Christ and his teaching about God’s Kingdom.  They shine all the more brilliantly against the dark backdrop of the covenantal evils triggered by our sins.

It is clear from Scripture that the Wholesome Spirit’s super-ordinary powers from on high are given to those who trust Christ in order also to confirm to them God’s pardon of their sins which, in the face of the abiding conditions of our covenant-held experience of created reality (blessings, curses, and all!) we might otherwise find hard to believe!  For it is all too easy to slip into the despair of suspecting that our sufferings are due to God’s wrath and lack of forgiveness.  Much rather, God brings these things to us “as sons,” to discipline us in the directives of His Son, Jesus Christ our Master, so that we come to full maturity and stature (see Hebrews and Ephesians) as daughters and sons.  The ultimate clincher of this truth is in seeing Jesus, who suffered in obedience to the directive of his Father and in His favor (Heb. 2:5-10) not under His wrath.  For it is clear that this suffering was for the credit of God, that the Son of God should be accredited through it” (Jn. 11:4), not for his sins.  And he is our paradigm!  Christ did indeed, to be sure, suffer a curse of the Law of Moses, but he did so unjustly, as a Son in obedience to the desires of his Father, and hence totally in God’s good graces, not under His wrath or righteous indignation in any sense whatsoever.  So in return, God requited him superabundantly with life overflowing.  We urgently need to know this startling truth so that we carefully link God’s hand of covenantal discipline with His heart of Fatherly favor and not with His wrath against the stubbornly distrustful.  We must not imagine that a vengeful fury lies behind God’s correcting, reprimanding strokes upon His erring children.  [5/22/96]

The Book of Acts shows how serious God is about getting the Proclamation of His favor out to every person possible.  He did radical things to get the Message to the Jews in Jerusalem at Pentecost, to Cornelius, to Lydia, to Macedonia, to the Philippian jailor, to the Ethiopian eunuch, Jewish and Roman authorities, Mediterranean islanders, etc., etc.  This book potently proves God’s enthusiasm about getting this saving Proclamation to those most open and receptive, and the lengths to which He is determined to go to facilitate it.  This post-Resurrection era of redemptive-history gets kicked off with an astounding inspired chronicle of God’s all-out effort to seek and salvage every last person whose heart He knows to be ready to hear the Truth.

This must be our answer to everyone who asks the perennial question, “How could a good God condemn the ‘heathen’ who have never heard the Gospel?”  The truth is that God resorts to miracles and mighty acts of power to reach all whose hearts are soft and open to truth.  He even uses evils for good by letting them “soften up” people for their ultimate salvation.  Both shocking evils and miraculous goods are employed, often in tandem, to gain leverage for the message of salvation in this present darkness.  In fact, the good sometimes even overcompensates for the prior evil as a sign of God’s future judgment, pre-announced openly and graciously in Christ’s Resurrection.  [5/28/96]

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“…becoming a CURSE…so that the BLESSING might come…”

What is the rationale behind Galatians 3:13-14?  It is by no means obvious, otherwise the true solution to the nature of Christ’s “atoning work” would have [re!]emerged long ago.  Once clearly glimpsed, the solution can never be forgotten:  Christ’s being made a curse was a criminal act whose wickedness exceeds any enormity ever perpetrated by the Jewish nation.  It was a SIN of staggering magnitude!  But because Jesus, the anointed Son of God, was sinless, innocent, blameless, flawless, and just, God was justified by His own justice to reverse that unjust curse by raising him from among the dead and exalting him with transcending glory/credit/ proof as the Messiah, the Lord of all, which entailed the inheritance of all the blessing promised to Abraham (and, by the same token, to David–both covenants being thereby fulfilled simultaneously).

This was the most central evangelical act of Divine justice:  God’s repayment or overcompensation of His Son for his unjust treatment and suffering of humiliating abuses.  Jesus was granted the award (dikaioma) of agelong, endless life and royal sovereignty.  The blessings of such an exalted Divine status were, in turn, bestowed on all who trust him.  [3/21/96]

Messiah earned the right to have sons and heirs…  No!  Rather, to have  joint-heirs with him in “the wealth of his glory (Eph. 1:18, 3:16)!  To such glories the Son was a stranger before his descent.  Jesus has been appropriately overcompensated for his suffering of abuse, thus he shall now receive glory from human beings for the ages of the ages–something (“properties”) which he certainly did not possess before his exaltation!  (Note on Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo.)  [3/96]

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  As, then, he hears that he is infirm, then, indeed, he remains in the place in which he was, two days.”  (Jn. 11:5-6)

Why did Jesus do that?  The answer is to be found in similar patterns throughout Scripture.  The love of God allows, even prescribes, evils in order to unveil His heart of love and His power to reverse them by overcompensation.   Likewise, Jesus was even forsaken in his Father’s love at the Cross.  For this was to serve as the ultimate demonstration that even such a God-forsaken extremity is powerless to prevent gracious ultimate vindication and fitting restoration.  Thus, even though it is quite true that, If you were here, my brother would not have died” (Jn. 11:21, 32), it was equally true, although not at the moment yet apparent, that even now that Death had swallowerd its hapless victim, Jesus could still reverse the fate of Lazarus and force Hades to disgorge him forthwith!

“What shall be separating us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?….Nay!  In all [things] we are more than conquering through Him who loves us.  For I am persuaded that [bottom line:  absolutely nothing!] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35, 37, 39)  [3/26/96]

The Biblical interpretation of mediocrity goes on interpreting and interpreting Christ’s words until it gets out of them its own spiritless [trivial] meaning–and then, after having removed all difficulties, it is tranquillized, and appeals confidently to Christ’s words!

It quite escapes the attention of mediocrity that hereby it generates a new difficulty, surely the most comical difficulty it is possible to imagine, that God should let himself be born, that the Truth should have come into the world…in order to make trivial remarks.  And likewise the new difficulty as to how one is to explain that Christ could be crucified.  For it is not usual in this world of triviality to apply the penalty of death for making trivial remarks, so that the crucifixion of Christ becomes both inexplicable and comical, since it is comical to be crucified because one has made trivial remarks.

— Søren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom.  Princeton University Press, 1944 [Copenhagen, 1855], p. 197.  [3/28/96]

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Recompensing Christ’s Shed Blood via Resurrection

The blood of Jesus (conceived as the just, innocent, blameless, flawless, and sinless Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of the world) is the fiducial symbol of the-unjust-and-violent-slaying-that-invoked-the-just-avenging-of-God-to-reverse-the-diabolical-human-sentence-and-raise-him-from-the-dead.  Accordingly, the blood of Christ simultaneously signifies virtually every element of the full saving reality of his earthly career in the flesh.  As a figure of Christ’s Divine recompense by Resurrection and exaltation to agelong and endless life from Satanic-human condemnation to a violent and grossly humiliating public execution, the blood of the Lord encompasses the meanings of rescue, salvation, protection,  justification, sanctification, peacemaking, conciliation, forgiveness, regeneration, vivification, agelong life, adoption, liberation, redemption, ransom, cleansing, erasure of sins, inheritance in God’s Kingdom, procurement of blessings of the covenant, and whatever else I may have overlooked.  “The shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christsays it all!  [2/21/96]

Now, concerning “…the deficiencies of the afflictions of Christ” (Col. 1:24).  This passage of Scripture has been widely misunderstood.  On the assumption of traditional views of the atonement it must remain enigmatic.  But when the onus of salvation is lifted from Christ’s sufferings per se and linked instead to his Resurrection as the vindicating demonstration of God’s justice/righteousness, then much becomes instantly clear.

Paul and, indeed, all the apostles suffered immensely for the sake of the Proclamation of the Kingdom in order that its hearers might be saved.  The sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ are deficient in this respect, that without the further sufferings of Christ’s proclaimers, the message of his Crucifixion/Resurrection itself might be hindered from reaching its intended audiences.  Consequently, we are privileged “not only to be trusting him, but to be suffering for his sake also, having the same struggle such as you are perceiving in me, and now are hearing to be in me” (Phil. 1:29-30).  Were it not for the joint-sufferings of its courageous proclaimers, the “Explanation of the Cross” (which is all about the vindicating Resurrection from that death!) might be retarded in its advance throughout the earth.  [02/22/96]  It is only the penal substitution doctrine that has rendered this verse enigmatic at all, by casting a spuriously atoning halo around the Lord’s afflictions while ignoring completely God’s premial justice that so exponentially, truly atoningly, repaid it by Resurrection from the dead and Exaltation to the heights!

The keystone of the Arch of Triumph over death, sin, and Satan is God’s raising of Christ.

In light of Jesus’ Resurrection, his Cross tells a very different Story than otherwise.  The Cross does not stand alone.

Let go the Shibboleths!  Forego the anathemas!  Cease the recriminations!  Put down your stones.

“He shall see the [resurrectionary] result of the affliction of his soul and be satisfied.”  (Is. 53:11)

Much of the language of Scripture is metaphor, figure, simile, analogy, and if you make it “walk on all fours” it may trample you.  [2/25/96]  Get the gist.  Get the point.

“My God!  My God!  Why have you forsaken me?”  (Psalm 22:1—Mt. 27:46, Mk. 15:34, Jn. 16:32)  This cry of dereliction is a mystery until we view it in light of Christ’s Resurrection.  For his Resurrection demonstrates indisputably, and for our consolation, that although we experience ourselves even forsaken by God, His Spirit withdrawn, yet God has not forsaken our cause!  And this confidence may even reach beyond our own earthly experience, for the Spirit of Christ announced confidently through the prophet David, “For You will not be forsaking my existence in the Unseen, nor will You be giving Your Benign One to perceive decay” (Acts 2:27-36, Ps. 16:10).  The stark fact of Christ’s Resurrection even relativizes his actual personal experience of God-forsakenness!  Thus Paul can proclaim, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor sovereignties, nor present, nor future, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).  That is astounding good news in the face of our most distraught and abandoned experiences!  For our trust may legitimately reach beyond the present and even beyond our own possibility of earthly experience, to lay hold on a faithful Creator!  For He who creates can also recreate; what He has done with His own beloved Son, consequently, He can do with all His own, and more!  [3/02/96]

The pagan doctrine of the “immortality of the soul” has injected toxic “necessities” into the body of Christian theology.  Endless disputes without any satisfactory solutions in sight continue to plague traditional theologizing.  But so soon as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead becomes the governing center, the “material principle,” the advantageous fulcrum, the true axis, of our theologies—only so soon shall we start to enjoy a refreshing succession of happy reversals amid the darkening plight of domineering orthodoxies.  [3/17/96]

We must be willing to divest ourselves of all the spurious medieval notions in our theology in order to get more in touch with the primeval purity of the apostolic Proclamation in Scripture.  The medieval traditions of scholasticism still—yes, even at the threshhold of the 21st century!—act as veils to our sight, serving as buffers against the shock value of the resurrectionary Gospel.  [3/20/96]

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The Non-collusion of Testimony to Jesus’ Resurrection

The many historic disputes concerning the new Testament Resurrection narratives reveal something prominent concerning the nature of  interpretation that the theory of hermeneutics (the study of interpretation) must soberly ponder.

Any historical event contains elements of action that far exceed the capacity of reportorial narration to embrace.  Moreover, the attempt to embrace all the action of an event far exceeds the limits of the historical aspect of experience.  In other words, much of the action occurring in an event is irrelevant to the historic meaning of the event.  It is not narratively viable to report action tangential to the central historic meaning of the event without rendering it cluttered, “busy,” and all but obscure by the excess.  [For further background contributing to my understanding of the nature of history, refer to “Dooyeweerd’s Theory of History and Progress“.]

In the case of the events reported in the New Testament documents, the guiding aspect of the events founded in the historic aspect of experience is fiducial.  In other words, the historic facet of the events is used to establish trust in something beyond the mere confession that the alleged events  actually happened and that they were decisive for historical progress.  That transcendent meaning, of course (i.e., in line with expectations raised by earlier promises and predictions in Scripture), is that Jesus is indeed the only-begotten Son of the only true and living God, Jehovah, come in the flesh, anointed as the Christ/Messiah, and has hence been made the Lord or Master of all, and is worthy of our worship and unconditional obedience.  The fiducial meaning of these historic events is clinched by the use of the term fulfillment to describe them.  That they were fulfillments of earlier inscripturated prophecies means they were not isolated, fortuitous happenstances, but connected to prophecies the fulfillment of which was intended to certify the almighty power—the very Deity—of the Personage represented by the prophet.  These events, in other words, were intended to verify the identity of the true God Who alone has history at His disposal and under His control, outliving every human generation.

Therefore, to miss the meaning of the New Testament events as fulfillment, is to misunderstand the whole point of their reportage.  This cannot but have profoundly deleterious effects for any “hermeneutic of suspicion.”  We can see this when we consider that any reportorial narrative is necessarily a selection of actions presumed to be relevant for establishing historic import.  And in order to understand the meaning of the selection, the aspectual identity and unity underlying the selected actions must be  perceived.  In the case of the Resurrection narratives, for example, the reader must see that every action points to the assertion that Jesus is alive, having been really dead, and this is the sign that therefore he is the chosen Christ of God.  Only in the connection and full context of preceding history and Biblical prophecy, as well as of Jesus’ whole career and stream of claims, can this be grasped, which is precisely why New Testament Scripture emphasizes these matters (contrary to the Hellenized dogmatic theologies that cropped up like mushrooms in post-apostolic times to infest both the Eastern and Western church).

A “hermeneutic of suspicion”—of distrust—will see in any such selection many “contradictions,” because once the point is lost for their choice, the unity of their joint witness disintegrates.  And then each partial account of the full events (as, in fact, any fiducial selection must be, so as not to lose the point of the event) will be viewed as the “contradiction” of complementary fuller accounts (which, in their turn, will display paucity of reportage in other respects, depending on which fiducial emphases they may have in view).

This all means that even a small grain of trust in such a fiducial narrative will tend toward the opening up of understanding or the manifestation of the intended meaning in the narrative.  Thus a hermeneutic of trust will be carried along by the proof manifest in the connection of the alleged historic actions with their prior Scriptural prophetic explanations.  Such a hermeneutic will take for granted the existence of “many other signs” (Jn. 20:30) that could not for evident practical reasons be included in a handy narrative.  This undertaking may therefore be inclined to reconstruct the entire event from the various selections of well-attested actions having evident fiducial importance.  And this may have its value.  But against the predilections of a hermeneutic of prior suspicion and enmity, such efforts will be, by and large, ineffectual.  For distrust of the fiducial meaning of the narrative (i.e., its character as fulfillment, in order to identify the true God, the point of which is to enlist human obedience to Him and achieve authentic maturation) will lead necessarily and compulsively to a deconstruction of the narrative so as to discredit the presupposed historic events supporting the fiducial superstructure.  Hence the unity of the selected actions will become invisible to such a hermeneutic; only disparate and seemingly contradictory allegations will remain.  [02/20/96]

Nevertheless, as Wolfhart Pannenberg observes, “What is decisive in historical argument is not some isolated piece of evidence, but rather the convergence of all the available evidence and of the interpretations that can be based on such evidence.”  (In his response [pp. 125-35] to Gary R. Habermas and Antony G. N. Flew, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?:  The Resurrection Debate, ed. by Terry L. Miethe [San Francisco:  Harper & Row, 1987], p. 130.  Emphases added.)  So even though, for instance, the fiducial significance of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus is discounted by denying their status as fulfillments of many prophetic Scripturesnevertheless their status as actual history remains assured due to the indisputable witness of clear convergence of all available evidence.  And this actual historical character of the resurrection of a man named Jesus from a death by crucifixion will singlehandedly force a reconsideration of its fiducial meaning, resistance to which can only be maintained at the cost of posing the insoluble historic enigma that a man has been positively demonstrated to have returned from certified death in a state of rather unusual vigor and superhuman capabilities—a circumstance otherwise entirely unknown in historical records—and for no particular reason whatever!  The person who can stay comfortable with such cognitive dissonance stands ready to buy some bridge in Brooklyn.

Albert L. Roper, explains in his book, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?:  A Lawyer Looks at the Evidence (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1965; pp. 16-17, emphases added):

An honest inquiry into the truth of any event should have as its purpose to recreate the surrounding circumstances out of which the event emerged.  Is that not, for instance, the function of a trial at law?  Through the testimony of witnesses, judge and jury should be brought to relive the actual moments and scenes of the event at issue, passing judgment upon the witnesses, their character and sincerity, and the reasonableness of their testimony.  Did the witness have an opportunity to observe the incidents, the facts to which he testifies?  Is his testimony a simple, direct statement of what he saw?  Is his testimony such as to negate any suspicion of collusion on the part of several witnesses?

It is fundamental that judge and jury shall be convinced that the witnesses themselves believe the facts to which they testify, and that their testimony is reasonable.  If the trial has been properly conducted, it should result in such a re-enactment of the events to which testimony has been adduced as to cause both judge and jury to see those events through the eyes of several witnesses.

The same method of approach and the same standard of inquiry should be exacted of all seekers after truth.  The purpose should be to translate ourselves back a month, a year, or two thousand years, in order that we may, in mind and spirit, relive the scenes about which we inquire, seeing events and incidents through the eyes of witnesses to the facts.  From our estimate of the character of the witnesses and the reasonableness of their testimony, we should be enabled to draw our conclusions as to the truthfulness of the facts or incidents which the record presents.

Now if all the actual witnesses collectively agree to the death and resurrection life of Jesus of Nazareth such that our recreation of the surrounding circumstances and re-enactment or reliving of the attested events and scenes comports with our own collective experience (as “jury”) of human behavior and observational possibilities, then belief is not merely possible, but is therewith actually generated and, indeed warranted.  Therefore, not the collusion of witnesses (which, to be sure, would detract from the credibility of the alleged events) but the “collusion” of the events themselves with one another, is the active ingredient that evokes belief in their historicity.  And it is the historicity of unusual events, such as these, that arouses the insistent search for further meaning than their bare historical facticity can furnish.

The circumstance, in the above case, that the fiducial meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection were ready made and long before resident in ancient Scriptures which were, nevertheless, not understood by the witnesses of these events until after the occurrence of the events they explained, is added testimony to the ingenuous character of those witnesses.  For only if a highly trained mentality such as the Apostle Paul’s had witnessed those events firsthand might we be justified in suspecting that he had either skillfully conspired to bring about such events himself, so as to manipulate a plausible “fulfillment” of Scriptures, or that he had somehow fabricated a redaction of authentic testimonies that he had himself craftily solicited.

However, the twelve disciples were not scholars like Paul.  They were not disposed by training or inclination (if we may judge from their literary remains) either to think deep or to write long.  They were, after all, neither Greeks nor Romans, but mainly working-class Jews.  And Paul, though reared in Tarsus, a center of Hellenized civilization, and though trained in the Jewish Torah at the feet of Gamaliel, had first to be converted out of a Judaistic hermeneutic, and without the advantage of firsthand observation of Jesus’ career, before he could apply himself to understanding the true fiducial meaning of that career as revelatory of the promised Messiah.

Even Luke, Paul’s long-time, medically-trained associate, had not been among the original disciples, and would doubtless not have taken up his historical task but for that extraordinary association.

These attending circumstances therefore rule out any legitimate suspicion of human collusion either in the course of events or in their fiducial interpretation.  [02/21/96]

However, there is still more to be said.  A hermeneutic of trust in the New Testament is reinforced by the added promised witness of the Wholesome Spirit to be poured out in power on those who trust that fiducial interpretation.  The particular selection of fiducial elements we know as the “New Testament” is therein given the simple label “Evangel” or “Gospel” or “Proclamation” (evangelion), and it is attested by God’s own testimony from on high, over and above the witness of those first and founding apostolic commissioners.  The signs and miracles of the Wholesome Spirit are intended to be an abiding witness to the written testimony of those specially selected witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection.  So that where that Spirit is quenched and denied its proper function, the advancement of the Proclamation of God’s Kingdom and the teaching about Christ are impaired.

It is urgent, therefore, to redress our past losses by a return to the clear instruction of the Gospel concerning the testimony of God’s own Wholesome Spirit to the Proclamation of His Kingdom.  Knowing now that God Himself desires to confirm the apostolic Explanation with the added corroboration of “signs and miracles and various powers and partings of Holy Spirit” (Heb. 2:4), we may feel free to invoke from God this “indescribable gratuity” (2 Cor. 9:15) upon our proclamation.  And, appropriately, we must prepare ourselves and our listeners to expect such fresh outpourings as God may desire to bless us with.

Mutual repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation appear clearly to be prerequisites for such “seasons of refreshing…from the face of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).  The mutuality of love, peace, and unity of the saints—itself the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit—is a powerful drawing force by which God may add more believers as they are saved.  This is the necessary infrastructure for a lasting work of God.  Into such “silos” God may pour abundant new harvests of young believers.  [2/20/96]

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The “Word of the Cross” = CHRIST’S RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD!

The active ingredient of the Proclamation of God’s Kingdom is resurrectionary  power.

Without Christ’s Resurrection, his Cross was not an act of surrender to God but of craven capitulation to wicked humans, with no redeeming value.

Without the Resurrection, the Cross was not an act of love but only a gesture of failure.

Without the Resurrection, the Crucifixion was only an offering, but not yet accepted.

Without the Resurrectionthe Cross was no victory whatever, but ignominious defeat.

Without the Resurrectionthe Crucifixion proved nothing, did nothing, accomplished nothing, inspired nothing.

Without the Resurrectionthe Crucifixion was merely another deed of wanton destruction of an innocent human soul, and history manifests those aplenty…wars, bombings, acts of indiscriminate terrorism, torture, atrocities…

It was solely the Resurrection that made the Crucifixion of Jesus what it was—the incalculably unjust execution of the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God.  The enormity of this national crime is invisible without the Resurrection.

But, more, the Cross was not an act of love except Jesus had confidence that his Father would reverse it to the boundless blessing of all who followed in his steps, trusting him.  The Cross alone was not an act of salvation–as even the onlooking chief priests, scribes and elders of the Jews were heard to scoff:  “Others he saves, himself he cannot save” (Mt. 27:42, Mk. 15:31), “let him save himself, if this is the Christ, the chosen of God!” (Lk. 23:35), to which the Roman soldiers added, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!” (Lk. 23:37), and even one of the malefactors hanged along with him demanded, “Save yourself and us!” (Lk. 23:39), by which they all meant, “If you are the Son of God, descend from the cross!” (Mt. 27:40), “If he is King of Israel, let him descend now from the cross, and we will believe on him!  He has confidence in God.  Let Him rescue him now if He is wanting him, for he said that ‘God’s Son am I’!” (Mt. 27:42-43).  “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may be perceiving and should be believing!” (Mk. 15:32), or in summary, “Save yourself by descending from the cross!” (Mk. 15:30).  They all alike were looking for him to save himself, and well he could have, with “more than twelve legions of angels” (Mt. 26:53), but that would have been no act of salvation for us!  What makes the Cross by metonymy (i.e., by association) an act of salvation for us, is exclusively the Resurrection with which it was indissolubly associated!

We may summarize it thus:  The Explanation of the Cross, or in King James English, the “Word” of the Cross (1 Cor. 1:18), is the Resurrection!  [1/31/96]

However, there is something yet more to be said:

Without the Resurrection, the Cross did not justify us either.  For our justification did not occur at the Cross of Christ.  He was surrendered to a death of the cross because of our offenses, he was bruised for our iniquities (Is. 53:5, 8), but was “raised because of our justifying” (Rom. 4:25).  You read that right.  The active ingredient of our justification is the resurrectionary power of God!  His Resurrection justifies, and that alone.  Now granted, you don’t get a resurrection unless you have a death first.  And it is for this precise reason that this particular death had to be overwhelmingly, even grossly public!  It had to be a visible, even “celebrated” event!  It could not slip by unobservedunnoticedon the sly.  The public had to be invited, no RSVP necessary.  It needed to be an honest-to-goodness…naw, a “dishonest-to-badnessopen-air execution–a spectacle of indelible impact!  Everyone could see for themselves that this was no “put on,” no trifling “Passion Play.”  This was the real thing…and I don’t mean some bubbly refreshment.  This was real life death–a reality show without compare.

That “Jesus died for your sins” is only half the Gospel!  The other half is, “Jesus was raised from among the dead for your salvation, safekeeping, justification, and more!”

Moreover, we must contend with the fact that the the disciples of Jesus had no clue how the Holy Spirit would come.  They were just getting over their amazement about Jesus’ Resurrection when this new shock overtook them!  They had earlier to struggle with the truth that Jesus, this unassuming, humble tradesman was the very Son of earth’s Creator.  Even so, nothing prepared them for the descent of His Spirit on Pentecost.  If they had been asked to make a list, during those 40 days of waiting around, of what they expected when the “power from on high,” as Jesus termed it, came down to earth, they would have missed the mark by a couple of days’ journey!

By the same token, when the Holy Spirit falls today we must not expect even now that we have the description all sewn up!  Granted, we may look around for phenomena that approach those in the book of Acts, but can we ever really be prepared for such occurrences by the time they actually burst forth?  Such awesome events tend to throttle the human capacity for instantaneous good judgment.  Indeed, at Pentecost it required a prophetic declaration from Peter to put the whole mind-boggling event in perspective, that is, in terms of the previous written utterances of prophets who could put proper explanations to the actions.  For the onlookers to the event only garbled its meaning and judged superficially.  They beheld with all the wrong categories.  The same thing happened in the 1990’s wherever the “Toronto Blessing” hit the surface of the globe.  And what comes next, for Heaven’s sake?  [2/07/96]

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“GOOD FRIDAY” & EASTER REPRISE

A person who does not believe that Jesus was actually raised from among the dead and is therefore Christ indeed is a person of poor judgment, unqualified to teach the New Testament, for such a person must invariably miss the entire point of that witness, which is that Jesus, by means of Resurrection, is proclaimed by Jehovah Himself to be the Messiah/Christ, the Anointed Son of the only true and living God.  Je-sus is Jehovah in the flesh, for our salvation!  He is, in other words, Lord, Master of all, true Master of the universe (Acts 2:34-36).  Come to him all ends of the earth and be saved from the indignation to come!  Now is the era of salvation, do not delay! “Kiss the Son, lest he become angry and you perish in the street!  For his anger is quickly kindled” (Ps. 2:12).  [1/31/96]

What’s good about “Good” Friday?  I submit we might better call it Bad Friday, or even Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Friday (with apologies to Judith Vjorst!).  For unless we get clear that that was the most evil day in the history of mankind, we are not properly prepared for “Good Sunday”!–the best day in the history of the ages theretofore.  For Heaven’s sake shouldn’t we get the difference between good and evil straight so we can derive proper consolation from “Passion Week”?  Oh, and there’s another curious label.  What’s passionate about “Passion” Week?  Okay, here, anyway, the title seems to fit.  For it was because of God’s passionate love for us that He sent His only-born Son to suffer (a meaning of the Latin root, passioand to get crucified for our sakes and for our salvation on that Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Friday.  Yet not even salvation happened that Friday.

If you’ve ever had a bad day, then you should be able to derive comfort from “Bad Friday,” because that was for Jesus a bad day.  Even so, the eschatology (doctrine of the “last things” or the prophesied future according to Scripture) of Bad Friday is that, as Tony Campolo emphasizes, “Sunday’s comin’!”  The author of the Book of Hebrews declares, “For the joy…” of “Good Friday…”?  Not!  But for the joy “lying before him endures a cross, despising the shame” of that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Day.  The Devil made sure it was a very bad day for the Son of God, the King of Israel.  In an important sense, even the Lord Jesus did not overcome the Devil that Friday.  He died in waiting, in expectation.  In accord with the desire of his Father, Jesus committed his existence to the “faithful Creator, in the doing of good (1 Pet. 4:19).  [2/02/96]

Virtually the only good in Jesus’ bad day was his own obedience to his Father in the face of cruel and certain death.  On the up side, it is exclusively because of what Jesus experienced then that we can be confident that that’s “the Light of the world” at the end of the tunnel, not the headlight of an oncoming train.

The singular good on that Bad Friday was in the heart of the Savior.  But that leads to a next question:  When was Jesus saved?  When was the Savior saved?  Does that sound like a strange question?  Yet it would have been perfectly clear to the Jews of Jesus’ day, and his followers would soon know the answer to it.  For he was not saved by the Cross, he was mutilated, put out of joint, and killed by that instrument.  But remember this:  The Savior was saved on Sunday!  That “Good Sunday” reversed totally—and some!—the ill fortunes of “Bad Friday.”

From the popular designation of the day of Christ’s crucifixion, one might almost expect an eighth declaration of Christ from the Cross: “Thank God it’s Friday!”  But his lips were sealed.  The secret of the gospel Proclamation was the impending Resurrection!  Paul writes that if the chief persons who crucified him had known of this wisdom of God, they would not ever crucify the Lord of glory.  For that was their nemesis.  They dared to declare guilty whom God had begotten and who kept innocent by the integrity of His agelong Spirit.  They had, in effect, declared war on God Himself.  Therefore, as Martin Luther phrased it, “their doom is sure.”

However, even that fate awaited them only if they still remained stubborn to the Son after his Father acquitted him by the intra-historic deed of Resurrection.  For although he could have destroyed even his Roman executioners then and there, leaving only grease spots to show for their miserable existences, Jesus mercifully prayed for their pardon!  For they were clueless what they were doing.  But after his Resurrection it was a different story altogether.  He showed himself alive to hundreds of witnesses, and especially to his humbled, chosen Apostles (Commissioners) to whom the high and mighty would now have to offer deference by giving credence to the astonishing but indisputable Truth to which they gave authoritative testimony:  their Victim was alive! and well!  No zombie. The One they lynched was now back…to show them mercy!  How humiliating!  Oh the shame of it!  Few of them could bear to admit the mortifying Truth:  this Jesus was indeed, after all we did to him, our much anticipated Messiah, God’s Anointed Son, Jehovah (in the flesh!), the Lord of all!  Oh my.  No innocent faux pas, this!  Of course, someone had to do the job.  The Almighty, by this expedient, allowed the culpable premeditators and the clueless, alike, to spill “the blood of His Own” (Acts 20:28) so that all who bow the knee to Jesus, irrespective of earthly pedigree, would be equally eligible to get cleansed, sanctified, justified, and conciliated to God.  [2/07/96]

Amazingly, it appears from the New Testament witness that the Son of God, by his own wealth and inheritance from the Father, indemnified the at-risk creation so that the disruption/downfall into sin could not destroy it.  This seems to be at the heart of an agelong covenant (alluded to in Jn. 17, Eph. 1, many sermons in Acts, etc.) made between the Father and the Son providently preceding that cosmic disruption, for our safety!  Christ Jesus insured us against our ultimate loss.  Accordingly, all who are shielded by him are secure.  [2/11/96]

Moreover, God could not simply redeem the creation entirely aside from the death/Resurrection of Christ.  That is because God is related to His creation by Covenant, and not arbitrarily, despotically.  His intention is by a covenantal relation of love and faithful troth to woo each of us into a similar mature likeness.  Such a goal cannot be reached by despotic force.  His condescension to our weaknesses–His gentleness–exalts us (Ps. 18:35; 2 Sam. 22:36).

The apostle Paul declared, “I am aware what it is to be humbled as well as…to be superabounding” (Phil. 4:12); he had reconciled himself to this Biblical, creational pattern.  So also the James who was the half-brother of Jesus, and who authored the book of that name, said, “Let the humble brother be boasting in his exaltation, yet the rich in his humiliation” (Jas. 1:9).  Peter knew this pattern by heart; he had lived it, excruciatingly.  John the Baptist announced, “He must be growing, yet mine it is to be inferior” (Jn. 3:30).

Finally, and happily, God doesn’t need “a bit of body” in order to raise you from the dead, either.  Naturally, He knows your genetic code, but it would take incomparably more than that kind of information to clone you with all your remembered historic experiences intact, as well.  God has you memorized.  He has lovingly committed you to memory.  [2/11/96; 2/15/96]

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REMEMBERING THE COLUMBINE (“dovelike”) MASSACRE

COLUMBINE DAY—April 20th

This occasion of recollecting the bloodbath that transpired at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on that fateful Tuesday morning of April 20th, 1999 should likewise offer a reminder of the power of martyrdom for love of Jesus Christ.  My own two research visits to Littleton in 2002 and 2003, along with reading books by parents of Columbine martyrs Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott, and by Wendy Murray Zoba and Bruce Porter, among other readings, interviews, and influences, supplied a contemporary backdrop of spiritual immediacy to my continuing reflections on the nature of Christ’s atonement.  By April 2008, the ninth anniversary of Columbine, my thoughts had distilled into a commemorative piece, “‘It’s the Gospel Truth!’–The Atonement Remixed,” marbled with images and expressions suggested by Cassie and Rachel themselves, and those who pondered the meaning of their lives.  I have herewith posted it as a separate page at the top of this blogsite.  The tragedy and hope found in tandem at Columbine are reflective of the central Events of our salvation.  In what follows, I continue unreeling the thread of the premial justice of God that accounts for the workings of the Atonement.

The kind of justice (“righteousness“) that we should “seek first” (Mt. 6:33) is the kind that God revealed in His Resurrection of Jesus from a death and humiliation as deep as Crucifixion!

The justice of God (and not merely His “mercy” narrowly conceived as “in tension with” His justice–a travesty of the truth) conciliated (katalla-) His enemies precisely because it did not exact their deserts for wrongly executing His Son:  their rightful destruction.  It is this fact that makes absolutely essential our proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection, because it is this act of God that singlehandedly carries the weight of this grand truth of conciliation and peace:  God did not destroy them, His enemies, for their enormity of transgression in slaying their just King, Priest, Prophet–Messiah!  [11/12/95]

…[A]nd what will the lord of the vineyard do?  Surely he will come and avenge those murderers of his son, and will give the vineyard to others (“…a nation producing the fruits“).  (Mt. 21:33-41, Mk. 12:1-9, Lk. 20:9-20)  In such places Jesus prophesies that his Kingdom would be wrested out of the hands of the Jewish nation which would suffer the wrath and avenging of God for routinely slaying His previous prophets, culminating in the wretched murder of His Own Son.  Christ forsees 70 A.D.–the “abomination of desolation” of Daniel 9.  When carrying his cross to Golgotha he prophesied that ominous outpouring of divine avenging fury to the bystanders and their children.  What an enormously significant event was 70 A.D.–the destruction of Jerusalem, its temple, the whole Jewish nationhood.  And yet Jesus immediately afterward announces forgiveness to the Roman soldiers who crucified him!  They were not aware what they were doing, so they would now start to receive the blessings of Abraham, unlike the callous Jewish population at large, who were about to forfeit them and suffer the curses of the covenant instead.  [12/16/95; 4/19/12]  The international “balance of power” would somehow be decisively altered.  [8/30/16]

By displacing any significant demonstration of the wrath/fury/indignation of God beyond history as we know it, Dispensationalists/Evangelicals have given us a Jesus de-clawed–tamed and domesticated, meek and mild, despite their protestations to the contrary.  But the God of the New Testament (not exclusively “of the Old Testament,” as Anabaptists and pacifists are inclined to teach) is the God who not only declared His mercy and kindness by resurrecting His hideously wronged Son from the grave and exalting him above all his enemies, declaring forgiveness to them if they would now trust that this Jesus was indeed their true Messiah/Christ (since the forgiveness at the Cross was only addressed to those in unawareness of his true anointing from God, a disposition now dispelled by the resurrectionary proof of who this Nazarene really was) but after giving Israel 40 years of probation to enter this merciful window of opportunity for salvation, poured out His wrath upon Israel/Judaea/Jerusalem with a vengeance that was positively nauseating to contemplate in writing, for they “knew not the era of [their] visitation” (Luke 19:41-44), although they had no excuse not to know!  (The Jewish soldier and historian, Flavius Josephus, has famously recorded his eyewitness account in his chronicle, The Wars of the Jews.)  Further, an irony remains in the monumental fact that even the very “abomination of desolation” itself–that is, the pagan Roman army that desolated Jerusalem and the Temple–were astonished at what those wicked Jewish factions had wreaked upon each other!  It was a horror such as never befell that land before or since.

Surely a God who reveals His judgments from on high to be thus fearsome is not the eternally indulgent personage He is all too often depicted as being.  Let us revise our theology without delay and take into account the Father of Jesus Christ as He truly is.  For when the cup of Israelite (“after the flesh“!) viciousness was full, their God treated them to devastations of a kind greater and more appalling by far than even those He ordained that they inflict upon the Canaanites of old, when the cup of their wickedness had become full.  God’s mercy evidently can run out; Jehovah is indeed a “man of war!  And woe be to those who test and try His patience!  God has left an agelong memorial in history of His reaction to such conduct.  Remember the planetary Deluge!  Sodom and Gomorrah!  The Exodus from Egypt!  The Exile!  These are the great historic landmarks that furnish the language God uses to describe prophetically also the horrific events of 70 A.D.  That language is terrible indeed if we measure it by its common exclusive displacement to the so-called “final state” of the wicked beyond history.  But even adjusting for later syncretism with pagan notions of “final punishment” (which enveloped the church and remain dominant even to this day), that description can only inspire fear and dread of what God can yet unleash within history.  [12/22/95]

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