The Lord liberated his people from oppressive bondage in Egypt. They were now free to enter into a covenant of love with their God. Israel constantly looked backwards to this great liberating event reminding them that their God is the One who set them free from oppressive bondage. Later in their history, through Isaiah, the Lord pointed them forward to a new exodus event. He would act again to liberate them from oppressive exile in Babylon and also from even more oppressive powers. And in this new exodus Israel’s covenant God will prove to be the God of all peoples.
At his transfiguration Jesus spoke to Moses and Elijah about his “departure” which he would accomplish at Jerusalem. The word translated departure in Luke is exodon so they were talking about his “exodus”. The death of Jesus is the new exodus that God promised through Isaiah.
In this new Exodus the lowly servant of the Lord liberates us from all the powers that oppressed us. Through him we are free from sin, death and all the dominion of darkness. And that means we are free for a new covenant of love with God sealed with Jesus’ blood. Within this new covenant we are free to enjoy life in the promised land of participation in the very life of the triune God. Furthermore, within this communion of love we anticipate the day when the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
Jesus acts in our place and in our cause as only he can. He alone “gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father”(Gal. 1:4). We did not play any part in this saving action. How could we? We were under the power of the present evil age unable to do anything for ourselves and so unable to add to what Jesus did for us. He was also made a curse for us to free us from the curse (Gal. 3:13). Again, he did so, without us. The whole of God’s saving action has happened fully in Jesus needing no completion by us.
But is there no way at all that God’s saving action is completed by us? What about the decisive demand of faith? Faith is vital, but it does not add to what Jesus has done for us. In faith we gratefully respond to all Jesus has done for us by trusting in Jesus plus nothing. We fully trust in him alone and not at all in ourselves. And we give thanks to God for his indescribable gift.
This faith comes as Jesus encounters us personally by his Spirit. And in this encounter we know that faith is the gift of God. Furthermore in this response of faith we are united to Jesus by his Spirit. And in this union we now share personally in Jesus response of faith in our place and on our behalf. In that way, our imperfect response of faith shares in the perfect faith of Jesus on our behalf. It is all Jesus plus nothing.
Left to ourselves we humans are enslaved under the reign of sin and death. Under these powers we are always against God. We don’t want him. Nevertheless, God wants us and shows he is for us as he steps into our situation to rescue us from our plight. God intervenes in the death of Christ to bring to an end the reign of sin in death. He takes our sin upon himself and goes down into death to bring the power of sin and death to an end. Then Jesus is raised from death by the Father’s Spirit bringing into existence an entirely new creation.
This decisive divine intervention brings about a radical reversal of our previous situation in Adam.
In Jesus dying, the old is gone.
In Jesus rising, the new has come.
God himself has interrupted our old human existence in Adam under sin and death in order to open a new and living way in Jesus and his Spirit.
Jesus died and rose again as our representative so we died and rose with him. We have been crucified with Christ and so for us the old has gone. We have also been raised with Christ and so for us the new has come. And now our ongoing daily life is shaped by this dying and rising. Daily we die to any religious self-effort in attempting to be right with God or holy before God or more united to God. Daily we also rise in the Spirit into our new relation with God in which all things are new.
Scripture gives us various windows on the cross. These windows offer different ways of looking into the meaning of the cross. Gazing through these windows we are able to consider diverse features in Jesus self-offering for us and so gain a fuller understanding of his cross. And yet, we can never gain mastery over the mystery of the cross. For what actually took place between Jesus and his Father in the most holy place is hidden from us.
On the day of atonement the most important part was done within the veil beyond human sight. The high priest took some of the blood shed in sacrifice and disappeared behind the veil into the holies of holies. Jesus, our great high priest entered within the veil into heaven itself, into the holy of holies of God’s presence. There as our high priest he offered himself for us beyond our view. That means that the innermost meaning of atonement remains mystery. It is beyond our seeing and our saying. As T. F. Torrance says the cross is “… a holy and infinite mystery which is more to be adored than expressed. Here we tread the holy ground of the garden of Gethsemane and Calvary and here we must clap our hand upon our mouth again and again, for we have not words adequate to match the infinitely holy import of atonement”.
By the Spirit, we can see something of what the cross means as we look through the windows on the cross. Nevertheless, we cannot gain mastery over the mystery that always confronts us as we survey the wondrous cross.
Can we penetrate into the deep meaning of the cross of Christ? T. F. Torrance tells us that we cannot think our way into the cross but only out from it. And we only think our way out from the cross with understanding as we view it from the resurrection side. And yet, even in this “understanding” we are confronted with mystery beyond our knowing.
The Spirit of Christ must open to us the mystery of the Crucified Christ by bringing Christ to us in living encounter. Only then do we see something of what his cross means. In the presence of the risen Jesus we see that his tragic death has actually conquered death. Sin reigns in death, but now we know that both sin and death have been defeated and we are liberated from their power.
As the Spirit opens to us the meaning of the cross it still remains hidden as mystery. As David Willis says, “the more we know of its hiddenness the more it grows in its hiddenness. And the more we are caught up in its hiddenness, the more we are encountered in its disclosive power” In this encounter we do not invent our own theories of atonement trying to gain mastery over the meaning of the cross. Rather than trying to gain mastery over the cross we gaze into the mystery of Christ crucified. In wonder we say, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
The Father’s Son came among us identifying himself fully with us. He did not stand over us aloof and menacing, but came alongside us as one of us. He came for salvation, but also for judgment. Jesus tells us that the Father has given all judgment to the Son. That means his judgment is the ultimate judgment of God against which there can be no appeal to a higher court.
We may now shrink in fear from all this as severe. Before we do, let us recall that the Judge is Jesus. Yes, the Judge is one who has identified with us fully in our need. He has himself been tempted and is therefore sympathetic towards us. Furthermore, he is the judge who has been judged for us. The Father handed over all judgment to him and yet he handed himself over to the false accusations of human judges so that he might bear within himself the ultimate judgment of God. The Judge is judged.
The Judge handed himself over to bear the condemnation that rested on the old humanity in Adam. The old humanity is condemned to death as the wages of sin. But Jesus tasted that death for us and in doing so brought about the death of the old humanity under the condemnation of death. He has made an end, a radical end, of the old humanity which opposes God. Having done so, he rises from death as the new man in new creation and we rise with him. We rise as the dearly loved children for whom there is now no condemnation.
Thomas Torrance writes, “God is not one thing in Christ and another thing in himself. He has not shown us one face in Jesus Christ but kept his real face hidden from us”. In Jesus, the Lord himself makes his own face shine upon us; he lifts up his countenance upon us, and gives us peace.
Jesus really is the open face of God turned towards us. However, the god of this world has blinded our minds to keep us from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. And so, we cannot even begin to see the beauty of God’s glory in the face of his Son. Nevertheless, the God who said “let light shine out of darkness” has shone his light into our hearts by his Spirit so that we can now see the glory of God in the face of Jesus.
“That is the heart of my hopes by day and my dreams by night. To behold the face of Jesus seems to me the one thing to be desired” (George MacDonald). Sharing this desire, we gather together around Jesus to gaze on the glorious beauty of his face by his Spirit. As we do so, his Spirit transforms us into Jesus’ likeness together so that we become his beautiful community of joyful self-giving love. And we reflect his beauty to one another and to the world.
Thank you Father for showing us the beauty of your face in Jesus. May your Spirit continually transform us into the likeness of your own Son as we gaze on his beauty within your own community of joyful self-giving love.
When people hear the word God they may think of a Perfect Being who is remote and removed from the messy world in which we live our messy lives. This God is the Supreme Being who has no personal face to show us.
Baxter Kruger says that people paint a face onto this faceless deity themselves out of their own pain or guilt or shame or fear. The face that you paint onto this distant deity may well be mean and menacing. A frowning face that is always down on you and judging you. When things go wrong in your life you may feel that this frowning deity is punishing you in some way because you don’t measure up to his demands. When things are going well you may feel you have to perform well in order to keep this menacing deity happy.
Jesus is the true Face of God. Thomas Torrance says, “When we look into the face of Jesus Christ and see there the very face of God, we know we have not seen and cannot see God anywhere else or in another way but in him, for he is God himself become human, and there is no God except the God who has come and meets us in Jesus”
We don’t paint the face of God onto a faceless deity out of our own darkness. The face of God himself has turned towards us in the human face of Jesus. That face is not ugly. It is THE beautiful face. For in the face of Jesus we see the free expression of God’s loving-kindness towards us. And that is beauty surpassing all other beauty.
Do we really see Jesus as God entering fully into the human situation as a human with humans? Or do we rather see him as a human who somehow floats over the human situation?
The Jesus we meet in his story is God for us in complete solidarity with those at odds against himself. He exposed himself to human temptation, suffering and death. He was genuinely tempted so that he faced the real and dreadful possibility of unfaithfulness towards his Father. He became our brother threatened with us, harassed and assaulted with us. As the writer to Hebrews says, “He learned obedience”. He did not commit sin, but he was not immune from it.
God as human was fully with us moving with us towards death. With us He cries “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He bore our need as his own, he took it upon himself and cried with us in our need. Indeed, he knew far better than any other how much reason there is to cry.
We say that God became human and we must have no reservations at all about his total identification with us. Only then do we see the sheer wonder of our God. He is not some distant deity above and beyond us in splendid isolation. He is not some detached divine being who is remote and removed from us. He is rather the God who identifies fully with us by becoming one of us and one with us.
In our world people are usually glorified as the move upward to stand out above all the rest. In contrast to this, the God of majesty was glorified as he moved downward to the very lowest place for us. In Jesus, God descended into our desperate situation, by making it his own situation. He drew near to us identifying himself with us/giving himself fully and freely as the God of needy and unworthy people. And he moved downward to where we are with the aim of lifting us up to where he is in God/with his Father.
In this downward movement we see God’s majestic splendour and beauty in the form of humiliation. Karl Barth says, “In Jesus, the Almighty exists and acts and speaks in the form of One who is weak and impotent, the eternal as One who is temporal and perishing, the Most High in the deepest humility. The Holy One stands in the place and under the accusation of a sinner with other sinners. The glorious One is covered with shame. The One who lives for ever has fallen a prey to death. The Creator is subjected to and overcome by the onslaught of that which is not. In short, the Lord is a servant, a slave.”
God is glorified in this humiliation and his Spirit is given to us to glorify him in our hearts. The Spirit glorifies him as the exalted one, but also as the humiliated one. For he is always the Lord as Servant in humiliation and the Servant as Lord in exaltation.