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1 John 4:1-6

 

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (ESV)

 

Suffering and Its Apperance

Thursday after the Epiphany of our Lord

8 January 2015

Remarkably, the first heresy about Christ was not the denial of His full divinity, but the denial of His full humanity. The denial of His divinity would be left to Arius in the fourth century A.D. Long before Arius, heretics denied that Christ was man born of the Virgin Mary. John, the Apostle, already recognized this attack on the catholic truth: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already" (1Jn 4:1-3). This is remarkable to us because in our day the most common heresy in regard to Christ is the denial of His full divinity. The long project of liberal western Christianity was to strip Jesus of the divine nature and reduce Him to an opinionated religious philosopher and do-gooder. In this liberal make-over, He bears an astonishing (or maybe not so much) resemblance to the very self-regarding architects of His demotion from divinity. This is recognizable as a form of self-deification. If God can be dethroned, that leaves the position open for other applicants.

Ignatius of Antioch was fully aware of the Gnostic attack on the humanity of God's Son, born of Mary. Although it is hard to say that one heresy is worse than the next, because the Word of the Lord is a completely united whole, the denial of Christ's humanity may be the worst heresy ever to arise and be foisted onto Christians. It makes our liberal heretics look like pikers in comparison. For if His humanity could be painted as a mere appearance, a phantasm, or a ghost, then it calls into question whether our human nature has been cleansed and redeemed by the incarnation of the Word. If the incarnation was a bit a play acting, then in what way could we who have a real human nature be sure of our redemption? If He bore only an appearance, He would have only rescued an appearance from death and decay. What benefit is there for those of us who, not only appear to be human, but also truly are human?

If Christ did not bear true humanity we would be left alone in the world. If He maintains the full majesty of His divinity and has not our human flesh, but only an appearance of it, then how could we approach Him certain of His hearing and subsequent intercession for us? He would only be an majestic potentate; not our brother, our friend, and our fellow sufferer. Appearing to sympathize with those who suffer, is far different than suffering with them and for them.  One of my favorite films is The Doctor, in which William Hurt plays surgeon Jack MacKee, who regards his patients as specimens rather than people. In a supreme irony, MacKee learns that he has cancer and while undergoing treatment recognizes that he had neither understood his patient's suffering nor the callous way he had treated them. His suffering changed the way he treated those whom he sought to heal. He now understood. So it is for the Messiah who bears our flesh; He knows how to treat those who are suffering, because He suffered in our flesh.

 

Ignatius of Antioch

 

"The cross of Christ was the beginning of Satan's condemnation, the beginning of his death, the beginning of his destruction. Therefore, he also works in some that they should deny the cross, be ashamed of the passion, call the death an appearance, mutilate and explain away the birth by the Virgin, and falsely accuse the [human] nature itself as being abominable. He fights along with the Jews to a denial of the cross, and with the Gentiles to the slander of Mary, who are heretical in holding that Christ possessed a mere appearance of a body. For the leader of all wickedness assumes manifold forms, beguiler of men as he is, inconsistent, and even contradicting himself, projecting one course and then following another. For he is wise in doing evil, but as to what good may be, he is totally ignorant. Indeed he is full of ignorance, on account of his willful lack of reason. For how can he be deemed anything else who does not perceive reason when it lies at his very feet?"


Ignatius, Letter to the Philadelphians, 4

 

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, You became incarnate of the Virgin Mary that You might redeem us from the weakness of our flesh. Help us to confess the reality of Your human nature, never doubting that the nature You bear is the one You share with us. Amen.

For Paul Lodholz, that the Lord would grant him healing as he undergoes treatment

For all those who bring healing into the lives of those who suffer, that they would understand and sympathize with those they seek to help

For all the blessings which our Lord Jesus has bestowed on us this year, that all the faithful would give thanks and confess His goodness 

Art: AERTSEN, Pieter  Adoration of the Magi (c. 1560)

 

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