Sunday, June 14, 2015

Merit and Jesus: Glory and Humility

I want to talk about the glories of the Savior, Jesus Christ.  This is a deep and broad subject, one I love, and one I am passionate about. It is also a topic too easily lost in the noise of arguments about sundry doctrines; it is a subject easily besmirched by the ones who pledge love to Christ, eat his flesh and drink his blood, and then bite and devour one another.  This discussion is necessarily incomplete - we are not yet in glory, and even there we shall never exhaust or comprehend the glories of our Savior.

Why is the glory of Christ such a big deal?  It's a big subject!  It is beyond comprehension: he laid it aside for us for a time!  Conveniently, Paul explains this by way of an exhortation to Christian humility:

    Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:5-11 ESV)

Jesus volunteered for a mission: to accomplish the salvation of sinners.  This is an awkward construction, as acts of God outside time are poorly cast in the simple past tense, but since the Father chose to save some from eternity past, the Son volunteered (from eternity past) to accomplish (in history) the salvation, and the Spirit is sent (from eternity past) to apply to God's people this salvation (in time).  Timely, no?

But we must conclude that Christ, the eternal son of God, laid aside glory in entering the world as a man, humbling himself.  This is not simply a gesture, as Paul explains:

    Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

(interjection - note that Adam points forward to Christ - Christ is the reality, the antitype, the fulfillment - Adam was the shadow, the type, the promise)
    But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
    Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Romans 5:12-21 ESV)

There is a symmetry of type and antitype, of sin and savior, of lock and key, as it were.  To save the sons of Adam, Christ had to become one of them.  He had to be numbered among the transgressors in order to qualify as their redeemer.

Adam in the garden was a picture.  I have often been uncomfortable with (though I confess to having indulged in) speculations about life without a fall.  If Adam had only obeyed, how lovely to see the city of God spread across the earth uninterrupted by sin and division!  The church is such a poor shadow of what could have been a glorious growth...

But I forget the direction of the arrow.  Adam points to Christ.  Adam's disobedience was, in a careful sense, necessary for Christ's obedience.  The picture of the perfect man in the perfect place falling into sin sets the stage for the reality of the perfect man in the fallen place conquering sin.  Adam becomes the shadow on the dawn of the world, the thorn in the garden.  Jesus is the light shining in a dark place, the Rose of Sharon in the desert.  The symmetry is beautiful, and indeed glorious.

Paul is not the only one to speak of the glories of Christ:
    I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
(John 17:4-5 ESV)

Jesus himself longs for the restoration of his glory - not selfishly, as a fallen king longs for restored dominion, but as you or I might long for home while yet on a long journey.  We know it is where we belong - but it remains distant until the accomplishment of some task.  Yes, Christ longed for heaven, and what's more, he longed for us to join him there:
     Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
(John 17:24 ESV)

Jesus wants us to be with him in glory - to enjoy heaven with him, which is to say, to enjoy him and thus be in heaven!  When does this occur? Not until the consummation of all things.  Rev. 21 portrays - the New Jerusalem in the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness dwells - that is to be the home of God's people, and of God himself.  But to Christ and the disciples in the upper room, this lies on the other side of the cross, of "it is finished", of the perfect fulfillment of the Scriptures.

Let's take stock: Adam points to Christ.  Christ becomes man, laying aside glory.  Christ longs to regain his glory, and share it with his people.  Christ receives this glory, highly exalted to the right hand of the Father, after the fulfillment of Scripture in his death and subsequent resurrection and ascension.

What Scriptures are these?

Certainly we can point to all manner of ancient prophesies and promises pictures, and there are so many explicit Old Testament references in the New, many of them self-consciously adopted by Jesus himself or by the apostles - the Son of David (messianic claim), Son of Man (Adamic identity, also used in reference to Jacob's dream of angels ascending and descending from heaven), Son of God, (used by Nathan in the same discourse, also by the exalted Christ in revelation), King of Israel (parallel to Son of David), and more could be adduced, but let's propose:

Christ is fulfilling more than just Adam.  Christ is fulfilling the whole history of Israel.  Israel longed for a king, and here is David's greater son.  Israel whored after other gods, Christ always does his Father's will.  Israel failed to drive out the brimful-sinful nations, Christ conquers sin itself, taking the sting from death.  Israel is dispossessed of the promised land in exile, Christ goes to prepare a place and receive us to our inheritance.  The picture of Israel is symmetrically completed by Christ - where they fail, he succeeds, where they walked with grumbling, he holds forth the Word of God to Satan.  After all, "Out of Egypt I called my Son".

And how does Christ earn his glory in the fulfillment of all these things?
    For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
(Hebrews 7:26-28 ESV)

Christ paid up.  The debt is settled.  That's half the bargain.  The other half, more glorious, if that were possible, is that Christ clothes us with his own righteousness, and so adorns his own glory.

The author to the Hebrews goes on:
    Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
(Hebrews 8:1-7 ESV)

Again we return to the direction of the typological arrow!  Adam points to Christ.  Moses points to Christ.  The warning given to Adam vented its fury on Christ.  The curses that were promised to disobedient Israel fell on her true king.  Grace alone remains for us, bought by the works of Jesus in his life and in his death.

We who are under grace get to taste glory.  Galatians is written against those who would return to any form of works, of resting salvation on our own merit.  But our salvation rests on merit.  It rests on a firm and sure merit, because it is built on the Rock of Christ, and we must pay attention to meaning of the song of the seraphim who ever cry "WORTHY IS THE LAMB THAT WAS SLAIN!"

There is no talk of merit where there is no legal basis.  Adam did not merit life - he crossed the line drawn by God.  The nation of Israel did not merit the land (the inferior promises in Hebrews 8) - they crossed the line drawn by God through Moses, and at the end of God's patience, were vomited out of it. 

Christ underwent the penalty of the law of Adam - death.  It has no more to say to him. 

Christ underwent the penalty of the law of Moses - hanging on a tree, cut off from his people, forsaken by God.  That law has no more to say to him.

Christ now offers us freely of the fruits of his victory, eating of the tree of life, inheriting the New Jerusalem, and living in the law of Christ, in the new commandment that is an old one, of loving God and loving our neighbor. 

Sinai is gone.  We have come to Mount Zion.  Let us glory in the glory of our king.

Brief postscript: This hasty essay is broadly aimed at the "republication controversy" swirling in my denomination.  It seems obvious that Jesus obeyed a law.  What law?  The law of Moses.  What happened when Jesus obeyed that law?  He merited heaven.  I'm not clear why people get fussy when God chooses to set up covenants with both positive and negative stipulations.  It's his prerogative, and Job may wisely remind us not to question his prerogative.  It may be helpful to remember that God knows the end from the beginning, and his dealings with his people in the OT are done by way of example to us (as Paul in 1 Cor. 10:11 declares), though they are, for lack of a better term real dealings.  Just because Adam was to be a counterpoint to Christ does not annul the real moral value of his actions.  Just because Israel at Sinai was being set up to show the inescapability of personal and corporate moral failure and consequent need of true redemption does not nullify the reality of the Mosaic law and its true goodness for Israel.  I have sought to argue from Scripture, but for those who, like me, are Presbyterian, I offer WCF Ch.8.5 "Of Christ the Mediator", which plainly declares that Christ purchased reconciliation and inheritance.  There has to be a contract under which said purchase is made, and that contract is the Mosaic Law (as 8.4 indicates).

If I may venture a conjecture: I am concerned that the republication discussions are (perhaps unconsciously?) a stalking horse for a deeper question about the relationship of the Mosaic Law and the Christian - or more pointedly, the Mosaic Law and civil society - which seems motivated in many by an anxiety over what I'll loosely call "things nowadays".  Thoughts?


Gr. B and B said...

"Thine be the glory, risen, conqu'ring Son; endless is the vict'ry, thou o'er death has won."

Well stated. Have you ever submitted to a denominational publication?

MJM said...

No, I have not.