All posts in “easter”

Momento Mori, Momento Domini! Ash Wednesday Meditation (with a bit of help from Barth)

Momento mori: “Remember that you must die.”

Today is Ash Wednesday: a day set aside in the Christian tradition to reflect on the inescapable reality of death. But it is also a day that looks ahead to Christ’s death for us, in which all our ends have been taken up and overcome in Him. No one dies alone, but in radical solidarity, Christ has made our suffering and finitude His own so that we, being joined together in death, might also be raised with Him into the fullness of life.

Karl Barth writes, “Momento mori means concretely Momento Domini (remember the Lord)!” We must accept ourselves as we are, which includes the remembrance of our imminent death. But we must also hope in the God who, with us and for us, became human and entered the grave to overcome it. God is the hope of humanity, as Barth continues, Christ “by His dying and rising again is Himself our hope in the face of our dying—God for us where we can no longer be for ourselves” (CD III/4, 594).

God is my beyond, the One whom I meet in death. Death is so terrifying because it does not belong to us, it is an unfathomable nothingness. Yet it is precisely that nothingness which Christ took upon Himself. Thus, death is not a leap into the formless vacuum but into the eternity of God.

Momento mori—remember that you must die! But also, and most of all, Momento Domini—remember Christ, our Lord, who has conquered death!

(Originally posted on my Instagram and Facebook pages.)

“I Know Someone Who Was in Hell: Christ” (Moltmann)

stavronikita-mount-athos_16cHappy Holy Saturday!

Holy Saturday, especially in protestant churches, is a deeply under appreciated part of the Easter story. In recent years, though, as I’ve meditated more on what it means, I’ve become convinced that Holy Saturday is just as essential to the gospel as Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Let me explain why.

Holy Saturday is the day in which Christ was buried in the grave, and descended to hell (as the Apostles Creed proclaims. “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead.”) The significance of this day is brought out, at least for me personally, most of all in the works of Jürgen Moltmann. For Moltmann, Christ’s descent to hell is a further movement of His solidarity with mankind. As on the cross Jesus suffered our forsakenness and our death, so too in the grave Jesus suffered our hell. He went so far as our God acting for us that He not only overcame our sin and death, but our hell too. Jesus has bankrupted hell, robbing it of any power it once had over mankind. He has defeated the grave.  Truly, we can say with Paul: “Death where is your sting? Grave where is your victory?”

Here Moltmann writes in Jesus Christ for Today’s World on this descent to hell:

“Is there a hell?

Yes, I believe there is a hell. In the horrors of Auschwitz and in the terrors of Vietnam, people experienced a hell of suffering and a hell of guilt. That is why we talk about the hell of Auschwitz and the hell of Vietnam, meaning a senseless suffering with no way out, an unforgivable guilt and a fathomless abandonment by God and human beings. Is there a hell after death too? I believe there is, for the hell before death is worse than death itself. For many people death was a release from the suffering and fear of that hell.

Do we know anyone who is in hell? Would we tell a mother weeping at her son’s grave that her son is in hell because he never found faith while he was alive? We should respond to the first question with an embarrassed silence. And we would not answer ‘yes’ to the second one either. But I know someone who was in hell: it is Jesus Christ, who the creed says ‘descended into hell’.

When we were thinking about the tortured Christ, we asked: what does this article in the creed mean? When did Christ go through hell? And we saw that in the past two answers have been given. The earlier interpretation said that after his death Christ descended to the realm of the dead, to preach to them the gospel of their redemption and to deliver them. Luther looked at it differently, maintaining that Christ endured the torments of hell between Gethsemane and Golgotha, in his profound forsakenness by God. But whatever we may think about Christ’s descent into hell, Luther was right when he said: ‘Regard not hell and the eternity of torment in thyself, nor these things in themselves, nor yet in those who are damned. Look upon the face of Christ, who for thy sake descended into hell and was forsaken by God as one who is damned eternally, as he said on the cross: “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” See, in him thy hell is vanquished …’ Because Christ was in hell and endured its torments, there is hope in hell for redemption. Because Christ was raised to life from hell, hell’s gates are open and its walls have been broken down. Though I make my bed in hell, you are there.’ And then hell is not hell any longer. ‘O hell where is thy victory? But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ? (1 Cor. 15:55, 57).” 1

Hell Overcome

Hell is overcome by Christ. Whatever else we have to say about hell, it’s duration or existence or who goes there—we can say for certain this: hell is overcome. And we only know with certainty of one who has been there: Jesus Christ. This means that even in hell, there is hope. Because even in hell there is Jesus Christ the reconciler of the world, the redeemer of mankind, the friend of sinners.

This does not, of course, automatically equate to universalism. As Karl Barth has said about the subject, “I don’t teach universal reconciliation but I don’t not-teach it.” Because in the end the question of universalism is not something we can answer. Instead, it will only be answered by God. As Jürgen Moltmann has also said, “Does the new creation of all things mean ‘universal reconciliation’ and ‘the restoration of all things’? This is a difficult question, because only God will answer it. If we think humanistically and universally—God could perhaps be a particularist. But if we think pietistically and particularistically—God might be a universalist. If I examine myself seriously, I find that I have to say: I myself am not a universalist, but God may be one.” 2

If we take seriously the scope of Christ’s redemption, and the solidarity He has taken up with mankind, it’s impossible, in my mind, not to have at least some hope for the redemption of all creation. We cannot claim factually that all will be saved. But we can, and must, have hope for it. And we have hope for it because in Christ we see only this hope, the hope that all will be saved.

(For more see further my book We Belong: Trinitarian Good News appendix B, along with Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? by Hans Urs von Balthasar.)

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Notes:

  1. Moltmann, J. (1994). Jesus Christ for Today’s World. (M. Kohl, Trans.) (pp. 143–145). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
  2. Moltmann, J. (1994). Jesus Christ for Today’s World. (M. Kohl, Trans.) (pp. 142–143). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Not One – Good Friday Meditation

Isenheim Altarpiece

Happy Easter and a very blessed Good Friday to you!

I hope you have the time today to sit and meditate on what Jesus Christ has done for the human race in His death, resurrection, and ascension. This gospel is truly good news of great joy! Jesus became one of us rescuing us from death and sin by dying our death, raising us again to new life, and seating us with Him in heavenly places. Today calls for the celebration and remembrance of this marvelous truth!

Yesterday, I was reading Karl Barth, as I’ve mentioned before, in his Church Dogmatics volume IV.1. As I read I came across a magnificent passage I want to share with you today. Here Barth writes about the objective work of Jesus Christ for all people, what He has done on the cross for all mankind in justifying us and obliterating our sin. It is a beautiful passage on what Jesus has done for the human race, and I was struck with emotion when I read it. It is a perfect reminder as we contemplate and remember what Jesus has done for us! Enjoy!

If you’re looking for something to listen to today, I’ll be listening to the music of Arvo Pärt. Here’s an especially appropriate choral work called “Passio” which follows Johns account of the crucifixion. It’s very beautiful!

Enjoy!

Not One

“But the self-demonstration of the justified man to which faith clings is the crucified and risen Jesus Christ who lives as the author and recipient and revealer of the justification of all men. It is in Him that the judgement of God is fulfilled and the pardon of God pronounced on all men. …It happened that in the humble obedience of the Son He took our place, He took to Himself our sins and death in order to make an end of them in His death, and that in so doing He did the right, He became the new and righteous man. It also happened that in His resurrection from the dead He was confirmed and recognised and revealed by God the Father as the One who has done and been that for us and all men. As the One who has done that, in whom God Himself has done that, who lives as the doer of that deed, He is our man, we are in Him, our present is His, the history of man is His history, He is the concrete event of the existence and reality of justified man in whom every man can recognise himself and every other man—recognise himself as truly justified. There is not one for whose sin and death He did not die, whose sin and death He did not remove and obliterate on the cross, for whom He did not positively do the right, whose right He has not established. There is not one to whom this was not addressed as his justification in His resurrection from the dead. There is not one whose man He is not, who is not justified in Him. There is not one who is justified in any other way than in Him—because it is in Him and only in Him that an end, a bonfire, is made of man’s sin and death, because it is in Him and only in Him that man’s sin and death are the old thing which has passed away, because it is in Him and only in Him that the right has been done which is demanded of man, that the right has been established to which man can move forward. Again, there is not one who is not adequately and perfectly and finally justified in Him. There is not one whose sin is not forgiven sin in Him, whose death is not a death which has been put to death in Him. There is not one whose right has not been established and confirmed validly and once and for all in Him. There is not one, therefore, who has first to win and appropriate this right for himself. There is not one who has first to go or still to go in his own virtue and strength this way from there to here, from yesterday to to-morrow, from darkness to light, who has first to accomplish or still to accomplish his own justification, repeating it when it has already taken place in Him. …There is not one whose peace with God has not been made and does not continue in Him. There is not one of whom it is demanded that he should make and maintain this peace for himself, or who is permitted to act as though he himself were the author of it, having to make it himself and to maintain it in his own strength. There is not one for whom He has not done everything in His death and received everything in His resurrection from the dead.

Not one. That is what faith believes.”

(Karl Barth Church Dogmatics IV.1 Hendrickson Publishers, 2010, pp.629-630)

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God Justifies Himself – (Barth Reflections from CD IV.1 §61)

Kõnnu_Suursoo._10Happy Palm Sunday!

Today, as with two weeks ago, I’m continuing by writing my way through Karl Barth’s masterful volume in the Church Dogmatics: volume IV.1, on the doctrine of reconciliation. It has been a fitting read as we come into Holy Week, and the celebration of Easter.

This week, I’m examining a different aspect to the justification which takes place in the atonement through Jesus Christ. Often one sided as the justification of man, Barth in §61, under the heading of The Justification of Man, begins first with the justification of God. In short, he argues that the “backbone of the event of justification” is the justification of God Himself, that He is just in Himself and in the right. Here, then, are some insightful quotes from Barth and reflections on the subject. Enjoy!

(As before, all quotes are from the Hendrickson Publishers 2010 Edition. All bold texts are my emphasis.)

The Justification of God

The God who is present and active in the justification of man, and therefore as the gracious God, has right and is in the right. Not subject to any alien law, but Himself is the origin and basis and revealer of all true law, He is just in Himself. This is the backbone of the event of justification. (pp.530-1)

God Himself is law. (p. 529) And God is in complete harmony with Himself. On the cross God proves this, revealing this fact in stark contrast with our inconsistency, our pride, and our sin. God shows Himself to be just in and through Jesus Christ. He shows Himself to be faithful despite our unfaithfulness.

In the revelation and efficacy of the grace of Jesus Christ proclaimed in the Gospel what comes first is not the justification of the believer in Jesus Christ but the basis of it—that God shows Himself to be just. […] The faithfulness of God Himself, cannot be destroyed  by any unfaithfulness of man. […] In the first instance God affirms Himself in this action, that in it He lives His own divine life in His unity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But in it He also maintains Himself as the God of man, as the One who has bound Himself to man from all eternity, as the One who has elected Himself for man and man for Himself. (p. 532)

The grace God shown in justification is not an alien grace to the nature of God’s eternal being. God is gracious in Himself from before all time. He does not become gracious for our sakes. And if this were true, God would remain untrustworthy. If God only becomes gracious He may also someday become ungracious. Which leaves us with no assurance of God’s goodness or favor towards us, thus voiding the very Word spoken in Jesus Christ. So we must say this is true, that God is gracious in Himself from before all time. And Barth here seems to be affirming the importance of this. God first justifies Himself as the God who is faithful in Himself, and “in the exercise of His Godhead” He, for the sake of all flesh, became flesh. (pp. 532-3) That is, in other words, as God is in Himself He is towards us, He is faithful because He is faithful to Himself, and He is gracious because He is the gracious One.

And as this faithful One, God has taken our condition serious as His own. As Barth writes of mans rebellion, “He takes it so seriously that He encounters it in His own person.” (p. 533) We cannot undo this faithfulness. And in spite of our unfaithfulness to God, God remains wholly determined to us. We cannot disrupt this “self-determination of God”. (p. 534) Mankind belongs to God, as God has determined mankind for Himself and Himself for mankind. We cannot escape this determination, we cannot escape God’s being for us. This is the justification God makes of Himself, that He will not abandon His eternal will for mankind.

In a fascinating paragraph, Barth takes this justification of God in terms of immutability. Writing:

One thing is certain. It can be true only on the presupposition that God as God is in Himself the living God, that His eternal being of and by Himself has not to be understood as a being which is inactive because of its pure deity, but as a being which is supremely active in a positing of itself which is eternally new. His immutability is not holy immobility and rigidity, a divine death, but the constancy of His faithfulness to Himself continually reaffirming itself in freedom. His unity and uniqueness are not the poverty of an exalted divine isolation, but the richness of the one eternal origin and basis and essence of all fellowship. The fact that according to His revelation God is the triune God means that He is in Himself the living God. (p. 561)

God is immutable not in the sense that God is a static, unmoved mover, but that God is the living God, the God who is in freedom faithful. This God is the basis of all fellowship, as the living God, the Triune God.

It is this God who has justified Himself in Jesus Christ, as our God, as the One who is faithful towards mankind because He is first faithful to Himself. This beautifully reaffirms the Trinitarian life of God as the origin for the good news of Jesus.

Jesus came as a man and died in our place because that is what the Triune God is like. It is the overflow of who God is. This is who God has revealed Himself to be in this justification. He is our God, faithful to mankind, despite all our unfaithfulness. He is the immutable, living, Triune God of grace. He has always been this God, and in Christ He has justified Himself as this God, reaffirming His faithfulness to mankind.

Here’s one final quote to bring this home to the radical love of this Triune God, this God who is faithful to us in Jesus Christ.

God does not merely confront him as God and Lord and Judge, but as such He effectively takes His place at the side of sinful man, indeed, He takes the place of sinful man, representing him against Himself. His eternal Word becomes flesh. He Himself in His Word becomes man. Why? In order that He may not only conduct His own case against all men, but take up and conduct the case of all men, which they themselves cannot conduct, in that process between Him and them. In order that He may be for them what they cannot be for themselves—an active subject and a passive object in that conflict… Not from His own side. Not as God, Lord and Judge. But from their side. As the God, Lord and Judge who is man, servant and judged. In general terms, what has taken place in Jesus Christ is the divine participation in the situation of the man confronted by His right… It is as God identifies Himself with man—His participation and intervention is as direct and complete as that—it is as He becomes a man and as this man the Representative of all men, it is as He makes His own the cause of all men that justification can and does take place. (p. 551)

God is justified in Jesus Christ. God is faithful and gracious in Himself, and therefore He is faithful and gracious to mankind. He is so for us in this way and is so self-determined to be faithful to us that He has taken up our condition as His own. God became a man. He participated in our life; He made our cause His own. And in this He justified Himself as this faithful One.

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10 Ways We Should Rethink Easter

10 ways easterTomorrow we celebrate Good Friday, and with it the very heart of the Gospel: the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. I want to present ten ways that we should think differently about Easter this year. In doing so may you rediscover the beauty of the cross, and the stunning message of the Gospel.

#1 It’s Good Friday, Not Bad Friday

The cross is not a dark event. The cross is the center of our joy and celebration. Far from being a defeat, the cross is a victory!

While from a humanistic perspective, the cross is weakness and failure. But from the Christian perspective, the cross is the greatest moment of triumph in all of history. As Athanasius says, “the death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished.” 1 That’s good news! Jesus fully defeated death, in His death.

#2 Resurrection Isn’t the End

The story of Jesus doesn’t end at resurrection. While the resurrection is important, it’s not the end. The Scottish theologian T.F. Torrance help me see that the resurrection, while staggering in itself, is not complete apart from the ascension.

Robert Walker, in his introduction to Torrance’s book atonement, says “The ascension is Jesus’ taking of our humanity in His person into the presence of God into the union and communion of the love of the Trinity.” 2 Or as C.S. Lewis says, “In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend.” 3 Jesus ascended, taking us up with Him; seating us in heavenly places! 4

#3 God Didn’t Kill Jesus

crucifixionWe know for a fact in Christianity that the cross accomplished our salvation. Theories of how this happened however, are vast and wide. One of the worst, in my mind, is that of Penal Substitutionary Atonement 5 which essentially teaches that Jesus saved us from God. Meaning that Jesus was actually killed by His Father.

Did Jesus save us from God? Absolutely not! Here’s a few reasons why. 1) Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5 that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” 2) This notion divides the Trinity and undermines the goodness of God by creating a dark side hidden behind the back of God—which ultimately goes against Jesus’ own words, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” 6 We aren’t saved from God, we’re saved from sin. 

#4 The Cross Wasn’t a Pagan Ritual

The cross isn’t a form of paganism where Jesus is sacrificed up to an angry god in the hope of appease his terrible wrath. If this is true, then paganism is true. Which would be disastrous to the Gospel: making it not a Christian Gospel, but a pagan gospel.

Jesus didn’t die in order to condition God into being gracious. T.F. Torrance writes that within the Old Testament paradigm of sacrifice and atonement, we must see that the cross is not a pagan offering for the sake of forgiveness, but rather a witness to the merciful will of God. 7 The priestly system was never pagan—in the sense that it was an offering to earn forgiveness or mercy—rather, it was and is a system to manifest and give witness to the mercy of God.

#5 Jesus’ Death Was Real

The death of Jesus is the action of God to meet us in the pit of our human existence. What do we fear more than death? In order for salvation to be complete, God must meet us in the depths of our humanity. I feel like sometimes we pass over Jesus’ death as a real event, as if His being God made Him less human. He was God as a human, and in His humanity He fully felt the bitterness of death.

This is important to remember. The death of Jesus was a very real event. He actually felt the fear and abandonment that we feel. He entered into our Adamic fear and calamity and from that place He brought redemption. In His death, death itself is undone!

#6 Jesus Was Not Forsaken by His Father

The-Holy-Trinity-xx-Nicoletto-Semitecolo“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is not a prayer of Jesus. Every prayer that Jesus ever prayed began with “Abba, Father!” Here Jesus is not saying that the Trinity was deconstructed and destroyed. The Trinitarian relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit remained intact on the cross!

Jesus is quoting the old testament. 8 He is fulfilling prophecy. He quotes Psalms 22, the Messianic Psalm. This Psalm, more than any other, is a clear prophecy foretelling the death of Jesus, the Messiah.

#7 The Cross Wasn’t Pretty

The cross was a horrific and terrifying event. It wasn’t pretty. While it is important to see the celebratory reality of the cross (see #1), it is also important to remember how expensive the party cost God.

God paid a high price for our redemption. We celebrate joyously that sacrifice, but at the same time keeping in mind, with reverence, the enormous price that was paid. Jesus died a real death, feeling the full weigh of our sin and guilt. He suffered in our place, so that we might have life. Celebrate that, but just don’t forget the price.

#8 The Cross Reveals Love, Not Wrath

The cross reveals the love of God, it does not primarily reveal His wrath. When you think of the cross, do you see the wrath of God or His love? If wrath, you need to take another look. The cross is not about wrath, it is about love.

T.F. Torrance writes that, “The cross is a window opened into the very heart of God.” 9 We understand God through Jesus: in His life, and especially in His self-giving death. The cross reveals a God who is madly in love with the world, not a God who is furiously angry at it. “For God so loved the world…” 10

#9 The Life of Jesus > The Death of Jesus

INRIPaul writes that we are “saved by His life.” 11 The life of Jesus, and the work of Jesus should be inseparable. It’s not the cross that saves us, it’s Jesus. He embodies our salvation, and reconciliation back to God.

The cross matters, but the Christ of the cross matters even more. God did not use Jesus as a tool to fix humanity. Jesus Himself is the salvation of the human race. It is in His very person, in His hypostatic union: the joining of God and man in one body that we find salvation, reconciliation, and redemption. The new covenant is a person, not a transaction!

#10 The Cross is a Mystery

We know what the cross accomplished. We know that because of Christ we are forgiven, reconciled, redeemed, freed from sin, in union with Christ, and participants in the eternal life of God. How it all happens is a mystery.

While there are many theories as to how the cross accomplishes all these things, we cannot get to hung up on theories. It’s the person of Jesus that saves us, not our theology. We don’t have to understand the cross to benefit from it’s blessings. The bible doesn’t give us a clear formula for exactly what happened at calvary, but it does inspire us to worship God because of it.

Let’s keep the cross mysterious. We may not understand it fully, but that’s okay. No one is asking us to.

“Trust Jesus, then. After that, theologize all you want.” 12

He has done it! It is finished!

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Notes:

  1. On the Incarnation, section 20.
  2. Editor’s introduction to T.F. Torrance Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, page lii.
  3. The Grand Miracle, page 111
  4. See Ephesians 2:6 and Colossians 3.
  5. I’ve written much about this view of atonement. You can find these articles here.
  6. John 14:9
  7. See Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, pages 38-39.
  8. I’ve written more about this here.
  9. The Mediation of Christ
  10. John 3:16
  11. Romans 5:10
  12. Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, and Judgement.

Holy Week Meditation: The Love Dream of God

photoWhat drove Jesus to the cross?

In the stunning words of St. Catherine:

You, high eternal Trinity, acted as if You were drunk with love, infatuated with Your creature.. 1

Love.

Jesus became a man, lived a life within our fallen existence, fought back against the Adamic nature, bearing the totality of our sin, death, and corruption on the cross in one seamless movement of a Trinitarian passion.

Jesus was driven by reckless abandonment, an unwavering commitment to the infinite love of God.

The eternal Godhead, the Triune Being, the Uncreated Light, became one with our fallen humanity, and in one movement of ecstatic love, defeated death.

The cross echoes the eternal love dream of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This love-dream is that we may be One with God, that we may belong in His heart; that we may be included in the very life of God.

In essence, adoption. We were “predestined for adoption.” 2 Before the world was made, God had a dream: you, me, and the whole human race. Predestined to belong.

This passionate drive within the heart of our Triune God is the driving force behind the life of Jesus. Jesus died because the Father loves you. Jesus died because the Trinity has a dream for the human race, and nothing, not even death itself, will separate us from that dream.

Jesus died because we are loved, because we belong; because God is good.

What a stunning reality.

What a beautiful Gospel.

God became a man, dwelt among us, and died our death. The eternal dream of God is made fully manifest in the act of the Son. He loves us, and in that love, He cannot leave us to our corruption. He must, with reckless abandonment, save.

It’s a mockery of the cross to say that Jesus died because the Father needed blood on His hands to forgive us. It’s a shame that what is meant to be the most beautiful message the world has ever known, has been transformed into a highly pagan message that insults the very nature of God.

Jesus died because the Father hates the world, and needed to be appeased? Jesus died to satisfy some legal requirement within the heart of God?

Absolutely not.

Jesus died for love.

Jesus died because the Triune God has an unbreakable dream for the human race. This dream didn’t change when Adam fell. This dream burns on without diminishing for a second.

God’s mind is made up. It always has been.

His love is eternally set on the human race.

Jesus died because of an infinite love-dream of the Trinity to have us, to include us, and to adopt us into the Life of God.

His passionate pursuit is set on the human race. He is wildly in love with us, and it is because of this reckless love that He came, lived in our world, and died our death.

The cross…

This isn’t paganism. This is the Gospel.

Jesus didn’t die to appease an angry God. Jesus died to reveal a God of infinite love.

Jesus recklessly ran to the cross, for love.

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Notes:

  1. Full quote
  2. Ephesians 1:5