You, Me, and the Ground (2)

In the previous post we looked at how man is taken from the ground and made for the ground. We also focused on the ground as a generous gift of God to his creatures. In this post, we continue looking the theme of ground. As you will see, there are some more interesting references to ground in Scripture.

Ground as Witness

At times, Scripture personifies inanimate objects. The ground  is said to feel things and do things.  One interesting activity attributed to the ground is that of a witness.  In these two examples, the ground gives an account to God about our activity. Apparently when no one else is looking, the ground we walk on is.

“And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground ‘”(Gen 4:10).

“If my land has cried out against me and its furrows have wept together, if I have eaten its yield without payment and made its owners breathe their last, let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley” (Job 31:38-40).

Ground and Judgment

When sin makes entrance into the world our relationship with the ground changes. The context of blessing and gift becomes the place of curse and judgment. The ground we were called to cultivate and keep turns against us and makes life hard. Death drives us back to the ground from which we were made. In Cain’s case, his judgment is to be driven away and cursed from the ground. He experienced a double curse in relation to the ground. In Israel’s case, the ground responds to their rebellion by opening its mouth and swallowing an entire tribe in judgment.

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).

“You are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand…Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground” (Gen 4:11, 14).

“And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly” (Num 16:31-33).

Ground and Grief

There are two strands of biblical data in the vein of grief and ground. The first relates to the grief of the ground. Paul utilizes the language of groaning and pain when discussing the current state of the earth. In the text that follows we see that the ground grieves and hopes along with mankind. The second relates to the grief of men and their use of the ground to express their sorrow. There are a multitude of examples in Scripture when humans crumple into the dust and cover their heads with it to express a traumatic loss of heartfelt repentance. 
This act of grieving and repentance signifies humility and recognition of one’s status before God. To lower oneself to the ground and pull the earth over your head communicates that you know where you came from and you know where you are going. This body language communicates to God what the psalmist voices in Psalm 103:13-14. “The Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:19-22, cf. Jer 14:4, Joel 1:10).
“A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head” (1 Samuel 4:12, cf. 2 Sam 15:32).
 “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).

Resurrection, Ascension, and Forgiveness

In the last post we saw the explicit linkage between the cross of Christ and our forgiveness. We now turn our attention to the relationship of forgiveness to the resurrection and ascension of Christ. There are two key texts that draws these themes together, both of which come from the book of Acts.

Text 1

“For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation,fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:36-38).
The “therefore” in the text links forgiveness with resurrection. According to Paul, who was the one speaking in the text, forgiveness is now a possibility because the tomb is empty. Christ took upon himself the sin of the world, absorbed the wrath it deserved, and took it with him to the grave. When he rose up from the grave he left our sin there. As a living Savior, he extends forgiveness for the sin he has thoroughly handled. 
Text 2

“The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30-31).
This text takes things a step further and ties both resurrection and ascension to forgiveness. In fact, in this text, we have cross, resurrection, and exaltation as necessary precursors for forgiveness. The emphasis, however, is on the role of the ascension/exaltation. Notice in the text that the exaltation of Christ was for a specific reason: repentance and forgiveness. Christ was lifted up from the tomb and into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God. He received a rightful seat of authority at God’s right hand in order to forgive.
This gives us a helpful vision of the present posture and purpose of Jesus. Even now he continues to use his power and authority to grant us mercy. He stands ready and able to extend liberating grace to all who would receive. It is as though he is on the edge of his seat looking for every opportunity to grant the forgiveness he so earnestly secured.

The Murder of Death

Athanasius was a very significant figure in the early church. He championed the debate against Arius regarding the deity of Christ. He wrote a phenomenal little book called On the Incarnation of the Word. If you are interested you can download the pdf form of this book in the section “Articles for Equipping.” He speaks about the person and work of Jesus in ways that are foreign to our ears. His perspective is fresh and challenging. In this excerpt he speaks about the death of death in the death of Jesus (to borrow a John Owen phrase).

“It was not consonant with Himself that He should avoid the death inflicted by others. Rather, He pursued it to the uttermost, and in pursuance of His nature neither laid aside His body of His own accord nor escaped the plotting Jews. And this action showed no limitation or weakness in the Word; for He both waited for death in order to make an end of it, and hastened to accomplish it as an offering on behalf of all. Moreover, as it was the death of all mankind that the Savior came to accomplish, not His own, He did not lay aside His body by an individual act of dying, for to Him, as Life, this simply did not belong; but He accepted death at the hands of men, thereby completely to destroy it in His own body.”

Further along in his book he returns to this theme once more.

“A generous wrestler, virile and strong, does not himself choose his antagonists, lest it should be thought that of some of them he is afraid. Rather, he lets the spectators choose them, and that all the more if these are hostile, so that he may overthrow whomsoever they match against him and thus vindicate his superior strength. Even so was it with Christ. He, the Life of all, our Lord and Savior, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No. He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those others His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognized as finally annulled. A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat. Therefore it is also, that He neither endured the death of John, who was beheaded, nor was He sawn asunder, like Isaiah: even in death He preserved His body whole and undivided, so that there should be no excuse hereafter for those who would divide the Church.”

The Saving Life of Jesus

Ever noticed this phrase in Romans 5:10?

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

We know that the death of Jesus Christ saves us but have we given enough thought to the saving significance of his life? I have been meditating on the utter necessity of the life of Jesus before and after the cross for our salvation. Salvation would be impossible apart from the life of Jesus. Here are a few thoughts on how the life of Jesus saves us.

  1. He had to live a life of perfect obedience before God so that we might have his righteousness given to us by faith. His perfect life provides for us the righteousness that is necessary for us to stand justified before God now and forever.
  2. He had to live a perfect life in order to be a pure and blameless sacrifice before God. The OT is clear that the acceptable sacrifice is a spotless lamb. Heaven’s acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice was contingent upon his purity.
  3. He had to rise again for our justification to be complete and for our sins to be forgiven. If the Son does not live on after his death then we are lost and without hope.
  4. He had to ascend into heaven, take the throne, and intercede for us that we might be saved. The Son’s intercession in heaven on our behalf is another vital work necessary for our salvation.
  5. He had to conquer death now and forever. His ongoing indestructible life demonstrates and provides dominion over death. If he ever died again then death would take the upper hand again. His immortal life makes this an impossibility.
  6. He has to return from heaven to bring to completion all he began. Our salvation is not complete until he returns. We must have a living Savior who will return to rescue us if we would know redemption.
Jesus is a whole and complete Savior. His every breath from incarnation to the tomb was necessary for our salvation.This breath had to be taken away for three days to complete his saving task.  The breath that filled his lungs after three days and continues to do so now and will forever is nothing short of our very redemption. He lives and therefore we will live.
If you wanted to chase this theme down further read the entire book of Hebrews and notice the emphasis on the necessity of the life of Christ pre and post cross for our salvation.

God’s Military Campaign Against Death

Death is one of the greatest enemies of mankind. Throughout Scripture it is personified as an unstoppable power and force before which all mankind must eventually bow. I was struck this morning by this text in 1 Timothy that puts a fresh spin on why the gospel is good news. According to Paul, the appearing of our Savior “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10). The gospel is the message about how God the Warrior campaigns against death our great enemy. It is through the gospel—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the God-man—that death is put to death. Death is abolished, rendered powerless, and brought to nothing through the work of Jesus. How was such a great conqueror brought to his knees by the Nazarene? Jesus took death head on and was swallowed whole by it in order to destroy it from the inside out. Death thought it could hold Jesus and therefore swallowed him greedily like any other man. But death could not hold this man. Death imploded when the God-man sat up in the tomb. Death was rendered powerless and conquered when Jesus unwrapped his burial garments and stood victorious over the empty tomb. Like the whale that swallowed Jonah could not keep him in his belly so the grave forced by the omnipotent hand of God had to spew forth the Son of God. The consequence of the death and resurrection of Christ was the gift of life and immortality. Not only was death destroyed but the gift of immunity from death was granted. Immortality is something that belongs to God alone. The gospel brings with it the gift of an indestructible, incorruptible, and enduring life. The quality of the Triune life marked by freedom from death is graciously extended to mortal human beings through the gospel. The good news here is that God has waged war on death and he has defeated it in order to give us a life free from its dominion.

The Cross is empty if the Tomb is not

In Romans 4:25 Paul makes it clear that the resurrection is not merely God’s stamp of approval on the finished work of Christ in dealing with our sins. The empty tomb is not merely the affirmation that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah. Look at the text: “he was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Justification is inextricably tied to the resurrection. If the cross were not accompanied by the resurrection then we could not be justified. As Paul says elsewhere we would still be in our sins. The resurrection like the cross is a saving event. How then does the resurrection figure into the doctrine of justification? I. Howard Marshall does a great job explaining the connection in his book Aspects of the Atonement. He says, “In raising Christ from death after he has taken upon himself the sins of the world and died, God is not so much vindicating what Christ has done and saying that he approves of it, but is bringing him back from the dead as the One who is now just and experiencing the new life that God grants those whose sin has been taken away; this is happening representatively to Christ so that believers may share this new life. In the cross God’s condemnation of sin is demonstrated and carried out, Christ bears the sin and so God declares that sin has been taken away; and Christ is representatively justified so that those who believe and are united with him share in his justification. Hence the resurrection is essential to the saving act.”