In Franklin Roosevelt's famous speech on the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor he referred to December 7, 1941 as \"a date which will live in infamy.\" The same might be said about September 11, 2001, a day on which four planes were hijacked and brought disaster to the World Trade Center towers, a massive portion of the Pentagon, and numerous families who lost loved ones. In fact, it is probably difficult for any of us to see today's date and not instantly recall the events of that day, where we were when they happened, and what we felt like when we got the news.
Something else that we might be tempted to think of as we recall those events happening four years ago today is the importance of theology. After all, those men who hijacked those planes and destroyed thousands of lives did it for theological reasons. They believed they were serving a god and would be rewarded with blessings and eternal life. Therefore, should the events of which today remind us lead us to say, \"Forget theology. It is not that enjoyable, and can be quite destructive.\" Should we attempt to labor for the world for which John Lennon longed when he wrote the words in his famous song, \"Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky, imagine all the people living for today â€¦ Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do, nothing to kill or die for, no religion too, imagine all the people living life in peace â€¦\" No doubt many would say that Lennon foresaw the dangers of 9/11 and might agree with him.
However, does the tragedy that we witnessed four years ago today truly show a need to throw out theology altogether and have nothing to do with it? No, it doesn't. For what we need to understand is that everyone has a theology. Everyone has a worldview, a grid through which they interpret all things. Everyone thinks something about God, man, and the world around him. It is inescapable. Therefore, the events of 9/11 highlight not the horrible reality of theology but the danger of having an incorrect theology and the need of having a correct theology.
Therefore, this semester we are going to attempt to understand another area of theology, namely, the work of Christ and salvation. Most are familiar with what is meant by the term \"salvation\" but some may be wondering what is meant by \"the work of Christ.\" The work of Christ simply refers to what Jesus did, the life he lived, his death on the cross, his burial, his resurrection, his ascension, etc. In short we're going to try to look at the nature of the work he did to redeem his people and attempt to better understand what he accomplished for us.
There are several reasons why this is a crucial topic. First and foremost we believe that the there is indeed eternity after this life, some going into eternal hell and others to dwell with their Lord for eternity. Therefore, if this is true - and I indeed believe it is, and if the work of Christ is our only hope for inheriting eternal life, then it is crucial that we rightly understand what he did and what his work accomplished. At the same time, it is important that we study the work of Christ and salvation because many wrongly understand what Christ did and what his work accomplished. Some would deny that Jesus actually died on the cross saying he simply passed out, was taken down, and then walked out of the tomb later having revived. Others say that though he did die he certainly was not raised, but rather his disciples stole his body. And still others would say that the issue is altogether not important, for regardless what Jesus did, in the end every road leads to God, it is simply important that we believe in something earnestly. Then the popular view in the church is no doubt that though Christ came, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, we find ourselves wanting to argue with the possibility that many people went to hell this past week after the hurricane in New Orleans because we really do not believe people must place their faith in Christ if they are going to be saved from eternal judgment. Thus, with all kinds of mixed up thoughts pervading the culture and the church concerning this central theological topic of the work of Christ and salvation it is crucial that we understand rightly what the Bible declares on this subject.
The Necessity of a Biblical Framework for Our Study
The reason many misunderstand what Jesus did and what his work accomplished and means for us is because they impose their own understanding on what the Bible says instead of trying to understand the work of Christ from within the biblical story. Therefore, a crucial beginning point for us as we embark on this study is the nature of Scripture and how we are to read it.
The Nature of Scripture
Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, \"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.\" Thus the Bible's claim for itself is that is nothing less than God's Word written by human authors. Therefore, there is one ultimate Author behind the Scripture so that there is a clear unity to the Bible. Yes, though the Bible was penned by numerous men living in different time periods and writing in different genres, the Bible tells one story. And it is within this one storyline of Scripture that we must interpret all things. Therefore, before we can do systematic theology successfully, in our case understanding correctly the work of Christ and salvation, we must first understand the whole biblical storyline so that we can rightly interpret Christ and his work fitting it within the categories provided by the framework of the Scripture's plotline.
The Biblical Storyline
The Bible, and indeed all of human history, begins with the creation, as Genesis 1:1 reads, \"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.\" This is the beginning of the story. And from this we learn much about God, for the main theme of Genesis 1 is that we see who created - God. Everything that is created has its root in God, for he is the creator. As we study this world and its properties, we are studying the work of God. He created all things from nothing, and yet he is separate from his creation. That is to say, though he created the world with order so that scientific study is possible, he is not bound by his creation because he is not contained with it but is separate from it.
Therefore, though God always was and always will be (the statement to Moses in Exodus 3:14, \"I AM\"), everything else we know was created by him and is utterly dependent on God for its existence, while he is dependent on nothing.
This has implications for us as to who God is as well as his nature. Some of them are as follows:
1) God is sovereign
God has all power, knows all, and is in control. There is not one ounce of power that is not ultimately under his authority. After all, everything that is, is created by him. He is the owner of it. Nothing has a hint of an upper-hand on God.
2) God sustains his creation and is the ground and guarantor of moral order.
Because God created the world, his creation is utterly dependent on him for its existence. And his creation derives its moral order from him. If God ceased to be who he is, then the creation would fall apart. The reason sin is sin and right is right is because sin is against the character of God and that which is right aligns with the character of God. The reason we have a desire for justice is because we were created by a God who is perfectly just. And if he were to be unjust, he would (by necessity) destroy the moral order of his creation, for all of creation is founded in him. This is an implication of the doctrine of creation which becomes huge in understanding the necessity of the cross, which we will look at later.
3) God is judge and ruler of all.
Because God is the creator, it also means that he rules and judges his creation. It is not the other way around. Men do not stand as judge of God, for man is simply the creation, not the creator. However, this is the case in the mind man of sinful man today. Lewis, writing years ago, told of this: \"The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God's acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God is in the Dock.\"1 This is far different from anything you could come up with by looking at the beginning of history, creation. Man does not even exist without God creating him, and then man is completely dependent on his creator for life.
Creation also tells us much about ourselves, about man. Mainly, we see that we are created in God's image as we read in Genesis 1:26-27, \"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing at creeps on the earth.' And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.\" Thus, understanding the nature of our creation we then see the following:
1) Because man is created in God's image, we are to reflect his character and nature in our lives.
This also assures us again that we are dependent on God. Man's life is defined in relation to God. Therefore, we were created to reflect the glory of our maker. Sin falls short of reflecting that glory and the fall tarnishes this in man.
2) Being created in God's image means that we are able to know God and communicate with him.
This is a characteristic unique to man. None of the rest of the created order is able to know God and communicate with him. Only man is able to do this. And this ability to know God, stemming from being created in God's image puts within man's very being a desire to see himself as more than a bunch of atoms. We hunger to relate to God in some sense. D.A. Carson has said it this way: \"We have been made in God's image, and however much we have abused ourselves as God's image-bearers until this innate capacity is distorted and twisted, at some deep level we hunger for its restoration, while scarcely understanding what it means.\"2 However, we must also remind ourselves that no matter how deep this longing is in humanity, man, apart from Christ, despises his creator.
3) Because we are created in God's image, we are responsible creatures.
Man is responsible to his Maker, and God treats man as responsible. God takes sin seriously because he takes humans beings seriously. Hell is therefore a reminder to us that God treats man as responsible to our judge (God) for our actions. We see that because we are made in God's image, we are responsible to a judge who must judge justly or destroy the moral order of his creation.
Thus, even as we look at creation we already see structures and categories forming through which we interpret the world and within which we do theology. We see that because we are made in God's image, we are responsible to a judge who must judge justly or destroy the moral order of his creation. Therefore, what would happen if man were to turn against his Maker, sinning against him? For God is a just judge and man a responsible and guilty creature. We all know that this hypothetical question is not hypothetical at all. Rather, we see that the Bible's story comes to a tragic turning point only two chapters later. Therefore, we turn our attention to the second crucial point in the Bible's plotline - the Fall, and look at the implications thereof.
It is only three chapters into the Bible that we read of the tragic events of the Fall. God had commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam is instructed that if he does, he will die. Yet, though lacking nothing, we read of the man and the woman disobeying God's instruction in Genesis 3:1-7 as they are tempted by the serpent and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
And with this sin against God, all of history takes a turn for the worst. This is indeed a horrible and climactic point in the story of redemption. It is the turning point, as God's good creation (i.e. Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31) becomes an evil, helpless, and depraved creation in need of redemption from sin and reconciliation to its Maker. Adam's sin had greater consequences than he could ever have imagined. And we see the effects of the Fall very quickly as the chapters thereafter reveal the consequences of Adam's sin.
1) We see that Adam's sin plunges all of mankind into sin and guilt.
Adam's sin affects more than himself; it affects everyone who would be born after him. Though you cannot necessarily see it in Genesis 3, a survey of the rest of Scripture shows that this chapter begins a downward spiral for all of humanity. Adam's sin spreads to all men and corrupts all of mankind.
This is apparent even in the next chapter. The beautiful picture of the creation living in peaceful relations with its maker and one another in chapter 2 stands in sharp contrast to the events of chapter 4 as Cain gets angry with his brother and kills him. This is clearly an assurance to the reader that the effect and corruption of sin did not stop with Adam. The corruption of sin spreads to all men, making them evil in their nature (Genesis 6:5).
The New Testament picks up on this as well, specifically Paul. He has no problem drawing from many passages in showing man's corruption in Romans 3:10-18. And when Paul turns to the source of man's corruption, he looks no further than the fall, writing in Romans 5:12, \"Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so sin spread to all men, because all sinned.\" In Adam, all mankind is wrapped up in and cursed by Adam's sin.
The sin of Adam brings about consequences. First of all, the serpent, the man, the woman, and the land are cursed. The serpent is made to crawl upon his belly and eat dust (Genesis 3:14); the woman is to have pain in childbirth, desire her husband, and be ruled by her husband (3:16); the man is cursed to toil in his labor, for the ground is cursed to grow forth thorns and thistles (3:17-19). And remember God's warning that man would die (2:17)? This is truly the result of the sin of Adam. When one reads the genealogy of the descendants of Adam in chapter 5, the recurring phrase \"and he died\" is there most definitely to show the triumph of sin in the life (and death) of mankind.
The effects of sin from the fall in Genesis 3 are devastating: man is dead in his sins (Ephesians 2) and unable to turn to God without being drawn (John 6). After the fall, man is depraved. That is to say, sin has corrupted every fiber of his being so that, apart from the grace of God, man is evil. Carson notes, \"The impact of sin on human beings reaches to every facet of our existence, our will, our bodies, our emotions, our imagination, our reason, our relationships. Doubtless the Bible says much more than this; it certainly does not say less.\"3
This does not mean that every man is as evil as he could be, but rather that there is not an ounce of man's being which is not corrupted by sin.
2) Therefore, we quickly understand as well that man's basic problem is sin
Man's rebellion against his Maker is the problem that mankind has. The Bible clearly diagnoses this. Therefore, we need look no further. This is why in order to understand the world rightly we must look at the Bible's storyline. Otherwise we misdiagnose our need.
Again, Carson is helpful here, noting, \"Weigh how many presentations of the gospel have been 'eased' by portraying Jesus as the One who fixes marriages, ensures the American dream, cancels loneliness, give us power, and generally makes us happy. He is portrayed that way primarily because in our efforts to make Jesus appear relevant we have cast the human dilemma in merely contemporary categories, taking our cues form the perceived needs of our day. But if we follow Scripture, and understand that the fundamental needs of the race are irrefragably tied to the Fall, we will follow the Bible as it sets out God's gracious solution to that fundamental need; and then the gospel we preach will be less skewed by the contemporary agenda.\"4 He is surely right! Man does not know what is relevant to his needs, because outside of Scripture he does not understand what his true need is; he doesn't understand the effect of the Fall and the spread of sin.
As Adam has plunged man into sin we are left helpless, for we are all corrupted with him. It is as if we are all trapped in a deep pit out of which we cannot climb. We need another to come and save us. And it is exactly that promise of salvation that we see covering much of the pages of Scripture from Genesis 3 forward.
The Promise of Coming Salvation
It has been said before that the Bible is like a mystery novel. For once we read the New Testament and see the answer to everything is Christ's work on our behalf, we should then turn back to the previous \"chapters\" of the book and see and understand all of the clues rightly in light of the answer to the mystery. Or to make the comparison, just as you find the right answer in chapter 10 of the mystery novel, you want to turn back to all the previous chapters and see all the clues and how you should have seen the answer long before it was made clear, so we read the Old Testament in light of Christ and his work, which is the answer to that \"mystery\" which had remained throughout all previous generations.
After Adam had sinned, in man's dark hour of rebellion, God foretells of his plan of redemption and consequent provision for his people. In Genesis 3:14-19, as God is giving the curses, he foretells of his plan of redemption. It might not have been clearly understood at the time, but looking back it is quite clear. He says to the serpent in Genesis 3:15, \"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.\" God had promised that one, like Adam, would come to undo what Adam had done.
Going on from there, the promise of redemption and the identity of the Redeemer and his work become clearer. We immediately begin to look for one who could, like Adam, who could undo what Adam had done bringing individuals out of the grip of sin and death. Then, God calls Abraham to himself and declares that through his seed he would bless all the nations of the earth (Gen. 22:18). Therefore, we are looking for one like Adam to undo what Adam had done, and one who would be Abraham's son who would bring this blessing to all the nations. Then, we see the great climax in 2 Samuel 7 as God makes a covenant with David.
In this chapter, David had simply looked around during a time of rest and saw that he lived in a nice house while the ark of the covenant was in a tent. That is to say, David saw that God's presence as being housed by a tent, and he wanted to build a house for the ark. Nathan, at first, tells David sure, and then God tells Nathan to tell David he is not to build it, for that was not his plan for David to do this.
Then, God turns it around and says to him in verse 11 that whereas David wanted to build a house for God, in actuality, God is going to build a house for David. That is, he was going to build a dynasty of kings from David. Thus, God tells David that he will raise up offspring from him who will reign over the kingdom, that he will build the temple, and that his throne will be established forever (11-13). He then tells him in verse 14, \"I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.\"
To us, such a verse might seem crazy. We might think, \"How could David hear this and think anything other than that the Son of God was going to come from him?\" However, we must understand that \"son\" language is used throughout the Scripture in a functional way. That is, a son was supposed to imitate his father, so that if your dad was a carpenter, you were a carpenter, etc. Therefore, as early as Exodus 4 God can call Israel his son, as they were supposed to reflect his character in the world. Even more specifically the king of Israel could rightly be called God's son, for he was first of all an Israelite, but even more than that he would reflect God's kingly reign over his people. This is why it was such a travesty that the kings were evil in Israel's history, for they were to reflect God as his son. Thus, David would have heard God saying that his offspring would reign as king, functioning so as to reflect God's character a reign; he would be God's son. Finally, in case David was concerned that one of his sons would sin in a manner like Saul so that the Lord would remove him from the throne, God assures him in verses 14b-17 that he would discipline David's son when he sinned but that he would not take away his love as he had done to Saul, for David's throne would be occupied forever.
Therefore, there are only two options for this promise to be fulfilled. Either David would have to have his son follow him as king, and his son follow him as king, and his son follow him as king - forever, or he would have to have one son who would live forever, and therefore never need to be succeeded by another as king. Thus, God promises that the one to come would be king.
Thus, we might now say (though, if we were to take the time we could say much more) that we are looking for one to undo what Adam did who would come from the line of Abraham and David. God had promised coming redemption and it was becoming more and more clear.
Jesus - the Fulfillment of the Promise
This brings us to the opening words of the New Testament (some 580 years since any king had reigned on the throne of the kingdom in Israel) as Matthew tells us that his gospel begins with, \"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.\"
With those words it becomes very clear. Jesus is the one who is to undo what Adam has done. He is the one who would show us how God would justify man and still remain a just judge. He is the one who would be the means of blessing to all the nations. He is the one who would reign as King over an everlasting kingdom. He is the focal point of the Bible's storyline, the focal point of history. He is the only solution to the plight of mankind after the fall.
And it is in understand all that comes before him and who he is that we are then able to understand what his work accomplished and what salvation is. Indeed, it is in the work of Christ that we see the Fall undone, salvation begun, and God's just justification of his people throughout all the nations. The Biblical storyline drives us to the cross, and so we will turn our eyes there over these next thirteen weeks in order to understand exactly what it is that Jesus accomplished in his great work and what is the nature of our glorious salvation. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
1C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 244.
2D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 210.