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Psalm 80:1-7

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved! O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us an object of contention for our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved! (ESV)

No Greater Gift

Tuesday of Pentecost 5

15 July 2014

People tend to be upset when Luther says that Christ becomes the great sinner and criminal by taking our flesh of Mary. All too often, people want to rescue Christ so that He would be unsullied by our sin and wickedness. What makes people think that it is their proper duty to save Jesus from the divine plan of salvation? It was the Lord's will that He should bear the iniquity of us all (Is 53:6, 11). Of course, this view of Luther's could be chalked up to Luther's excessive rhetorical style. Perhaps such talk was unique to the Wittenberg reformer. I thought it might have been the insight of a religious genius. Ah, not so fast. Luther was not making it up on the fly. Of course this kind of language was Luther's attempt to reflect the Bible's own view that He who knew no sin became sin for us (2Co 5:21). The Apostle is rather extravagant in His language here; becoming sin is quite shocking and intentionally so. However, to my surprise Luther is also reflecting a strongly held position set forth already in the early church. Cyril of Alexandria, Leo the Great, Leontius of Byzantium, and Athanasius of Alexandria all made similar points in their work.

 

The Lord took our nature as it is. Yes, without sin, but the God Man in that flesh took in all its sin and weakness, even unto death. He was humbled fully by bearing our flesh and, freely and gladly with it, all that has plagued us humans since the fall. Christ must become a man like us, to save us men. This is not a necessity that compels God beyond His gracious will. This is a necessity of freedom and love. Of course, He was free to decline the incarnation and its consequent humiliation. Who would we be to say that God must do this or that? He must do it as a matter of internal compulsion, driven as He is by absolute love and compassion for His fallen creation. This is the most certain necessity; one that God in Christ freely takes into Himself for our sakes. Here is why Christ adopts our humanity, assuming our flesh of the Virgin Mary. Everything is for us and for our benefit.

 

The incarnation, then, is no sham. Christ does merely appear human, but is human, a man fully flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones (Gn 2:23). He doesn't assume a gussied up humanity, but our own; renovating it completely by the power of His indestructible life (Heb 7:16). And whatever He took by reason of the incarnation has been returned to us in flesh cleansed of its depravity and lusts. Nothing better could be given to us. There is no better gift.

 

Athanasius of Alexandria

 

"What men considered the foolishness of God because of the cross (1Co 1:23) has become of all things most honored. For our resurrection is stored up in it. As the prophet foretold henceforth all the nations, no longer Israel alone, will leave their idols and acknowledge the true God, the Father of the Christ. And the illusion of demons is come to nothing, and He only who is really God is worshipped in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the fact that the Lord, even when come in human body and called Jesus, was worshipped and believed to be God's Son, and that through Him the Father was known, shows that not the Word, considered as the Word, received this so great grace, but that we did. Because of our relationship to His body we too have become God's temple, and therefore are made God's sons, so even among us the Lord is now worshiped, and beholders report, as the Apostle says, that God is truly among them (1Co 14:25). As also John says in the Gospel, 'To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God' (Jn 1:12); and in his Epistle he writes, 'By this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us' (1Jn 3:24). And this too is an evidence of His goodness towards us that, while we were exalted because the highest Lord is among us, and on our account grace was given to Him, because the Lord who supplies the grace has become a man like us, He on the other hand, the Savior, humbled Himself by taking 'our body of humiliation' (Phil 3:21) and took a servant's form, putting on that flesh which was enslaved to sin. He indeed has gained nothing from us for His own promotion, for the Word of God is without want and complete. Rather we were promoted from Him; for He is the 'The true light, which enlightens everyone, coming into the world.' (Jn 1:9).

 

"For if the Lord had not become man, we would not have been redeemed from sins, nor raised from the dead, but would remain dead under the earth. Not exalted into heaven, but lying in Hades. Because of us then and on our behalf are the words, 'highly exalted' and 'given.'"

 

Athanasius of Alexandria, 
Four Discourses Against the Arians, 1.43
 
Prayer

Lord Christ, You took my humanity that I might partake of your holiness. Grant me the divine life as I prepare to rejoice at the feast of Your body and blood this coming Lord's Day. Amen.

 

For all those who have been blinded to the gift of the incarnation by focusing on that which does not save, that they might receive the true Light

 

For all those who are shut in, that those who minister to them would not forget them, but bring them the good news of a great joy

 

For the family of Violet Linn, whose mortal remains were laid to rest this day, that they might be comforted by the voice of the Good Shepherd
Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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