Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Ultimate Purpose of the Resurrection, Part 4

The title for this short series of blogs could be taken to imply that there is a simple and short means of identifying exactly what is the “ultimate purpose of the resurrection.” If you, the reader, thought this was the case, I think you would be half correct. For I have proposed what I think is the straightforward and simple end goal of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ: To make it possible for our whole selves (including our bodies) to be united with him spiritually and to receive all the fullness of God’s gifts and thus be able to serve him in the way he intended when he created human beings.
However, the writers of Scripture tell us that this end goal can only be reached through a process. That is, God in Jesus Christ had to go through a process of suffering, dying and being raised back to life. And we who believe, through the engagement of our wills, must go through a process by which we abide in our Lord, the Vine, and receive all we need for “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Further, I contend, that Scripture tells that there is an orderly process by which God makes the provision of spiritual life (Greek, zoe) flow from God himself into our finite beings.

Here is what I believe regarding that orderly process: The resurrection of Christ makes it possible for God the Holy Spirit to gift to believing humans the full effects of the death of Christ on the cross as our substitute. The source of the God-human life that the Lord Jesus offered up for us is the “blood of Christ”; the divine power of God Father, concentrated in the life-blood of Jesus Christ himself, was released through Christ when he died. The chosen means of directly imparting or transferring divine life to redeemed human beings is through the Blood. And thus it is the blood that makes spiritual transformation happen; while the death and resurrection are God’s chosen means of releasing that divine power; we receive divine life and power through union (abiding) with Christ.  

I am indebted to the writings of one of God’s faithful servants from a prior generation (Andrew Murray) for this insight regarding the Blood. Since I cannot articulate this truth any better than he did, I will cite a few choice quotes from him.

“The life which dwelt in that blood—the heart from which it flowed—glowing with love and devotion to God and His will, was one of entire obedience and consecration to Him. And, now, what do you think? If that blood, living and powerful through the Holy Spirit, comes into contact with our hearts, and if we rightly understand what the blood of the cross means, is it possible that that blood should not impart its holy nature to us?" (Andrew Murray, The Blood of the Cross [Martino Publishing: 2012], p.38.)

The Lord Jesus frequently spoke of the centrality of the human “heart” and that to really know God one’s heart must be open to, yielded to and filled with God himself. This is how the Lord himself lived during his earthly journey that led to his death on our behalf. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21, ESV) And it is the human heart that needs to be re-created in order for us to love God and be a neighbor to others.
If I treasure God and thus all that he has gifted to me “for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3) then I will love the Blood! For this is God’s all sufficient provision for my redemption (which includes my resurrection), the means of reconciliation (healing) of relationship with God and others, the medicine for forgiveness (cleansing) of my sins, the means of making me holy to God (useful for his purposes), the means by which I have free access to God’s throne (Presence), the source of God’s life to me for victory and joy now and for eternity.  

“But as the blood could not have been shed apart from the sacrifice of ‘self’ on the cross, so it cannot be received or enjoyed apart from a similar sacrifice of ‘self.’ That blood will bring to us a ‘self’ sacrificing disposition, and in our work there will be a conformity to, and an imitation of, the crucified One, making self-sacrifice the highest and most blessed law of our lives. The blood is a living, spiritual, heavenly power. It will bring the soul that is entirely surrendered to it, to see and know by experience that there is no entrance into the full life of God, save by the self-sacrifice of the cross.” (The Blood of the Cross, p.38)

I have struggled most of my teen years and adult life to consistently live with full integrity in relationship to God and others. And my positive response to that struggle has mainly consisted in trying to find some kind of means (I will call them “tools”) for righteous living—service through the local church, intensive study of Scripture and other great Christian books, many failed attempts to establish daily time for prayer and quiet before God and to will to be self-disciplined in my thoughts and behavior. What was I missing? What have I been so blind as to not understand? 

Surely I have been blind to the power of the Blood. And this has been due to my choice to seek what I thought were spiritual solutions to my own agonizing personal failures. The only spiritual solution available to any of us is found in the Lord Jesus! Specifically, in the power of his life-blood. And for his life-blood to give deliverance and wholeness I must be willing to believe that I have no power in myself to save myself in any way. Even my ability to give myself as a “living and holy sacrifice” (Romans 12:1, NASB) is only possible because Christ gives me the power to do so through his own “self-sacrifice of the cross” (Murray). 

This whole series of blogs, due to the need to elaborate and clarify the several layers of important biblical affirmations (and their theological implications), could be interpreted as theoretical and not useful for how we actually live day to day. I urge the reader to be open to consider how eminently practical and helpful the biblical teaching is on the death, resurrection and the blood of Christ. The Lord and the apostles taught it as transformative truth to all who would hear. Holy Spirit grant us revelation to understand what the Father wills to give us through the blood of Christ’s cross!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Ultimate Purpose of the Resurrection, Part 3

I do not know much about agriculture or how to grow plants or trees for food. Frankly, this is something I have never had any interest in. However, the Lord used an agricultural metaphor as one of his primary metaphors to describe how believers relate to him. Namely, that he is heavenly Vine and we are branches connected to him (John 15:1-8). So a city boy like myself will need to learn something about this and think about the implications of what God is seeking to teach. Now that I have admitted my ignorance of nearly all things related to horticulture I will attempt some theological reflection.

The vine grows in the ground and the branches which are connected to it, on which the fruit appears, must remain connected to serve their purpose. In some sense then the ground represents God, as Christ is “in” God the Father. “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30, NLT) Thus, if we are “in” the Vine (Christ) then we can receive the nutrients from the Vine to live and bear “fruit” for God. 

The Lord told the disciples this prior to his death and resurrection and assured them they would be given insight and wisdom to understand this (and much more) about how God wanted to relate to them (see John 15:26; 16:12-15). Clearly, he was preparing them for what they would experience when the Holy Spirit was sent to take up permanent residence within their spirits. And thus, it seems to me, the death and resurrection of the Lord was necessary for the spiritual reality he was describing to become actualized in them.

So then, I have some questions: What makes it possible for a human being to become a “branch” in the Vine? What about Christ (the Vine) makes him suitable for us to be united to him as branches in a vine?

One answer is obvious: To become a branch requires faith on our part. But I am not thinking of our human choice now; rather, I have in mind what God did to make it possible for us to become these branches of the heavenly Vine. Once again, we need to look to the Person of the Lord Christ and what he did for us in suffering death and being raised to life.

Andrew Murry wrote something on this point that I have found to be remarkably insightful and helpful. He says the following:
“The suggestive expression, ‘Planted into the likeness of His death,” [see Romans 6:5] will teach us what the abiding in the Crucified One means. When a graft is united with the stock on which it is to grow, we know that it must be kept fixed, it must abide in the place where the stock has been cut, been wounded, to make an opening to receive the graft. No graft without wounding—the laying bare and opening up of the inner life of the tree to receive the stranger branch. It is only through such wounding that access can be obtained to the fellowship of the sap and the growth and the life of the stronger stem. Even so with Jesus and the sinner. Only when we are planted into the likeness of His death shall we also be in the likeness of His resurrection, partakers of the life and the power there are in Him. In the death of the Cross Christ was wounded, and in His opened wounds a place prepared where we might be grafted in.(Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ, chapter 11, emphasis added [cited from The Andrew Murray Collection, Barbour and Company Inc., p.66-67])

The Lord himself was made by God the perfect human vessel who could suffer and die on our behalf, for our sins, and his resurrection makes it possible for us to become, in an actual spiritual way, a part of Christ. Murray writes of our being grafted into the very wounds of Christ. His observation here is certainly true and lines up with the teaching of the New Testament.
Is it not most remarkable that we miss such an obvious truth? Do I not understand that I will only be able to receive true spirit-life from God except through intimate and permanent connection with Christ? The implications of this teaching are so radical because they demand everything of me. I would, to be honest, prefer that God sent me daily a package of spiritual vitamins and other nutrients which only required water and some stirring to prepare; then I can be ready for the day to serve God. Yet this is not how he has arranged to give his own life, power, wisdom, righteousness and holiness to his beloved people.

The holy Triune God decided that all the fullness of God would dwell in the human Person of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:19; 2:9). And it is in Christ that we “have been made complete” (Colossians 2:10, NASB). Further, it is Christ who is “the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” (Colossians 2:19, NASB) This is how we receive the resurrection power of God that God willed to be in Christ for us.

Thanks and praise be to God alone! The Holy One is good and wise and knows how to give the best to all who come to him by faith.

“Let them praise the name of the LORD,

For His name alone is exalted;

His glory is above earth and heaven.

And He has lifted up a horn for His people,

Praise for all His godly ones;

Even for the sons of Israel, a people near to Him.

Praise the LORD!”
(Psalm 148:13-14, NASB)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Ultimate Purpose of the Resurrection, Part 2

I have noticed for some time that in the New Testament the death (on the cross) of our Lord Jesus and his resurrection are (almost) always referred to together. The only exception I can recall is Paul’s elaboration on the meaning of the cross (1 Corinthians 2). Yet even in that portion of the letter, the careful reader will understand, the resurrection of Christ is not absent from Paul’s thought—for he writes about it elsewhere in the letter. It appears that he was focusing on his own preaching of the cross of Christ in order to counter the Corinthians’ tendency toward arrogance and pride in themselves and what they took to be their superior spiritual experience.

I would suggest that in the minds of many persons who do affirm faith in Christ there is a split between the two historical events. Mainly Christians tend to think, based upon what I have read and heard people say, that it is Christ’s death that saves us and the resurrection from the dead is a kind of necessary consequence of him having physically died. Is there not more to the resurrection than that?
Paul states plainly, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10, NASB) So what precisely is the means of our being “saved”? Is it not the self-sacrificial death of Christ and his resurrection from death together? 

Here is my contention: The resurrection of Jesus the Christ confirms and seals his self-sacrificial death on our behalf and makes it possible for all the benefits of Christ’s death to be gifted to us who believe the Gospel. The power of God’s life was manifested in the Lord during his earthly life, in his suffering on the cross and through the resurrection of his body into a eternal embodied existence. The purpose for Christ experiencing all of this was to make it possible for us who believe to be spiritually crucified (die with Christ) and thus to be granted eternal life (live with Christ) in God through spiritual resurrection (see Galatians 2:20). In this way, and only in this way, can anyone actually live to please God and do what he has commanded (see Romans 8:1-13).
What the above paragraph describes is not intellectual abstraction. Spiritual death and spiritual life are as real as physical life and death. And deliverance from the power of sin and from our total inability to do what is right from a pure heart—even when we know what that is and want to do it—is only found in the Person of the Lord Jesus (see Romans 7:21-25). 

True repentance, forgiveness, deliverance from demonic spirits, healing of one’s inner person and body and hope all come through the power of the Living One, the resurrected Lord Jesus. And his power cannot become operational in a person unless he or she has genuine faith. “It is a great and necessary office of saving faith to purify the heart, and to enable us to live and walk in the practice of all holy duties, by the grace of Christ, and by Christ Himself living in us . . .”  (Walter Marshall, Sanctification, or The Highway of Holiness, p.46)
The purpose of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead is this: To demonstrate God’s love and power and to make it possible for human nature to be crucified (killed); in this way God can re-create and live in and through redeemed humans. Again, this is not an abstraction or merely intellectual notion—though it could be in the minds of some persons who have no actual experience of knowing the living God in one’s spirit (heart). This is God’s means and method of doing what for us is impossible—becoming “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:4, NASB)