Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us."
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, "As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill."
I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."
Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
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What God Did Do
Thursday of Lent 2
5 March 2015
"Are you saying that God died?" This was the question that arose in adult confirmation instruction a couple of nights ago. I was teaching about the two natures in Christ and the meaning of the death of God's Son for sinners. How can He, who cannot die, die? "Did He only appear to die? Did He die only in body and not in spirit?" The Bible does not answer these kinds of questions. Instead, the Bible describes Christ as having truly died and that He was buried. The Bible also describes the Christ as indivisibly the God-man.
"Who goes to the cross? Just Jesus the man? Just Christ the God?" No, the Bible consistently calls the one who died both God and man. Indeed, the Bible will predicate purely human attributes to the divine titles and names. For example, "None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1Co 2:8). Crucifixion is certainly a human predicate, and yet it is attributed to the subject of the Lord of glory, a divine title. It is ironic that the questions asked about the person who was crucified, are very much similar to the objections to the incarnation traditionally used by Islam and Judaism; objections that haven't really changed through the centuries. Even Martin Luther was faced with such objections.
Luther was of the opinion that these worldly objections against the incarnation of Christ were simply silly; as though Christians were incapable of thinking any other way about God than as though He were constrained by the limits of human reproduction and marriage. Just because God had a Son does not mean that God had a wife or that He produced a Son by sexual reproduction. In fact, even among us humans, parents may have a son without sexual reproduction, that is, by adoption. For example, through our relationship with the only Begotten Son of God we ourselves are adopted into the family of God through the sacrament of baptism (Rm 8:15; Gal 4:5). This is certainly asexual reproduction! So, while God's son is not an adopted Son of the Father, He is not begotten sexually, but by begottenness that has neither beginning nor end. This is not a mere birth in the human sense. Nor should we expect God to be subject to our human standards about birth or death.
I have no idea how God is capable both of dying (Jn 11:13) and yet upholding the whole universe by His creative power (Jn 1:3). Indeed, for our sakes the New Testament is full of expressions of the divine necessity of Christ's death; often delivered so decisively that the very disciples of Jesus rebuked him for such an outlandish idea as death by crucifixion (Mk 8:31-33). Perhaps God is capable of vastly more than seems plain to my paltry human reason. Ultimately, of course, the question is not what is God capable of according to human reason, but what is God willing to do according to his gracious care of the world? His divine acts in the world are always calculated to serve human need, not display some curious characteristic of his divinity for us. Sinai delivered enough of that. Christ's work is always "pro me" (for me). This is what the divine necessity is really all about; God is constrained by my need, not by His nature. What He does He does "for us men and for our salvation." We can't help but return again to that revealing statement of our Lord Christ, "I come not to be served, but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:28). This is what He did do for me. I don't care what He could do.
"The Jews and Muslims presume they are extraordinarily smart, super-smart, and look down upon us Christians as great dolts. They say, 'If Christ is God, how can He die like a man, for God is immortal? If He is man, how can He be God's Son, for God has no wife?' Here the saying is pertinent: 'Money implies honor,' said the frog, and sat down on a penny. Here these wise, yes, wise, wiser, wisest people, the Muslims and the Jews, teach us that God cannot die and that He has no wife. How could we stupid Christians ever acquire such profound wisdom if these great and super-great teachers would not instruct us, apprising us silly ducks and geese of the fact that God has no wife and that He cannot die? It would not be at all surprising if the earth on which Jew or Muslim deigns to tread would leap over the heavens with them, overjoyed to bear such a genius; and if the heavens, in awe of such wisdom, would tumble down with stars, suns, and moons and fall to the feet of Jew and Muslim or into the abyss of hell; for it indeed reflects unfathomable wisdom that God has no wife and that He cannot die!
"O Lord God, Christians understand none of these things! Who would provide a wet nurse for God? Where would He get a nursemaid? Who would bury Him? Who would furnish the music and dance at His wedding? Who would read a funeral mass for Him? Fie on us Christians who worship a mortal God and make Him a married man! Blessed, blessed are Mohammed and the rabbis who inform us otherwise! No, shame on you, you senseless Mohammed! Should you be called a prophet, who are such an uncouth blockhead and ass?
"All right, let these miserable fools go their way and think themselves smart until they are filled with it. But you cling firmly to the Christian faith, taught us by Scripture, that Jesus Christ is true God and God's Son, and also true man, David's and Mary's Son, and yet not two Sons, two men, two Persons, but one Son, one Person, of and in two distinct natures, deity and humanity. We heard earlier in the doctrine of the Godhead, must guard against jumbling the three Persons into one Person or separating the essence, or nature, into three Gods, but must retain the three distinct Persons in one divine essence; so you must here beware lest you separate, or divide, the one Person into two Persons or mingle the two natures into one nature, but you must preserve the two distinct natures in one Person. And just as the two natures unite in one Person, thus also the names of the two natures unite in the name of the one Person. In Latin this is known as a communicatio idiomatum, 'communication of properties.' By way of illustration: He who is called Man and who was born of the Virgin Mary and was crucified by the Jews must also be called the Son of God. And we must say that God was born of Mary and was crucified by the Jews; for God and Man are one Person. There are not two Sons, the one of God, the other of Mary, but He is just one Son, God's and Mary's."
Martin Luther, Treatise on the Last Words of David
Almighty God, heavenly Father, by Your Spirit bring into subjection our human reason, that we might confess You truly and faithfully in accordance with Your self-revelation in Holy Scripture. Keep us from foolish and sinful objections to the divine necessity of Your gracious care of us through great and glorious works beyond our meager understanding. Amen.
For Sandra Stolhandske, and all those who minister to her needs, that they might be built up in their holy faith and confidence of God's ultimate rescue
For Paul Lodholz, as he continues to undergo therapy for brain cancer, that the Lord would grant healing and strength to live every day
For the pastors of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, that they might care for the flock that belongs to Jesus by seeing to their doctrine, that they would flee false teaching and discipline themselves in accordance with the divine revelation in Christ our Lord
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015