Saturday, September 25, 2010

Was Jesus taking theological steroids?

So, I had a fun little debate/good-natured argument with some of the people here about Jesus. We were talking about Mark 13:32, where Jesus says that "only that Father" knows when He (Christ) is coming back. We were arguing if that excluded Jesus from knowing (like total noobs, we all forgot the fact that it explicitely says "not the angels, nor the Son") and from there, it turned into a general discussion/argument of exactly how Christ operated on earth. So I'm going to lay out here my views on the God-man's human existence on earth.

Before I got to Biola, I just had this sort of assumption that yeah, Jesus was man, but there were times where he cheated and used his "God-powers." So Jesus was fully man, and acted fully man, most of the time, but sometimes he wasn't and didn't. I now believe this to be incorrect (I also know it, when expressed in that manner, to be heresy). The easiest way to sum up my point is this: Jesus didn't cheat. Let me explain.

On earth, Jesus did all of his miracles, and I mean all of them, through the Holy Spirit, exactly the same way the Apostles and later Christians did and still do miracles today. In John 3:34, Jesus says that the Father "gives the Spirit without measure." In the context of the verse, because Jesus has been saying lots of things about himself specifically, Jesus is most likely saying that the Spirit has been given without measure to Him (Christ) specifically. So Jesus is full to brim of the Holy Spirit.

Main verse: Matthew 12:22-32. Jesus casts out a demon and, as always, the Pharisees are there to talk smack. They claim that Jesus is using the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons (either Satan or his "second-in-command") and Jesus knows what they're thinking. So he says, "If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." If you've read Matthew, you know one of the main themes of Matthew is that the kingdom of God is upon us. So Jesus is casting out demons specifically by the Spirit of God.

When you add onto that verses like Matthew 4:1, where it is specifically the Spirit that leads Jesus into the Wilderness, or Hebrews 9:14, where Christ offers himself "through the eternal Spirit," the case for a "non-cheating" Jesus grows even stronger. But it doesn't end there. If Jesus was only able to do his miracles because he was God, casting out demons, healing the sick, making the lame walk, walking on water, etc., then it stands to reason that no one else could do any of those things. Let's look at the Bible and see if that's the case.

So, we got casting out demons. Paul does that, in Acts 16:18. It's not even a big deal. The spirit is just annoying him (seriously, that's what it says) so he casts it out. Healing the sick? Peter does that, Acts 9:34. Making the lame walk? Peter and John, Acts 3:7. Walking on water? Come on, we all know this one, Peter, Matthew 14;29. Heck, Paul's sweat rag heals people in Acts 19:12. And to cap it all off, we have the list of Spiritual Gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, some of which have been given to all believers. We got speaking wisdom, speaking knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues, understanding tongues, distinguishing spirits... all the kinds of stuff that Jesus was doing all the time (except speaking in tongues). And where do all these gifts come from? How do we receive and use these gifts? "All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills."

So. Jesus didn't cheat--he worked miracles and healed people by the same Spirit that the apostles did, the same Spirit that empowers believers today. Now we get to the "this is important because..." section.

This is important (1) because we are supposed to follow the example of Christ. We are supposed to do as he did in all things. Sure, we don't usually do that anyway, because we let the flesh overcome us, but it would be flat-out impossible if Jesus had been cheating the whole time! If Jesus was doing all that stuff just because he was God, we wouldn't have a chance at following his example, because we are not God. If, however, he did all that through the Spirit, then we have a shot. Because we, too, have the Spirit.

This is important (2) because the Bible says that Christ was made like us "in every respect." (Hebrews 2:17). He was made like us. He chose to be like us, to make himself nothing, to take the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7). Now, to make sure you guys don't get the wrong idea, I have to say one more thing. All of what I've just said does not mean that Jesus was only man. He was still fully God when he was fully man. As God, he chose to be God in our world, as man. In his omnipotence, he chose to be weak. But he remained at all times fully God. But he didn't cheat.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Lamb who was slain

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the God-man is amazing in more ways than our minds can comprehend. So I'm just going to focus on one thing--in the Incarnation, events happened in our time and space, through physical matter, flesh and blood, that fundamentally changed the universe forever. We're just going to focus on one sub-aspect of that here.

When Jesus was crucified, he was pierced through his hands, feet, and side. When he was resurrected, he retained those wounds, as we see in Luke 24:38 and others. This is incredible in and of itself, but it goes further. Much further. We go ahead to Revelation, and we see one of my favorite passages in the Bible: "And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain... And [the elders] sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God.'" (Rev. 5:6-9). The Lamb here is symbolic of Jesus, and the part I want to draw your attention to is "as though it had been slain." Now, Revelation is a very visual book, meaning that John saw most of these things and then wrote them down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are reading the verbal account of a visual experience, which means that a lot of the "word pictures," as it seems best to describe them, are very difficult to visualize. This one, however, suggests to me that the Lamb, standing as though it had been slain, still bears the mark of its slaying. Now, I don't know what that looks like for a lamb, but I do know what it looks like for Jesus. And I know what it means for Jesus to still bear the marks of his slaying.

And this is not just an interesting thought-project, a lofty theological discussion that has no bearing on real life. For why did Christ go to the Cross? Because the Father willed it, and because Christ willingly obeyed. And why did the Father will it? Because it was the only way to save us. And why? Because we had sinned and thrown away all that God had given us. This is at once a corporate and individual we, both humanity as a whole and you and me, in particular. And we were the ones Christ died for. And we were the ones who drove the nails in. We bit the hand that fed us and left an eternal mark on One whose feet we were unworthy to kiss. This is a sobering thought, and one which is valuable to keep in mind as we wander this fallen world.

But of course this isn't the end of my note. I believe that Jesus chose to keep the scars as a symbol. First, it is a symbol of the eternal consequences of that day on that hill. Second, it is a symbol of the equally eternal cost of sin. And thirdly, it is a symbol of the eternal divine love Christ bears for us. It is a reminder that Christ laid down his life for us, and a reminder that he wasn't obligated to do it.

To conclude, I firmly believe that the gloriously holy, brightly burning "one like a son of man", with eyes like a flame of fire and a voice like the roar of many water (Rev. 1:13-15), had and still has holes in his hands, feet, and side. He did not rid himself of them but wears them still as both a symbol of the utmost humility (Philipians 2:6-8) and a badge of the highest honor (Philippians 2:9-11, Rev. 5:6-9). The Living One, who is both God and Son of God, has scars on his oh-so-human hands, and we cannot afford to forget this.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The importance of who Jesus is

So, here I am at Oxford. Hello, everyone! Sorry, this isn't going to be an Oxford blog. I read "The Shack" yesterday. I really hated most of it. Terrible writing combined with all the feel-good, mushy, almost nonsensical theology one could ask for, with a few genuinely interesting thoughts thrown in. One aspect of faulty theology in particular stood out to me. The person representing God the Father tells the main character, "When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human." That's it right there. If you already know why this is a wrong thing to say, you don't have to read any more. This statement, this idea that the entire Trinity was incarnate in Jesus, that the entire Trinity is fully human, is very nearly heresy, excused only by the fact that the rest of the book seems to contradict this statement, making it quite probably the result of sloppy, ignorant writing.

So. The natural place to start when discussing the Incarnation of God is John. John 1-- "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God... and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." Here John (called "the theologian") very clearly lays out both the background and the actual event of the Incarnation. He goes all the way back to the beginning, before all created things, and shows us the Word. The Word both was God and was with God, making this one of the foundational passages for our understanding of the Trinity. John then goes on the actual event, and tells us that it was this same Word who then became flesh and dwelt among us. Who is this Word? Well, John saw his glory, the glory of the only Son from the Father. This tells us that the Word who became flesh in the person of Jesus was both (a) the Son and (b) not the Father.

But wait! There's more! Let's go to John again, except more towards the end this time. John 15:26-- "But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me." Just as John distinguished between Christ and the Father in the first chapter, here he distinguishes between Christ and the Holy Spirit. When Christ returns to the Father (again a sign of distinction) he will send the Holy Spirit (another sign of distinction). This, right here, is a pretty good verse demonstrating the distinctions of the Trinity. There are three persons at work here, which the Bible tells us are both one yet distinct. This is confusing, and if anyone wants, I will be happy to attempt to explain, as best I can and as far as I can (which isn't very good and isn't very far), this incredible mystery of our faith. However, the important thing for this note is the distinction he makes between the Father, the Son (as Christ), and the Holy Spirit.

I could go on for literally pages and pages giving more and more texts in support of this, but I'm not going to. Instead, I'm gonna switch gears here. You may be saying, as someone did to me about 45 minutes ago, that this distinction doesn't really matter very much. That we only need to focus on "core beliefs" and that everything else is a waste of time and breath. I would address that in my own words, but it's already been addressed by the author of Hebrews: "About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child . But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity."

Now, I'm not bashing (nor is the author of Hebrews) the "basic principles of the oracles of God." They are necessary. But they are also basic and elementary. There's a reason children don't stop at elementary school. They go on and learn more advanced things, just as we should go on to maturity in the doctrine of Christ. In light of this, it is highly irresponsible of us as Christians to remain willfully ignorant of Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. There is a point, true, where we literally cannot know more. But that point is far beyond where most Christians give up.

I should point out that I was inspired to write this note not by The Shack, but by someone here in Oxford with me who insisted that the portrayal the Trinity as a whole being incarnate in Christ was correct. His explanation? "They're one, right? So that means they're the same. So that means that you can't just have the Word in Christ, because then that would make them not the same." This is a paraphrase, but I believe that was the gist of his argument. Then he ended the conversation by saying he didn't want to argue with me. So I'm venting my frustration by writing this note.

Now, real quickly I'm going to explain the fallacy in his reasoning. Yes, the Trinity is one. If the Old Testament tells us anything, it's that "The LORD our God, the LORD is one." One God. However, the most common way of putting the Trinity is "one God, three persons, each person fully God, while still being only one God." You guys know this, even though we can't really fit our minds around it fully. The Bible is full of things being done by one person and not the others. The Word became flesh (John). The Holy Spirit descends like a dove (all the gospels). The Father raises Christ up from the dead (Hebrews). The Holy Spirit gives us gifts (2 Corinthians). Jesus Christ is our advocate with the Father (1 John). Again, I could go on and on. The persons are distinct, yet one. We could go all day with this. I really hope I've been clear in what I'm saying. Jesus Christ, the God-man, was the Son of God incarnate. Not the Trinity incarnate, not the Son with a little bit of the Father and Holy Spirit. That doesn't even make any sense. The Son, the Word of God. Our advocate with the Father, and the author and perfecter of our faith.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Like an Odyssey, only better

I've done it. Contrary to all expectations and against all odds, I have arrived at Heathrow Apirport, went to the money-changer and gave him my money (in exchange for strangely colorful, slightly too broad paper money and totally sweet metal coins) gotten on the bus (which they call a coach and has the door and driver on wrong sides), ridden to Oxford (on the wrong side of the road the whole way), gotten off at the right stop, successfully got a taxi and paid the driver (with "pounds" of money, no less), and checked into my room at the youth hostel.

As if that was not enough, I ventured out from the safety of my room to obtain a power outlet converter thing (that's the technical term for it), a move which very nearly proved my undoing. I was first directed by the kind but sadly uninformed girl at the hostel that "over that way, down the road" was very probably a store which likely had what I was looking for. I bravely strolled (maybe stumbled a little) down the road, and soon discovered a Staples. I went inside and asked for a converter thing. I was informed that yes they did have, but then, on further investigation, it turned out that they did not. However, they were able to direct me to a place which, quite possibly, did have power outlet converter things aplenty. I walked in the direction vaguely indicated by the clerk and soon enough came upon another electronics store. There I was at least spared the agony of false hope, being told immediately that no, they did not carry such objects. They were, happily, able to point out another place which... I wish, oh how I wish, that I were exaggerating. But I am not. Eventually, after much toil and hardship, which I endured in a very manly way, befitting a native American citizen, I did indeed find a store which sold power outlet converter things. And I took it back to my room. The reader will note that, throughout this entire process, I was able to not only passively receive directions to a physical location, but actually follow them, tracing with my own steps the line which their words had drawn. And now here I am, sitting in a bar/restaurant/pub, using their free wi-fi and sitting on their rather nice couch (which they probably have a strange, made-up word for).

In addition to this, I still have, in my direct and personal possession, my passport, my letter from Oxford, my laptop, my backpack, and my ridiculously huge suitcase. This is, without a doubt, a journey rivaling that of Odysseus, a journey truly deserving of the name "Odyssey." In fact, it may be appropriate to start calling epic journeys "Mackenzies" after this. This was an amazing journey, worthy of songs and tales, a story to be told, nay, proclaimed, nay sung over a roaring fire by a bard with a chuck norris beard and a lute made from a human skull. And I accomplished all this on one Dr. Pepper, one Coca-cola, two small dinner roles, one strangely chilled (and strangely coloured) piece of chicken and one small but unaccountably delicious piece of beef. I've been sitting at my laptop for about 2 minutes now, thinking about what to type, but we all know what I'm going to type at this point, so I'm just going to go for it. I am awesome. Boo-yah.

I'm very tired. You may have noticed. To my best reckoning, in the past 3o hours or so, I have gotten one hour of very fitful, very unrestful sleep while curled up on the airplane. I am awake and (relatively) upright at this very moment for one reason only: in about an hour, I will log on to Facebook and be greeted with a joyful "Kenzie!" from Anna. I'm talking to Steven now on FB. Hey, steven. Well, I'm done. Bye.