Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses--as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.
| || |
The Church's Influence
Joseph of Arimathea
31 July 2014
In the life of our Lord, transfiguration precedes His death. In our lives, His death precedes our transfiguration. We are changed into His glorious body only because His body took on our sin, weakness, sorrow, and death. The church becomes what it is because He takes what belongs to the church and cleanses her from all sin, to present her to Himself as a beautiful bride without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish (Eph 5:27). She is radiantly beautiful; transfigured. That radiance is now unseen. The church appears still in the tatters of a beggar, the offscouring of world, an outcast from the halls of influence.
Some Christians grieve over the loss of moral influence that used to be wielded by the church in the world. This is true enough, as far as it goes. Christians must recognize that they cannot live like pagans and still be seen to be Christians. But this only goes as far as the tenets of basic morality, and not farther. Such moral influence is not the unique provenance of the church, but is open to all rational human beings, believers and atheists alike. Government and community are ordained by God to recognize moral boundaries in the world. This takes no uniquely "religious" instruction to know, understand, and bring into practice. Another flaw in this thinking is that one of the goals of the church is to wield moral influence in the world. What in the world makes us think that, if we are faithful to the confession of the crucified Lord, the world will be delighted to receive our counsel and thrilled to give us entry into the halls of power? Christ's kingdom, the last time I checked, is not of this world. Our transfiguration will only reach to its full glorious effulgence at the consummation of the age, when what is hidden will be revealed. Until then, we walk by faith, not by sight (2Co 5:7).
Our sightless walk, is not aimless, however. The Lord leads His church through sorrow and trouble by keeping us focused, not on ourselves or our "influence on the world," but upon Him and His cross, which glorifies His body here on earth. He Himself knows what it is to live without influence in the world, choosing the path of servanthood over power, weakness over strength, humility over pride, suffering over ease, and death over life. Christ, our Lord, who had the right to all power and could have "influenced" the world by divine fiat, declined to do so, gladly and freely taking up His cross of suffering that He might save the very world that despised Him for His weakness. We ought to thank the Lord that His act of hiding us under the cross has rescued us from the immediate demand of moral influence in the world. Instead, we are free to preach Christ and His cross even when the world hates and despises us.
Our Lord has also seen to it that He knows what our suffering entails, what it means, because He Himself has undergone it. When we feel weak, He has felt it with us. When we chafe at the ridicule of those who revile our faith, He has faced ridicule without reviling those who hated Him. When we feel our lives weighted down by the trials of this broken world, He has felt the weight of sorrow unto death in His own soul. When we feel the piercing daggers of hatred, He has been pinioned by nails of scorn upon a tree. We never face these trials alone, but through them are being built into Him who is the Head of His body, the Church. The church's influence is her cross.
Augustine of Hippo
"The Evangelist says, 'Taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, [Jesus] began to be sorrowful and troubled.' and our Lord said to them about Himself, 'My soul is very sorrowful, even to death' (Mt 26:38) The Prophet who composed Psalm 88, foreseeing that this would happen, introduces Him saying, 'For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol' (Ps 88:3). For the very same sense is here expressed in other words, as when He said, 'My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.' The words, 'My soul is very sorrowful,' are like these, 'My soul is full of troubles:' and what follows, 'even to death,' like, 'my life draws near to Sheol.' These feelings of human infirmity our Lord took upon Him, as He did the flesh of human infirmity, and the death of human flesh, not by the necessity of His condition, but by the free will of His mercy, that He might transfigure into Himself His own body, which is the Church (the head of which He condescended to be), that is, His members in His holy and faithful disciples. He did this that if amid human temptations one of them was in sorrow and pain, he might not therefore think that he was separated from His favor, that the body, like the chorus following its leader, might learn from its Head, that these sorrows were not sin, but proofs of human weakness.
"We read of the Apostle Paul, a chief member in this body, and we hear him confessing that his soul was full of such evils, when he says, that he feels 'I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers,my kinsmen according to the flesh' (Rm 9:2-3). And if we say that our Lord was sorrowful for them also at the approach of His passion, in which they would incur the most atrocious guilt, I think we would not speak incorrectly. Last, the very thing said by our Savior on the cross, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,' is expressed in this Psalm below, 'I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength' (Ps 88:4), by them who knew not what they were doing, when they imagined that He died like other men, subject to necessity, and overcome by it. The word 'pit' is used for the depth of woe or of hell."
Augustine, On Psalm 88, 3
Lord Jesus, You were transfigured for us that we might see the fullness of Your glory in the presence of the patriarchs. Grant us courage and conviction in these grey and latter days, that we might confess the power of Your death in our weakness. Transfigure Your body, the church, that we, shaped like the cross, might live ever in Your peace. Amen.
For William Heine, that the Lord would grant him the peace that surpasses all human understanding
For Robert Frerking, that he would be comforted by the mind of Christ
For Herb Mueller, as he continues to recover from open heart surgery, that the Lord Jesus would grant him a full measure of strength
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014