Michael Ramsey once said: “God is Christlike, and in Him there is no unchristlikeness at all.” It is essential that our minds remain fixed on God as Chistlike because we so easily slip into thinking about God apart from Christ leaving us with an abstract and remote God. We think of God as Almighty. Jesus is God among us in the form of one who is weak. We assert that God is Eternal. Jesus is God among us in time tasting death. We exalt God as the Most High. Jesus is God among us in deepest humility. Jesus is The Holy One standing in the place of a sinner with other sinners. He is the one in whom we behold the Glory of God and yet he is covered with shame. This is the Lord, the true lord, who has taken the form of a servant in order to serve his Father and us. As such, he turns upside down all our thinking about “The Divine Being”.
God took this lowly form in Jesus because of his eternal decision. Before the creation of the world the Father elected his unique Son to take the form of a lowly servant with us and for us. And so Jesus, the Lord as lowly servant, fulfils God’s eternal decision to be with us and for us as one of us. He is God’s eternal decision made actual forever.
Now, with Luther, “we must look at no other God than this incarnate and human God.” And we look at him this way knowing that this is the way that God wants to be known in hearts full of wonder, love and praise.
The salvation of the Lord comes into the world rescuing us from all the false lords that enslave us. No one is ever without a lord. Each one of us is what we are because of the lord’s we serve and the power of these lords over us. And so, The Lord comes in person to bring about a liberating change of lordship from the lordship of the world’s dark powers to that of the true Lord. The rescue comes in Jesus who is himself the liberating Lord. In weakness and humility he wins the battle against sin, death and Satan and we are set free.
As the New Testament writers describe Jesus this way they trust that he will continually bear witness to Himself as Liberating Lord. They don’t want others to accept who Jesus is because of the way they describe him, but only because Jesus declares himself as liberating Lord in unity with his Father. By the Spirit, Jesus has encountered them as the Liberating Lord whom the Father has now exalted and they simply point to who he is. And so, as they proclaim Jesus to others they count on him encountering their hearers in the Spirit as Liberating Lord.
We too have come to know Jesus as our Liberating Lord who sets us free from all the powers that once enslaved us Now we are free to serve him as Lord in newness of life. That is true freedom!
The Jesus story portrays the life of a human among humans. He lives and moves with other humans doing all the natural things humans do. Nevertheless, the story shows that he is different from all other humans. He isn’t simply portrayed as a better human. For there were moments in the story when other humans respond to him as to Yahweh, Israel’s God. Furthermore, his resurrection declares that this man who is the servant of humanity is also their Lord. As the Lord of all other humans he has full authority to condemn them or to pardon. He has full power to call them and bind them to Himself. He has full sovereignty over each person’s existence and all human history
By the Spirit, the Father draws us to his Son so that we now confess, “Jesus is Lord”. We have come to know that Jesus is head over all things and the one who rules over the totality of our existence. Nevertheless, by the Spirit, we know that he is not Lord in the way we might naturally expect. What distinguishes the man Jesus as Lord is that he draws near as the one who serves. We naturally think of a Lord as one who is distant standing over others and requiring them to serve him. But this man who is our Lord and God encounters us by his Spirit as the one wants to be servant of all. He is not distant, but nearer than we can ever say.
Though the Father’s Son was in the form of God he willingly took the form of a servant. He came freely to serve his Father in the power of the Spirit. Always listening for what his Father wanted him to do. Always seeking his Father’s will rather than his own. His food was to do the work his Father gave him to do. His joy was to make his Father glad.
In serving his Father Jesus also served us. Jesus’ Father loves us and so he wanted him to serve us by giving himself freely to and for us. And so, out of love for his Father and us Jesus gave himself to serve by going to the very lowest place even death on the cross. In that way, Jesus shows that he is the true God. For it is this humility that marks out the true God from all false gods. The false gods are a reflection of the human pride which will not stoop to that which is beneath it. In contrast, we see that the true God is not proud. He is the humble God who wants to stoop low in order to serve.
Having stooped to the lowest place, Jesus’ Father exalted him to the very highest place giving him the name above all names. But even though Jesus is now exalted to be confessed as Lord by all he still wants to serve his Father by serving us. He does so as he works within us by his Spirit so that we freely serve him as our Lord. He does not want to coerce us into serving; he wants to inwardly enable us so that we serve him freely and gladly as he serves his Father.
Jesus IS reconciliation from both God’s side and ours.
Jesus is reconciliation from the side of God for he is God’s action reconciling the world to himself. In Jesus God actually came among us doing everything necessary for a new relation with himself. As the Holy One he became sin to overcome sin in himself. As the Judge he was judged so that there is no condemnation for us. God did not hold himself aloof having distant dealings with us. He came among us as one of us to bring us back to himself.
Jesus is reconciliation from the side of God, but also from our side. He lives the true human life in trustful obedience to his Father even unto death. He does so in our place and on our behalf. And he is raised from death as the new man who represents the new humanity now reconciled to God. In Jesus alone there is a new relation of God to humanity and humanity to God.
So we always fix our eyes on Jesus as our reconciliation with God. We do not look towards him at the start only to leave him behind as we move on to other matters. The Spirit of Christ always brings us to Christ setting our hearts always on him as our reconciliation. With the eyes of our hearts fixed on Jesus, we can constantly live and move in the joy and freedom of our new relation with God. For “our” relation with God is actually Jesus’ relation with the Father that we share in by his Spirit.
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”.