Trinity Sunday is just behind us in June, this year. We are about to begin the long green season of the church year - Trinity season for us old-church-year-folks, and Pentecost season for the hip and with it, ILCW following, new hymnal using church. It is the season of no particular big church-type holidays.
In this season, I like to focus on Jesus Christ. I realize that sounds a little silly, since the Christian faith is about Jesus Christ and He is our true focus all year long, but I meant to refer to the teaching function of the church should focus in this long season of the year on Jesus as a doctrinal topic. When I instruct young people about Christ, I like to do it by the numbers. I think it helps them remember.
In any case, I taught my confirmation classes Jesus' telephone number. I said it was 212-3341. God has no area code because you can reach him through prayer from anywhere without long distance (Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world). The numbers are what I also refer to as Christology by the numbers: two natures (divine and human), united in One Person (the Personal Union), two states (humiliation and exaltation), The three-fold office of Christ (Prophet, Priest, and King), the three kingdoms our king rules (power, grace, and glory), the four things the resurrection proves, and the one remaining return at the end of time. I admit that the last two were sort-of thrown in to make the idea of a phone number work, but they are also important parts of the doctrine of Christ (as all teachings are) so I hoped it worked for them.
The idea is once you have the numbers, you can pull the associated doctrines out of your memory quickly and easily. Given enough time to forget, it isn't foolproof. It took me a few minutes to call to mind what the final 1 was about, but the rest of it was pretty clear yet, after a decade of having no youth to train.
The two natures of Christ are important, True God and true man. It is important to remember that Jesus was not just kinda-sorta-maybe God or just sort of man. He was true God, fully God, complete God at the same time as He was fully and completely man. False teachers have fallen off both sides of that doctrine. They want to deny that Jesus was the true God, or that He was fully divine. Others try to deny that He was truly human, like the Docetists of old taught. They said Jesus wasn't really there in the physical sense, it was God making it appear as though He was there. God can befuddle the senses, after all. Then there were the adoptionists who wanted to teach that God "adopted" Jesus, but that Jesus was not really divine.
Then comes the "1". The two natures united in one Person, the one Person who is both true God and true man, and yet is not two, not even two beings living in one body, but one single Person. Some tried to teach that God took possession of Jesus, like demonic possessions, only good, well . . . , as good as being possessed by another being could be. Jesus in that theology became something of a divine puppet with God pulling the strings. The really ugly part of that theology comes when the teachers of it say that God abandoned the man Jesus to die on the cross alone, and did not suffer at all, because God cannot suffer. Then, of course, God did not die for you so the death of Jesus cannot be of infinite value, and so your salvation through Him is uncertain at the very least.
The Personal Union teaches us that the divine and the human in Jesus were inseparably united in the person of Jesus Christ. Theologians have struggled with how to describe it, suggesting two boards glued together, or some such. The concept is that the two natures are joined but not blended together in such a way that the divine is not truly and fully divine, or that the human is something more than human, and so not really quite human any longer. Jesus is fully human, and truly human while at the same time He is fully and truly divine. He is God, the second Person of the Trinity with all that means and entails, while still being a real human being, with all that entails, except without sin within His nature or in His conduct. How does God do it? Well, He is God and can do things we cannot even think through clearly.
And this "union" is inseparable. I used to trick my classes by asking them when Jesus became a true man, and they would answer correctly, "at conception." They were bright kids. Then I would ask when Jesus stopped being true man, and at least one would usually walk into the trap and say, "When He rose from the dead," or, "When He ascended into heaven." The correct answer, of course, is that Jesus has never stopped being true Man. Your salvation actually depends on that truth, for the moment the Savior ceases to exist, your salvation does too, and your Savior died on the cross as both true God and true man. God died according to the human nature in Christ, but God died for you. If the unique being of true God and true man ever ceased to exist as both true God and true man, your salvation would also cease to have source and a guarantee. Fine, hair-splitting doctrinal distinction, but absolutely vitally important. Think of that the next time someone tries to dismiss doctrine as divisive and/or insignificant.
The two states were the states of Humiliation and Exaltation. The state of humiliation did not mean that Jesus was embarrassed in some way to be human. It was the teaching that according to His human nature, Jesus did not always or fully use the divine power and prerogatives of His divine nature which were His also according to His human nature due to the communication (or sharing) of attributes. He did sometimes, such as when He knew what people were thinking, or when He performed miracles, but during His life on earth before the crucifixion, Jesus was a normal guy with normal abilities most of the time. He chose not to know everything as a human being, but to grow and learn and face life as you and I must.
One of the interesting places this doctrine touches is when Jesus approached the cross. The Bible said He knew everything that was going to happen to Him before it happened. That had to add to the suffering of approaching the cross. I suspect, although there is no Bible passage that addresses the question, that Jesus knew He was going to rise from the dead from the teaching of Scripture, but that He may have hidden the divine foreknowledge from Himself so that when He died, He had to face the end of life and the possibility of rising from the dead just as you and I must, knowing what God has said, but not having some special, divine sight to see it and know it in that way in advance. He had to face His death armed only with faith just as we do.
Since the resurrection, Jesus has full access to and use of His divine powers and prerogatives also according to His human nature. That is how He appeared, for example, in the room with His disciples on Easter evening, after the doors had been locked. That is how he walked the road to Emmaus and then vanished when the disciples recognized Him in the breaking of bread. That is also how we account for Jesus being present but not perceptible to any of our senses day by day. He can do things that only God can do, even according to His human nature, and He does so all of the time now, since the resurrection. This is what we call the state of Exaltation.
It has taken almost two and a half pages to give you the exchange, the first three numbers. It could have taken much more room to be detailed, but this just a short newsletter article. Now we proceed to the final four numbers, 3341.
The first three stands for the three-fold office of Christ; Prophet, Priest and King. Jesus is the last and greatest prophet. He is the One that Moses spoke of as coming after Him, to whom we should listen. He is also the One who spoke throughout Scriptures, although He did not have Himself known by the name "Jesus," until the time of His Incarnation in history.
While He walked this earth, Jesus preached, and prophesied in the sense of speaking about what would come and what would happen. Both preaching and predictive prophecy are the work of this prophet, although very few since Jesus have done much predicting that anyone can depend on. Jesus predicted His own death and the manner of it, His resurrection and the timing of it, and the ultimate fate of His disciples-turned-Apostles. He taught the purpose of His life and the meaning and power of His death.
When He ascended, Jesus gave His Disciples the mission of being His witnesses, and proclaiming the good news of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. When they preached, it was not their message or their "stuff" they taught, but Jesus'. When they baptized, it was their hands doing the work of Jesus. When they administered the sacrament, it was Jesus' gift, and their hands were Jesus' hands distributing Jesus' body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. The sacrament happened and held the power it holds because the words and promises were Jesus', not theirs. When they spoke the absolution, it was by His command and His power and sins were actually forgiven because it was Jesus at work through them, not them doing their own thing.
And so it is today. Jesus continues to preach through the lips of His faithful called servants. He continues to Baptize and deliver the gifts of the Sacrament of the Altar through their hands and lips, and it is still His absolution, "in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ."
The second office is Priest. The duties of the priests of the Old Testament were to offer the sacrifices for the people on their behalf and to intercede, to pray, for them. Jesus, as our great High Priest, offered up the Lamb of God for our sins and on our behalf, and now, Scriptures tell us, He sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us with the Father.
His third office is King. Before Jesus ascended He told his disciples, "all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth." He is King! The second three in the phone number reminds us of the three-fold kingdom He rules, the Kingdoms of Power, Grace, and Glory.
He rules the Kingdom of Power, which is the world of nature, by His divine power. He makes all things serve His holy purpose. That is why we confess with Paul the words of Romans 8:28, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
The second kingdom, the Kingdom of Grace, is where Christ rules by His grace, that is, by the forgiveness of sins. That kingdom is the Church, where He rules His people by His grace. This is also why all that the Church does is actually Christ's working in and through us.
The third kingdom is the Kingdom of Glory, also known as the Church Triumphant, or heaven. There He rules with neither power or grace, but with glory and in glory.
The four things that the resurrection of Christ definitely proves, according to the 1943 Catechism, are 1.) That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Romans 1:4; 2.) That all He taught (His doctrine) is the truth, and the catechism cites John 2:19; 3.) That God the Father has accepted the sacrifice of His Son for the reconciliation of the world, 1 Corinthians 15:17, which means if God hadn't accepted it, Jesus would not have risen from the dead; and 4.) That all believers shall rise unto eternal life; John 14:19, "because I live, you shall live also." The Catechism also points to John 11:25 and 26.
Finally, the one reminds us that Christ will return, and He will return just once, at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, and to bring us to eternal life. This guards our hearts against the "rapture" people who imagine that Christ is going to come two or three times and then rule on earth before he inaugurates His eternal Kingdom.
Well, that is Christology by the numbers. Don't bother dialing the number, though, the phone company is all confused on that issue. But remember it and you will have Christology outlined in your mind.
Yours in the Lord,
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.
Send Pastor Robin Fish an email.