My guest post for Alastair’s Lent series is now available: Won and distributed, “for us”, based on Luke 24:45-47 (which I mentioned in a recent post). Sharp-eyed readers will spot some very significant family news tucked away at the end.
Update: The text of this guest post is now available here, after the fold.
WON AND DISTRIBUTED, “FOR US”
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” – Luke 24:45-47
If I were asked to choose a “life verse”, this would be a strong candidate. Here are three ways in which, over the past decade, my own mind has been opened to understand the scriptures by these words of the risen Jesus.
1. They are foundational to “biblical theology”, by teaching that the whole of the Old Testament is a testimony to Christ.
This is also taught elsewhere in the gospels and the New Testament, of course, but this (along with Luke 24:27) is not only a particularly clear expression of this teaching, but starts to give us some tools for putting this principle into practice in our own reading of scripture and to “preach the whole of the Bible as Christian Scripture”, as the Graeme Goldsworthy book title puts it.
As I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve found biblical theology enormously valuable over the years in helping me grasp something of the “big picture” of the Bible, and understand where different sections of the Bible fit into that picture – and, most important of all, how they testify to Christ.
2. They are a cure for “If only we’d been there!”
Have you ever found yourself wishing that you’d been present in those forty days between the resurrection and the ascension, to hear what Jesus taught his disciples during that time?
Well, as one preacher – I’m pretty sure it was Dick Lucas; it normally is with me – put it, we have no need to feel we missed out. We have that teaching of Jesus, all of it, in its entirety. It’s called the New Testament. The New Testament isn’t just the reflections – even the inspired reflections – of the apostles looking back on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and trying to make sense of it.
The foundations and the core content of the apostolic message was given to them by Jesus after his resurrection, as he opened their minds to understand the Old Testament and the message of the suffering and risen Messiah, and then sent them out into the world with that message as his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
3. They show how the gospel is for us, today
Well, so far this takes me up to the point at which I was a good “Sydney(-style) Anglican”, committed to biblical theology and to reading the whole Bible as Christian Scripture, able to recite the sacred mantra of “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule” with the best of them.
But there is a third lesson that these verses have taught me more recently, as I moved into the Lutheran church. This relates to what Martin Luther called the “for-usness” of the gospel. The proclamation of the gospel as events that happened 2,000 years ago – the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus – is all well and good, but how are we to receive this gospel in our own lives? How can these events be “for us”, today?
The answer given by Lutheran theology (which we would, of course, say is the answer given by the New Testament) is that we encounter Christ and his gifts for us through the preaching of the gospel and through the sacraments: baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the word of absolution. For Lutherans, “word and sacrament” are not two separate aspects of the church’s ministry, but a single proclamation of the gospel – of the word of “forgiveness of sins” – by different means.
Luke 24:46,47 is Jesus’ own summary of the gospel message that the church is to take to the nations. And the crucial point to notice is that the gospel is not only the message that “the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day”; the promise that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” is also part of the gospel itself. The gospel is not only an objective set of facts that we believe; it is a living experience into which we enter through the church’s ministry of word and sacrament.
To be sure, there are many Reformed Christians – our gracious host among them, perhaps – who would argue that it was not necessary to swim the Rhine to make that discovery. I have no polemical intent at all in writing this post. However, I do believe that this understanding of the word and sacraments as an encounter with the living Christ, in which his blessings – “forgiveness, life and salvation” – are distributed to us, is preserved with unique clarity in the Lutheran church, both in its doctrinal confessions and in the Divine Service that is the heart of its liturgical existence.
Certainly it is a perspective of which I had heard barely a hint in the conservative evangelical Anglicanism that was my spiritual home and for which I still have a great affection and respect. Indeed, if anything, this understanding is expressly repudiated in that tradition, with its implacable opposition to baptismal regeneration and the real presence.
If a certain Reformed paradigm can be summed up in John Murray’s book title, “Redemption Accomplished and Applied”, then the equivalent Lutheran understanding can be summed up as “Salvation Won and Distributed”. And this, I suggest, is the pattern that is described “for us” in these verses.
John H lives in Orpington, Kent, and is an elder at Christ Lutheran Church, Petts Wood. He is married with two children (and counting…) and blogs at www.confessingevangelical.com. He works as a technology lawyer at a regional firm in Kent.