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And the LORD appeared to [Abraham] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, "O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on - since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, "Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes." And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate. They said to him, "Where is Sarah your wife?" And he said, "She is in the tent." The LORD said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?" The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son." (ESV)


Deistic Default

Wednesday of Easter 7

3 June 2014

While I was teaching adults the faith, a Jewish member of the class asked why she had not heard until that moment the Christian contention that all three persons of the holy Trinity were present at the creation and that they participated in the activity of creation (Gn 1:1-3; Jn 1:3). The easy answer would have been "because you are Jewish." But I refrained from saying this, because I also knew better. The reason why many people, including many people who confess themselves to be Christian, do not know that the holy Trinity was intimately involved in the events of the Old Testament including the appearances of God to the patriarchs is because American Christians have fallen into a default position which is really Unitarian or deistic. What I mean is that Christians now act as though the God who reveals Himself to Abraham was some kind of monad, who only discovered that He was three persons at the time of the incarnation of Jesus of the Virgin Mary. God was a deist until the New Testament era, "cloning Himself" when He decided to get involved in human affairs, so as to save humans, according to this thinking.


God created us that He might have fellowship with us, sharing Himself with us in the most intimate ways, kissing into life the clay of Adam, strolling in the Garden with the first couple and conversing with them about Himself and their relationship with Him. He is not the remote God of deism or Unitarianism. He is the God who is not reluctant to get involved in the messiness of creating contingent creatures like us, whom He knew would need His perpetual and costly involvement in their affairs so that they would come to the full experience of His fellowship. After the fall He immediately acts for them promising them the Seed who would be the final and full atonement cover for their sin and the sin of the whole world. He shed blood to provide them the skin coverings (Gn 3:21) that foreshadowed the work of the promised Seed (Heb 9:22). He came to Abraham to reinforce His promise of the Seed and specified that half dead Abraham and ancient, barren Sarah would have a child, who would be a forerunner of the very man who sat at table with Abraham, sharing table fellowship with Him. The pre-incarnate Christ was willing to wrestle with struggling Jacob and in passionate faith Jacob demanded a blessing from the One who promised Him and then preserved Him in that faith. That same Christ was willing that He should be incarnate of Mary by the Holy Spirit that that promise of salvation might be fully carried out (1Pt 1:20).


The Christ bears the patriarchal nature. What was promised came to its full flowering in Mary who gave Herself over to the need of all people. Of her was the patriarchal humanity cleansed, the Davidic nature renovated, the prophetic promise brought to its full fruition. God's Son, the Word made flesh, received in time a full and complete human nature assumed from Mary. Through that assumption of humanity He won a full victory over death, hell, and sin for us poor sinners. By sharing that humanity with us, the victory is ours. Leo the Great quite clearly saw that the God who becomes incarnate of Mary does not just arrive on the scene at His birth, but that He who was coequal and coeternal with His Father was intimately involved in the whole trajectory of salvation history both in the patriarchal past and forever. We must shed our faulty default position of deism.


Leo the Great


"It is of no avail to say that our Lord, the Son of the blessed Virgin Mary, was true and perfect man, if He is not believed to be man of that stock which is attributed to Him in the Gospel. For Matthew says, 'The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham' (Mt 1:1) and follows the order of His human origin, so as to bring the lines of His ancestry down to Joseph to whom the Lord's mother was espoused. Whereas Luke going backwards step by step traces His succession to the first of the human race himself, to show that the first Adam and the last Adam were of the same nature. No doubt the Almighty Son of God could have appeared for the purpose of teaching, and justifying men in exactly the same way that He appeared both to patriarchs and prophets in the appearance of flesh; for instance, when He engaged in a struggle, and entered into conversation with Jacob (Gn 32:24-30), or when He received hospitable entertainment, and even dined on the food set before Him (Gn 18:1-15).


"But these appearances were indications of that Man whose reality it was announced by mystical predictions would be assumed from the stock of preceding patriarchs. And the fulfillment of the mystery of our atonement, which was ordained from all eternity, was not assisted by any figures because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon the Virgin, and the power of the Most High had not overshadowed her: so that 'Wisdom built her house' (Pro 9:1) within her undefiled body, 'the Word became flesh;' and the form of God and the form of a slave came together into one person. The Creator of times was born in time. He Himself through whom all things were made, was brought forth in the midst of all things. For if the new man had not been made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and taken on Him our old nature, and being consubstantial with the Father, had not condescended to be consubstantial with His mother also, and being alone free from sin, had not united our nature to Him, the whole human race would be held in bondage beneath the Devil's yoke, and we should not be able to make use of the Conqueror's victory, if it had been won outside our nature."

Leo the Great, Epistle to Pulcheria Augusta, 2

Lord Christ, from eternity You shared the fullness of divinity with Your Father, yet in time You became a creature with us by Your incarnation. Help us to confess faithfully this mystery that those who believe themselves to be still in bondage to sin, death, and the Devil might be rescued by the message of Your atoning work for us who are inheritors of Your victory. Amen.


For Matthew Heise and the staff of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, that the Lord would grant them sufficient means to continue spreading Lutheran literature around the world


For all those suffering from cancer, that the Lord would grant healing


For all those who mourn the death of loved ones, that they would remember with thanksgiving the faith of those who precede them into the full experience of divine fellowship


For the children of the Lutheran Reformation, that they would not lose heart, but boldly confess the truth of Christ's life and death  

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Resurrection (1515)

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