The first step to ministering in the hope of the Risen Lord

Last week we began looking at what Andrew Purves describes in The Resurrection of Ministry (IVP 2010) as ministry that is centered in the reality of the redemptive, hope-filled ministry of the risen and ascended Jesus. He reminds us that
…the resurrection of Jesus…[and his] ascension and ministry at the right hand of the Father and through the Holy Spirit, make Christian faith and ministry possible….as God the Holy Spirit joins us to him to share in his life. Joy and hope, therefore, mark Christian identity because Jesus the Christ is risen, reigns and will come again, and we, in union with him, share now in his life (p. 23).
Purves, professor of Reformed theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, says the first step to ministering in the mood of Easter Sunday—in the hope of the Risen Lord—is simply to focus on the person that is Jesus. It’s all about Jesus, living and reigning—and not about some general concept of God. “Jesus lives! Everything else follows as a result of this confession and the truth it bears witness to” (p. 24).


Purves describes the proper place of the words “God” and “Christ.”
[The truth of Christian faith and ministry] is not located in the first instance in a theological title—in “Christ”—nor in a general concept of deity—“God.” The truth for Christian faith and ministry is located in the personal particularity of Jesus, who in the flesh of his humanity is both Christ and God (p. 24).
Purves explains that, for some people today, the theological title “Christ” has an unclear meaning, and is especially a problem when separated from Jesus and used alone.
…. detached from its anchor in Jewish theological history, and its fulfillment in and as the man Jesus…. [It becomes a] concept or idea that has slipped from its moorings, namely, the particularity of the man Jesus, who is Christ….

Speaking about Jesus, who was fully God, reminds us that he was and is a man… Jesus never ceases to be fully human…. [and as] our high priest, ever lives to be the mediator between the Father and us, bringing God to us and us to God, all in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we lose hold on his humanity, everything gets cast back on us to establish a relationship with God. Then we are on the road to introducing messianic pretensions into our Christian practice.

Even as the title of “Christ” and the history of expectation that preceded it identify Jesus as the Lord’s anointed, it is Jesus, finally, who gives the title its full meaning… Because he is singularly the incarnate Lord, the word “Christ” has proper use and appropriate meaning only when attached to the person of Jesus in the flesh of his humanity (p. 25).
Purves also describes a problem in using the word “God”—saying that word carries with it “the assumption that we actually know who we are talking about.” There is also danger of the word “God” becoming what Purves says is
…an abstract general concept….of a generic God of the religions, lying behind the back of Jesus, as it were or behind the doctrine of the holy Trinity. This general concept of God is seen to be applicable to all religions and may have also a civil religious reference…The implication is devastating for Christian faith. Father, Son and Holy Spirit can no longer be seen to be the name of God. God, as the Trinitarian communion of love, becomes a Christian addition…. [and] It is impossible then to get from a general religious concept of God to a proper theological understanding of Jesus as Lord (pp. 25-26).
But because Jesus is God, the concept of God becomes reconstructed into the doctrine of the Trinity, and becomes what Purves calls “christologically controlled.”
First, it is the Son, “who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” [John 1:18]. And second, Jesus tells us that “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).
Without such divine revelation, Christian faith is seen as radical, scandalous and nonsensical “precisely because of its astonishing and insistent historical particularity.”
It is a faith that deals with Jesus, born through Mary’s birth canal, acknowledging that he is the Christ, and confessing that he is wholly and fully God. Our understanding of both Christ and God are filled in by Jesus, by who he was and is, by what he did and does, by what he said and says, and by what happened to him (p. 26).
The hidden God became a human person.
As Jesus, and in the Spirit, God still deals with us. And we, dealing with Jesus, are dealing with God (p. 27).

In the Spirit Jesus is in fact at hand and at work to bless, to comfort and to heal, because that is who God is and what God does (p. 28).

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