Who Am I?

On the Incarnation of the Word 25 – With Hands Spread Out

Posted: September 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

One of the beautiful images Athanasius draws is in this section of his treatise.

Again, if the Lord’s death is the ransom of all, and by His death “the middle wall of partition” is broken down, and the calling of the nations is brought about, how would He have called us to Him, had He not been crucified? For it is only on the cross that a man dies with his hands spread out. Whence it was fitting for the Lord to bear this also and to spread out His hands, that with the one He might draw the ancient people, and with the other those from the Gentiles, and unite both in Himself. For this is what He Himself has said, signifying by what manner of death He was to ransom all: “I, when I am lifted up,” He saith, “shall draw all men unto Me.”

Jesus died with arms outstretched, drawing all humanity to himself. The King of the Jews is revealed as the Lord of all. In one hand he holds the Jewish people as he becomes the true Israel, the faithful Israel. In his other hand he holds the nations, those of us who did not even realize we needed a good Lord and a good God.


On the Incarnation of the Word 24 – Jesus Did Not Control or Devise the Manner of His Death

Posted: September 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 24 – Jesus Did Not Control or Devise the Manner of His Death

I have a sense that many evangelicals today might have a hard time wrapping their head around or accepting this section of Athanasius’ treatise. I could be wrong, of course, but it seems to me sometimes that many perceive Jesus as orchestrating, devising, choosing, and managing the Cross as his means of death. He accepted it, of course, when he had the power to refuse it. But that’s not quite the same thing.

Part of Athanasius’ objection is that if Jesus had died a public, glorious death, people would not have believed that he was powerful against every type of death, but only a noble death. By dying in the most shameful and ignoble form of execution devised, he demonstrated that he had power over all death. But he then extends that point.

And just as a noble wrestler, great in skill and courage, does not pick out his antagonists for himself, lest he should raise a suspicion of his being afraid of some of them, but puts it in the choice of the onlookers, and especially so if they happen to be his enemies, so that against whomsoever they match him, him he may throw, and be believed superior to them all; so also the Life of all, our Lord and Saviour, even Christ, did not devise a death for His own body, so as not to appear to be fearing some other death; but He accepted on the Cross, and endured, a death inflicted by others, and above all by His enemies, which they thought dreadful and ignominious and not to be faced; so that this also being destroyed, both He Himself might be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be brought utterly to nought. So something surprising and startling has happened; for the death, which they thought to inflict as a disgrace, was actually a monument of victory against death itself. Whence neither did He suffer the death of John, his head being severed, nor, as Esaias, was He sawn in sunder; in order that even in death He might still keep His body undivided and in perfect soundness, and no pretext be afforded to those that would divide the Church.

The Cross was devised and inflicted on Jesus by his enemies. He accepted it, but he did not orchestrate it. And the death intended to disgrace him became a symbol of victory instead.

And don’t miss the last point. Jesus did keep his body undivided in his death so that no pretext could be afforded to those who would divide the Church. Athanasius connects the Church directly to Christ’s physical body. When we strive to divide the church, as is extremely common today, what exactly are doing? It’s something to think about.


On the Incarnation of the Word 23 – Public Death Necessary

Posted: September 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 23 – Public Death Necessary

In this section of On the Incarnation of the Word, Athanasius specifically addresses the necessity of a public death in order to support the Resurrection.

But even if, without any disease and without any pain, He had hidden His body away privily and by Himself “in a corner,” or in a desert place, or in a house, or anywhere, and afterwards suddenly appeared and said that He had been raised from the dead, He would have seemed on all hands to be telling idle tales, and what He said about the Resurrection would have been all the more discredited, as there was no one at all to witness to His death.

A similar objection could have been made if there were just a few witnesses. But Jesus was crucified near a main entrance to Jerusalem right before the Passover with thousands aware of his execution. Of all the objections that were raised against the Resurrection in the early centuries, nobody tried to assert that Jesus hadn’t died.

Or how were His disciples to have boldness in speaking of the Resurrection, were they not able to say that He first died? Or how could they be believed, saying that death had first taken place and then the Resurrection, had they not had as witnesses of His death the men before whom they spoke with boldness? For if, even as it was, when His death and Resurrection had taken place in the sight of all, the Pharisees of that day would not believe, but compelled even those who had seen the Resurrection to deny it, why, surely, if these things had happened in secret, how many pretexts for disbelief would they have devised?

Even with the evidence and witness at hand, more did not believe than believed. How much easier it would have been to disbelieve absent the public nature of his execution. The Christian proclamation of Jesus as Lord always includes both Cross and Resurrection, never one without the other. They are intricately and inextricably interwoven.


On the Incarnation of the Word 22 – Received the Death of All Men

Posted: September 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 22 – Received the Death of All Men

Athanasius makes several closely related points in today’s section, but I’m going to focus on one.

And besides, the Saviour came to accomplish not His own death, but the death of men; whence He did not lay aside His body by a death of His own — for He was Life and had none — but received that death which came from men, in order perfectly to do away with this when it met Him in His own body.

Jesus, the eternal Word was Life and had no death of his own. He received the death which came from men, at the hands of men, in his body. And when the Life of the Word met the Death of the eikon in the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth, Life overcame Death once and for all. Jesus did away with death.

Reflect on that thought today. Feel its immensity.


On the Incarnation of the Word 21 – Why Death on the Cross?

Posted: September 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 21 – Why Death on the Cross?

I like the way Athanasius describes the way we no longer die the death as we once did in the opening of this section.

For like the seeds which are cast into the earth, we do not perish by dissolution, but sown in the earth, shall rise again, death having been brought to nought by the grace of the Saviour.

I think many of us are sufficiently culturally removed, though, that we miss the critical import of the primary question he is addressing here.

Why, then, one might say, if it were necessary for Him to yield up His body to death in the stead of all, did He not lay it aside as man privately, instead of going as far as even to be crucified? For it were more fitting for Him to have laid His body aside honourably, than ignominiously to endure a death like this.

The cross was the most painful and shameful means of execution in that part of the ancient world. Our modern American culture is also not at its core an honor/shame society. The cross stripped those on it of all honor and rendered them almost subhuman, at least as it was generally perceived. Athanasius had to address not just why the union of natures in the Incarnation was essential and that Christ had to die to defeat death, he had to explain why that death, the death on the Cross.

Athanasius addresses that question rather like an onion as he peels back the layers. Christ could not simply die from age or disease or other weakness. For example, he could be hungry and weak from hunger, but he couldn’t die from hunger. Moreover, if he had simply died on his own, he would have appeared no different from other men in his death. He had to die at the hands of other men and his confrontation of the Powers and their abuse, failure to love, and failure to fulfill their function as ordained by God made such an end all but inevitable.

Why, then, did He not prevent death, as He did sickness? Because it was for this that He had the body, and it was unfitting to prevent it, lest the Resurrection also should be hindered, while yet it was equally unfitting for sickness to precede His death, lest it should be thought weakness on the part of Him that was in the body. Did He not then hunger? Yes; He hungered, agreeably to the properties of His body. But He did not perish of hunger, because of the Lord that wore it. Hence, even if He died to ransom all, yet He saw not corruption. For [His body] rose again in perfect soundness, since the body belonged to none other, but to the very Life.

Even so, Jesus could have prevented his death on the Cross. Nobody could take his life from him. He relinquished it voluntarily. Scripture, of course, is clear about that. Athanasius re-emphasizes it.


Red Robin

Posted: September 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Red Robin

A couple of weeks ago, my wife was craving a good hamburger (as in nothing from a fast food joint), something we’ve not really gone out to get since I was diagnosed with celiac. I looked online and discovered that Red Robin might be a safe place for me to try since they had a gluten free menu online. So we headed out to the Red Robin at IH35 and Parmer in Austin.

The waitress was knowledgeable and helpful. She brought me the current gluten free menu and stayed around to answer questions. I asked about the fries and she said they were cooked in a dedicated fryer and that she had had other customers with wheat or gluten “allergies” (easier just to go with allergy than to try to explain celiac disease while ordering food) who had experienced no problems.

I decided to try their cheeseburger (with no Red Robin seasonings) in a lettuce wedge rather than simply without the bun. I have always thought the Atkins diet was a strange way to eat, but I was grateful that day that the craze taught restaurants like Red Robin how to create bun-less options. I also ordered the steak fries (again without the seasoning). The food was good. The burger was well-wrapped so I actually could pick it up and eat it like a burger, though lettuce is not the same thing as a bun.

I didn’t have any sort of reaction I could detect. And I loved actually being able to order and eat french fries at a restaurant! Definitely a thumbs up!


On the Incarnation of the Word 20 – The Word Only Could Bestow Incorruption

Posted: September 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 20 – The Word Only Could Bestow Incorruption

In this section of his treatise, Athanasius restates the points he has already explored and summarizes them in a way that exposes a greater fullness.

We have, then, now stated in part, as far as it was possible, and as ourselves had been able to understand, the reason of His bodily appearing; that it was in the power of none other to turn the corruptible to incorruption, except the Saviour Himself, that had at the beginning also made all things out of nought and that none other could create anew the likeness of God’s image for men, save the Image of the Father; and that none other could render the mortal immortal, save our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the Very Life; and that none other could teach men of the Father, and destroy the worship of idols, save the Word, that orders all things and is alone the true Only-begotten Son of the Father.

This is a summary of the heart of the power and wonder of the Incarnation. From what did we need saving? Mortality, corruption (as in bodily corruption and decay), the worship of other gods, and the stained and distorted image we bore as a result. I’m not sure that’s what you’ll hear in many Christian services in America today. I could be wrong, but I’ve tended to hear something different.

And so it was that two marvels came to pass at once, that the death of all was accomplished in the Lord’s body, and that death and corruption were wholly done away by reason of the Word that was united with it. For there was need of death, and death must needs be suffered on behalf of all, that the debt owing from all might be paid. 6. Whence, as I said before, the Word, since it was not possible for Him to die, as He was immortal, took to Himself a body such as could die, that He might offer it as His own in the stead of all, and as suffering, through His union with it, on behalf of all, “Bring to nought Him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and might deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

The death of all was accomplished in the Lord’s body. That statement is so cosmic, so grand, that it’s hard for me to wrap my head around it. My reaction every time I hear or see that declaration? Wow! The full power and presence of death was gathered into one place at one time in the body of our Lord. And at that point and through the union of man and God, death and corruption of the eikon were eliminated everywhere for all time.

And in that, the devil and all other Powers who held men in bondage in and through their ability to wield the power of death had their ultimate weapon stripped from them. The Powers are now disarmed.


On the Incarnation of the Word 19 – Creation Confessed Him Lord At His Death

Posted: September 11th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 19 – Creation Confessed Him Lord At His Death

In this section of his treatise, Athanasius begins to focus on the death of Christ on the cross.

For He made even the creation break silence: in that even at His death, marvellous to relate, or rather at His actual trophy over death–the Cross I mean–all creation was confessing that He that was made manifest and suffered in the body was not man merely, but the Son of God and Saviour of all. For the sun hid His face, and the earth quaked and the mountains were rent: all men were awed. Now these things shewed that Christ on the Cross was God, while all creation was His slave, and was witnessing by its fear to its Master’s presence.

I sometimes have the sense that we have narrowed our lens to the point that we talk about little beside the relationship between the individual and Jesus. Yet the Word is the creator and sustainer of all that is. If God relates to all creation, how could creation not respond to the Incarnation?


On the Incarnation of the Word 18 – Humanity and Divinity Manifested Through His Body

Posted: September 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 18 – Humanity and Divinity Manifested Through His Body

In today’s section, Athanasius is saying something a bit more subtle than simply that Jesus’ miracles prove he was God. But especially in our modern context, it seems to me that his deeper point can easily be missed. Athanasius is making the point that both the humanity of Jesus and the divine Logos were made known to us in and through his body in a thoroughly united and inseparable manner.

But these things are said of Him, because the actual body which ate, was born, and suffered, belonged to none other but to the Lord: and because, having become man, it was proper for these things to be predicated of Him as man, to shew Him to have a body in truth, and not in seeming. But just as from these things He was known to be bodily present, so from the works He did in the body He made Himself known to be Son of God.

The birth of our Lord from a virgin played a significant role in the theology of the early church. The central title given to Mary and affirmed in the strongest terms in ecumenical council is Theotokos. That’s interesting because the title itself is essentially a theological statement about Christ. In addition, the “ever-virgin” belief about Mary (which was essentially a universal Christian belief until the last two hundred years or so) rests in the tremendous honor given to Jesus.

Therefore, even to begin with, when He was descending to us, He fashioned His body for Himself from a Virgin, thus to afford to all no small proof of His Godhead, in that He Who formed this is also Maker of everything else as well. For who, seeing a body proceeding forth from a Virgin alone without man, can fail to infer that He Who appears in it is Maker and Lord of other bodies also?

Take a moment to read this section of the treatise in its entirety. Then read it again slowly. Let it sink below the surface.


On the Incarnation of the Word 17 – Fully Human, Fully Divine

Posted: September 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 17 – Fully Human, Fully Divine

We say, of course, that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. It has become almost formulaic. Yet we don’t really reflect on the depth of that mystery and have a tendency to emphasize one over the other. We have discussed and will discuss what it would mean for Christ to be any less than fully human. In today’s section, though, Athanasius focuses on Christ as the divine Word.

For He was not, as might be imagined, circumscribed in the body, nor, while present in the body, was He absent elsewhere; nor, while He moved the body, was the universe left void of His working and Providence; but, thing most marvellous, Word as He was, so far from being contained by anything, He rather contained all things Himself; and just as while present in the whole of Creation, He is at once distinct in being from the universe, and present in all things by His own power,—giving order to all things, and over all and in all revealing His own providence, and giving life to each thing and all things, including the whole without being included, but being in His own Father alone wholly and in every respect,— thus, even while present in a human body and Himself quickening it, He was, without inconsistency, quickening the universe as well, and was in every process of nature, and was outside the whole, and while known from the body by His works, He was none the less manifest from the working of the universe as well.

So even as Jesus lived his human life, the divine logos still sustained all creation, not just the one body within which it was incarnate. Of course, we know that has to be true from Colossians, but it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around. That has always been true. We still see today groups who on the one hand tend to portray Jesus as so divine that he is other than human and on the other as so human that he’s less than divine. Both the superhero and the everyday joe images are easier for us to accept than the reality of Christ.

Fully God and fully man? That’s a tough nut to swallow, but it’s precisely what the Incarnation uncompromisingly demands from us.