Friday, July 21, 2006

Should Christians Be Optimistic, Part III

I’m finally returning to the question of how Christians should view history, particularly the future.

I want to turn very briefly to the humiliation and sacrifice of our Lord and ponder just how it should change or shape our outlook of the future. Jesus suffered greatly, both as man and God, for the sins of His people.

First, he laid down His divine prerogatives to take the form of a humble servant. Paul writes that Jesus "made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:7-8)

Second, not only did Jesus die for us, He lived a perfect life for us, too, in the face of great temptation. As the Second Adam, Jesus had to face and overcome the temptations and machinations of Satan (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). The author of Hebrews says that, "we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). Jesus had to face and conquer temptation on behalf of His people as a man, to win victory where Adam had fallen.

Third, in His physical being, Jesus had real, human, physical limitations. He hungered (Matt. 4:2), thirsted (John 19:28), and became physically tired (Mark 4:38). Additionally, Jesus had real human emotions. At various points, Jesus is described as troubled (John 12:27), sorrowful (Matt. 26:38), and compassionate (Mark 1:41).

Fourth, before going to the Cross, Jesus suffered slapping and scourging by His Roman tormentors and was mocked and cursed by His own kinsmen of the flesh. He endured harsh physical and emotional pain on our behalf.

Fifth, on the Cross, He became Sin for us. The Bible says that he became "a curse." "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.'" As God, Jesus was without sin, and yet He willingly became sin to save His people from the coming wrath and judgment of God. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:21).

Finally, Scripture says that the only begotten Son of God, who shared perfect fellowship as the second member of the Godhead, was forsaken by the Father. “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

Christ's suffering begs the question, was it all in vain? Did Jesus do all of this so that only a small percentage of men would be saved? Did he suffer so that the world would fall increasingly under the reign of Satan? Moreover, is Jesus’ victory at the cross and His ultimate exaltation primarily, if not exclusively in the spiritual realm?

It seems reasonable to assume that because His suffering, humiliation, death, burial, and ultimate triumph occur in rather than outside histor--and as a real, physical man--that His ultimate victory likewise will be visible and on earth, in history, not as the result of a post-historical discontinuity.

W. G. T. Shedd puts it this way:

It is utterly improbable that such a stupendous miracle as the incarnation, humiliation, passion, and crucifixion of one of the Person of the Godhead, should yield a small and insignificant result. On a priori grounds, therefore, we have reason to conclude that the Gospel of the Cross will be successful, and the Christian religion a triumph on the earth and among the race of creatures for whom it was intended. But this can hardly be the case, if only a small fraction of the human family are saved. The presumption, consequently, is that the great majority of mankind not the small minority of it, will be the subjects of redeeming grace.

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