Christ in the Garden

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Mary Magdelene meets Christ “in the garden” after his resurrection

In the Gospel of John, there is an interesting “garden” theme that runs from the betrayal of Judas all the way through the resurrection. I cannot help but assume that John is attempting a connection between Adam and Christ.

The setting for the whole garden theme begins in John 13. After Christ washed the disciples feet, John says that Jesus signaled Judas as betrayer by dipping the bread and giving it to him to eat. John tells us that “after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him” (13:27) (almost an anti-Eucharist, no?). After this, it is said that Judas/Satan left to betray Jesus.

What is interesting, is that after Jesus finished his instruction of the disciples, it says in John 18:1 that Jesus “went out with his disciples across the brook of Kidron, where there was a garden”. This garden is where Judas, possessed by Satan, came to capture Jesus and his disciples with a Roman army. It is almost certain that Jesus’ disciples would have been captured and killed along with their leader. And yet John tells us that Jesus protected his disciples by telling the soldiers to take only him and to “let these men go” (18:8). This means that Jesus protected his disciples from Satan’s attack in the garden.

One can’t help but see how this scene almost mirrors Satan’s entrance into the garden in Genesis 2. Satan entered the garden to attack Adam and his bride. The only difference here is that Adam failed to protect his bride. He allowed Satan to seduce her into sin. Christ on the other hand stood up to the enemy. He protected his people by giving his own life for theirs. John then portrays Jesus here as the faithful Adam who stood up to the enemy in the garden, protecting his bride with his own life.

Fast forward to the crucifixion scene, John tells us that the “place where [Jesus] was crucified was a garden” (19:41). John wants us to know then that Jesus gave his life for his people in a garden. On the one hand, this could be a mere historical fact; and yet the detail is random. I believe the detail is theological: Jesus gave his life on a tree in a garden for his people, while Adam on the other hand saved his life in a garden at a tree, and gave his bride to the tempter. John is contrasting the selfishness of the one, and the selflessness of the other.

One last detail is during the resurrection scene. We are told that Mary Magdelene, having discovered Jesus’ body missing from the tomb, was weeping. John tells us that while she was weeping, Jesus came up to her and asked: “Woman, why are you weeping?” (20:13). Mary answered, “supposing Him to be the gardner, [and] she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him'” (20:14). Notice two important details: first, Jesus called Mary “woman”; second, John tells us that Mary supposed him to be the gardner. Adam named his wife “woman”, or Eve. And he was tasked as the gardner! John is clearly referencing the creation account. Christ’s resurrection restores Eden. Jesus in himself becomes a second Adam.

So then it becomes fairly clear that throughout the entire betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection narratives, John is making a connection between Jesus and Adam. Jesus steps in to protect and give his life for his bride in a garden. Adam allows Satan to tempt and seduce his bride, and dies in a garden. Jesus is, as Paul says, the Last Adam.

Adam’s Test: Sacrificial Love

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Nearly every theologian agrees that Adam’s first state in the garden was never meant to be his final. Adam (though he was created in innocence) was created in a state of testing. He was created in a state of probation. It was a state that was meant to be confirmed through obedience.

How do we know this? Well, we can see this from the fact that God placed Adam in the garden with the choice of obedience or disobedience. In other words, Adam could have obeyed God, or rejected God. And, should Adam obey, he would be confirmed in eternal life. Should he disobey, God told him he would “surely die” (Gn 2:17).

What this indicates is Adam’s actions were meant to confirm him in a state of life or death. In a state of condemnation or eternal reward. This tells us that God was testing Adam. That he was putting him on trial, as it were. And that his final state rode on the outcome of this test.

Now, most of us know that God’s testing of Adam involved him permitting Satan to enter the garden and threaten the safety of him and his wife. We cannot overstate the threat that Satan posed to the couple. We cannot overstate the deadly desires that Satan had for this small family.

One might question, why all this testing? Why the probation? Why the threatening presence of Satan? What exactly was God’s purpose in it all?

Scott Hahn, in his excellent A Father Who Keeps His Promises, proposes a grand purpose for this testing. Hahn suggests that God tested Adam’s safety and security to see just how far his obedience would go. In other words, God confronted Adam with a trial, to see if he would love and obey his Father, even at the threat of violence and death.

Hahn says,

The Father who called Adam to life first confronted him with death as a test of sacrificial obedience, a trial by ordeal. If Adam had given consent to death in this situation, by cooperating with God’s indwelling grace, he would have realized and perfected faith, hope and love. The earthly gift of grace would have been transformed into heavenly glory. (pg 74)

In other words, Hahn proposes that God allowed Adam to be left vulnerable in the face of the devil, in order to see how he might react. Would he love God even if it meant that he martyr himself (hypothetically)? Would he trust in God’s strength? Would he protect his bride even if it mean confronting the face of evil? Would Adam, ultimately, give of himself in love for his bride to the Father?

Of course, we know that Adam did none of this. In fact, as the serpent entered the garden, he approached Eve and not Adam; and rather than stepping in and confronting the serpent, Adam stood by doing nothing. Adam was entirely passive, choosing comfort rather than martyrdom; choosing the wide road to destruction rather than the narrow to life.

And so what Adam failed was a test of sacrificial love and obedience. He failed to love God even unto death. He failed to risk his comfort, even his life, for his beloved. Ultimately, we see that Adam’s “fall from grace” was not outright rebellion, but cowardice and passivity.

Hahn, commenting on Adam’s sin, says:

Ultimately, we should chalk up Adam’s sin to a failure of nerve. By not deciding he really decided; since once Eve ate the forbidden fruit, Adam had already failed, even before eating it himself. He should have never allowed things to go that far. If he had intervened from the outset, the entire exchange could have been prevented… (pg 71-72)

And so, Adam failed by refusing to risk his neck and fight the serpent in sacrificial love. Adam failed by loving his own comfort rather than loving God above all else. Adam failed by protecting himself rather than protecting his bride.

God had tested Adam by calling him to imitate Divine self-giving love; the same love communicated in the Trinity. And rather than confirming his love for God, and ascending into glory, he chose to love himself. And for that, humanity fell into a state of sin and cursedness.

Now, what is interesting here, is that what Adam feared in disobedience (death and pain), he reaped as a result of disobedience (death and pain). We see this in God’s curse of Adam and his progeny. God sentenced Adam to spiritual and physical death; to toil and pain. And so, in attempting to protect himself, Adam lost his life. And not just his own, but the life of his descendants was lost as well. All humans born, are born devoid of righteousness, in sin, apart from God; all because Adam chose to love and protect himself.

With this testing in mind, Scott Hahn explains God’s purpose in the curse of humanity: He says,

Willingness to give ourselves out of love, even if it entails suffering, is what makes us fruitful. When we refuse to love to this extent, we sterilize ourselves. Our Father still wants us to be fruitful; that is why he imposed the curse of suffering, in order to keep alive our potential to become supernaturally fruitful. (pg 74)

What is so fascinating about this text by Hahn, is that he is saying that God imposed on us what would not willingly do ourselves. Since Adam would not willingly die, God cursed us with death. But he did not do this to avenge himself: as Hahn says, he did this that we might become fruitful. God imposed death on us, that we might learn to what extent love goes. Hahn says, God cursed us with death to “to teach us love”.

Ultimately, of course, this test comes to fulness in Christ. Hahn ends his chapter on Adam by saying,

This (the background of Adam’s failure and the curse) gives us the key for unlocking the redemptive power of Christ’s suffering and death. As the new Adam, Jesus was tested in the garden, where “his sweat became like great drops of blood” (Lk 22:44). Jesus then had a “crown of thorns” placed on his head (Mt 27:29), before he was taken to the “tree” (Gal 3:13), where was stripped naked (Mt 27:31). Then he fell into the deep sleep of death, so that from his side would come forth the New Eve. Christ dealt with sin; he took it out at its source… Christ undid Adam’s deed by doing what he should have done (pg 75)

So we see Christ as the new Adam, who in love, went to the point of death. He confirmed his obedience in love, even to the point of death, that we, his church, might come from his rib as his protected bride. And ultimately, as ones redeemed by a death of love, we are now called to suffer “even to the point of death” (Rev 2:10) for the world.

In Christ, then, God’s curse is teaching us how to love as Adam failed to do!

The Incarnation and the Physical

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One of the most central doctrines of the Christian faith is the doctrine of the incarnation. The claim that God the Son not only came into our world, but united himself with our world. The claim that God not only revealed himself to us, as he had already done in the OT, but that God became one of us. That God became truly human. That he came here physically. That he was born of a woman (Gal 4:4), that he lived and breathed, that he worked, that he walked and talked, that he ate and drank, that he slept, that God was truly human in every sense of the word.

The incarnation tells us that God not only came into our physical universe, but put on the physical. That he put on flesh. 

But what is so important about this fact? What is so important about God becoming truly man, being physical and material? Certainly the realness of Jesus’ humanity was important to the cross. Jesus had to literally (not spiritually) die and rise for our salvation. Had he not truly died, then we would not be saved. And had he not truly risen, we would have no hope.

But is the significance of the incarnation limited only to salvation? I would answer “no”. In fact, I would say that the incarnation speaks volumes about who God is and what he cares about. Let me explain.

I think that incarnation says something very important about God’s attitude toward the physical; toward the material. Namely, that God loves his material creation; that he thinks it “is good”; that his interest in our universe isn’t simply to get us out, or to remove us from the world. God doesn’t want to “rapture” us out of the world, in other words.

Actually, what the incarnation explains is that God wants to come into this world, not to get us out of it, but to transform it into a dwelling place for himself and for his creation. The reality of the incarnation tells us that God and the physical aren’t enemies, and that the great goal of God is that he would dwell on the earth, with his people.

In other words, the very reality that Jesus is the God-man, tells us that God has created the physical universe as a home for both him and man. He created the cosmos, that “the dwelling place of God…[would be] with man” (Rev 21:3). And so the incarnation tells us that the physical is inherently “good”, and that God doesn’t desire to remove us from it, but to enhance and beautify it! It tells us that God doesn’t want to do away with our physical bodies, but he wants to glorify them.

In short, God loves material, and we should too! That, is the beauty of the incarnation; the beauty of the God-man.

Theologian Robert Barron has much to add to this thought. He sees the incarnation as the central tenet of Christianity. Barron says this about the incarnation:

The incarnation tells central truths about God and us. If God became human without ceasing to be God and without compromising the integrity of the creature that he became, God must not be a competitor with his creation… God… enters into our creation, [and] the world is thereby enhanced and elevated. The God capable of the incarnation is not a competitive supreme being but rather, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, the sheer act of being itself, that which grounds and sustains all of creation, the way a singer sustains a song.

And the incarnation tells us the most important truth about ourselves: we are destined for divinization. The church fathers never tired of repeating this phrase as a sort of summary of Christian belief: Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Dues (God became human so that humans might become God). God condescended to enter into flesh that our flesh might partake of the divine life, that we might participate in the love that holds the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in communion. And this is why Christianity is the greatest humanism that has ever appeared, indeed that could ever appear.

God became a man, that his entire creation might be redeemed. This is the truth of the incarnation: that God cares about his creation, and means to bring us into the “divine life”.

Why Christians Need the Old Testament

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I mentioned in my preceding post that Christians need the scriptures for encouragement, growth, and spiritual fruit, because of the very fact that the scriptures reveal God’s saving purposes for mankind. Martin Luther went so far to say that the Word of God is itself a lengthened telling of the gospel.

In this post, I want to consider just exactly how the Old Testament tells this gospel-story.

And what I want to propose is that the Old Testament is just as much about the gospel than the New. And because of this, the entire biblical narrative is concerned and centered on Jesus — and, as I said in my last post, this is why we need the scriptures, Old Testament too!

So then, how does the Old Testament bear witness to the gospel?

If read carefully, and in context, it should become clear that the Old Testament is concerned with the gospel as much as the New; it just communicates it in different ways. Vaughan Roberts says (source),

[Many] have debated for years whether or not it is possible to point to a unifying theme that binds the whole Bible together…Any unifying theme that is used to help us to see how the Bible fits together must arise from scripture itself…and it must be broad enough to allow each part to make its own distinct contribution. The theme of the kingdom of God satisfies both requirements…

[God’s kingdom can be defined as] “God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule” …[Scripture throughout presents] God longing  for human beings to enjoy an intimate relationship with him in his presence. As he is a perfect, holy God, that is possible only as we submit to his loving rule and do not sin.

What Roberts wants to communicate here is that the Old Testament may not mention the word “gospel”, but the concepts of the gospel are there. Roberts proposes that it’s easier to present “kingdom” as a unifying principle that presents the same gospel-truths, both across the Old and New Testament. I agree with him. I think that the beginning chapters of Genesis present God’s people under his rule and blessing, submitting in humility to him — they present God’s kingdom in perfect form. And Revelation 21, at the very end of the Bible, presents it that way too: God’s people under God’s rule and blessing. This is God’s goal a presented throughout the entire Bible, from beginning to end. However, we find that Adam’s sin (and ours too) corrupted and ruined this kingdom relationship. And for that, all have fallen short and deserve God’s condemnation (Rom 3:23).

God’s response, however, was not to destroy us, but to provide a means for humanity to be in blessed fellowship with him once more. Roberts says well, “[God] is certainly not defeated by the fall”; because in Genesis 3:15, we are told that God promises to restore his kingdom relationship through a Seed (a child) who would come from Eve and undue the effects of our sin, ultimately restoring creation to its original state. How will this happen? Through Jesus. This Seed is Christ, and God will use him to restore his fallen creation. Even in the first few chapters of the Bible, Jesus comes into the picture.

And this is the theme of the Old Testament, which finds fulfillment in the New: God will provide someone who will rescue humanity from their sin. The Old Testament presents God’s preparation for this great rescue.

God begins this rescue-plan by calling Abraham from his land, and giving him a promise. God promises to Abraham that through his Seed (recall Genesis 3:15?) he will bless the world. Roberts rightly says, “the covenant with Abraham is a promise of the kingdom of God…It is a promise to reverse the effects of the fall”. Paul would eventually explain that although Isaac was Abraham’s immediate “seed”, Christ is the final Seed who would bless the nations (Gal 3:16).

Then, after God established this promise, he created a nation called Israel whereby he would reveal this Seed, and set a context for redemption. Many may ask exactly why God dealt with this nation Israel before Christ’s coming? John Piper aptly answers this (source):

Israel’s history is not just about Israel. It’s about “every mouth” and “the whole world.” This was not a 2,000-year detour. God was writing a lesson book for the nations. It’s not an accident that our Bible has the Old Testament in it…Because in God’s wisdom he knew that the nations of the world would grasp the nature of Christ and his work better against the backdrop of Israel’s 2,000 year history of law and grace, faith and failure, sacrifice and atonement, wisdom and prophecy, mercy and judgment.

What Piper here is explaining is that God established Israel’s kingdom in order to teach both Israel, and the observing nations about their need for redemption. God wanted to communicate to all peoples that they could not save themselves. And God needed years of history in order to accomplish this. Paul tells us that the sacrifices, the Law, the priesthood, the temple, everything, was given in order to be a tutor to explain our state in sin, and our need forgiveness and holiness. Paul says that the Mosaic Law “was added because of transgressions…until the Seed would come to whom the promise had been made…The [Law] has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal 3:19-22). So, God used Israel and the Mosaic Law as a training station to teach the nations how one is to be saved; namely through an atoning Savior who would die for the sins of others.

In this way, the Old Testament presented the promise of a Savior, and also presented our need for him. And in the New Testament, Christ became the embodiment and fulfillment of that promised. As Paul says, the Old Testament was “a mere shadow of what was to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:17). God is a great strategist, and this is how he accomplished this great redemption.

So when we read the Old Testament, we are reading God’s promises. God is “getting ready” to present Christ. And he is doing it by revealing through Israel what he will look like, and accomplish.

In this way, the Old Testament is just as much about the gospel than the New. For this reason, we should read, treasure, enjoy, and consume God’s Word on every page.

What does it mean that Jesus is the head of the church?

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What does it mean that Jesus is the head of the church? This concept of Jesus being over the church is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament, both implicitly and explicitly. In Colossians 1, Paul calls Jesus the head of the body, the beginning, and the first born from the dead, with the end result of him being preeminent in all things (Col 1:18). Jesus is the head, becoming the center of all things concerning God and his church. Paul mentions Christ’s headship in Ephesians 5 as well; and he compares Christ’s headship over the church to a husbands relationship to his wife, telling us that Christ’s headship is one of nourishment and sanctification toward his church; similarly, husbands should care for and nourish their own wives (Eph 5:23-29). But what is Paul trying to convey here?

When Paul speaks of headship, he is talking primarily about representation.

Biblically, what we must understand is that God deals with people by way of representatives. Whatever happens to that representative happens to those under him. This principle goes throughout the entire history of the scriptures.

For instance, when God created Adam, he gave him certain responsibilities. Adam was to cultivate the garden that God had given him, and to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). To Adam alone was given this responsibility — and Eve was given as a helper to assist him in accomplishing his God-given tasks. Also, God prohibited Adam from certain things. He was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). If he were to eat of it, he would surely die. Of course, we find that Adam and his wife did eat of the tree. But it’s interesting just how God punishes Adam and Eve for their disobedience. First, God holds Adam alone responsible, not Eve (Gen 3:9-10). Second, because of Adam’s failure, God punishes all of humanity, not just the pair. Paul later picks up on this concept, and tells us that we are sinful because of one man’s sin (Rom 5:12). What this indicates is that Adam was a God-ordained representative for all humanity. If he would have been obedient, we would have all benefitted. But because he chose to disobey, we all fell into sin.

From Adam and on, the principle of headship as representation can be traced from Old Testament to New. God chose Noah as the head of a new humanity (Gen 6-9), Abraham as the head of a new nation Israel (Gen 12-22), Moses as the head of the Mosaic Economy (Exod 19-20), and David as God’s eternal kingly dynasty (2 Sam 7). What is especially interesting when reading about the institution of the Mosaic Law, we find that the people of Israel waited at the bottom of Mount Sinai as Moses went and spoke before God on their behalf (Exod 19:1-3). And God interacted with the people of Israel through Moses alone. In that sense, Israel went in Moses into God’s presence. Paul picks up on this in 1 Corinthians 10, telling us that Israel was baptized into Moses in the Red Sea (1 Cor 10:2). What an interesting way to articulate the concept!

And when we arrive at the New Testament, we find out that all of these representative heads were merely pointing to the true cosmic representative, Christ. Matthew describes Christ becoming the true Moses who teaches God’s people from the mountain (Mt 5-7). Matthew also presents Christ as the true Israel, God’s true righteous servant (Mt 2:13-4). Paul calls Christ the last Adam, making him the head of a new humanity (1 Cor 15:22). He also calls Christ the true seed of Abraham who blesses the nations through his life and death (Gal 3:16). And, Luke presents Jesus as the true Davidic king whose kingdom will last forever (Lk 1:32-33). In this way, Jesus is the ultimate head who realizes all of God’s redemptive purposes. He realizes Adam’s mission, Israel’s purpose, and David’s kingship. In this way, Jesus is the fountain of all things.

So when we call Christ our head, what we mean is that he represents us before God. This is why Paul can say of himself: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). If we are in Christ, this means that the death that Jesus died to sin, we also died. It means that the life he now has is our life (Col 3:1). It means that his reign is our reign (1 Cor 3:21). If Christ is your head, you are hidden in him, seated at the right hand of God, clothed in his righteousness, dead to sin, and alive to God (Rom 6, Col 3:1-4).

Christ is our representative. This is what headship means. In Christ, what happens to Jesus happens to you! This is why Paul tells us that Christ’s headship means that he is preeminent in all things (Col 1:18). It is what Paul means when he tells us that our chosenness is in Jesus (Eph 1:3-10). We have been chosen in Christ before the ages began. And the result is that Christ is our representative, and all things are be summed up in Him alone (Eph 1:10).

**For further discussion on this, you can read a post on how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament here

Tim Keller on the Mystery of Marriage

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“This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). This was how Paul ended his section on marriage from Ephesians 5. And after telling wives to submit to their husbands, and husbands to lovingly lead their wives, he says that marriage is a mystery — and that the mystery of marriage revolves around the gospel. 

What does he mean by this?

Tim Keller, prolific author and theologian says in his book Meaning of Marriage:

“What is the secret of marriage? Paul [says], ‘I am talking about Christ and the church’, referring to what he said earlier in verse 25, ‘Husbands love you wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…’. In short, the secret is not simply the fact of marriage per se. It is the message that what husbands should do for their wives is what Jesus did to bring us into union with himself. And what was that?

Jesus gave himself up for us. Jesus the Son, though equal with the Father, gave up his glory and took on our human nature (Philippians 2:5ff). But further, he willingly went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sins, removing our guilt and condemnation, so that we could be in unity with him and take on his nature…Jesus’ sacrificial service to us has brought us into deep union with him and he with us. And that, Paul says, is the key not only to understanding marriage but to living it. That is why he is able tie the original statement about marriage in Genesis 2 to Jesus and the church. As one commentator put it, ‘Paul saw that when God designed the original marriage, He already had Christ and the church in mind. This is one of God’s great purposes in marriage: to picture the relationship between Christ and His redeemed people forever!’…

This is the secret — that the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another. That when God invented marriage, he already had the saving work of Jesus in mind.” (pp 45-47, emphasis his)

Why I’m a Complementarian Part 1: The Biblical Narrative

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I’m doing a series on why I am complementarian. My first post will offer proof from the biblical narrative.

For those who do not know what “complementarian” means, it is the thought that biblically, men and women are created to complement one another in marriage. They have differing roles that fit and function well together. The man was created as the leader of the relationship, while the woman was created as the support and bolster of the relationship.

Some Christians espouse “egalitarianism” which supposes that male and female were created with equality, and therefore no one is the leader or supporter, and either can operate within those roles.

Common arguments for egalitarianism include the citation of Genesis 1:27, which says that all mankind was created in God’s image, both male and female. The thought is that we therefore should be equal. Others cite Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

My common response here is that I don’t argue about equality in regard to value and worth. No intelligent Christian will say that men somehow have a better standing before God than women. Rather, men have a different role than women. What Paul is saying in Galatians 3 is that in Christ, slave and free, male and female, Jew and Greek…all have equal worth and value before God. All are justified by Christ in his sight, no matter who you are. The same with Genesis 1:27; both men and women are made in God’s image — but this doesn’t mean that they must therefore function the same

If we are to logically look at it: just because both Jew and Gentile are equal in Christ, this does not mean they lose their ethnic distinction. So likewise, although men and women are both equally righteous in Christ, they still have differing roles. And, those roles have important purposes!

Now, let’s go on to the biblical narrative for evidence toward complementarity among men and women. It is so easy to look at the narrative of creation from Genesis 1:26-27, and assume a lot about gender roles. Both are made in the image of God yes; but, we must not miss the context of the next chapters. Genesis 2 gives a rehashing of the same creation account, but with more detail.

And Genesis 2:15 tells us that God created Adam first, and gave him a command to work the garden and be fruitful and multiply. This command was given to Adam, not Eve. Eve was not created until Genesis 2:18 when God said to Adam, “it is not good that man should be alone; I will make a helper for him“. Now what this does not mean is that Eve has no involvement in God’s command to work the ground and multiply — rather, it is that Eve has a different role in that same mission. Eve is to be Adam’s helper. She is to come along side Adam and help him accomplish his God-given mission. This cannot be missed. This was the purpose of marriage from the beginning: that Adam would hold the responsibility of leading, and that Eve would help and bolster that God-given mission; both equal in God’s sight, but with differing roles.

It is not until the fall that we see gender roles within marriage being distorted. And it is interesting to see exactly how they are distorted. Genesis 3:16 says that after the fall, the woman’s “desire will be for [her] husband”. This word “desire” gives the connotation of wanting rule and authority over something (cf. Gen 4:7). In other words, Eve in her sin will desire to thwart Adam’s leadership by becoming her own leader. What this means is that the fall created in woman a natural aversion toward being a helper, and a sinful desire to be in authority. More than that, Adam’s role was distorted in that rather than being a loving leader, he would instead “rule over [her]” (Gen 3:16b). What this means is that after the fall, man has a sinful desire to overreach his authority as husband and domineer rather than lovingly lead.

What we must affirm here is that gender distinctions are not part of the fall. Rather, gender distinctions are distorted by the fall. This cannot be overlooked. Many today decry the thought that men should lead. The feminist movement calls for female equality. But what we should be decrying is the harsh and domineering rule that is a result of the fall.

This is why we need a new and perfect leader who can restore us not only to right relationship with God, but to one another! And Christ does this by becoming the ultimate husband to his bride. Paul picks this motif up in Ephesians 5 by giving an ethic for marriage that revolves around Christ as head over the church. Paul says to the women, “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Eph 5:24). Likewise, Paul says to men, “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Eph 5:25).

By his death and resurrection, Christ gives us not a new model of gender roles, but a redeemed model. Just as Christ sacrificially loved and gave himself for the church, so husbands should lovingly lead and die for their wives. And, just as believers submit to and bolster Christ’s redemptive vision and mission, so wives are to model that for their husbands. As Tim Keller says, “the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another” (Meaning of Marriage, p 47)

The biblical narrative therefore makes it clear that in marriage, while man and woman are equal in God’s sight, they are differing in their respective roles.

In my next post, I will consider the Trinity as a proof for gender complementarity.

Wrestling with God, Finding Grace (Genesis 32)

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Genesis 32 has always been a chapter dear to me. In it, Jacob comes face to face with his past. Since the start of his life, Jacob’s life was full of deceit and lies. He was the type of person that made his way in life by taking from others; he was a characteristic trickster. He was also the type that would divert responsibility to others. While his older brother Esau was out hunting, providing for his family, Jacob was home. In fact, Genesis 25:27 describes him as a “quiet man, dwelling in tents”. Suffice to say, you would not find Jacob out hunting for food, but rather spending time in the kitchen with his mother. He was a bit of a coward.

Jacob’s irresponsibility and trickery climaxed in his swindling of the birth right that belonged rightly to Esau. In fact, he did this by dressing up like his brother, and tricking his father into blessing him (Gen 27). Because of this, Esau was enraged and threatened to kill his brother (Gen 27:41), and Jacob was sent away by his mother into hiding. Jacob’s lying and scheming had made him an exile. And in fact, Jacob never returned home for fear of his brother. And as a result, that part of his life became a burden that he simply couldn’t shake. It was a sin that he had always tried to run from.

And when we arrive at Genesis 32, we find that Esau, his brother, had found where his brother Jacob was living; and, Esau desired to confront him (Gen 32:6). This reasonably made Jacob fear for his life (Gen 32:8); that all his past sins had come back to condemn him. How was Jacob going to rid himself of his past? How could he appease his angry brother?

Interestingly enough, Jacob tries to buy off his brother by giving him gifts (Gen 32:13-21). Jacob did this, thinking that just maybe, Esau would “accept [him]” (Gen 32:20). Jacob was trying to atone for his own sins against Esau by way of bribery! He was trying to satisfy Esau’s anger by providing gifts. He was trying to purchase his own redemption.

After having sent the gifts, Jacob waited anxiously for his brother’s response all night long, alone (Gen 32:24a). How much his conscience must’ve tormented him! One could picture him as wrestling with his own conscience throughout the night.

But this wasn’t the only thing he wrestled with…

As he waited in agony, Jacob was interrupted when a person began to wrestle with him. Ironically, as Jacob wrestled with his own sin, this man began to wrestle with him. Hopefully you can see the symbolism here; as Jacob was trying to subdue his own sinful past, this man was subduing him. In fact, the struggle was so real, and so hard, Jacob’s hip was immediately dislocated as result (Gen 32:24-26).

I think at this point, Jacob figured out that this man wasn’t merely human, but divine. He didn’t have normal strength, but a supernatural strength. This was God forcing Jacob into submission to his divine will (Gen 32:30). God himself tackled Jacob in order to communicate something very important: as Jacob tried to wiggle himself out of his past, God was willing to redeem him from his past. While Jacob was trying to appease his own conscience, God was willing to cleanse his conscience. And it took the pain of a dislocated hip to realize this.

Jacob came to apprehend this, and rather than simply giving in, he asked for a blessing from his divine opponent. God was pleased to do this. And it’s interesting that God not only blessed Jacob, but he renamed him. God made him into a new person. He gave him a new identity. I think that this detail cannot be overlooked. Right in the middle of a personal struggle to rid himself of his sinful past, the God of the universe struggled with Jacob to redeem and make him a new creation.

And I think we learn from this episode that Jacob had to learn to stop trying to escape, lie, or atone for his past sins and submit to justifying grace. Jacob needed to submit to the subduing grace of God for sinners.

Amazingly, the next day, Jacob felt a new courage to approach his past (Gen 33:3). And, rather than receiving condemnation from Esau (what he justly deserved), Jacob received a warm embrace (Gen 33:4). This was confirmation for Jacob that God himself had forgiven him of his sin. He says to Esau, “I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me“. Jacob knew that he was accepted by God!

Is this not the same grace that God has for us all? Is it not a grace that wrestles us into a faith that trusts in God’s forgiving provision alone? It is! God wrestles with us every day to rest in the justifying love given to sinners in Christ; a justifying love that we, like Jacob, can neither buy nor work toward. It is a merit that comes through Christ’s own righteousness, and certainly, not our own.

Mount Moriah (part 2): The Only Loved Son

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The other day, I wrote a small post on Genesis 22. You can read that here. I’d like to continue meditating on the implications found in Genesis 22, where God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice Isaac. In my previous post, I focused primarily on the fact that a substitute was provided on behalf of Isaac. In this way, Isaac’s life was saved, and the death was passed to the ram instead. This is a historical continuum found all throughout scripture, and it climaxes in the substitution of Jesus for the sins of mankind.

But now I want to look at Abraham’s love for his son Isaac. Three times in the text, God calls Isaac Abraham’s only son (v. 2, 12, 16); and two of those times, God refers to him as Abraham’s only loved son (v. 2, 16). All this focus on Isaac as being the only beloved son of Abraham is meant to illustrate how hard it was for Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice to God. Of course, Isaac is not simply Abraham’s only sonButIsaac was the promised son (Gen 12, 15). Isaac was the son through which all of God’s promises to Abraham (and the world) would be realized. Only ten chapters earlier, God appeared to Abraham and promised that through his seed, the nations of the earth would be blessed. The problem was, his wife was beyond child-bearing age. They were unable to have a natural-born son. In Genesis 15:2, Abraham offered his slave as an adopted son — God said no. Then in Genesis 16, Abraham decided to have a son by one of his servants, Hagar. While this was a technically a biological son, it was not by Sarah, so God said no to that as well. Finally, God miraculously gave Abraham and Sarah a son in Genesis 21.

So, when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only loved son, he meant: “offer the very promised son that I gave you” — the very one that would bring blessing to the nations! God wanted Abraham to give this one up. To Abraham, Isaac was much more than a child. This son was an encapsulation of all of God’s promises concerning Abraham and his descendants.

This was a hard thing to ask of Abraham. And yet, when Abraham is asked to give up Isaac, he never once questions God. In fact, Abraham is astonishingly deliberate in his obedience. When God told him to kill Isaac, Abraham got up early (Gen 22:3), gathered his materials (22:3), and went immediately to Mount Moriah (22:4-10). Never once did he doubt God. In fact, Abraham trusted that God would provide (v. 5b, 8). The amount of forced obedience involved in going to sacrifice Isaac is absolutely incredible. It was so incredible, that when the angel stopped Abraham from killing Isaac, he said: “now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son” (Gen 22:12). Abraham’s fear and love for God was placed in the context of his willingness to give up Isaac. What a love Abraham had for his God!

But we must also remember that God stopped Abraham from doing this — God provided a substitute for him. And so, Abraham did not have to go through with sacrificing his only son. And God did this because Isaac was not the ultimate son. He wasn’t the ultimate promised seed from whom would come blessing. The substitute of the ram pointed to a better son; and this was fulfilled in Christ (Gal 3:16).

In fact, we are told in John 3:16 that Jesus is a fulfillment of Genesis 22: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. What this means is that as much as Abraham was obedient and willing to give Isaac, and as much as he had love for God, God is the ultimate Father proving his love for the world by actually giving his only Son. And this means that God’s love is infinitely greater.

Can one even comprehend the unfathomable love the Father had for the Son? As much as Isaac was chosen, Christ was the ultimate chosen one one, chosen even before the foundations of the world (1 Pet 1:20, Rev 13:8). He is the ultimate Son who brings about the blessings promised in Genesis 12 (Gal 3:16). He is the true Israel who brings God’s people back from their wanderings and blesses the nations (Is 49:5-7). The love that God had for the Son was eternal, glorious, and perfect (John 17:5). And yet God, in his overwhelming love for the world (kosmos in Gk — this communicates God’s love not just for people, but also for the entire created order), actually gave his Son up as the true sacrificial Lamb (John 1:29). Abraham’s love is but a small glimpse of the love of God for sinners!

In fact, Paul says in Romans 5:8 that God proves his love for us by giving Jesus as a sacrifice. He asks in Romans 8:32 (no doubt thinking of Genesis 22!): if God did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not give us all things? What Paul means to say here is that there is no greater love found in God than the gift of Jesus. So while Abraham loved to the extent of being willing to give up Isaac, God loved to the extent to actually giving up the eternal Son; and not only for one person, but for the entire world.

What love God has for sinners!

 

Mount Moriah (part 1): The Place of Substitution

Abraham and Isaac Laurent de La Hire, 1650

We find Mount Moriah first in Genesis 22:14, where Abraham named it “The Lord Will Provide”. It was named this after God had tested Abraham by calling on him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. The test was incomprehensible for anyone. But it was even harder for Abraham because God himself had promised to miraculously conceive for Abraham and his barren wife. And in Genesis 21, God supernaturally provided this promise. But only a chapter later (perhaps when Isaac was only 10 years or so old), God commanded Abraham to sacrifice the boy back to God. We know this was a test by God to see if Abraham loved him more than his promises (Gen 22:1, 12); but certainly, Abraham didn’t know why God commanded him to give up what God had miraculously given him.

After seeing Abraham’s great obedience (Gen 22:3-10), God stopped Abraham from killing Isaac, and instead provided a ram for him to sacrifice (Gen 22:13). For this reason, Abraham called it “The Lord Will Provide”. What this name is meant to convey is that God gave a ram to sacrifice in substitution for Isaac. Rather than having to kill his only beloved son (Gen 22:2, 16), Abraham was provided with a ram instead. Because of this, Mount Moriah was a place of substitution.

And in fact, Mount Moriah continued to be this place of substitution. 2 Chronicles 3:1 tells us that on that very mount, God had Solomon build the temple for sin sacrifices. And in 1 Kings 8:29-30, Solomon prayed that God might continually look on the mount, and hear the prayer of his people on the basis of the sacrifices. Solomon was even so bold to say that God had chosen to put his name on this mount; and because of that, when Israel sinned and prayed toward the temple, Solomon asked that God might listen and answer them (1 Kings 8:44, 48-49). And so God continued to provide by way of continued sacrifice in the temple. He continued to substitute that his people may not be killed.

But it does not stop there. While Abraham’s son was spared, and while God’s people were spared in place of a substitute lamb, Jesus was not. Jesus was killed right outside the temple on Golgatha in the very same region as Moriah. And Jesus was given as a substitute for the worldAnd in fact, John calls Jesus the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29); and even more prominently, John calls him God’s only Son (John 3:16). What else could John have in mind but this substitutionary pattern found in the Old Testament? Indeed, the writer of Hebrews tells us that all of the stories in the Old Testament ultimately pointed to Jesus as the true substitution, for bulls and goats couldn’t take away sins–no, we need a better sacrifice (Heb 10:1-4). This sacrifice is Jesus.

Rather than sparing his only Son as Abraham did, God gave him up, that we might be saved. And, God gave him as a lamb to be slaughtered for the people’s sins. Moriah, for God, was a place of substitution. It was a place where one dies in the place of another. And this place of substitution climaxed and was finished and fulfilled in the substitutionary death of Jesus. And he died that we might not die, but that we might be forgiven, cleansed of our sin, and received by God.

This is part 1 of a two part post. You can view the second post here.