Jesus is not the reason for the season…

He’s the reason for everything.

Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

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Here is something marvelous

The boundless essence of the Word

was united with human nature into one person,

yet we have no idea of any imprisonment.

The Son of God descended miraculously from heaven,

yet without abandoning heaven;

was pleased to be conceived miraculously in the Virgin’s womb,

to live on the earth,

and hang upon the cross,

yet always filled the world as from the beginning.

John Calvin, Institutes 2.13.4

John Calvin on Our Great Savior

Moreover, it was especially necessary for this cause also that he who was to be our Redeemer should be truly God and man.

It was his to swallow up death:
who but Life could do so?

It was his to conquer sin:
who could do so save Righteousness itself?

It was his to put to flight the powers of the air and the world:
who could do so but the mighty power superior to both?

But who possesses life and righteousness,
and the dominion and government of heaven,
but God alone?

Therefore, God, in his infinite mercy, having determined to redeem us,
became himself our Redeemer in the person of his only begotten Son.

(Institutes, II.12.2)

Wilhelmus á Brakel on the Benefits of Christ’s Three-Fold Office

Jesus is “the Christ.” Jesus is anointed by God to carry out all those Old Testament offices for which men were anointed for: prophet, priest, and king. What does this mean for the believer?

He removes blindness by His prophetic office,
enmity with God by His priestly office,
and inability by His kingly office.[1]


[1] Willhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 518.

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 12 The equality of the Son and Father; the church as fountain of youth

In sermon his twelfth and final sermon On the Incomprehensible Nature of God John Chrysostom ends by once again focusing on one text of Scripture. In his final confrontation with the Anomoeans the preacher expounds the text of John 5 and the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda.

After noting how the power of Jesus is greater than that of angels (8-10),[1] marveling at the resolve of the paralytic (12-14), and explaining the rationale for Christ’s questionings of the man (15-23), Chrysostom gives three reasons for Christ’s command to take up the bed (24-31). Chrysostom uses this command as the catalyst of the narrative. By healing on the Sabbath and by commanding another man to break the Sabbath, Christ was demonstrating his glory. Jesus knew that doing such things would raise the ire of the religious leaders. But in doing so we only see Psalm 76:20 confirmed: Surely the wrath of man shall praise you.

This miracle demonstrates at least two core truths about Jesus. First, he is sinless.

If he transgressed the law, he sinned. But if he sinned, he would not have so much power. Where there is sin, there can be no manifestation of power. But he did show his power. Therefore, he did not transgress the law and did not sin. (32)

Secondly, he is God. Chrysostom zeroes in on Christ’s statement, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (43-52). Such a statement demands one of two options: Christ is God, or Christ is increasing his guilt. Jesus gave this response when the Jews questioned his healing on the Sabbath. The import of the saying is: I am doing this because this is what God does. To bring Chrysostom’s illustrations into our day: what if someone snatched out of the Oval Office said, “But this is where the President works.” Or what if a man went around letting people out jail saying, “This is the authority the President has.” If such a man were not, in fact, the President, he would be in for quite a rude awakening.

This is precisely what the statement of Jesus means. And the Jews realized it: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”[2] One wonders how many Christians would realize the true meaning of this statement if John had not given us the Jew’s reaction to it. Throughout this series of sermons Chrysostom has shown this strength: bringing out the true force of Scriptural sayings.

The preacher closes out the sermon in the typical fashion with a pastoral exhortation to the congregation (53-59). Once again he exhorts them to faithful attendance at the services of the church:

Spiritual beauty cannot be developed perfectly anywhere else except in this marvelous and divine stronghold of the church. Here the apostles and prophets wipe clean and beautify the face, they strip away the marks of senility left by sin, they apply the bloom of youth, they get rid of every wrinkle, stain, and blemish from our souls. Therefore, let us all, men and women, be eager to implant this beauty in ourselves.(57)


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984). It is noted that Chrysostom’s text of Scripture included John 5:4: a verse excluded to the margin by some modern translations.

[2] John 5:18

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 11 The Father and Son share one Glory One Power

Though considered the 11th sermon in the series, this sermon is in some ways a first even though it was second. Confused yet? It appears that this sermon was the second sermon that John Chrysostom preached in Constantinople after his appointment as bishop. After an introduction in which he encourages his hearers and alludes to some elements of his first sermon in Constantinople, the preacher delves into the subject matter rather conversationally (1-7).[1]

Would it be better to base argument on the Old Testament or the New? Chrysostom astutely observed that it would be better to start with the Old Testament. He reasons that using the Old Testament allows him to confront a greater number of heretics (8). In many ways his reasoning still applies today. Non-Christians are not going to be surprised if the New Testament speaks of the glory of Jesus. No one is surprised to find Ipads in an Apple store. But if the glory of Christ can be demonstrated from the Old Testament, it is an even more impressive argument apologetically speaking.

Chrysostom begins at the beginning with the statement “Let us make man in our own image” (12-13). By saying “Let us” the Father demonstrates that the Son is an equal part in the work of creation. The Father has no counselor: Scripture makes this clear. But to show the glory of the Son, Scripture calls him Wonderful Counselor. No man knows the mind of the Lord. No one knows the Father except the Son. The Father creates man in counsel with the Son.

Together they make man in the image of God.

…when God said: “Let us make man,” he did not add: “According to your image which is less than mine.” Nor did he say: “According to my image which is greater than yours. What did God say? “According to our image and likeness.” And by speaking in this way, he showed that there is a single image of the Father and the Son. (23-24)

Chrysostom supports this assertion of equal power and glory with some careful exegesis. He notes to sit on a throne demonstrates power and glory, while to stand at a throne demonstrates the mark of a subordinate waiting for orders (25). So the Old Testament several times makes mention of the myriad of hosts attending the throne.[2] The Son is not one of these countless ministers to the Lord. The Son is seated with the Father, sharing in one glory.

Chrysostom concludes in his customary fashion: a pastoral exhortation. The preacher encourages his hearers not to forsake the assembly. Church[3] is where believers are fed by the word of the Lord (30). The gathering of the church is to be valued above all earthly treasure, there is nothing more valuable (31-33). The mere attendance is an encouragement to believers and a shame to the enemies of the cross (33-37). The habit of gathering serves to encourage other believers to faithfulness. When Christians see other members of the church lax in their attendance it is discouraging to them and might lead them to stop attending as well. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is what the church is: the body of Christ. As its head, Christ is always present when his church gathers. But where is his body?

Therefore, do not let the head to be allowed to set foot in this sacred place without its body, let not the body be seen without its head, but let whole human beings come in, head and body… (39)


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

[2] Dan. 7:9-10; Is. 6:1-2; 1 Kings 22:19

[3] By “church” I mean the gathered assembly of believers to worship the Lord and edify one another.

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 10: Phil. 2:5-8 What does the humiliation of Christ mean if he did not humble himself?

Sermon 10 is the last sermon on this subject that Chrysostom preached in Antioch before his “promotion” to Constantinople. As such, much of it is review and I will not take the time to go over it here again.

Towards the end of the sermon, however, Chrysostom brings out a crucial implication of Philippians 2:5-8 that I am not sure I have ever presented (50-56).[1] The crux of the passage is that Jesus humbled himself. The Son did not consider equality with the Father something he had to cling to jealously or seize with treachery. While Paul does not say in so many words that the Son was in fact equal with the Father, his whole argument demands it. If the Son were not equal to the Father it would not have been act of humility to take on flesh and submit to the Father’s will: it would have been duty. When my 3 year old son obeys me, he is not humbling himself. He “owes” me obedience. When I am “on the job” I am not humbling myself when I do what my boss tells me to do. I “owe” my boss that service.

But Jesus humbled himself. If Jesus humbled himself under the Father that means he had no obligation to do so. An inferior does not humble himself to his superior. A superior can humble himself to his inferior, or an equal can humble himself to his equal. And in fact, Jesus did both of these. As man’s superior Jesus humbled himself to be man’s servant. As the Father’s equal, Jesus humbled himself to be the Father’s Servant.


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God: Sermon 8, Is Jesus Judge?

Sermon 8 in John Chrysostom’s series against the Anomoeans begins with a jaw-droppingly graphic description of the preaching event not likely to be endorsed in any contemporary homiletic text book:

Yesterday we returned from war, from a war and battle with the heretics. Our weapons were stained with blood, the sword of my discourse was red with gore. We did not strike down their bodies but we did destroy their arguments and “Every proud pretension which raises itself against the knowledge of God.” For such is the kind of battle this is and, therefore, such is the nature of the weapons. (1)[1]

Chrysostom is known for railing against Christian attendance at the theatre, games, and circus of the empire. We know from the beginning of the previous sermon the chariot races had begun. One might wonder if the preacher was not trying to out-spectacle the spectacles. But he does cite 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 convincingly. And I suppose if Paul can wish for the castration of his opponents,[2] we cannot fault Chrysostom for such thoughts.

The preacher moves on quickly to inform the congregation of the subject matter of the sermon to follow. The text of Matthew 20:23 will be under investigation: “He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’”(4). The Anomoeans present this text to assert that the Son must be lesser than the Father in some way. Chrysostom does not just flee to the standard method of using the temporary humility of the incarnation of the eternal Son. For this, I am thankful. Not because the standard argument is wrong, but because constant reliance upon such answers can serve to blunt spiritual maturity. Can one truly fight for the faith when he has never explored its depths? It can be more helpful to know how to discover the right answer than simply knowing the right answer.

Chrysostom’s first line of defense is to survey some of the verses that teach the Son indeed has the authority to judge. In Matthew there is the sheep and goat judgment and the parable of the 10 Virgins in Matthew 25; and the parable of the talents in Matthew 23:14-30 (7-15). In the gospel of John we read, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son”[3] (17). From the gospels he turns to passages in Paul that speak of the Lord’s rewarding of his servans: 1 Cor. 3:8 and 2 Tim. 4:7-8. (20-22).

But even with passages such as these, the job is still only half-done. While Chrysostom has effectively demonstrated that the Son does indeed have the prerogative of judgment, there remains the substance of Matthew 20:23. If Jesus says he will grant and forbid entrance into the kingdom, why does he here state that he does not have the right to offer rewards? If Jesus has all authority, why can he not assign John and James their place in the kingdom? If Jesus does not have the right to grant rewards, why does Paul expect Jesus to reward him? The rest of the sermon (23-48) is devoted to answering such questions.

Chrysostom’s argument is amusing, but I do not find it ultimately persuasive. The preacher basically maintains that Jesus does not want to “poison the well,” as it were. If Jesus told John and James they would have positions of power, they might get proud, over-confident and lazy. If Jesus told John and James they would not have positions of authority, they might get discouraged and disinterested. In both situations the result would be the same: James and John would do less for the kingdom if they knew their position in it. Jesus is playing coy and holding out the kingdom as a sort of carrot. The summary of the argument in is paragraph 40:

Because Christ wished to prevent men from growing more careless and lax since they were expecting further honors, he led them away from this erroneous surmise when he said: “It is not mine to give,” but yours to take, if you should show the willingness to do so. He said this so that you might show greater earnestness, more pains, and abundant zeal. He was saying: “I grant crowns to deeds, I give honors to pains, I award the prize to him who sweats. In my eyes, the strongest proof is the proof which comes from deeds.”

As far as it goes, Chrysostom’s logic is sound. The problem is that he still does not address the crux of Matthew 20:23. The problem is not just that Jesus says it is not his reward to give; the problem is that he says this and that the Father has prepared it. It is telling, however, that every time Chrysostom quotes this text in the last half of the sermon he leaves off the words “by my Father.” These are the very words that undercut his argument; the very words that the heretics would cling to.

In keeping with the militaristic beginning of the sermon, Chrysostom did not fare so well on the battlefield this day. To defend the truth is a noble and high calling. To be zealous for truth is vital: but sometimes zeal blinds. If, in our zealousness to support the truth, we distort the truth; we are no longer fighting for the truth. God keep me from being a blood-thirsty pastor.

 

 


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

[2] Gal. 5:12

[3] John 5:22

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 7: The Equality and Inequality of the Father and Son & Prayer

Sermon 7 marks a transition to a new area of debate: “whether the Son and the Father have the same power and might, whether they are of the same essence” (7).[1] As mentioned previously, the Anomoeans were Arians so they denied that the Father and Son were consubstantial.[2] Chrysostom has already been laying groundwork for his arguments in previous sermons, but now this subject gets his full attention.

The arguments of Chrysostom are pretty straight-forward; it is the same line of reasoning used by many today. Jesus has the same nature as the Father because he is begotten of the Father (8-10). Things begotten have the same nature as their begetter. Trees beget trees. Dogs beget dogs. Man begets man. God begets God. While Chrysostom will address objections of the Anomoeans, he does not address the problems inherent in our conception of begetting: namely, that something begotten must have a beginning.

The preacher does recognize a somewhat related argument however: Jesus is a son and so are we so there must not be any difference between us. Chrysostom responds that even though we are called sons of God, he is the only begotten Son. We are adopted, but he is begotten (11-12). Because Jesus is the only begotten, he shares in the glory and substance of the Father so Jesus says things like:

  • Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9
  • I and the Father are one. John 10:30
  • For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. John 5:21
  • that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. John 5:23
  • My Father is working until now, and I am working. John 5:17

Chrysostom anticipates the Scriptural objection his foes will raise: there are multiple passages that demonstrate the Son is lower than the Father. For example, the fact that the Son prays to the Father shows he does not have the same power (14-15). Chrysostom gives four main reasons for this phenomenon of Scripture.

First, the incarnation (16-17). Jesus had to demonstrate that he was true man. As a man Jesus was completely dependent upon the Father. If Christ did not demonstrate that he was true man, what hope could man have for his salvation?

Second, the inability of his hearers to comprehend the truth (18-26). This idea of Jesus’ condescension to his hearers is a destructive weapon in the hands of liberal critics of the Scripture, but Chrysostom handles it well. Over and over again, the foes and disciples of Jesus responded with wonder, anger, disgust, and revulsion to Jesus’ “more sublime words” (18). Had Christ simply appeared on the scene teaching and only taught the deeper spiritual truths about his identity, he would have quickly lost all hearers.

Third, to teach humility (27). As the preacher states,

If someone is teaching humility of heart, he does this not only by what he says but by what he does. He is moderate in both word and deed. Christ said: “Learn of me because I am meek and humble of heart.”

Fourth, to make clear that God is not a monad (28). The truth of the Trinity is multifaceted and incomprehensible. As has been said, try to understand it and you will lose your mind; deny it and you will lose your soul. Had Jesus only taught his unity with the Father, it would have been even easier to fall into the belief that there is only one person in God. Even with the mixed testimony of Scripture, Sabellius found enough to teach that the Father and Son are not two distinct persons. Without the teaching about Christ’s humility, it would be even easier to fall into this heresy.

The remainder of the sermon is devoted to a fuller explanation of how the incarnation “lowered” the Son to a place of prayer (34-54). For this, Chrysostom devotes his attention to the apostle John’s account of the last supper and Jesus’ prayer in the garden.

The sermon is concluded with another exhortation on prayer (55-64).

Surely, prayer is a harbor for those caught in a storm; it is an anchor for those tossed by the waves; it is a staff for those who stumble. Prayer is a treasure for the poor, security for the rich, a cure for the sick, a safeguard for those in good health. It keeps our blessing inviolable and quickly changes our ills to good. If temptation comes, it is easily repelled. If loss of possessions or any of the other things which cause grief to our souls befall us, prayer is quick to drive them all away. Prayer is a refuge from every sorrow, a basis for cheerfulness, a means for continual pleasure, a mother for our philosophy and way of life. (61)


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

[2] See post on sermon 4

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 4: with thoughts on the Trinitarian significance of the phrase “only begotten Son.”

As with the third sermon, Chrysostom offers little new in the form of argument in the fourth sermon in his series On the Incomprehensible Nature of God.  In the first 10 paragraphs Chrysostom recapitulates the argument of the previous sermon.[1] The final 19 paragraphs are a pastoral exhortation to attend carefully and reverently the service of the church. In the intervening paragraphs Chrysostom again attempts to advance the argument that the angels cannot comprehend God.

In sermon 4, Chrysostom returns from the speculative arguments in his previous sermon to more exegetically sound footing. He begins with thoughts on Ephesians 3:8-10:

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Again we see that an aspect of God is described as unknowable: his riches in Christ. And again the argument is pressed, “If the riches are unfathomable, how could he who gave the gift of the riches fail himself to be unfathomable?” (15). Beyond this, we see that God is using the church to teach the angels about his own wisdom. Therefore the same type of argument pursued so effectively in sermon 1 applies to angels as well: if they do not know the wisdom of God they “do not have a perfect comprehension of God’s essence” (13).

Unfortunately, this treatment is all too brief (11-16) for in the remaining chapters the preacher falls into the same errors as he did in the previous sermon. Paragraphs 17-31 are an exposition of John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Chrysostom offers the standard explanation to harmonize this verse with those passages that speak of individuals “seeing” God: namely, that God manifested himself in an act of condescension without revealing his eternal essence. As in the previous sermon, when Chrysostom sticks to the intended referent of the text (i.e. man) he does well, but when he attempts to apply it to angels he goes off-track. In trying to argue so strongly for his position, he actually weakens it. The preacher would have been better served devoting more time to passages the clearly speak of the ignorance of angels (Eph. 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12); or on passages that speak of the exclusivity of God’s knowledge of himself.

Nevertheless, Chrysostom does offer some thought worthy commentary on the title, “only begotten Son.”

The name son belongs to men and it belongs to the Christ. But it belongs to us by analogy; it belongs to Christ in its proper sense. The title only begotten is his alone and belongs to no one else, even by analogy. Therefore, from the title which belongs to no one but to him alone you must understand that the title Son, which belongs to many, is his in its proper sense and meaning. This is why John first said, “only begotten,” and then, “Son.” (26)

While this series of sermons is identified as On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, the Anomoeans had more problems than the belief they could know God as God knows himself. They were Arians and so regarded Christ as less than God. Chrysostom will address this aspect of their heresy in later sermons, but he is already laying the groundwork for that.

Speaking of the Trinity is inherently dangerous, yet it is even more dangerous not to speak of it. Almost everything that can be said rightly about the Trinity can be taken the wrong way, or understood incorrectly. The most biblically accurate way we can speak of the Trinity is in the terms, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Yet there are potential pitfalls even here. If there is “Father” and “Son” there must be a time when the Son was not. If there is “Father” and “Son”,  and “Holy Spirit” can we really consider the Spirit a person? Chrysostom begins to address this difficulty by reminding us of the true nature of the analogical language used of the Trinity.

When we speak of a son of a father we naturally understand that there was a time during which the father existed and the son did not. Until 1974, my father existed and I did not. The Arians took this analogically and applied it to the Trinitarian relationship of the Father and the Son: there was a time when the Son was not. But Chrysostom reminds us that they are reversing the analogy. Jesus is not the Son to the Father in all the ways that I am son to my father. Rather, I am son to my father in ways that Jesus is Son to his Father. I love my father, I trust my father, I seek to please my father, I have my father’s nature. These, and not procreation, are essential to the nature of “sonship.” If procreation were essential to sonship, we would not have adoption.

The use of “only begotten” simply reinforces this. “From this title you may believe that the common title of son is not common but is peculiar to him and belongs to no other as it does to him. Mysteriously, “only begotten” and “son” combine to teach us to put aside as untrue one of our certainties when consider the relation of the Father and the Son. If Jesus is the only Son of the Father, the Father and Son must both be eternal. If God is Father of only one Son, and if he is eternal, he must be eternally a Father of that Son. If the Son did not exist, neither would the Father. How is he Son? Because he is begotten. How is he without beginning? Because he is only begotten.

 


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).