Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Eastertide | Why is Jesus Dying & Rising? Restoring Us, Judging Evil, Victory Over Death, and Filling Us w/ Eternal Life

What did Jesus accomplish on the cross? And how does the cross of Christ fully display the overcoming power and love of God for you? Francis Spufford once wrote, "More can be mended than you know." Out of the brokenness of the cross can Christ bring us wholeness?

Instead of separating the different aspects of God's gracious and generous atonement (or bringing together the "one-ment" or reconciliation between God and man) for us through the cross, or putting them in a hierarchy one above the other, Joshua McNall in The Mosaic of Atonement highlights the 4 predominant views of atonement through visualizing Jesus' humanity in His body from head to toe (or feet to hands):  

1 | Recapitulation: The Beautiful Feet  
| 2 | Substitution: The Beating Heart  
| 3 | Christus Victor: The Sacred Head  
| 4 | Moral Influence: The Outstretched Hands

revealing how each flows through the other, a beautiful mosaic for us to revel in as we grow in our wonder of what Jesus' loving sacrifice on the cross accomplished for us.

Unlike a photograph in which tiny pixels present a seamless blend of color and shape, a mosaic allows each piece to retain its recognizable particularity while integrating them in the service of a larger picture. ... Though the marks of breaking remain (like scars etched into hands and feet and side), beauty is achieved in the incorporative assembly. As we turn from art to the atonement, the question is straightforward: Cannot the Potter do this even with the most sacred Vessel? ... Yes. God has shown this through the body of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Out of brokenness comes wholeness.

There is much more to be said (and McNall has filled his entire book with such thoughts), but here is a brief glimpse into the mysterious glory and power of the cross of Christ and why He had to die for us. Also, if you're looking for a passage in Scripture that touches on all four, check out Colossians 2:9-15:

2:9 For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body (recapitulation). 10 So you also are complete through your union with Christ (moral influence), who is the head over every ruler and authority (Christus Victor). 11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized (substitution). And with Him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. 13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ (recapitulation, moral influence), for He forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross (Christus Victor).

1 | Why is Jesus Dying to Restore our Humanity (Recapitulation: The Beautiful Feet)?

Christ enters the human story as both "true Adam" and "true Israel." Most importantly, he enters the story as the true image of the invisible God. And his work must not be divided from his personhood. In these foundational roles (hence: feet), he has the authority to act positively on behalf of all humanity. In so doing, Jesus relives the human drama faithfully on our behalf. And all other models of atonement (ex. substitution, Christus Victor, moral influence, etc.) build up from the footing.

The scriptural genius of the early church leader Irenaeus resides largely in the way he connects Christ's recapitulative ability to a particular doctrine of the imago Dei (image of God), or more specifically the imago Christi (image of Christ). Because all humans have been stamped in the image of the incarnate Son, there exists an unseen (but genuine) connection between the Messiah and the masses. Jesus is the "mold" for Adam's making and the archetype of all other image bearers. Because humanity was patterned after Christ in the beginning, Jesus enters the human drama as the true head of the entire human family. And in the Scriptures, the "head" may act on behalf of the whole.

If all humanity is somehow bound up with the Son (as our archetypal, image-granting source), then the cross presents not simply one innocent and disconnected individual bearing the punishment for other guilty ones but the judgment of the entire human race in the body of the one person who really does (somehow) "contain" and represent us all. Since it is in the Son that we "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28), it is possible to claim that "I have been crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20).

| 2 | Why is Jesus Dying to Judge Evil and Free Us for Good (Substitution and Vicarious Judgment: The Beating Heart)?

The divine victory of the Father, Son, and Spirit flows forth from Christ's recapitulative fidelity (feet) and his penalty-absorbing death (heart). Substitution does not (and should not) pit the Father against the Son in a way that seems to sever their eternal love relationship. In place of this un-Trinitarian idea, penal substitution need claim only that Christ underwent the divinely sanctioned penalty for human sin in our stead.

Some things were clearly suffered by Jesus that were not experienced by me. And regarding agency, I contributed nothing (except my sin) to the strange triumph at Golgotha. I was mysteriously bound up with Christ, but I was not the agent of redemptive action. Christ's devil-defeating victory emerges not merely alongside (or in contrast to) his penalty-enduring death but precisely because of it. Just as Jesus' recapitulative fidelity provides a positive ground for his emerging victory, so does his vicarious judgment on our behalf remove the Accuser's right to condemn us. 

In line with this thinking, Colossians states that Christ triumphed over the principalities and powers precisely by nailing our note of legal indebtedness (the cheirographon) to the cross (Colossians 2:13-15). Likewise, Revelation glories in the fact that the Accuser has been overcome "by the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 12:10-11). Both here and elsewhere, it is not just victory and penal substitution but victory by way of penal substitution and vicarious judgment. Even the head must receive the cleansing lifeblood of the heart.

| 3 | Why is Jesus Dying to Bring Victory in the Face of Seeming Defeat (Christus Victor: The Sacred Head)?

Can the royal conquest be found on the cross itself? In John's Gospel, Jesus speaks of his death as "the hour" for the Son of Man to be "glorified" (John 12:23) and "lifted up" (John 12:32). In Luke's Gospel, Christ's royal reign is recognized by a criminal beside him: "Remember me," he says, "when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). The cross is not merely the height of Christ's humiliation; it is simultaneously his gloriously enthronement here on earth. This reality has also been noted throughout church history. In an early example, Justin Martyr proclaimed that "the Lord hath reigned from the tree." In the Middle Ages, Venantius Fortunatus sang of "God ruling nations from a tree." In the Reformation, Calvin spoke of the cross as Christ's "triumphal chariot." In the modern era, Karl Barth pushed back so hard against the divide between humiliation and his exaltation that Colin Gunton summarized his view by saying, "For Barth, it is just as God-like to be lowly as to be exalted." Finally, in the contemporary setting, Michael Horton writes that "Jesus embraced the cross precisely as a king embraces a scepter." In each, the cross itself is viewed as a royal exaltation. 

This paradoxical reality also has implications for God's people. In Matthew, it is at Jesus's death (not his resurrection) that the veil is torn, the tombs split open, and "the bodies of many holy people ... were raised to life" (Matthew 27:51-53). While the tale of these raised corpses may seem outlandish, it is even odder to note that the bodies do not emerge from their open tombs till "after Jesus' resurrection". In the meantime, they must wait alive in the abode of death. During this interim, the evidence of their new life remains unseen by outsiders. In this sense, the strange story provides a metaphor for the Christian's present-day experience of "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) amidst the smell of death and slowly airing grave cloths. We wait alive in the abode of death. And it was a death that brought us life.

With regard to such unconventional victories, even the so-called proto-evangelium (i.e. first Good News after sin) of Genesis 3:15 may be taken to point in a similar direction. Here, the lethal stomp seems to coincide with the serpent's fatal puncture: "He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." It is a double deathblow." And if Christ's earthly triumph was excruciating, then it should be unsurprising that his people's triumph is as well. Believers are to adopt the posture of the Lamb: "standing ... as though slain" (Revelation 5:6). In so doing, we inhabit the victory God has already won in Christ. Importantly, to dispel any appearance of a growth that springs from human effort, the transformation is said to be the product of the Spirit's work. In this way also, Christ's cruciform triumph guided by the Holy Spirit provides the model for our own victorious existence. Likewise, our Spirit-driven sanctification is one way in which the kingdom comes on earth, as it is in heaven.

| 4 | Why is Jesus Dying to Pour Himself Out and Fill Us with Abundant Life Now and Forever (Moral Influence: The Outstretched Hands)?

Learning how to stand in a cruciform existence shows the reciprocal relation between the head and the hands of mosiac Christ. In the words of G.B. Caird: "The transforming of sinners into righteous (humans) is the final defeat of the power." For this reason, sanctification cannot be detached from God's continuing triumph over evil through the transformed lives of his people. After all, Paul once gloried in the promise that "the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" (Romans 16:20).

Moral influence involves (1) the beckoning hand of divine love which calls forth grateful imitation and bold approach to God on behalf of sinners and (2) the restraining or unmasking hand that waives off certain idolatrous or violent tendencies.

The engine of moral influence is the Holy Spirit. He incorporates us into God's redemptive work. Atonement is praxis, both for Jesus and his people. Yet this praxis is made possible only because the Spirit makes us into the body of Jesus here on earth. In this way, believers participate in God's work of reconciliation by grace alone (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

In summary, the recapitulative presuppositions of Irenaeus ground the other images like feet planted in the dust of fallen Eden. Christ's penalty-bearing death pumps cleansing lifeblood like a heart to other members. And the triumphant head of Christus Victor rises as the telos or goal of atonement, even as the final victory comes as the Spirit shapes sinners into saints by the beckoning and restraining hands of moral influence. "This is my body," Christ proclaimed, not merely broken but also mended for you. ... "This is Christ's body given for you." ... "More can be mended than you know."

+ Excerpts adapted from Joshua M. McNall's The Mosaic of Atonement: An Integrated Approach to Christ's Work

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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