God created humanity to live under his rule in love, joy and peace. But humanity has rejected God’s rule and exists under the domain of sin and death. Nevertheless, God responded to this tragedy with a decisive new intervention. He rescued us from the domain of sin by entering into our sin even “becoming” sin for us. He rescued us from the domain of death by entering into our death even “tasting death” for us. God descended into the domain of darkness destroying it from the inside. In Christ sin and death are destroyed within God’s own being as human.
In this rescue act the old humanity under the rule of sin and death is brought to an end. It is put to death. Christ died for us and we died with him. The old humanity has gone! Now, a new relation to God comes into existence. There is a new man, a new humanity, a new creation The old has gone the new has come!
All this brings to an end any pretence that we can reach God through our own religious efforts. All our ideas about what God is like have been interrupted and replaced with the beautiful reality of a humble God who loves us and gives himself over to sin and death for us. The crucified Christ turns our common assumptions about God on their head! Furthermore, all our “wisdom” about how to reach God is now seen as utter foolishness. We must follow the new and living way opened up to us in the crucified Christ who is now risen as new man in new creation. That means we must put to death all notions of religious self-effort. All our religiosity must die before the cross!
The Father’s Son become lowly human servant offering up his own life for us. In doing so, he brought to an end the old age under the power of sin and death. Not only did he die for us, we also died with him and death itself also died. Following on from that dramatic event, the Father raised Jesus from the dead as new man in new creation. He was raised for us and we were raised with him.
These sentences set out something of what God has done for us in Jesus. And yet, we must recognise that God and his reconciling acts cannot be contained within our sentences. Through our sentences we try to express faithfully all that God has done in Jesus; but it isn’t reducible to ideas, theories and arguments. Who can say what is unspeakable, and who can describe what no eye has seen?
All our sentences about God have their truth, not in themselves, but only in him to whom they refer. And so, by the Spirit’s enlightenment, we must pass beyond our sentences to the actual person of Christ himself allowing his person to continually remould our understanding of him. As the Spirit of Christ takes us ever deeper into the mystery of Christ we see more and more who he is and what he has done for us. Even so, the fullness of Christ always remains hidden from our view. And the more we gaze on him the more the hiddenness grows. While the more we encounter the one who is hidden, the more he opens himself to us beyond our sentences.
During Old Testament times, did anyone see that the repeated sacrifices for sin were mere shadows? Did anyone begin to imagine that the reality to which the sacrifices pointed was the self-offering of one man as the once for all sacrifice for sin? Furthermore, would anyone dare to envision that the person offering himself as the sacrifice for sin would be God as human? Would anyone dream that God himself would act to reconcile the world both as Judge and judged; priest and sacrifice.
On this side of the cross, and in the light of resurrection, we now see that Jesus has done the unimaginable in himself. We now know that through the cross God himself, as the man Jesus, tastes death for all. We now discern that through the cross our old fallen humanity is brought to an end and is replaced by a new humanity in resurrection. We now recognise that through the cross, sins are forgiven and captives set free. Yes, we grasp all this and more! However, we still cannot penetrate fully into the meaning of his cross, for it is all an impenetrable mystery.
We can only begin to see something of the meaning of the mystery as God’s Spirit opens the eyes of our hearts. Only then can we begin to see something of the mystery that brought about the new creation in Christ. So, as T F Torrance says, “We cannot think our way into the cross of Christ but only out from it”. And, with Torrance, I must add, that we can only do so from the resurrection side of the cross as the Spirit of Christ opens to us the mystery of Christ. For the meaning of the cross transcends our attempts to define it and even what was prefigured in the Old Testament. And so we survey the wondrous cross in awe.
Athanasius saw Jesus as the one who ministers the things of God to humankind and the things of humankind to God. Jesus ministers the things of God to us, not as a mere agent of God acting for God, but as God himself in human flesh. All that God does for us is accomplished in the one who is himself God as human. Jesus ministers the things of humankind to God because he is the true human bringing to God what is required of us. Everything God requires of us is given by God and to God in Christ who is God as human. Jesus offers the Father his own human life of trustful obedience flowing from love to his Father. And so, in our place, he lives the human life that gladdens the Fathers’ heart.
In Jesus there is a new relationship in which Jesus is, therefore, the reconciling action from both God’s side and ours. As H.R. Mackintosh says, “God in him for us, and we in him for God”. This two-way movement of love in action establishes our union with God. That means we are already one with God. We do not progress into union by our own efforts. Rather, as the Spirit of Christ joins us to Christ in faith we discover our own humanity caught up in Christ’s humanity and therefore already lifted up into union with God. Consequently, there are no stages to pass through or steps to take so that we become more deeply one with God than we already are in Christ. We simply live in Christ as he lives in us by his Spirit.
When I first came to faith I was taught to define the atonement as “at-one-ment” because through the atonement we are one with God. Soon, I was taught to move on in my understanding by developing an elaborate doctrine of atonement. I was then able to choose the right “theory” of atonement.
I now know that we cannot understand atonement by definitions and theories. We must rather focus fully on Jesus himself as the atonement. Even then, we do not really grasp the atonement because it is mystery just as Jesus himself is mystery. But we can never even begin to understand the atonement by focusing on concepts rather than Jesus himself as atonement.
The atonement is truth that we are to understand, but it is the truth of this unique person who is himself the truth of our oneness with God. Jesus is the true God moving faithfully towards us in history to make our tragic cause his own. Simultaneously, he is also the true man moving faithfully towards God on behalf of us all. In this movement oneness with God “happens”.
This same Jesus comes to us personally by his Spirit revealing who he is as the truth of oneness. We cannot know the truth by any other way. For truth is this unique person who is the actual oneness of God and humanity. Only as he opens to us who he is in living encounter do we know the truth of oneness with God. Then Jesus, the truth, lives in us and we live in the truth. That is the only way we understand something of the mystery of “at-one-ment”.
Jesus said, “I am in my Father”. That means Jesus belongs to the Father as the one who indwells the Father. Jesus also said to us, “you are in me, and I am in you”. That means we belong to Jesus and to his Father in living union by his Spirit.
But can we also say that God belongs to us? God can never belong to us in the sense that we “possess” him. Nevertheless, God does belong to us simply because he has given himself to us. God’s eternal decision is that we would belong to him and he would belong to us. And Jesus is that eternal decision of mutual belonging made actual among us in history. Can we look at God actually becoming one of us and then doubt that he has given himself to us?
God wasn’t forced to give himself to us in this way. He freely decided to be God this way and no other. He is Lord of his own being and he freely decided to give himself to us in mutual belonging. And in that belonging we find deep rest of soul.
But we so easily disrupt our soul rest by making too much of our own decision. We may even make my own decision all important. And we cannot find deep rest in our own shaky decision. We must rather live fully in God’s decision. In Christ, God has disclosed himself as the one who has decided to bind himself to us in mutual belonging-totally.
So let’s continually focus on Jesus as he reveals God’s eternal decision of belonging. Focussing on that decision we shall find deep rest for our souls.
As we follow the Jesus story, we soon notice that he is burdened with the natural griefs and pains of humanity. What distresses him even more, however, is the fact that humanity is engulfed in an abyss of darkness too deep to ever escape – a pit of bottomless evil power. Indeed he actually invaded this dark realm to rescue humanity from the grip of evil. He did so by becoming human to live and move in our frailty.
That does not mean a reduction of his power, but rather the expression of his power within human weakness even unto death. In his single act of total self-giving on the cross he brings to an end the old age of sin and death under which all humanity was held in bondage. He also disarmed all the forces of evil that hold humanity under oppression. Yes, it was in sheer weakness that he powerfully demolished all his enemies and ours.
We do not learn what “omnipotence” is by magnifying human power and saying that’s what the Almighty is like. We rather learn what divine power is as we look at this power expressed in the weakness of the God-Man on the cross. There God demonstrates his own distinctive kind of power. For the cross is not only the revelation of God’s love, but also his power. And as we gaze on this wondrous cross we see that God’s power is the very opposite of what we could or would ever imagine. For through this astonishing act of power in weakness God rescues us from all that enslaved us revealing that he loves us more than we can ever say.
Jesus is the Father’s servant-son who has come in the power of the Spirit to reclaim us for the kingdom of God. In him the power of God’s reign assaults the whole realm of evil in order to set us free for God. And yet he comes among us as the Lord who serves in meekness and lowliness. As the lowly servant, he invades the realm of darkness and overcomes by humbly submitting to the violence of the violent. He storms his way in meekness into the very centre of evil in order to liberate us from the powers of darkness.
The climax of Jesus’ triumph over the dark powers that rule over us is the cross. There the holy servant-son becomes sin to do away with sin. He surrenders to the powers and authorities in order to disarm them, making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. By his death, he broke the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil. And so death itself could not stand against him, for the servant-son dies to bring about the death of death.
That is the great triumph of the one who is now risen as Lord over all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And in his name, we now give joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.
The dying and rising of Christ brings the present evil age to an end replacing it with a new one. We did not do anything at all to make this happen. Nevertheless, when Jesus was crucified, we were crucified with him. Christ died for us and we died with him. When God raised Jesus to newness of life, as the new man, we were raised with him. Furthermore, when God exalted Jesus to his right hand we were exalted with him. Now our lives are hidden with Christ in God.
Our knowledge of the new man, and of who we are as the new humanity in him, is unveiled to us in living encounter with Jesus. Only as the Spirit of Christ opens to us the mystery of Christ do we know anything of this newness. For the new humanity is hidden in Jesus, the new man, who is hidden in God.
As those who now know the new man, we share in his mission of making known the truth that is hidden in Jesus. We do so, as the one who is hidden unveils himself in and through us as his living body. We live in him and he lives in us as his own body in which he is all and in all. And as he lives in and through us we share in his ongoing mission of unveiling the hidden mystery of Christ to the world. That is his gift to us until the day when he is revealed to the whole world, then we also will be revealed with Him in glory.
The risen Christ is the new man. In him the new humanity comes into existence according to God’s eternal purpose. God’s intention was always to create this unique human in whom all other humans would share in his communion with the Father in the Spirit. Adam was a mere type of this true man, a shadow. Before Adam was made, God chose his own Son to be the true man in whom his purpose for humanity would be accomplished.
In the outworking of this purpose Jesus is the turning of the ages. His dying brought an end to the old Adamic age under the power of sin and death. His rising brought into existence a new age of freedom and life in God. That means a radical shift in the human situation. The old has gone; the new has come.
By the Spirit, we now share in the joy and freedom of the new humanity together. And in doing so we openly and confidently bear witness to the reality of the new humanity that came into existence when Jesus was raised to newness of life.
We cannot pride ourselves in this newness because we found it exclusively in him. And only when he found us in pure grace. So we never forget for a single moment that we are new humanity only in union with that true man who is different from us. We are also aware that our knowledge and experience of new humanity will continually grow only as we are focussed entirely on this one. We, therefore, do not look aside to any other.