Wrestling with Jesus

2 09 2008

Last weekend I went away on a mens camp with my Church. We’re a small church so we had about 40 guys come along. I was priveliged to be the worship leader for the event, but at 25 I was the youngest man there by far. I was also one of the few not to have children (or grandchildren for that matter). It was a great weekend and I learnt a lot. We had Myk (Mike) Habets, a professor in systematic theology, from Carey Baptist College do all the teaching. He’s big on the trinity and expounding practical implications for it for everyday life. So I thought I’d share a few insights into the trinity from the camp and other seminars too. I’m mindful of Stanley Grenz’s book “Created for Community” where he says “Deny the trinity and you’ll lose your salvation. Try to understand the Trinity and you’ll lose your mind.”
The teaching was called “A spiritual theology for everyday life”. At first glance this may seem like some sort of New Age spirituality teaching, but it was anything but. Myk is a die hard Calvinist which is why I enjoyed it so much. We opened with a quote from C S Lewis’ (and I’m paraphrasing here) book Mere Christianity. The love and relationship between the Father and Son is so strong that it is actually a person. That is the Holy Spirit. Sometimes when a family or good friends gather together there is something more present among them. It is said to be the spirit of the group gathered. Although there is no person physically present there, we do sense something more in the whole than in the sum of its parts. This is what the Holy spirit is like. In a greater sense this love between the Father and Son is another person, not just a force or a feeling. I liked that. Lewis is good for general ideas about things.

The Challenge for the rest of the weekend was to take portions of the gospels and ask “What is the Spirit doing here?” There are certain events that disclose who Jesus really is and going through these events with an eye for the Spirit was something of an eye opener for me. First up was Jesus’ birth. The most amazing thing about it was not that he was born of a virgin, or that he didn’t have a sin nature but that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. This is huge. You and I are not conceived by the Holy Spirit – the Bible plainly testify to this “In sin was I conceived and in iniquity was I brought forth“. The text tells us that the Spirit overshadowed Mary and she was found to be with Child. There are no sexual connotations with the overshadowing. The text seems to be purposefully ambiguous.

From there you have to go to this peculiar passage in Luke 4. Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 in the temple. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” and then goes on to say that on that day the scripture had been fufilled when He read it. This was so offensive to the Jews that they tried to throw him off a cliff ! As my Arminian friend Chuck Missler always says, when the Jews get angry in the Bible it means we’re missing something  and need to look very carefully. But I’m not too interested in the Jewish reactions, as opposed to Jesus’ self understanding. If at 12 years old He can stand up and say that Isaiah 61 has been fufilled in Him, what does that tell us about who Jesus thinks He is? The Gospel writers are telling us something here. Jesus was conceived of the Spirit and is living a life a full of the Spirit. I’ve always passed over those texts quickly, but they only started to make sense in light of the big picture story.

Then we come to the story of Jesus’ Baptism. John baptises Jesus and Heaven open up. In a Jewish mind there are only two possibilities when Heaven opens up. Either its God’s judgement coming down and you run for the Hills, or its God’s blessing coming down. Either way you know which one it is, there is no ambiguity about it. This occasion is one of those amazing Trinitarian moments. The Father speaks from Heaven and the Spirit descends onto Jesus in the form of a dove. Jesus is the Son in whom God is well pleased. The real question we have to ask is who was this confirmation for? It certainly confirmed it for John (who later had doubts as we can expect) and it certainly confirmed it for those who were around at the time. But what about Jesus? He is the God in the flesh, the God man. Perhaps that confirmation was as much for Him as it was for us? The reason for the confirmation comes a little later when Jesus is lead by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.

One idea we struggle with often is to understand the reality of the temptations that Jesus faced. We have a strange view of Jesus that he was a man inhabited by God – a weird sort of Alien possession. The implication is that he never really felt the temptation because He was God. But that isn’t the picture scripture is painting. Jesus was tempted in a very real way. Here is God, who without ceasing to be God becomes a man and dwells among us. He is a man who is full of the Spirit which is reworking His priorities to be in line with what the Father wills not what He wills. The Temptation was very real. Jesus could have all the kingdoms of the world without having to endure the cross. Without having to obey His Father, but it is only through the work of the Spirit that He is able to resist the temptation. If we don’t see it this way we’re left with a Jesus that is a good man but somewhat irrelevant. Who cares if God himself can endure temptation, of course He can, He’s God. What kind of temptation was it? Its a cop out, its no temptation. Really who cares anyway when your marriage is on the rocks or you’ve lost your job? Jesus certainly is relevant as the Bible says we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathise with our plight. He can do more than sympathise he really has experienced what we experience. He knows all the limitations of being Human. Not just some of them but all of them.

There was so much that we discussed on that camp. Too much for me to go into on a post like this. Hopefully I will get a chance to post more, but let it be said that these few things here have opened my eyes and leave me saying again “There is so much more to Jesus than I ever saw before”.
I earnestly want to know Jesus more and more. For one of the first times I can relate to Paul personally when He says I resolve to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Scripture is starting to make a lot more sense than before.




2 responses

2 09 2008
m slater

Grant, sounds like an excellent event, I think that sort of getting away and sustained reflection is very valuable.

“Deny the trinity and you’ll lose your salvation. Try to understand the Trinity and you’ll lose your mind.”

Great quote, and quite true is it not? The Trinity is something we must study, must make as central to our theology for it to be truly Christian theology, and dare not push to the side. Yet no matter how much one contemplates it, the Triune God is truly beyond our ability to grasp in full. I for one always feel like anything I say or think about the Trinity is partial and incomplete at best.
I like what I have read on Grenz, especially his ‘Theology for the Community of God’.

“The text tells us that the Spirit overshadowed Mary and she was found to be with Child. There are no sexual connotations with the overshadowing. The text seems to be purposefully ambiguous.”

It does seem that way doesn’t it? For all that people at times make of the purported divine conceptions of other ancient figures, the parallels are really not that strong. The Greco-Roman myths, with Zeus or whoever getting human women pregnant, are very very different sort of accounts than what we see in the Gospels.

3 09 2008

Yeah Stanley Grenz is fantastic but I dont agree with everything he says – at times he seems to equate tradition with scripture – which I don’t at all. I think tradition must be subject to scripture. But he certainly was a good thinker, and sadly he died much to young.

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