Deity of Jesus, Part 4: The Wider Sacrifice

Today is the last installment of my four-part series on exploring the deity of Jesus Christ. J.17-5.jpgIt began four weeks ago, in reaction to the apparent lack of understanding of professing Christians in grasping Jesus as Emanuel, God with us; and the springboard was John 17:5:

And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5, NKJV).[1]

Obviously, this series has not been an exhaustive study, because I think it requires several lifetimes to begin grasping something so monumental. But you must start somewhere and this series is my attempt at ‘somewhere.’

Exchange of Glory

Pastor Jeremy Treat, Ph.D., in a recent article, connected John 17:5 as a “loving Trinitarian exchange of glory” at the cross where “we see the wisdom of the Father, the grace of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.”[2] I think this is a significant understanding of the verse because it implies that Jesus, the Creator, the Preexistent One, is allowing Himself to be treated in shameful and unjust fashions knowing that the end will result in glorification of God via the coming resurrection and the outpouring of salvation via the coming new birth in the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ earthly punishment will culminate with death on a cross through the horrible process of scourging followed by the crucifixion. What kind of God would do this? But Jesus endured in part because of His eternal vision of the ultimate result of such a gruesome sacrifice (cf. Php. 2:8 & Heb. 12:2-3); namely the salvation of humanity.

Only for a moment we need to put ourselves into the shoes of Jesus (cf. Mt. 5:14). While we are not being forced to do this, I think John 17:5 invites us to due to its intriguing concept.

The Wider Sacrifice

At some point in Eternity Past Jesus enjoyed a perfect existence in the Eternal Community (see my post from December 11, 2016). Within the Eternal Community, everything was well and beautiful beyond our understanding and expression and there was no threat to disrupting this bliss; except for His own willingness to step away from it and into humanity as the agent of salvation. All that was beautiful, comfortable and perfect was set aside so that Jesus could come and reside among us (cf. Phil. 2:1-5 and Jo. 1:1-18). So while the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is very tangible to the believer, we now need to stop and consider the sacrifice of Jesus at the moment of conception in Mary’s womb. Is this the point in time when Jesus “changed His situation?” I tend to think so because Jesus’ sacrifice did not begin in the Garden of Gethsemane; it began much earlier. His sacrifice began at the moment He left the Eternal Community, entering into Mary’s womb so that someday, those that call on His Name, may be saved and thereby destined to eternal glory forevermore with Jesus Christ. His great sacrifice began upon exiting the Eternal Community and, I would suggest, did not conclude until He ascended back into glory (cf. Mk. 16:19, Lk. 24:51 and Ac. 1:9). In other words, His entire life was, among many other things, a continued expression of sacrifice; a sacrifice that we cannot fully comprehend but are invited to at least try to comprehend what we can. Such effort on our part can only expand our faith while also perhaps humbling us a little more as well.

What I have hoped to inspire through this exploration is a deepening of our love and appreciation for Jesus Christ and all that He has done for us. Jesus is God and as such, carries all the powers associated with God. He could have easily eradicated the “human problem” through any means of annihilation but chose instead to come into our depraved condition to lead us out of it and into His glorious Kingdom. Only through Jesus Christ can we be eternally saved and only Jesus Christ could have been the agent of this salvation (cf. Jo. 14:6, Ac. 16:29-31 and Ro. 10:9-10).

Finally, I close with the words of McCready:

Knowing the Son of God has entered into our world in Jesus of Nazareth is transformative knowledge. If it is true, we who believe it can never be the same again. Such belief is not merely a matter of our intellect—it must affect our thoughts, words and actions as well. That Christ is the preexistent Son of God is the basis for believing God has loved us and given himself to us and for us without reservation.”[3]

 While a lengthy quote, I could not have summed it up any better. It is a joy to push the intellect deeper into the things of God, but the real gain is a further grasping of all that God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Such an exercise only deepens my own love for my Lord and Savior and increasing my desire to make Him known to others. I hope it does the same for you as well. May blessings be yours now and into 2017.

[1] New King James Version Study Bible, (Nashville, TN: Tommy Nelson, Inc., 1997), p. 1799.

[2] Jeremy Treat, “The Glory of the Cross,” Christianity Today, October 2013, p. 58.

[3] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p 308.

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Deity of Jesus Part 3: Leaving the Eternal Community

Only when the time was right did Jesus come to earth in incarnate form. I return again to McCready where he reminds the reader that of the Godhead—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—“only the Son has changed his situation in such a way that the term preexistence is helpful.”[1] This is an astounding thought that Jesus “changed his situation.” Changing His situation was a sacrifice that is staggering to comprehend.

Expanding Understanding

The lofty and somewhat circular language is purposeful in reminding us that there are some aspects of God that we just can’t explain because they are beyond the scope of our intellect; the created cannot ever fully explain the Creator (cf. Is. 55:8 & Ro. 9:20-21). For instance, how can something exist before existence? What form was the pre-incarnate Christ in? Did His form change once Earth and Man were created (I ask this since there’s a strong possibility that “the angel of the Lord” was the pre-incarnate Christ)? All of these questions are fascinating and worth further exploration if for no other reason but deepening our love for Jesus and what He accomplished on our behalf.

But now I return to the significance of John 17:5 and grasping that Christ was indeed preexistent. Being preexistent means that He was God and He was no less God in His Incarnation. Therefore, Jesus being God in the form of man is Him truly coming into our world from a beyond-our-understanding-existence. Crabb, similarly struggling with trying to grasp the significance of Christ’s departure from His previous existence, once captured what he thought a conversation was like between Father and Son prior to the incarnation:

‘Father, what you ask is painful beyond description to even contemplate. I cannot imagine what the actual experience will be like of not seeing your face. And yet I am delighted with your plan. It will give me the chance to let people see how wonderful you are. The joy of seeing you glorified makes it worth it all. There is no other way?’

‘No.’[2]

The Eternal Community

Imagine the emotional upheaval Jesus went through to comply with the necessity of taking on the form of a Man. He had indescribable joy in what Crabb refers to as the “Eternal Community.”[3] Along with this joy is perfect harmony with the Father and the Holy Spirit; there was nothing disruptive, painful, or evil. That all changed when Jesus entered the world of Man. Here He was treated in shameful and unspeakable ways. Even today no name draws so much elation or hatred as the Name of Jesus Christ.

So often, and rightly, we recognize Jesus for the incredible sacrifice He gave on our behalf while on the earth, mostly focused on the Passion Week. We cite with pomp and ceremony what Jesus endured at the hands of men. Rarely, however, do we ever hear about the sacrifice Jesus made in leaving His ‘Eternal Community’ to enter humanity on our behalf. Not only that, but He entered humanity in the most vulnerable way: an embryo in the womb. I suggest this because we don’t really understand what Jesus sacrificed by leaving His eternal dwelling, so rather than trying to gain a further understanding of that it so we can teach it to others, we avoid it altogether. I don’t say this to be harsh toward anyone, I have spent much time in the pulpit myself, and I would definitely be intimidated by teaching something that is beyond my understanding; I don’t want to look or sound foolish, but even more, I would not want to say anything theologically inaccurate or dishonoring to Jesus. Still, people need to better understand that Jesus’ sacrifice began long before the Passion Week.

[1]Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), pp. 12-13.

[2] Larry Crabb, Connecting: A radical new vision (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 1997), p. 59.

[3] Ibid., p. 58.

I’m Accepted and the Big Decision

I received notice last Thursday that I have been accepted into the Doctor of Ministry program in Corban University’s School of Ministry! My areas of study will be Christian Theology and Apologetics. I’m quite excited by this because it helps to move me just a little closer to my dream second career. Yes, even in my early (actually, mid-) fifties, I still have dreams. No, not of retirement on some remote beach or hidden cabin in Montana (even though each has its own appeal!), but to enter academia.

 

Where It Began

This all began about thirty minutes before my Master’s Degree commencement ceremony last April. Two of my professors asked me to consider very seriously submitting an application to the program for 2017. I noted their suggestion and figured that 2017 meant the beginning of the academic year in August, more than a year away. Well, as it happens, the doctorate academic year doesn’t begin in August, it begins in January; like the January that’s less than two months from now.

I didn’t know this until I received an email in late September from one of the professors, the Director of the School of Ministry, confirming the invitation to submit an application in time for the beginning of the year. Then a week later I received an official letter repeating the invitation once again.

Was God trying to tell me something?  I wasn’t sure even though I have a longing to

pile_of_books

Yep, theology books!

continue pursuing such study. As weird as it may sound, I consider study to be a form of worship; that’s why I put so much effort into to getting the best grades possible.  And in seeking opportunities to share (or teach) what I’m learning. I love it! God is fathomless and yet we still have the privilege and, frankly, the responsibility to seek after our infinite God.

 

Another thought pattern guiding this decision is how to best pass on what I’ve learned. How can I leave the best legacy possible or, colloquially speaking, how can I best pass the torch onto the next generation?

Interestingly, the answer is found in Numbers chapter 11. Granted, the children of Israel were not in good standing with God at this time, but God still had mercy on them and on Moses—he appointed to Moses a body of seventy leaders (elders) to assist with leading the people.

 

Old Testament Learning in 2016

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord [that He would feed them], and he gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tabernacle. Then the Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders

—Numbers 11:24-25a

Hamilton has an interesting commentary on this, one I had not noticed before:

“It is as if Moses has more than enough ‘Spirit’ to share. His own portion of Spirit is not thereby reduced, any more than one candle loses any of its flame when it lights another candle.”[1]

This quote really stuck with me. First off, I’ve been told that if I want to become a pastor that it will be difficult because of my age. Now that smacks of age discrimination and besides, if God really calls me to it, it will happen. And I’ve had a few scoffers about my decision to pursue a Doctorate. Still, that’s where Janey and I feel God is leading us. Plus, God could use that vehicle for passing onto others what I’m learning. But I’m not yet passing the torch, or am I? Truth be told, I am not really ready to pass my torch to anyone yet. That phrase bothers me and seems more like capitulating to the idea that I have no more to contribute for advancing God’s Kingdom.

But, we learn something different from the Book of Numbers. God gives opportunities to share our torches. As the quote suggests, I can keep my torch lit but at the same time share it with others. Perhaps this is the vision of teaching and the idea of passing, or rather, sharing our torches before the time comes when we really do hand it onto others to run the races set before them.

So as I’m heading toward what the world calls the twilight of life, maybe I’m really heading to the limelight. No, not the limelight of stages, movie sets, or fame; but to the limelight of God’s call on my life. Maybe I’m not yet in the fast lane for God but more in the middle lane. Could it be that God will be using the Doctorate studies to shift my life into a fast lane?

As the old phrase goes, “Only time will tell.” But I intend to make the best of the time God is giving me, because I know better than anyone that God owes me nothing; yet, He still showers grace, mercy and opportunities on me and my family.

[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, 2 ed. (2005). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 324.

Daniel: An Example of Prayer

We discussed prayer in our small group the other night. That got me thinking about danielbiblical examples of those that prayed mightily. There are many examples, of course; Jesus being the preeminent example. But a somewhat obscure example is what I was drawn to. That example is Daniel.

One of my professors stated that “his [Daniel’s] prayer should inform how we pray.”[1] This phrase caught my attention because I spend much time in prayer myself. I do not profess to be any sort of mighty intercessor, but I am called and drawn to pray not just for myself or my family, but also for my specific church and our members and “attenders.” I also pray for the advancing of the gospel of Christ and for the forgiveness of our nation. I often feel a burden to pray, but at times I fight against a sense of futility in prayer because I am not seeing the answers I am expecting to see. Thus, the above quote inspired me to delve into this prayer in more detail, and in so doing I discovered key characteristics that built Daniel into a mighty man of prayer that moved the heart of God.

Daniel was “prompted to pray because he was reading Scripture.”[2] Archer states that Daniel was “a diligent student of Scripture who built his prayer life on the Word of God.”[3] Berrigan states that “Amid great darkness, Daniel opens the scroll. Thus once more an important principle is illustrated. This: while time lasts, scripture is never to be thought, or dealt with, as lying inert on a page. No, it is … a prodigious energy. It flares up in our face; it brings to bear upon our sorry human scene the very truth of God.”[4] Daniel held God’s Word in the highest regard, clearly displaying that he understood that, “You [God] have magnified Your word above all Your name” (Psa. 138:2b, NKJV).

Because he knew Scripture so well he was able to pray along the lines of the truth he had learned from the Word of God. In other words, Daniel’s prayers aligned with the truth he knew from Scripture which meant that his prayers were in alignment with the very heart of God from which Scripture originally flowed out of.

What is also interesting is Daniel’s praying is visible throughout the Book of Daniel. A significant precursor to the great prayer of Chapter 9 is the events of Chapter 6.

In Chapter 6 we see Daniel excelling above all the other satraps and governors (cf. vv. 2-3). This angered these men so they sought a way to tarnish his reputation in the eyes of King Darius. However, “these men said, ‘We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God’” (v. 5).  The charge they built to trap Daniel was his evidently well-known habit toward prayer. So King Darius was cajoled into signing a decree that his subjects should only pray to him and any violators would be thrown into the den of lions (vv. 6-9). Daniel was aware of this decree, so now not only was he in exile he was now facing a capital crime by continuing to engage in prayer. “Under such catastrophe, existence itself is shaken”[5] but still Daniel responds by continuing his practice of praying three times a day “as was his custom since early days” (v. 10b) knowing very well that if he is caught he will suffer dire, if not fatal, consequences.

This is stunning because it is likely he could have continued to pray minus the outward expression of prayer, but apparently Daniel found that compromising because instead he continues his outward expression of prayer by opening his windows, facing Jerusalem and kneeling three times a day. Scripture also informs us that Daniel, even under the threat of committing a capital offense, still gives thanks to God (v. 10).  “Such heroism does not develop overnight, nor is it created in a vacuum. It is the mature fruit of lives and characters that have been forged by experience, … and by faithfulness and obedience.”[6]

We know that by the grace of God Daniel survived the lions’ den while those that plotted against Daniel met their demise by the very means they intended for Daniel (not unlike Haman in the Book of Esther, about another heroic character and another somewhat humorous expression of God’s poetic justice). Daniel’s survival entices King Darius to honor the God of Daniel and then we see Daniel move into more visions and more prominence in the Persian culture, which, of course, leads us to the prayer of Chapter 9. But we’ll look at that next week.

 

[1] Quote from Professor Mark Jacobson, Corban University.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Gleason Archer, “Daniel,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank Gaebelein, Gen. Ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), p. 107.

[4] Daniel Berrigan, Daniel: Under Siege of the Divine (Farmington: The Plough Publishing House, 1998), pp. 155-6.

[5] Berrigan, p. 4.

[6] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Daniel: The Communicator’s Commentary, Gen. Ed. Lloyd Ogilvie (Wasco: Word Books Publisher, 1988), p. 27.

Pine Cones and Simplicity

Pine Cone

Here comes the Pine Cone fleet! 

Spending time in the wilderness always resets my life a bit. It’s not always relaxing but I usually come away with either a clearer understanding of something or experience something brand new. Last Thursday morning was a combination of both.

 

Thursday Morning with Caleb

I was having my early morning quiet time while sitting on the bank of the Metolious River; Caleb, our ten year old son, was with me. I was busily praying and journaling when I noticed him tossing pine cones into the water. Their buoyancy fascinated him as did the quickness of them being carried away by the current. In no time, he was gathering armfuls of them, throwing them in at the same time and then following them by running down the bank as they floated away. Watching him I wrote in my journal:

“Caleb is playing a pine cone fleet game. He tosses them into the water and watches them ‘race’ through the channel and through a vegetation tunnel and out the other side if they don’t get stuck.”

He was having great fun just collecting, tossing, racing and watching pine cones flowing away in the river. I marveled at the simplicity of it. As most American kids his age, he has a computer with some appropriate games on it, he has a Wii U loaded with Lego City Undercover and we recently got him a smart phone (the Weather.com app is his favorite). So the kid is definitely “gadgetized,” but on this Thursday morning he was unplugged and loving every second of it.

 

“Light Bulb”

I was struck by the simplicity of his game. It wasn’t complex, the parts were easy to find and already assembled, and there was only one rule: which ever pine cone got to the finish line first, won! Simple, basic and fun.

His simple pine cone game got me thinking about faith, especially faith in Christ. How easy it is to complicate it, losing sight of the basic elements of our faith. We over-complicate God’s grace and mercy and certainly over-complicate salvation. We lose sight of the significance of the resurrection and of the ascension.  It reminds of 2 Corinthians 11:3:

But I am afraid that, even as the serpent beguiled Eve by his cunning, your minds may be corrupted and led away from the simplicity of [your sincere and] pure devotion to Christ. Amplified Bible (AMP)

While I greatly enjoy deep theological discussions and writings, I can’t let the seriousness of such discussions distract me from the simple truths. Truths such as it is “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:9), and that “in Him we live and move and have our being: (Acts 17:28), or the biggie that Paul and Silas expressed to the Philippian jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

These are simple, yet profound truths. They are the pine cones in the current of our lives. And the one “rule” to this is faith. There are no set of complexities we must accomplish first and we don’t have to assemble it because it is fully assembled in Christ. We just need faith; yes, even the faith of a child (Matthew 18:1-5 and Mark 10:14-15).