Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Tag: atonement

September 13, 2022 – None, but He Who had created

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.—Romans 5:14

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.—2 Corinthians 5:14

For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being.—Hebrews 11:14

More thoughts for meditation

Our creation and God’s Incarnation most intimately connected.

But men, having rejected things eternal, and, by counsel of the devil, turned to the things of corruption, became the cause of their own corruption in death.

The human race then was wasting, God’s image was being effaced, and His work ruined.

We have incurred corruption and need to be restored to the Grace of God’s Image. None could renew but He Who had created.

He takes a body of our Nature… He makes it His own, wherein to reveal Himself, conquer death, and restore life.

By being above all, He made His Flesh an offering for our souls; by being one with us all, he clothed us with immortality.

In sections four to ten of On the Incarnation, Athanasius presents the first reason for the incarnation. Above, I’ve outlined the basics of his argument using his words, but now I want to unpack it more. For Athanasius, the incarnation and the creation are inextricably linked. God “gave us freely,” through the Word, through the incarnation, “a life in correspondence with God.” But human kind severed that relationship, “having despised and rejected the contemplation of God, and devised and contrived evil for themselves.” That is the problem that the Incarnation solves, that is the first reason for the Incarnation—to solve this dilemma: the gift God freely gave ruined rejecting “things eternal” turning to “things of corruption.”

Athanasius presents us with a conundrum that God is facing: “For it were not worthy of God’s goodness that the things He had made should waste away, because of the deceit practised on men by the devil. Especially it was unseemly to the last degree that God’s handicraft among men should be done away, either because of their own carelessness, or because of the deceitfulness of evil spirits.”

God is moved to save us, despite our “carelessness” or us being deceived because what God has made as good should not be away with. God is moved to love us because of who God is and who God created us to be. In order for us to return to who we were created to be, we need more than repentance. “None could renew but He Who had created.” The Word made Flesh, Jesus, was in a unique position to both suffer and recreate. So Jesus “comes in condescension to show loving-kindness upon us, and to visit us.” Jesus took the same pity on us that God did when God created us, Jesus extended the mercy, and “condescended to our corruption” and couldn’t bear to let death have the final word. He did this to keep us from perishing, while also preserving God’s good work. “He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours.”

Jesus takes on flesh, which removes death’s “holding-ground” among humans because the Word’s body came to dwell with them. Athanasius compares this to a king who comes back to his city, and no enemy or bandit can descend upon it any longer and subject it. The first reason for the incarnation is that “Word of God being made man has come about the destruction of death and the resurrection of life.”

Suggestions for action

Athanasius’s first reason for the incarnation is salvation. The Word became us to save us, to cancel our debt. Jesus clothed himself with a body that could be killed so that he might be killed on our behalf, and recreate us in his resurrection. The “logic” of this argument may be salient, but the romance of it is even more important. Forgiveness and reconciliation requires us to relate to the person we are forgiving and reconciling with. It requires us to become like them. Moreover, it costs us something, like it costed God something. And so while we are now free to forgive and reconcile, to repent and start over, without condemnation because of the work of Jesus on the cross, it still costs us something. It may cost us comfort but it could be something greater—our power, our privilege, maybe even our financial well-being. I hope that naming the cost itself will make it easier to forgive and to love one another, as God did us.

Pray that God may help you clothe yourself with the experiences of others, so that we can reconcile with one another, and truly develop a New Humanity in Christ, a recreated humanity, a new creation!

Yesterday was Flannery O’Connor Day.  Appreciate her off-kilter look at Southern Christianity at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

March 1, 2017 — Ash Wednesday: The atonement.

Today’s Bible reading

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 2:1-2

More thoughts for meditation

We have sinned. We have missed it when it comes to hitting the mark for which we were aimed. We have left our father’s house and squandered our inheritance. We have eaten the forbidden fruit repeatedly and made ourselves into our own god. We have fled God and found ourselves in the belly of a beast. We have violated the trust God has in us and breached the covenant. We feel guilty, fraudulent, incapable, incomplete, lonely, hopeless, needy. Our condition disturbs God. Not only is he offended, he is suffering the loss of us. Like a mother, God can’t rest until she is at peace with her children and they are safe and growing.

In Jesus, God provides the remedy for sin that we have committed and which has been perpetrated on us. The work of Jesus is called the atonement.

  •  the at-one-ment
  • the propitiation
  • ἱλασμός
  • the atoning sacrifice
  • the expiation
  • the reconciliation for our sins
  • the act that turns away wrath
  • the exhalation after inhalation

There are many more ways to describe the gift of God in Jesus. How one thinks of the work of Jesus the Christ in the cross and resurrection makes a big difference in how she relates to God and others, and how he discerns what he must do or be.

Christ of the breadline — Fritz Eichenberg

In some ways the Lord’s work is very clear: God has provided a way to deal with sin and death on our behalf and to bring about our reconciliation. In other ways, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are so profound, they are beyond our complete understanding. Just beginning with the list of definitions bulleted above shows how varied the images of God’s work can be. We will need to do some theology and keep listening as we move through life.

Each Monday during Lent, we will listen to five different ways the scripture describes the work of redemption in the Lord’s life, death and resurrection. Our effort is not meant to be merely a mental exercise. We need to slow down and meditate so we can understand with our mind and heart. We need to pray as only a saved person can – in relationship with the living God!  Jesus, the person,  is the atonement, not his effective working of a theory. Lent will help us relate, not just analyze. In between the Mondays, we’ll be treated to some poetry that helps us experience what the atonement means.

The various images of the atonement help us receive the gift of reconciliation with God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. When we put all the theories together, they fill out our understanding of an act which is the daily reality in which we live but which is also beyond our full comprehension since it comes from and is moving toward a reality we can only know in part right now. You may think that one of the explanations is the best one. But you don’t need to decide that. The multiple views enlighten each other and end up broadening our understanding. Each image provides a Bible-based angle and represents the good will of the people who offered it. The many explanations of the Lord’s work do not need to stand alone or compete; and they don’t need to be considered equally relevant or applicable. But put them all together and they provide a brilliant revelation to repair our broken souls and guide our way home.

Suggestions for action

Pray: You are my advocate, Jesus. I stand in confidence with you in the presence of God.

Stay tuned for next Monday.

Repent of your sins. You might be convinced by the world that your human potential should not be impugned by the idea that you could be guilty. Democracy might have convinced you that no one can violate your right to go your own way. Atheism might have convinced you that you are alone and must bear the weight or success of your own choices. You may prefer the comforting regularity of your sin, or despair of ever changing. Regardless, bravely turn away from what is killing you and separating you from your true self and your full relationship with God and receive the gift of restoration and reconciliation. The suggested prayer above is an affirmation of that turning.

Decide to do something every day during Lent that gets your mind and body moving toward new life in Christ. This might be a fast from something to empty out space for Holy Spirit. It might be taking on something (like this Daily Prayer) to make a new pathway in your mind and body. Listen for some guidance from God and make a commitment to newness.

For more on Ash Wednesday visit Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

Today is David of Wales Day! Visit him at our sister site: Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body. Scroll down after the entry for Ash Wednesday.

March 25, 2016: the “holy week” — Good Friday: Endure the way of the cross with the Crucified One

All over the world, Jesus followers are walking with Jesus through his last week, through death into life. Circle of Hope shares a literal and symbolic journey together to mark the most important week in history and to be of one mind and heart with Jesus as we share his death and resurrection.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Mark 14:32-15:41 (This matches The Way of the Cross walk)

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the  afternoon.  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[Ps. 22:1]).

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

The Crucifixion, seen from the Cross, by James Tissot

More thoughts for meditation

As Peter disowns Jesus for the third time, Mark uses his final “immediately” of the forty-one occurrences in his writing. With a flash of true shock and awe the betrayed Jesus is handed over to the Gentile ruler, Pilate, by the Jewish religious leaders at the crack of dawn. Now the hours of the day are marked in chapter 15.

In the early hours of the day, Pilate questions the crowd, but they scream for Barabbas. So Jesus is whipped and sent to be crucified in the convicted man’s place.

Jesus was in severe pain after the flogging. His back had been torn open to the bone and He must have been weak from a loss of blood. Although, humanly speaking, Jesus must be pitied; the soldiers (possibly Pilate’s own guards) are more to be pitied. They will stand before the One they not only put to death, but despised and mocked, personally divested of their dignity. What they did to Jesus was a perfect mixture of sadism and political disdain. In twisting together a crown of thorns these soldiers fulfill an important part of the curse Adam introduced into creation. God said to Adam: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.” In a way, these soldiers gave to Jesus the crown which was theirs. In that way Jesus took upon Himself the curse coursing through the human race, Roman soldiers included. These soldiers would be first among those of whom John writes in Revelation: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.”

Simon’s act of carrying Jesus’ cross made him the first person to fulfill Jesus’ prediction about what it would mean to be one of His disciples. Jesus had said earlier in His ministry: “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Although Simon cannot possibly have understood the theological implications of the act he was conscripted to perform, it has become the emblem of all true discipleship. Even more dramatically would Jesus’ crucifixion become the crucial experience that would bring us into an intimate relationship with God by being, as Paul says we are, “crucified with Christ.”

At the site of the crucifixion the soldiers wanted to administer to Jesus a drink that would serve as a kind of sedative. The sour local wine which they offered Him was laced with myrrh; this would give it a bitter taste, but a drowsy impact, and was an act of mercy. Jesus, however, would not receive the anesthetic; he wanted his faculties unclouded for what lay before Him. The sedative was also good for the executioners; it was easier to nail someone to a cross who was drugged. “Golgotha” is a Hebrew word taken from Chaldean, which describes a skull’s roundness. In Latin this ends up Calvaria, “a skull,” from calva, “bald,” as Luke uses the name (KJV).

Evidently, the victims of a crucifixion were nailed to the cross naked. Their clothing became the property of the soldiers who carried out the execution. John goes into more detail than Mark does here. We read in his Gospel: “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.”

The Jews divided the day into four general parts. The first began at sunrise. The second three hours after. The third at mid-day. The fourth three hours after that, which continued until sunset. Mark has the state murder starting earlier than John. But both have the deed culminating at noon and finished by the end of the third division of the day.

The sign placed on the cross above Jesus’ head gave the reason for the capital punishment. It was Pilate’s sarcastic identification-tag and his revenge on those who had forced him into such a difficult position. To the disciples, it was no irony, but God’s own vindication of His Son, even in the hour of His death. All four Gospels make mention of the inscription, which shows the just dying for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty (1 Pet. 3:18).

The passersby who shouted at Jesus had no idea that his “temple” was at that moment being destroyed and that it would be rebuilt gloriously within the space of three days. They did not understand what they were saying but what they were saying was true. What was probably not true was their promise to believe in Jesus as the Messiah if they saw that miracle occur. Miracles rarely bring people to faith. Our inner change is more important than an outer one. Once we see we have been living in a lie, we surrender to love and are made new. So there was prophetic truth in the bitter words. If Christ wanted to save others, then He could not come down from the cross; He had rejected that temptation first in the wilderness (1:13), then at Caesarea Philippi (8:33), and last night the garden of Gethsemane (14:36). To descend from the cross was not only a physical impossibility, but it was also a moral and spiritual impossibility for the Messiah. If He did so, He would cease to be the Christ, He would become a mere human, and such a Christ could never save the world. The only path by which to save others was to refuse to save Himself: in a way totally unexpected by them. [Watch The Last Temptation of Christ to get Kazantzaki’s treatment of this idea].

It has been established that the three-hour-long darkness could not be an eclipse caused by the moon blocking the light of the sun. The moon at the time of Passover was always a full moon. The full moon does not cause solar eclipses. It presages the fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy: “‘In that day,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.’” At the end of the hours of darkness Jesus cried out the verse that was a quotation from Psalm 22, Jesus may have been quoting the Psalm to Himself during the whole crucifixion. When excruciating pain blurs the mind, parts of memorized texts tend to come to the top, which may have occupied Jesus’ mind at this moment. The psalmist’s cry certainly was fulfilled in Jesus’ suffering on the cross while the Lamb of God was taking away the sins of the world.

We see the agony of one suffering the experience of abandonment by God, and yet certain by faith of ultimate vindication and triumph. He was abandoned to betrayal, mockery, scourging and death – yes Even more he was abandoned a spiritual agony which we can never plumb and which, thanks to His endurance of it on the cross, no created being need ever now experience. His unclouded communion with the Father, enjoyed from all eternity, was interrupted. On such mysteries Scripture is silent, and Mark tells us nothing here. If there was a barrier between the Father and the Son in that moment, it was our sin and brokenness that cost him the pain. Paul gives a good definition of being forsaken by stating: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” [For more on the atonement, you might like to read our summary].

Suggestions for action

Each day we will offer a public and communal way to observe the day of holy week. But we also offer ways for you to observe on your own, as a cell or as a family or other grouping.

The gathering

Meet at 12pm at any of our four meeting places

On Friday between the hours of 12 and 3 p.m. we remember Jesus on the cross. We walk with Jesus from his arrest to being laid in the tomb on an imaginative prayer walk in the neighborhoods where each of our congregations meet. A vigil at each location is an opportunity to begin and end in prayer, to spend the three hours keeping watch with the women who waited. If you can’t make it during work hours, the guide around each neighborhood is available online.

On your own

If you are at work, school or home wear a rubber band and snap it every ten minutes from noon to three. That will give you a small pain to remind you of what is happening on Golgotha.

As a cell

Enter into today’s scripture, Mark 14:32-15:41

This is not really a good scripture for a lot of talking – maybe next week, or following weeks you can discuss some of the facts, interpretations, feelings and applications you need to explore. Maybe you could set a mournful tone to be the alarm that sounds when your cell phone timer goes off. Then pass the scripture around the group. There are about eleven sections (depending on the Bible you are passing). Let each willing person read one section slowly. Then set the timer for two minutes of silence. Have a solemn meditation together on how the Lord is saving you.

As a family

Remind each other what happened so far this week. Include what happened all night after the Last Supper (Mark 14:32-72)

Then use the four watches of the day to mark the four different parts of the crucifixion account.

Start your reading with four candles lit. As you finish a reading say, or read, the memory verse of the day (If you need to shorten it to the last sentence, that’s fine):

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

Then blow out one of the candles.

The four sections are:

  • Dawn — Mark 15:1-20
  • 9am — Mark 15:21-26
  • Noon –- Mark 15:27-33
  • 3pm – Mark 15:34-41

When the room is fully dim, have Mom or Dad thank God for the gift of Jesus who makes us safe in the darkness and promises that he will rise from the dead and be with us until we too rise from the dead.