A group of firefighters were checking up on hot spots after a forest fire had been contained. As they marched across the blackened landscape between the wisps of smoke still rising from the smouldering vegetation, a large lump on the trail caught one firefighter’s eye. As he got closer he noticed it was the charred remains of a large bird. Since birds can so easily fly away from the approaching flames, the firefighter wondered what was wrong with this bird that it could not escape. Had it been sick or injured? Arriving at the carcass, he decided to kick it off the trail with his boot. As he did, he was startled by a flurry of activity around his feet. Four little birds flailed in the dust and ash, then scurried down the hillside. The bulk of the mother’s body had absorbed the fierce heat and covered them from the searing flames. Though the heat was enough to consume her, she had stayed with her young and rescued them from certain death. The mother bird had made the ultimate sacrifice to save her young! [a story from Wayne Jacobsen’s ‘He Loves Me!’] Please don’t press the metaphor (the mother bird did not resurrect – Christ and his followers are in the habit of doing so), but it does illustrate in a miniscule measure the saving and atoning sacrifice of Jesus for the likes of us. Jesus ‘absorbed’ into his sinless body and being all that the law, sin, the world, the flesh and the devil could throw at him and by his life, death and resurrection purchased salvation, forgiveness and eternal life for all who take shelter in him. He died as our substitute, and by his sacrifice brought us full atonement and reconciliation.
After the meal of ‘strong meat’ [Part 2], here follows a good pudding!
I am a Luther fan, so allow me the licence of sharing with you some of his rich and colourful perspectives as to ‘Christus Victor!’
- Luther graphically describes how the law assailed Christ but couldn’t defeat him. The devil attacks Jesus through the law, but he (the law) exceeds his rights and therefore loses them. ‘Thou hearest that Christ was caught in the bondage in which we are all held, was set under Law, was a man full of grace, righteousness, etc., full of life, yea, He was even the Life itself; now comes the Law and casts itself at Him and would deal with Him as with all other men. Christ sees it, lets the tyrant perform his will against Him, lets the reproach of all guilt fall against Himself as one accursed, yea, bears the name that He Himself is the curse, and goes to suffer for this cause, dies, and is buried. Now, thinks the Law, He is overpowered; but it knew not that it had so grievously mistaken itself, and that it had condemned and throttled the Son of God; and since it has now judged and condemned Him, who was guiltless and over whom it had no authority, it must in turn be taken, and see itself made captive and crucified, and lose all its power, and lie under the feet of Him whom it had condemned!’
- Concering God’s wrath, Luther wrote “The curse, which is ‘the wrath of God’ against the whole world, was in conflict with the blessing – that is to say, with ‘God’s eternal grace and mercy in Christ.’ The curse conflicts with the blessing, and would condemn it and altogether annihilate it, but it cannot. For ‘if the blessing in Christ could yield, then God himself would have been overcome.’ But that is impossible!” [I am reminded here of God’s promised eternal blessing to Abraham and all his spiritual offspring, a promise that cannot be broken for God cannot deny himself – see Gen. 12]
- Luther loves the strong colours of the Bible [which scholasticism had discarded], especially when it comes to God’s dealings with the devil. It was ‘the Lord of Glory’ [Luther is very strong on the lordship of Christ, rightly so], not a mere man who was crucified – but God concealed this from the devil. God acts like a fisherman, who binds a line to a fishing-rod, attaches a sharp hook, fixes a worm on it, and casts it into the water. The fish comes, sees the worm but not the hook, and bites, thinking that he has taken a good morsel; but the hook is fixed firm in his gills and he is caught. So God does; Christ must become a man; God sends him from high heaven into the world, where the devil finds him like ‘a worm and no man’ (Ps. 22:6), and swallows him up. But this is to the devil as food which he cannot digest. ‘For Christ sticks in his gills, and he must spue Him out again, as the whale the prophet Jonah, and even as he chews Him the devil chokes and is slain, and is taken captive by Christ.’ Marvellous stuff!
- Christ is triumphant over objective evil. His love prevails over his wrath, and yet love’s condemnation of sin is absolute. Every attempt to force this conception into a purely rational scheme is bound to fail [in his commentary on Galatians Luther refers to ‘reason’ as the quack doctor]. For true theology lives and has its being in these combinations of seemingly incompatible opposites.
As we begin to wrap up, a summary of the main thrust of our three blogs may be useful. Aulen reminds us that the Classic Idea of the Atonement is [note, all bold type is my emphasis] ‘above all, a movement of God to man, not in the first place a movement of man to God. We shall hear again these tremendous paradoxes: that God, the All-ruler, the Infinite, yet accepts the lowliness of the incarnation; we shall hear again the old realistic message of the conflict of God with the dark, hostile forces of evil, and His victory over them by the Divine self-sacrifice; above all, we shall hear again the note of triumph. For my own part (Aulen’s), I am persuaded that no form of Christian teaching has any future before it except such as can keep steadily in view the reality of evil in the world, and go out to meet the evil with a battle-song of triumph. Therefore I believe that the classic idea of the Atonement and of Christianity is coming back – that is to say, the genuine, authentic Christian faith.’ [It’s interesting that Aulen first published ‘Christus Victor’ in 1931. It had been re-printed 8 times when I bought my copy back in the late 60’s]
For me, now in the mature years of my life, and as one who for many years clung to and preached the Latin View of Penal Satisfaction, a re-discovery of the Classic View in the last few years has been instructive, inspiring and very practical! [remember how at the beginning of Part 1 we agreed that one’s view of God and the Cross are determinative of how we think, live, relate and behave in the Church and in the world] [Greg Boyd asks why in the USA (could also be in SA), where the penal view has been preached for so long, nominal Christianity continues to be so rife? Why has it not been transformative?]
I am a person with pretty settled emotions – on the one or two occasions I have felt somewhat ‘down’ about myself, the state of the Church and the world, I have been moved to tears and love and humility as I have looked again at Jesus and his love for me a sinner, for His people and a lost world. I have been freed from thinking that we need the law and fear to keep us from sinning, for I recall a statement by my son shared with me some time ago, Love will lead you where fear never will! A true understanding of God’s love (a Cross-shaped love) will never lead anyone to spiritual or moral laxity, but to greater depths and higher heights in their walk with the Lord.
Dear reader, whatever YOUR conclusions, the Lord richly bless you and make his face to shine on you and yours!