(Continued from July 21st blog)
5. Wrath and Grace
A. God’s Judicial Reputation
The Psalmist declared, “Jehovah is known by the judgment He executes” (Psalm 9:16a). “As is Your Reputation, O God, so is Your praise unto the ends of the earth; Your right hand is filled with justice. Mount Zion shall rejoice, The daughters of Judah shall exult. On account of Your judgments, O Jehovah!” (Psalm 47:10-11). Is that so? Then what do we make of a God who “has to” show His wrath against the innocent Jesus in order to “pay for sins” and “demonstrate His holiness”? And what kind of “holiness” (wholesomeness) “has to” punish the sinless on behalf of the guilty in order to prove his “hatred of sin”? Wouldn’t that sort of conduct by a judge constitute a great Sin? Shouldn’t we impeach a judge who dares to exhibit such judicial misbehavior? What sort of judge would do such a thing? What kind of reputation does such a judgment give Jehovah? How can we live with such gross distortions of God’s good judgment, wholesomeness, uprightness, and decency? Moreover, how can God live with them? But evidently He can. He has tolerated other defamations as well. Yet why should we tolerate this disgraceful vestige of a barbaric era any longer? Dare we continue to rattle off “Hallowed be Thy Name” yet not lift a finger to restore God’s wholesome reputation in our own day? It seems such a light duty to remove this reproach from Him. Yet even if it proves costly, how much is genuinely fruitful proclamation, not to mention a new Reformation, worth to us . . . to God?
Furthermore, what kind of example does such “divine” behavior set for aspiring disciples? If you rationalize that “there are some things God can do that human beings ought not to do,” then how can you learn to distinguish exactly when to “be, then, imitators of God, as beloved children, and be walking in love, just as the Messiah also loves you, and surrenders himself for us, an approach-present and sacrifice to God, for a fragrant odor” (Eph. 5:1-2), and when to imitate his alleged substitutionary punitive righteousness and holiness instead? “The trumpet gives an uncertain sound”! Didn’t Christ come to unveil the very heart and authentic character of his Father, God? If so, then such sacrifice ought to represent what the Father Himself does and not what God “requires from His Son as a payment for sin.” In other words, it was necessary for Christ to die on a cross in order to reveal how God both could and would reverse the injustice of his death in order to give us new life for free on account of it. No imagined “payment for sin” could ever procure this exorbitant feat of true love.
The traditional Protestant theory of the Atonement poses the disturbing enigma about which “person” and which “attribute” of God we should imitate, and when. Is it the graciously pardoning Son or the penally demanding Father? Is this where and how “wrath and mercy meet” and “kiss”? Or are these, one or both, imposters in costume, acting out a bad script? Was that merely a stage kiss? Do the pardon of sins and the “payoff for sins” have equal claim on us ethically? Are they complementary? Are they in tension? Do we have to blend them somehow? Father and Son seem at odds. Is this an illusion? A paradox? A contradiction? Are they modeling how to make peace? Does this couplet pose a pattern we likewise need to process through for our own interpersonal reconciliations? Does this throw healing light on interracial, interreligious, and international relations, or just the opposite? What an equivocal tangle! Who can untie this Gordian knot?
We can start to unscramble this conundrum by noting that the hymnic image of “justice and mercy” “meeting” or “kissing” is nowhere to be found in Holy Scripture. Not that it would be an unholy kiss, just more like kissing your sister…for the two are much more closely related that our theologians or hymns have taught us. So what of “wrath and mercy” “meeting” or “kissing”? Different scenario, same problem. That’s a rendezvous that never happened either…in Scripture! Check it out. So who should we believe? If we keep bowing to these images, we’ll expect theology to conform, to our confusion.
B. Raised from the Dead by God’s Lovingkindness
Psalm 119:159—“See how I love Your precepts; O Jehovah, according to Your benignity revive me!” It was God’s merciful benignity or lovingkindness that raised Jesus from the dead. In that cosmic event the invisible Creator actually made visible His secret motive of benignity toward humanity. In indissoluble connection with all that the Lord Jesus did, taught, claimed, and prophesied about himself—and all of these against the backdrop of the Old Testament prophecies and types concerning the coming Messiah—the Resurrection openly exhibited God’s deepest impulse of restorative, rewarding justice.
The Explanation of the Cross—oh the many facets of it!—shows that even as the Son bore the sins against him (rather than retaliating), so the Father Himself ultimately bore all the losses Himself by exerting Himself to recreate the destroyed Victim by way of repayment…and then some! For if Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 53:3-4 and “bore their diseases” by healing them from their morbidity (Matt. 8:16-17), then it stands to reason that God, in turn, would bear their sins of crucifying Jesus by raising him from his mortality. Like Son, like Father! Such a ‘Creatorly’ response is over the top in terms of what humans can do to effect justice and peace after gross injustice (much less a capital one) has taken its destructive toll. But Jehovah is to be outdone by no one. Thus do justice and peace kiss (Psalm 85)…and what a smacker!
Now brace yourself. I regret to have to break the Good News to you like this, but there was no wrath of God at the cross of Christ at all. Zero. Zip. In fact, despite Israel’s persecuting or killing all the prophets He sent her previously—and in the end, even His own beloved Son—God patiently held His fire of wrath against Israel for one more generation, until 70 A.D. Yet on Crucifixion Day, 30 A.D., it was all favor from God’s side, and that’s what He proved on the third day.
“Yet now, apart from [works of] Law, a justness of God has gotten manifest (getting attested by the Law and the Prophets), yet a justness of God through Jesus Christ’s faithfulness [pistis], for all and on all the believing [pisteuo]. For there is no distinction, for all sinned and are getting deficient of the glory of God, getting justified gratuitously to His [resurrectionary!] graciousness through the liberation which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forth [as] a protective cover through the faithfulness in his blood, for a display of His justness because of the passing over of the penalties of sins which occurred before in the forbearance of God, toward the display of His justness in the current era, for Him to be just and a Justifier of the one who is of the faithfulness of Jesus” (Rom. 3:21-26), and not merely a Justifier of that single Faithful One, exclusively.
In other words, without the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, God would not have been able to reveal (Rom. 1:12), manifest (Rom. 3:21), or display (Rom. 3:25-26) His own justness in raising him from the dead and giving him glory. Resurrection and glorification are the contents of the deliverance or liberation from sin that Christ achieved. His own vindication or justification was his being “designated Son of God in power, according to a Spirit of holiness, from resurrection of the dead” (Rom. 1:4), although God’s Son “comes to be of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom 1:3), and so was fully human, albeit royal. Thus he “was manifested in flesh, justified in Spirit” (I Tim. 3:16), or in other words (the apostle Peter’s), “Christ also for our sakes once died concerning sins, the just for the sake of the unjust, that he may be leading us to God; being put to death, indeed, in flesh, yet vivified in Spirit” (I Peter 3:18).
In yet other words, Christ’s resurrection (of flesh) and vivification (of Spirit) constituted both his justification from the false imputation of sin by sinners, and also his vindication as the Son of God after all, exactly as he had claimed! And it is for precisely such immortalizing vindication/justification that we ourselves wait (Gal. 5:5, Rom. 8:18-25).
Needless (?) to say, there was no wrath entailed in this revelation of God’s life-restoring justness (Rom. 1:17) to the Lord Jesus Christ, and thence to us through his liberation when we are baptized into his body upon believing. This means of access to God’s graciousness and peace (Rom. 5:1-2) is in stark contrast to God’s wrath “getting revealed from Heaven on all irreverence and injustice of humans who are retaining the truth in injustice” (Rom. 1:18). Paul is distinguishing two contrasting revelations of God’s justice in history: first, of His wrath breaking forth periodically against buildups of human injustice; and secondly, of his graciousness revealed uniquely—for superabundantly and philanthropically—by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from his once-for-all (ephapax, Rom. 6:9-10) death to sin. Both are patently revelations of justness, but the first is penal (destructive), while the second is premial (atoningly protective).
To summarize, the protective cover (hilasterion) activated by Christ’s faithful blood was God’s just resurrection in super-compensating repayment…with enough graciousness in tow to bless all mankind with the Holy Spirit of life agelong, if they but believe.
C. “Judgment and Wrath He Poured out on Sodom,
Mercy and Grace He Gave Us at the Cross.”
— Rich Mullins, “Awesome God” (emphasis added)
Rich Mullins, in these daring words from his justly famous song, made a splendid start at sorting out God’s wrath and grace. By diverting God’s wrath away from the Cross onto one of many recurrent occasions where it was undeniably displayed in biblical history, Mullins poetically relieves the Cross of that undeserved onus. (This illustrates how gifted musicians and other artists can start to remove the obscuring blinders of wayward, prosaic traditions in their own subtle, nuanceful ways. This, however, does not cancel the necessity of coming out for the truth in stark prose. Do theologians sing “Awesome God”? Do they ponder it? Do they repent?) Unfortunately, however, the Cross then gets oddly attired with attributes hardly more apt. For rather than replacing the erroneous attribution of divine wrath with diabolical wrath and rage instead, as Scripture teaches, Mullins mistakenly glorifies the Cross as a unique manifestation of God’s grace. To the contrary, whereas it is altogether true that God’s grace never departed from His well-pleasing, beloved Son at any particular point of his earthly life, yet it was by no means revealed especially at the Cross! In fact, that was the precise cosmic moment of its strategic hiddenness, making it look as if God’s graciousness had wholly forsaken him in a dramatic tableau of its diametric opposite! Indeed, this is the very conundrum that has stumbled so many theologians.
The perplexing mystery is solved by grasping the wise rhythms of God’s judgments, as Psalms 22, 27, 31, 37, 42, 44, and others so nicely trace out, if somewhat perplexingly, until Messiah finally appeared to dispel the enigmas, like a morning Sun rising to disperse a murky fog and unveil the shrouded silhouettes in digitally enhanced VISTAVISION, 3-D technicolor.
We observe a striking sample of how the apostolic evangel unscrambles cryptic Psalm 44 when Paul cracks it open in Romans 8. The psalm’s first eight verses kick off with a triumphal paean of Jehovah’s salvation, followed by a much longer dirge that plaintively questions why God’s people are now suffering woes despite their pure hearts. Why is God concealing His face, casting off, forgetting, ‘forsaking’, His chosen ones? Paul snatches a single thread and tugs hard to start the unraveling. “What shall be separating us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Affliction, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [Paul’s epitome of Psalm 44:9-25.] Just as it is written, that ‘On Your account we are being put to death the whole day, we are reckoned as sheep for slaughter’ [Psalm 44:22]. Nay! in all these we are more than conquering through Him who loves us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angelic messengers, nor sovereignties, nor the present, nor what is impending, nor power, 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. 8:35-39. For “God was in Christ, conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them, and placing in us the explanation of the conciliation” I Cor. 5:19.
And what was that “explanation of the conciliation”? The resurrectionary rationale for the Cross would be a good guess. That would elegantly account for the inspired Psalmist’s total lack of suspicion that God’s wrath was behind all the misery they were dished out. Yet even if we still refuse the psalmist’s hints, who can doubt that Paul got it right by writing the rigor of wrath right out of the ring! In this climax of Romans 1-8, the most exultant passage Paul ever penned, there isn’t the slightest intimation of even sinful saints being “in the hands of an angry God,” much less our sinless Savior!
In those puzzling Psalms, we are allusively informed that the abomination of the Cross made possible the revelation of God’s righteous judgment at the Resurrection—a judicial decision that decreed superabounding graciousness to the now dead Son via a vast infusion of the Spirit of life immortal as a just recompense for the unjust suffering of fatal Satanic thrashing. This munificent award of damages, with a fitting surplus, constitutes the forgiving sea of God’s forgetfulness, the fathomless ocean of His graciousness, into which sinners are baptized when they acquiesce in the glorious Gospel.
Therefore Rich Mullins is to be commended on his lyrically nuanced disavowal of divine wrath at the Cross of the Lord Jesus. What remained to be corrected by the beloved songsmith was the proper assignment of the Adversary’s wrath and fury to the Cross and of God’s grace to the Resurrection. Not surprisingly, “the grace of the Resurrection” was, in fact, a phrase used in the so-called “Apostolic Fathers”—the first generation of early church authors after the Apostles, including their direct disciples—, but also Athanasius, as late as the early 4th century.
And what of mercy? To be sure, the Cross did reveal God’s mercy…but only after the Resurrection had proven the divine identity of the Man they dared to lay wicked hands on, at the risk of divine retaliation. For only then did God’s merciful forbearance become obvious in shuddering retrospect.
Thus the unscrambling continues in pursuit of the original Gospel. Even the full dimensions of God’s mercy were not visible—could not become visible!—until the glory of the Resurrection illuminated that attribute in hindsight, which, as we know, is 20-20.
D. Charles Spurgeon’s Equivocations
In contrast to the distinct note, if all too brief, that Rich Mullins blew so clearly, the great preacher of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, Charles Spurgeon, gave a decidedly ambiguous sound in his extended remarks on Psalm 44. (C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: An Expository and Devotional Commentary on the Psalms. Volume II, Psalms 27-52. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978 , pp. 338-39, 341.)
The psalmist sets forth the brutality of the enemy in many words, in order to move the pity of the Lord, to whose just anger he traced all the sorrows of his people; he used the very best of arguments, for the sufferings of his chosen touch the heart of God far more readily than any other reasonings [p. 338, emphasis added].
One constant blush, like a crimson mantle, covered him both before God and man; he felt before God that the divine desertion was well deserved, and before man that he and his people were despicable indeed now that heavenly help was gone [p. 339, emphasis added].
Long enough hast thou deserted us; the terrible effects of thine absence are destroying us; end thou our calamities, and let thine anger be appeased [p. 341, emphasis added].
Not so! Such intrusions of Spurgeon’s vigorous penal satisfaction dogmatism as I have emphasized in these texts (although having no basis whatever in the text of this Scripture itself) stand side by side with his lovely expositions of the psalmist’s more valid martyrology. The contradiction appears to be entirely invisible to Spurgeon. Paul, as we have seen, apostolically trumps both King David and Pastor Spurgeon.
Therefore, it is nothing short of astounding that, after the apostle Paul recounts the grim history of human depravity and correlative divine wrath, from Romans 1:18 through 3:20, the plucky champions of “penal substitution” proceed to insist, in effect, “That’s not nearly enough fireworks to prove how much God hates sin! Oh, no, no!! God also had to rear back and hurl withering bolts of wrath upon His Son” (although well beloved, admittedly innocent, and amenably obedient—worthy only of superlative graciousness!) Says who? And why, for Heaven’s sake? Well, the argument goes, in order to appease, pacify, placate, or propitiate God’s righteous wrath against all those sins previously committed and, of course, still to follow ad nauseum. Oh, really, we should ask? But what could “wrath upon wrath” accomplish atoningly to express hatred for sin, especially when unleashed against a Sinless One? Where in Heaven’s name does grace then show up atoningly in history, especially for that Sinless One? What does unrelieved wrath achieve for that purpose? I thought we needed an antidote to sin, salvation from death, relief from wrath. After all, isn’t that what a credible Atonement ought to furnish? Why beat around the bush so furiously in a show of wrath, especially when the smidgen of wrath “evident” at the Cross, in comparison with all the divine fireworks evident throughout human history up to that moment, not to mention ever since, hardly stacks up in the balance, and more especially when exerted against a morally flawless victim? How can this detour around the mulberry bush land us anywhere but the briar patch of theological, not to add psychological, affliction? For how does that gesture definitively prove God’s hatred for sin when, to poor sinners themselves—the alleged audience of this spectacle—this looks like a case of misplaced aggression with aggravated assault?
Nor does such suffering at the Cross look “infinite.” By all accounts it wasn’t “eternal.” In fact, in historic context, for all the world that hideous execution looks like it was done by enemies, full of hate, envy, rage, fury. Why would God want to take up with that crowd? Why add His two cents to their disendorsement of His precious Son to be the promised Messiah, their rightful Lord and Master?
So did Christ bear sins on the cross because God bore grudges against sins from which He had to unburden Himself, and the only way was to express His displeasure against His sinless Son? This would appear to be the gist of “penal substitution.” This heavy-handed theory represents such alleged unburdening as a demonstration of “holiness” and “righteous indignation” against sin. However, it appears from Romans 1:18-3:20 that God was sufficiently capable of displaying His indignation (Rom. 1:18) in the broad sweep of history quite independent of the cross of Christ. This is presumptive evidence that something qualitatively different was secretly occurring at the Cross, strategically, in order ultimately to reveal God’s “righteous graciousness” as a counterpoise to all that “righteous indignation”! “Yet now, apart from [works of] Law, a justice of God is manifest…through Jesus Christ’s faithfulness.” This is purely premial justice.
E. “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken me?” — Psalm 22:1, Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34
There is a simple answer to this agonizing question: God was expressing His righteous wrath against His Son to show how much He hates sin and to make Jesus pay (rationalized as “voluntarily,” of course) for the sins of the world/elect as their punitive substitute (“out of love,” of course). But like so many simple answers, it’s wrong—dead wrong. Jesus himself very well knew his beloved Father had only split the dark, wrenching scene of “Truth on the scaffold” momentarily, for Christ’s own Spirit had inspired Psalm 22, of which the above passage is but the threshold. Jesus also knew the rest of the Story: yes, God had left for good…but only for good! He would be back in a couple of days with a wonderful surprise!
God had exited the stage to build dramatic tension. So far, the only plot evident was a murder plot. God’s surprisingly startling surprise (which should not have taken Jesus’ disciples by surprise, for they had been apprized of this Messianic prize well in advance) unveiled the transcending trajectory of this traumatizing tragedy that would trade the travesty for triumphant transformation! The advent of the Father’s premial justice on Easter Sunday morning not only transformed mourning into jubilant dancing at the Jubilee of liberation from Death’s dark night of slavery to sin, it also transfigured the crucifixion of the Son of God into the resurrection of the son of mankind! Here is no cosmetic comedy but a cosmic comity of Heaven and earth. God’s overarching plot line had landed peace on earth! What Israel, along with Rome, had meant for evil, God had meant for good (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28).
And for good measure, if not already perfectly obvious, even as Joseph was not suffering any wrath from God by his unjust treatment and long imprisonment in Egypt (the combined evils of Israelites, Ishmaelites, and Egyptians alike), so likewise Jesus was not suffering any wrath from God by his unjust treatment and brief imprisonment in Hades (the combined evils of Israelites, Idumaeans—descendants of Esau, whence the Herodian dynasty—and Romans alike). Satan, the dark prince of the power of the air, was behind them all.
But further, although to a superficial assessment Joseph may seem to have been “paying for the sins” of his brothers, who surrendered him virtually to death, or at least for his own youthful indiscretion in the “coat of many colors” episode, or even for Jacob’s folly in showing favoritism to him, none of these judgmental options represents God’s own judicial opinion, any more than any of Job’s presumptuous “friends”—surely theologians, all!—were ever inspired by God to spew their “wisdom” at righteous Job in his Satan-inspired misery. I believe I can start to hear a mounting chorus of “Amen! and Amen!” from all the martyred prophets of old whose righteous blood cried out from earth to a justly avenging Heaven.
Just so, neither did their prophetic archetype, Jesus, ever “pay for” a single sin by his taking abuse. Such a myth may still win acclaim among death-obsessed theologians. But to transmute the sinless blood of Jesus from the supreme symbol of life-raised-from-the-dead into a symbol of death itself, is surely to be guilty of substance abuse.
F. Suffering in Hell or Evangelizing in Hades?
John Calvin notoriously renounced the early Christian account that Christ “descended into Hades,” even denying that the statement to that effect in the so-called Apostles’ Creed was well-attested or authentic. He had preconceived that such a descent must be penal or punitive, whereas early Christian literature unanimously interprets it as liberating and victorious. This teaching did not comport with Calvin’s penal satisfaction preconceptions, so he poked fun at it and cavalierly dismissed it out of hand. For Calvin, Christ was suffering the pains of Gehenna under divine condemnation and curse in order to finish paying the penalty and debt of sin he commenced at the Cross—a doctrine never articulated in the early church! Accordingly, he minimized the common early interpretation of Matthew 12:38-41, Ephesians 4:9-10, I Peter 3:17-22 and 4:6. Calvin’s penal dogmatism thus impelled him to play the Bible critic, twisting even Scriptures not particularly “hard to understand” (as Paul’s could be). Calvin’s penal subversion has nearly won the day. It is long overdue to turn the tables as Jesus did in the Temple.
So the question surfaces, why should anyone today even doubt for a moment that the Lord Jesus descended into Hades “for no other reason than to preach the Gospel,” as Clement of Alexandria unabashedly declared (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson: 1885-1887; repr. 10 vols. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994. Vol. 2, 490, 491)? Clement was only echoing the consensus of written testimony spanning the entire early church for more than three centuries, and there was not a dissenting voice among them on this point. (See David Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998. Pp. 205-207.) This means that Calvin dared to denounce the united witness of the church catholic during its most authentic era, when apostolic traditions were all but undisputed by its diverse and widely scattered authors, defenders, and, most poignantly, martyrs. Will modern Calvinists and concurring Evangelicals repent of their glaring departure from the premial outlook of the faithful early church, or will they continue to bury their heads in the shifting sands of penal dogma?
Whatever their fateful choice, we can fairly surmise that those generations of antiquity “will be rising in the Judging with this generation [of Calvinists, et al] and will be condemning it, for they repent at the heralding” (Matt. 12:41) of Christ! Indeed, will not the whole early church rise in the Judgment to condemn Calvin’s penal penchant, which has brought even the positive elements of his theology into question, not to say disrepute, by association? Thoughtful Christians and wary prospects are scandalized at the thought of God’s injustice to those who have never heard the Gospel. Not to mention the thought of “eternal conscious punishment”! Calvin has much to repent of, including blood on his hands. But we cannot repent for him. We can only repent of following him into his errors instead of calling a halt to the grim march to penal demise. Shouldn’t we stop playing follow-the-leader like stampeding lemmings?
G. “Jesus! Come Forth!” — The Prelude: John 11
Does John 11 teach us that Lazarus died because ‘Jesus forsook him’? Okay, in a manner of speaking, yes. For when Jesus heard that Lazarus was infirm (asthen-), “then, indeed, he remains in the place where he was two days” (John 11:6). Who can miss the obvious? For God Himself likewise stayed put for two days before rousing Himself to execute justice and save him of whom He “was fond” (phileo, John 11:3, 36). I venture to say that fondness (John 5:20) neither varied nor flagged one iota throughout the ordeal. The apostle Paul complements the theology of the apostle John’s account very nicely. “For even if [Messiah] was crucified out of weakness/infirmity [asthen-], nevertheless he is living by the power of God” (II Cor. 13:4a), as did Lazarus. And what is true for him is true for us, as well. “For we also are weak together with him, but we shall be living together with him by the power of God for you” (II Cor. 13:4b). Just so, Jesus declared concerning the weakness of Lazarus, “This infirmity is not to death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God should be glorified through it” (John 11:4). Which predicament would give God greater glory—preventing Lazarus from dying, or reversing his death outright, after he was good and dead? Or did Jesus have to work up a little wrath against Lazarus so that the latter’s resurrection would have something to “prove” concerning his death from an infirmity, to make it meaningful? I don’t think so either.
Still, isn’t it true to say, “Lord, if you were here, my brother [Lazarus] would not have died” (John 11:21, 32)? Naturally! There can be absolutely no doubt about that. Yet even so, “Jesus weeps” (John 11:21, 32), which prompted the Jews to remark, “Lo! How fond he was of him” (John 11:36). Jesus’ sympathizing tears, however, only highlight the mounting enigma: “Could not this one who opens the eyes of the blind also make it that this man should not be dying” (John 11:37)? Well of course! But that’s not the point, for Heaven’s sake! The whole point of this testimony, as with the report of the healing of the man born blind, two chapters earlier, “is that the works of God may be manifested in him” (John 9:3). Accordingly, Jesus responds to Martha’s remark about Lazarus “already smelling, for it is the fourth day” (John 11:39), “Did I not say to you that, if ever you should be believing, you should be seeing the glory of God” (John 11:40)?
Jesus knew perfectly well what was up. And, as usual, the apostle Paul elaborates to make the theology concerning the event more explicit. Even as Paul entreated the Lord “thrice” (II Cor. 12:8) to “withdraw” from him the “splinter [skolops, ‘a large pointed stake used to form palisades’] in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, that he may be buffeting/battering [kolaphizo] me” (II Cor. 12:7), so also the Lord Jesus had prayed three times that the cup of Satan’s affliction might “pass by” (Matt. 26:37-45) or be “carried aside” (Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46) from him lest he get “surrendered into the hands of sinners” (Matt. 26:45, Mark 14:41). But God had other plans, as Jesus very well knew: “Not as I desire but as You” (Matt. 26:39); “Not what I desire but what You” (Mark 14:36); “Not my desire, but Yours” (Luke 22:42). Paul expands: “Sufficient for you is my graciousness, for my power in infirmity/weakness is being perfected” (II Cor 12:9). You read correctly. It was God’s graciousness that sustained the Lord Jesus Christ during his affliction from sinners—his battering by Satan—at the Cross. This is what cheered the afflicted apostle to continue, “With the greatest relish, then, will I rather be boasting in my infirmities, that the power of the Messiah should be tabernacling over me. Wherefore I delight in infirmities, in outrages, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Messiah’s sake, for whenever I may be weak, then I am powerful” (II Cor. 12:9-10). And where do you imagine he learned how all this graciousness and power operate? Do you suppose for a moment that Paul was nervous about the “wrath of God” lurking behind any of those difficulties?
The Master, Jesus, had already mastered the art and wisdom of the Cross (I Cor. 1:17-2:16) and thereby became “the Lord of glory” (I Cor. 2:8, Psalm 24:7-10). Therefore, although he acknowledged, “Now has my soul gotten disturbed [tarasso]” (John 12:27), even as he was disturbed when he observed all the lamenting on account of the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:33), yet he pressed on: “‘And what may I be saying? “Father, save me out of this hour”? But therefore I came into this hour! Father, glorify Your name!’ A voice, then, came out of Heaven, ‘I glorify it also, and shall be glorifying it again’” (John 12:27-28).
The glory of the Father and the glory of the Son are strictly bound up together (John 11:4, 5:41-44, 7:18, 8:49-54, 12:23, 26-28, 13:31-32, 14:13, 15:8, 17:1-26).
Psalm 22, then, which begins, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken me?” must be understood in this light of God’s glory of justice revealed, manifested, and displayed most fully only in the aftermath of weakness/infirmity, affliction, persecution, buffeting/battering, outrages, necessities, and other distresses of all kinds. And it is precisely the outcome, the results, that give proper meaning (‘glory’) to the agonies of passing through the threshold experience, the constricting birth canal to glorious fruitfulness and productivity. The seeming enigma of Psalm 22:1/Matt. 27:46/Mark 15:34 is ultimately ironed out only by the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. This culminating justice of God similarly unlocks the mystery of many another ‘Messianic Psalm’: repaying extreme exaltation for shameful humiliation.
H. The Apostle Peter’s Testimony
If you now agree that John and Paul and David are clear and unambiguous (to an unprejudiced reader), you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Peter’s first epistle is the crowning treatment of this theme in the New Testament—God’s graciousness unleashed in response to suffering obediently, faithfully, that is, successfully!
I Peter 2:21-25 explains, “For what credit is it if, sinning and being buffeted (kolaphizo) you will be enduring it? But if doing good and suffering you will be enduring, this is graciousness with God. For for this were you called, seeing that Christ also suffered for your sakes, leaving you a copy that you should be following up in the footprints of him who does no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, being reviled, reviled not again; suffering abuse, threatened not, yet surrendered to Him Who is judging justly [that is, by deserved resurrection, not by undeserved “substitutionary” (after God imputed others’ sins to him) execution!], who himself carries up our sins in his body on the pole, that, coming away from sins [i.e., being “dead to your offenses and sins,” Eph. 2:1, Col. 2:13, Rom. 6:6-14], we should be living for justness, by whose welt you were healed. For you were straying sheep, but now you turned back to the Shepherd and Supervisor of your souls” and became “conciliated to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10) when you realized how that “welt”—the Shepherd’s own abusive death—came about to win us back! “For thus God loves, so that He gives His only-born Son,” commissioning him into the world to save it (John 3:16,18). For He is “the God of peace Who is leading up our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, from among the dead by the blood of the agelong covenant” (Heb. 13:20)—the New Covenant. “This is the true graciousness of God, in which you are to stand” I Peter 5:12. Accept no “substitutes.”
~to be continued~