Thursday, July 30, 2015

Confession: Chapter 8, Section 5

5. The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience, and sacrifice of himself, which he, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.

The last section of the Confession explained what Jesus did in order to be qualified to be our Redeemer. Now the Confession explains what Jesus accomplished by doing what He did. 

1. Jesus fully satisfied the justice of his Father. How? By his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself. God's justice demands perfect obedience to the law. He cannot accept any less and still be a perfectly holy and just king and judge. His justice also demands full punishment for all crimes against his holy will. Jesus fully satisfied God's justice by fulfilling all obedience to the law and then by taking God's punishment for our sins upon himself.

2. Jesus purchased reconciliation with God and an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven for his own. How? By fulfilling God's will perfectly, Jesus earned for himself as a man the right to sit on the throne over God's kingdom forever. This is the fulfillment of the promise given to David (2 Sam. 7). But by dying for our sins, he purchased us for God and secured our place in the kingdom he had won. 

Calvin: Book 1, Chapter 11, Section 14

14. Childish arguments for images at the Council of Nicaea (787)

The Council of Nicaea, held in 787 and summoned by the Empress Irene, decreed the use of images in churches and also bowing down in veneration toward these images. Because this church council holds authority in the minds of so many professing Christians - especially in Calvin's day - Calvin feels the need to respond directly to it. He also sees in this Council an example of the extreme lengths people will go to to defend the "veneration" (worship) of images in church against the clear commands of the Bible.

The Scriptures cited by those who advanced the argument for the use and veneration of images really are ridiculous, so as to hardly require a response. Their arguments are shallow and empty. The real heart of the matter is found in this argument: "saints' images for Christians [ought] to take the place of the heathens' idols." In other words, behind the smokescreen of their mis-use of Scripture is a desire to shape Christian worship to meet the desires of pagan worshipers. Now, no modern church would ever do something so crass, would they?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Confession: Chapter 8, Section 4

4. This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which that he might discharge, he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfill it; endured most grievous torments immediately in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered, with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sits at the right hand of his Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.

What did Jesus have to do in order to be able to take upon Himself the office of our Redeemer, the Christ? He had to:

1. Be made (incarnated) under the law (Gal. 4:4), subject to the law's demands as a full human being, which He perfectly fulfilled in every way.

2. He suffered immensely and intensely both in soul and in body. The torments of His soul over the thoughts of the coming wrath on His Father on the cross caused Him to sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. The utter abandonment that He experienced as the wrath of God was poured out on Him caused Him to cry out, "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" The physical torments of crucifixion are well-known and tremendous; it's where the expression excruciating pain comes from. 

3. He was crucified, and died, was buried, and remained under the power of death for a time. In order that Jesus might conquer sin, He became sin. In order that Jesus might overthrow death, He submitted to death. He was brought as low as He could be brought so that His triumph would be complete.

4. The same body - the same fully-human body, born of Mary - was raised from the dead never to die again. It was transformed and redeemed from the grave in such a powerful way as to overcome death forever. In that same human body, Jesus ascended into heaven and now sits at God's right hand praying for you and me.

5. In His human body, Jesus will return visibly and gloriously for all eyes to see. When He does, He will judge all men and all angels and bring an end to our fallen world as He ushers in the fullness of His glorious, eternal kingdom!

This is our salvation and this is our hope, as living and strong as the Lord Himself who has secured our salvation and who is our salvation in Himself!   

Calvin: Book 1, Chapter 11, Section 13

13. As long as doctrine was pure and strong, the church rejected images.

Although Calvin has allowed that images of past events may have a teaching function in the church, his strong preference is to have no images at all. Why? He cites two reasons:

1. The early church, which grew so widely and strongly, had no images in churches for almost 500 years. If the early church fathers saw no need for images, why should we? Why not imitate the church during her strongest period?

2. The use of any images in churches at all will tend to lead to the abusive use of images and then to idolatry. "For men's folly cannot restrain itself from falling headlong into superstitious rites."

Calvin argues instead that we should keep people's attention focused where it belongs, on the preaching of the word, on baptism and on the Lord's Supper. In these simple and yet powerful ways, God speaks and shows Himself to His people. Amen!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Confession: Chapter 8, Section 3

3. The Lord Jesus, in his human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure, having in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell; to the end that, being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, he might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a mediator, and surety. Which office he took not unto himself, but was thereunto called by his Father, who put all power and judgment into his hand, and gave him commandment to execute the same.

The man Christ Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered by the Holy Spirit for His earthly ministry, wise teaching, miracles, sinless obedience, willing sacrifice and powerful, life-giving resurrection. It was as a man that He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and as a man that He spoke wisdom and knowledge and was the perfect image of God, as man was always intended to be. It was in His human nature that He resisted temptation, was undefiled by sin and was full of grace and truth. The man Christ Jesus is thus the mediator between God and man. 

So often, we look at the Gospels and we say, "Well, Jesus did that to prove that he was God." or "Jesus was able to do that because He was God." The reality is that the Gospels show us the fully human incarnate Christ, whose human nature is not separated from His divinity, but it is true humanity still. He was a man. He is a glorified man now. He came and lived as the New Adam, the head of a new humanity. Thus, we follow Him, empowered by the same Holy Spirit. 

Calvin: Book 1, Chapter 11, Section 12

12. The functions and limits of art.

"And yet I am not gripped by the superstition of thinking absolutely not images permissible. But because sculpture and painting are gifts of God, I seek a pure and legitimate use of each."

Some people, including Muslims, say that the 2nd commandment forbids making any images whatsoever. This is not Calvin's position. Calvin asserts that no images of God can be made, but we should limit the sculptures and paintings to what can be seen with the eye. He says that those images which retell a story or an event and have some teaching value are better for use in a church than those single statues that are just for decoration and only bring pleasure or delight and not instruction.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Confession: Chapter 8, Section 2

2. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." - John 1:1, 14

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." - Galatians 4:4-5, ESV

The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the Son of God, fully God and eternal with the Father. He is the Word who was in the beginning (thus, He is eternal) and who was God (fully and equally). And yet this Word became flesh and was born of woman, as the "seed of the woman" (Gen. 3:15) sent to crush the head of the serpent and redeem us from the curse. 

How can one person, Jesus Christ, be fully God and fully man? Is He a mixture of the two, creating some new God-man hybrid substance, like a metal alloy? No. His two natures are not mixed, even though they are joined in His one person. Thus, in His person, Jesus is the union of the divine and the human, the personal reconciliation of God and man in one person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is a mystery and it is hard for our rational minds to understand, but we have to avoid errors which would destroy the basis for our salvation:

1. We must not deny that Jesus is fully God, as Jehovah's Witnesses do.
2. We must not deny that Jesus is fully man, as some mystics and Gnostics do.
3. We must not confuse Jesus' human nature with His divine nature, such as asserting that Jesus the man is everywhere present or that Jesus' humanity shares in all the attributes of His divinity. If this were the case, we could hardly say that Jesus is fully man, as an authentic human with a nature like ours. And if Jesus loses His authentic human nature, then we no longer have a mediator, a redeemer, a great high priest in heaven. 

Good News: Jesus is fully God and fully man!

"Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." - Hebrews 2:17