Stay focused on Jesus

The post below is adapted from an article by Joseph Tkach. It provides food for thought as we enter the season of Epiphany, which celebrates the revealing of Jesus Christ to the world.

[Revised 1/9/17]

Given that he is the final and ultimate revelation of who God is (Hebrews 1:3), Jesus must remain our focus throughout the year. Knowing who Jesus is and what he has done for us helps us grow in understanding the reconciliation we have with God and each other. In Christ, through the Holy Spirit, we are set free to love. Let's look at some related concepts.

Come Follow Me
by Liz Lemon Swindle
(used with artist's permission)

Jesus' two natures and his vicarious humanity

Jesus is both divine and human---two natures united permanently in one person, through what theologians refer to as the hypostatic uniona term utilized in the early church to apprehend the truth revealed in Scripture that Jesus is the complete, personal sharing of God in humanity's life and humanity in God's life. This fundamental and profound truth is addressed in the book A Passion for Christ, the Vision that Ignites Ministry, where brothers Thomas, James and David Torrance emphasize what theologians call the vicarious humanity of Jesus. The word "vicarious" means “speaking and acting in place of another, on that other’s behalf.” Jesus, in and through his humanity, by his life, death, resurrection and ascension, acted on our behalf (as our representative) in our place (as our substitute). As James Torrance was fond of saying, Jesus is "the one and the many" (our representative) and also "the one for the many" (our substitute).

His mission

This understanding of the vicarious humanity of Jesus enables us to understand that the atonement was accomplished not merely by Jesus, but in, with and through him. This means that Jesus was baptized for us, as one of us. It means that he went through the wilderness and was tempted for us, he died and entered into darkness for us, and he rose from death into life in order to take us with him in his ascension to our Father. In all this vicarious work for our salvation, Jesus did not play a merely instrumental role (like a tool being used to build something). Rather, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit planned together for Jesus to fulfill in his own Person and work the pivotal role in our salvation. The atonement, in its entirety, is accomplished in, with and through Jesus: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This is the truth that sets us free!

Adoration of the Magi by Burne-Jones (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

His objectification

In Christ, God objectified himself without becoming impersonal. When the Son of God became human, he became an object we can see and touch and worship. He was God to man. And when Jesus assumed our humanity, he also became the appropriate response from man to God as led by the Holy Spirit. Note T. F. Torrance’s comment in his book, God and Rationality:
[Jesus Christ] is in Himself not only God objectifying Himself for man but man adapted and conformed to that objectification, not only the complete revelation of God to man but the appropriate correspondence on the part of man to that revelation, not only the Word of God to man but man obediently hearing and answering that Word. In short, Jesus Christ is Himself both the Word of God as spoken by God to man and that same Word as heard and received by man, Himself both the Truth of God given to man and that very Truth understood and actualized in man. He is that divine and human Truth in His one Person. In his incarnate constitution as God and man joined in reconciling union, Jesus Christ is both the objective revelation of God and the appropriate response and conformation of man to divine revelation. He is not only the Truth (John 14:6) spoken from the highest, he is also the perfect response to that Truth, heard and actualized from within the ontological depths of the fallen humanity he assumed in the incarnation.

Our mediator

As both man (human) and God (divine), Jesus is uniquely the one mediator between humanity and God (1 Timothy 2:5 KJV). In the Incarnation of the Son of God in the human person of Jesus, we have “double fact”---what some call "the twofold, inseparable movement of mediation.” The first fact, as Tom Torrance liked to put it, is that “Jesus is God’s language to humanity.” The second fact is that Jesus is humanity’s true and faithful response to God---he is our true word and gives true speech for us (humanity) to God. In other words, Jesus Christ mediates the things of God to humanity and simultaneously mediates the things of humanity to God.

This mediation is illustrated in the way the Son of God (the pre-incarnate Christ), lovingly and patiently worked in covenant relationship with his people Israel. That story begins with God providing Abraham a sacrifice in place of Isaac, Abraham's beloved son. This event not only gave instruction against child sacrifice, it is prototypical of what the Son of God would do for all humanity following the Incarnation. Because God knew Israel would not (indeed could not) fulfill their side of the covenant to live as holy, obedient people, God gave them under the old covenant a liturgy different than that of the pagans. While Israel and the pagans all celebrated spring and fall harvest festivals, Israel was given divinely prescribed patterns for worship that signified the fact that only God can forgive sin, remove guilt and reconcile people to himself. All of Israel’s sacrifices and ordinances, as well as the priesthood itself, were vicarious ways of covenant response to God. Because of God’s faithfulness and love for Israel, he gave them an experiential way to worship. However, as the Old Testament tells us, Israel repeatedly abandoned worship as given to them by God. In doing so, they failed the mediating priestly mission that they had been given on behalf of all nations. In contrast, the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, was the perfect, unfailing response to God that Israel was unable to provide.

Jesus not only took on Israel’s affliction of failure, he assumed all of humanity’s brokenness and made it his own in order to heal it. In this we see Jesus’ twofold ministry, the “double fact” I mentioned above. Jesus mediates and intercedes from God to humanity and from humanity back to God. The old covenant highlights this truth in a number of ways: “I shall be your God and you shall be my people,” “I am holy, be you holy,” and “I will be your Father and you will be my son.” These declarations concerning Israel are fulfilled perfectly in Jesus who is both the covenant-making God and the true, singular, faithful Israel. Note this related comment from T.F. Torrance in one of his papers:
It is the whole incarnate life of Christ vicariously and triumphantly lived out from his birth to his crucifixion and resurrection in perfect obedience to the Father within the ontological depths of his oneness with us in our actual fallen existence, that redeems and saves us and converts our disobedient alienated sonship back to filial union with the Father. That is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. (“The Atonement, The Singularity of Christ and the Finality of the Cross: The Atonement and the Moral Order,” 1993)

May he always be our focus

Jesus is fully God and fully human—God with us and God for us. He is the Word spoken to humanity and the Word heard and received by humanity. He is God’s relationship to us—through him we are in relationship with God. He is the God others could see and hear and worship and he is our worshipful response to God. Jesus is our atonement. He is our mediator. He is our focus—it is in Jesus that we live and move and have our being.

And now a prayer for Epiphany from The Book of Common Prayer that is used by various churches to guide their worship of our triune God:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and all the world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.