The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, "What are you seeking?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and you will see." So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter). (ESV)
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Substitute, Not Example
St. Andrew, Apostle
30 November 2015
A dear pastor friend of mine fasts very aggressively during the penitential seasons of the church at Advent and Lent. He has never spoken about it, except to decline food or drink at the appropriate times. On Good Friday he was "dry fasting;" which means that he took neither food nor drink. This certainly pushed him beyond his endurance and showed quite clearly his humanity and the weakness of the flesh. It was the bodily equivalent of the words intoned on Ash Wednesday: "Dust you are and to dust you shall return." I gently chided him that his fasting discipline made it difficult for him to carry out his duty at church on Good Friday. The preaching office supersedes our traditions. Our Lord fasted for forty days before being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. This does not obligate us to fast, however. He does not command that we do so. We are not bound by His example, but are bound by His commands. This is what is so remarkable about the penitents in the Philippines, who allow themselves to be nailed to crosses on Good Friday as an act of contrition. Of course, they are removed after a few hours and receive medical attention. We would all be bound to do this, if Christ expected us to repeat in our lives all the things that He did in His life.
This becomes a significant issue when people argue that we do not need to be baptized until adulthood or at the time of some mythological "age of accountability," because Jesus Himself was not baptized until the beginning of his ministry, probably in his early 30s. Of course, there is no command to that effect from Jesus. Jesus walked on the water, and even when He invited Peter to come to Him on the water it didn't work out so well. He had to rescue the impetuous apostle from the waves. Christ's ministry is not so much exemplary as it is substitutionary. What He does, He does in our place. Not primarily to give us an example. He substitutes for us because of our weakness and sinfulness. His command to us is fundamentally, "Believe in me as your substitute," not "Hey, watch this, y'all! Now do it." The church's life then is focused on what Christ has done for us poor sinners and wants to give to us by His grace.
There are certainly religious similarities with what the Lord Jesus did. For example, He fasted. So do we. However, we fast in different ways, at different times, with different goals. How is that following His example? Indeed, fasting is itself a matter of indifference for the reason that He hasn't commanded it, despite its being a fine bodily preparation. He has commanded that we celebrate His Supper often (1Co 11:24
). That must come before fasting in importance because there is a divine mandate for the Lord's Supper. Early in my ministry I fasted before communing. As I grew older, I was no longer able to sustain this salutary discipline. I was finding it harder and harder to finish the second service, because I was becoming faint. I had to change my habits to accommodate what the Lord had commanded for the sake of God's people.
In baptism, God has commanded that we baptize all nations (Mt 28:19
). That express command must supersede all human reason and opinion about the example of Christ. For that same Christ, whose example we adore, has commanded us to baptize all. This command means that the message of the gospel is for all, universally.
"Some say, 'If Christ was thirty years old when He was baptized (even though He was God), why do you bid us hurry our baptism?' You have solved the difficulty when you say He was God. For He was absolute cleansing. He had no need of cleansing. It was for you that He was purified, just as it was for you that, although He was not flesh, He is clothed with flesh.
"But for you, what necessity is there that by following examples which are far beyond you, you should do for yourself a thing so ill-advised? For there are many other details of the Gospel history which are quite different from what happens today, and the times of them do not correspond. For instance, Christ fasted before His temptation, but we fast before Easter. As far as the fasting days are concerned it is the same; consisting of 40 days, but the difference in the reasons for the fasting is no little one. Christ armed Himself with fasting against temptation. To us the Lenten fast is symbolical of dying with Christ, and it is a purification in preparation for the feast of Easter. He fasted absolutely for forty days, but we gauge our fasting by our ability to sustain it, even though some are led by zeal to fast beyond their strength.
"He gave the sacrament of the Passover to His disciples in an upper chamber, after supper, and before He suffered. We celebrate Eucharist in houses of prayer, before partaking of food,and after His resurrection. He rose again the third day. Our resurrection is not till after a long time. But matters which have to do with Him are neither abruptly separated from us, nor chronologically yoked together with those which concern us; but they were handed down to us just so far as to be patterns of what we do, but not as an entire and exact resemblance."
Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Oration, 40.29-30
Collect for St. Andrew
Almighty God, by Your grace the apostle Andrew obeyed the call of Your Son to be a disciple. Grant us also to follow the same Lord Jesus Christ in heart and life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For William Weinrich, who laid to rest the remains of his wife, Barbara, that he would be comforted by the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
For all those who experienced inclement weather, that they would depend on the Lord who is the one who brings rescue to the needy
For the Voters Assembly of Memorial Lutheran Church, that its members would be about their Father's business
For all shut ins, that the Lord Jesus would be with them as they live out their lives in prayer and patient waiting
Art: VOUET, Simon Annunciation (1640s)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015