Monday, May 02, 2011

Raised for our Justification (Easter, Day 10)

The resurrection happened. It was an event concerning Jesus. I've been exploring this lately by reflecting on the language of the Easter gospel and what it implies about the subject of the Easter event.

But Easter is not a spectator sport. The resurrection of Jesus Christ took place for us! So let's take a moment and reflect on what the resurrection means for us.

When reflecting on Easter's significance, there are two tendencies of which we must beware.

The first tendency is to say that, since our reconciliation was accomplished on the cross, the resurrection has no saving significance. It is perhaps the revelation of Christ's identity, an inevitability on account of his deity, the transition to the Spirit's work of applying salvation to us, etc. But it cannot be a saving event because that was completed on Good Friday.

The second tendency, at least in our time, emerges primarily as a reaction to the first tendency, which has been so dominant in the Western Christian tradition. This second tendency is to divide up the work of salvation so that the cross accomplishes one thing and the resurrection another. In order to emphasize the saving significance of Easter, this approach downplays the finished character of Christ's death.

I have deep sympathy with both of these approaches.

The first rightly emphasizes that in some sense our reconciliation with God was accomplished in the life of the incarnate Son, which was fulfilled in his death on the cross. As we have already discussed, in the first instance the resurrection is not a work performed by the incarnate Son, but a work performed on him by God the Father. So Easter is not just one more miracle, the last in a series of saving works. It is the sequel to his finished life.

The second rightly emphasizes that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a saving event. The New Testament is emphatic about this from beginning to end. To empty the resurrection of its saving significance in order to "protect" the finished work of the cross is a fundamental error, and wreaks havoc on our biblical interpretation. If we can end the story on Good Friday and be perfectly satisfied, then something is terribly wrong. Something must be done to articulate the saving significance of Easter.

I have no quick fix to this dilemma. But I do have a brief thought that may speak to it. And it comes from a striking little verse at the end of Romans 4: "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Rom 4:25).

Here the death and resurrection of Jesus seem to be placed together as one saving event with two sides. And the two sides are not two "halves," so that each does 50% of the work of salvation, accomplishing two different things that together make up a composite work. No! The two together accomplish one thing, i.e., the justification of sinners.

How are the two sides related? It seems to be that there is a "negative" side and a "positive" side to the justification of sinners accomplished in Jesus Christ. The negative side is Christ's death: "He was delivered over to death for our sins..." The positive side is Christ's resurrection: "...and was raised to life for our justification." These are not two different works, but the negative and positive sides of one powerful work of salvation.

The analogy that comes to mind is a battery. A battery has positive and negative poles, both of which are necessary to conduct electricity. It's not that you get half the power if you touch one. You got to have both. They each perform different functions within one act of conducting electricity. The analogy breaks down quickly, but you get the idea.

These 40 days I commend you to rob neither the cross nor the resurrection of their saving significance, but see both as two sides of the one event of God's justification of sinners!

Any thoughts?


pastorchris'place said...

Great balancing of crucifixion and resurrection in the saving act. Sort of like 6 days of creating and one day of rest made the creation week complete, perhaps.

Always a pleasure to read ofter you, John.

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