December 22, 2012 by Jason Hood
“Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.” So wrote the Xtina of Victorian Romantics, Christina Rossetti, in a poem that became the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Mid-Winter.”
But that’s not true, is it? Heaven and earth are in fact longing for him to come. When the gospel of God’s reign is announced in Isaiah and the Psalms, the whole world rejoices and its fabric trembles in anticipation of an liberation and an unsurpassed transformation. So heaven and earth aren’t fleeing his reign; only rebellious humans attempt to do so.
In fact the world is not just longing for him; it is longing for rebels who are being remade in the image of God, the image of his glorious Son. The world is groaning for the revelation not just of Messiah but of those who are also resurrected as he is, born-anew-sons-of-God by the Spirit like their elder brother Jesus (Rom 8:14-25).
This winter, this season when we celebrate Incarnation, we’re invited to remember also the resurrection and the reign, and to live patiently in hope, looking and longing with creation for this redemption (8:23-25).2 Comments
September 11, 2012 by Jason Hood
Here’s an image I like to use when I work through biblical theology with students; I’ve no idea whether it’s original to me or not. Lots to say about this little analogy, but here’s a snapshot: after the Fall and after each successive failure of humanity, God gives fresh “downloads” of the original mission of humanity, each of which recall the original mission and identity given in Genesis 1-2.
Adam: Humanity 1.0 (after emptiness, Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2)
Noah: Humanity 1.0.1 (after corruption, redeemed through judgment + fresh covenant)
Abraham: Humanity 1.1 (after the wreckage of Babel, Genesis 12:1-3, 22:15-18)
Isaac: Humanity 1.1.1
Jacob: Humanity 1.1.2 (Genesis 26:1-5)
Israel: Humanity 1.2, with her priests and kings serving as 1.2.1 and 1.2.2 and so forth…some of whom have more bugs than others!
and climaxing in
Jesus as Humanity 2.0 (Eph 4, the “Son of Man,” etc)2 Comments
February 8, 2011 by Matthew Mason
The question whether Jesus was impeccable (unable to sin) during his state of humiliation (earthly life) looks, at first blush, like an abstract piece of scholasticism that pastors can do without. But as I pondered it yesterday, I concluded that it makes a good test case for someone’s theological methodology. The way you tackle it, if not the precise conclusions you draw, also has deep pastoral significance. The most obvious practical, pastoral issue is, to what extent is Jesus able to sympathise with me as a faithful High Priest when I’m tempted (cf. Heb 2:17f; 4:15)? As the divine Word, didn’t he have something of an advantage over me in resisting temptation? This is not a theoretical question. It’s something two members of my congregation have asked me, as we’ve studied the Apostle’s Creed.
In what follows, I’ll move in stages from more abstract methodological considerations to more concrete practical implications. It’s a long post, and requires a bit of moderately heavy lifting. But I think the practical pay-off is worth the conceptual work.
(1) The work of systematic theology is, in part, about erecting, or at least recognizing, the boundaries of the playing field of orthodoxy – it’s there to stop us from straying into error, sometimes serious error. This question is not just an intellectual exercise, it’s also, as so often, profoundly pastoral.
(2) The nature of Christian doctrine is what we might call loosely systematic. Since God is one, all of reality is coherent, as is his word. Therefore, in order to accord with Scripture and reality, our theology must also be coherent. Nevertheless, given our finitude, and the noetic effects of sin, we must be wary of drawing our systems too tightly. The quest for ruthless logical consistency and connectedness, if pursued too hard, ever runs the risk of collapsing into heresy.
(3) The best doctrinal formulations will be those that give the fullest account of the entire teaching of Scripture in all its richness and diversity. They will also be pastorally attuned. However, although Scripture’s richness and diversity is certainly coherent since it is the very words of the One God, it does not always (ever?) have an obviously rigorous and transparent systematic character.
(4) Not least when dealing with the person of Christ, we need first to affirm that we’re dealing with a deep mystery, something way beyond our ability to grasp. We have little enough awareness of what it means to be a person with one nature! We’re in many ways mysterious to ourselves. This is both inevitable and good – to know ourselves completely would be the way of insanity. This being so, how much less can we grasp of what it would mean to be a person with an unfallen nature (e.g., Adam in the Garden – what did temptation feel like for him?). Still less can we really grasp what it means to speak of a divine Person. Given the Creator-creature distinction, there is always a far greater un-likeness than likeness between God and us. In speaking of Christ, we are not even simply speaking of a divine Person. We are speaking of a divine Person who, whilst remaining fully and unchangeably divine, has taken to himself an unfallen human nature. We cannot remain completely silent on the matter, because that would be to deny God’s self-revelation in Christ. Nevertheless, we must speak and think with great caution and humility! Therefore, to misappropriate a line from Wittgenstein, whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
(5) To the issue: could Christ have sinned? In technical language, was he impeccable, or peccable? The first boundary to erect is the affirmation that the incarnate Word was fully divine. In the self-emptying of taking on flesh, the immutable Word laid aside none of the attributes of deity in his divine nature. And this includes his holiness. Therefore, he could not sin. It’s impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2). God is of purer eyes than to look on evil, he can’t even look on wrong (Habakkuk 1:13). It therefore appears, without further question, that Christ was impeccable. However, to make this the only boundary in play in considering this question would be to risk running headlong into a docetic Christology.
(6) We therefore also need to affirm that the Word incarnate had a human nature. Now, human persons can sin when tempted, even persons with unfallen natures, such as Christ had (cf. Adam in the Garden!) However, Christ was not a human person (I’ll stick with past tenses, since our discussion is limited to his state of humiliation.) He was a divine Person with a human nature. This changes things somewhat, since persons, not natures, sin. Nevertheless, it’s worth asking the question, without reaching a definite conclusion – since we know that humans, even unfallen humans, are peccable, could a divine Person with a human nature sin in that nature?
(7) The next step, of vital importance, is to affirm that Christ’s temptations were real. The temptations of Matthew 4:1-11 are not a charade. Christ is not play-acting as he interacts with the satan. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when the satan found his opportune moment to return to Jesus, and Jesus was tempted to avoid the cross, the intensity of his temptations caused him to sweat blood (Luke 22:44). In fact he’s been tempted like us in every way, although he resisted and remained without sin (Heb 4:15).
(8) We can go further. Not only was Jesus tempted in every way like us, he was tempted more than we ever have been or will be. We can be sure, given the centrality of Jesus’ mission to God’s plan of salvation, that never were satan’s assaults greater than when facing the incarnate Son. More than this, as C.S. Lewis observed, it’s only someone who’s resisted temptation who knows how powerful temptation really is, because the more you resist, the stronger the temptation becomes. If you give in straight away, you’ve no real idea how strong temptation can become. So we can conclude that Jesus, who consistently resisted temptation for 33 years – and most intensely from the time of his baptism until he handed his spirit over to his Father – has endured far greater temptations than we will ever experience. In comparison with him, we have no idea what real temptation is. I’ve been seriously tempted, but I’ve never sweat blood!
(9) We can, I think, go one step further still. In Romans 6, Paul says that having been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we have died to sin (v.2-4). We are therefore to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (v.11). This is grounded in the fact that when Jesus died, he died to sin, once for all (v. 10). The implication is that before his death, he was alive to sin. Which can’t mean that he actually sinned, but must at least mean that the temptations he faced were real, and powerful. Now, put these things together. Jesus was alive to sin, but is no longer. In Christ, we’ve died, and so we are no longer alive to sin (ie, no longer under the power of sin – we can resist it and walk in newness of life). Therefore, it seems reasonable to infer that it’s easier for Christians to resist sin than it was for Jesus during his state of humiliation.
(10) We must add to all of this that Luke in particular presents Jesus as the archetypal man full of the Spirit. He goes out to face the satan in the wilderness full of the Spirit (Luke 4:1-12), and so resisted temptation as a man in the power of the Spirit. And notice the way, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry begins with Jesus praying and full of the Spirit, whilst the book of Acts (Luke’s sequel to his Gospel) begins with the Church praying, and full of the Spirit (Acts 1:14; 2:1ff; 4:23-31). In other words, Luke sets Jesus up as the model for us, the model of what a prayerful, Spirit-filled person is and can do. Thus, to the extent that I fall into sin, I fall short of being a Spirit-filled man. Nevertheless, some caution is in order. I remain suspicious that over-pressing this point, and underplaying the reality of the Word’s direct action on his human nature, leads to a species of Nestorianism.
(11) And, of course, in all of this, the vital thing for our salvation is not so much the question whether or not Jesus could have sinned, but the fact that he didn’t sin. He was therefore able to offer himself as a lamb without blemish for us, and die as the sinless for the guilty.
(12) How all this fits together is, as I said, deeply mysterious. And that’s ok. We need a system, but one that’s loosely systematic, and that’s able to respect all of the boundaries the Bible lays out for us, and all of the affirmations it makes. We don’t have to tie together every loose end. Even if we decide that the Word couldn’t sin, and therefore it was impossible for Jesus to sin (which is, I think, the most plausible position to take), we can’t then decide that therefore Jesus wasn’t really tempted like us. If we reach that conclusion, we’ve overstepped what the Bible says, and we rob ourselves of genuine comfort. I think the answer is found in stressing what the Bible stresses, and in trying to keep all these things together somehow. So sometimes, I need to stress Jesus’ divinity and therefore his utter holiness, purity, power, and difference from me. He is my Lord, worthy of my undivided worship and devotion. And certainly I need to emphasize the biblical truth that, for all his temptations, he remained unblemished, without sin. But when I’m tempted, I need to remind myself that Jesus was tempted far more than I, and so he’s able to understand and help me. And that he resisted temptation in the power of the Spirit and by the word of God, so when tempted I can pray, “Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from the evil one”, knowing that my faithful High Priest is also praying this for me before my Father. Then, strengthened by his Spirit who now dwells in me (notice how Trinitarian this is!), I can trust my Father’s promises to me in Scripture, resist temptation, and present my members to him as instruments of righteousness.2 Comments
December 26, 2010 by Jason Hood
It’s a white Boxing Day in Memphis after flurries (that didn’t stick) on Christmas Day. Both very unusual, but not unprecedented.
This morning I began to read Luke. What strikes many readers in chapter 1 is that Zach and Mary seems to have similar responses to the angelic promises, yet Zach gets struck mute in judgment. Mary’s concerns seem to be valid: ”How on earth will this happen, since I’m a virgin?”
But Zach’s concern seems justified to modern readers as well. We all know about being too old to reproduce, and we all know about being barren.
One big difference here is that Zach, being “righteous in the sight of God” (1:6), should have known his salvation history well enough not to doubt that God could give life to a dead womb. It wasn’t frequent, but it certainly happened, and if an angel of YHWH showed up to tell you that grace was falling on you, there was really no option but trusting the God of Abram and Sarai and buying a skin of wine to split with Elizabeth.
But Mary’s pregnancy had no precursor. Her question for clarification shows that something new was happening in salvation history, something that was even greater than what happened for Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah.
The Messiah came in an unprecedented fashion, precisely because he himself was unprecedented.