We are drawing ever closer once again to the most solemn commemoration of the wondrous act by which the Incarnated Only-begotten Son of God Jesus of Nazareth allowed – allowed His sinless life to be taken from Him by unjust accusations, trial, condemnation unto death by crucifixion. Though He never sinned once, in thought, word or deed, He – died, and willingly so, to Atone for all sins of all.
It is only because of the divine and saving grace of God the Holy Trinity at work in our lives that we are now included among those so incredibly blessed to believe, teach and confess what the only book of eternal life, the infallible and ever-unchanging Bible divinely reveals about what we have come to referee to as Jesus’ Passion. We know “the facts” of this particular “historical event.”
Thus it is that our challenge is not to “find” Jesus nor to put a “new or novel” interpretation on what is clearly revealed in the Bible in relation to His Passion, but try to understand and grow to appreciate even more what the second divine Person of God the Holy Trinity willfully assumed and did for us – and that while we were still by nature as is everyone else conceived of earthly parents since the fall into sin by our original parents Adam and Eve: a sinner!
To deepen our understanding of what the Creator has done for our redemption we need to go back to the beginning and – the cause by which sin came to infect God the Holy Trinity’s perfect creation. We will briefly explore this Catholic (universal Christian, not “Roman”) doctrine through two of the writings of one of the most significant early Church Fathers which I have often quoted before, St. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, in North Africa from ca. 296-373 A.D., On the Incarnation (DI.) and Against the Paganism (CG.). Both were written to defend and promote the one true and only saving faith to pagans who had not heard of or refused to believe that “Jesus is Lord.” Both treatises are solidly based upon what is divine-revealed in the Bible pertaining to sin, the Incarnation of the Only-begotten Son of God Jesus of Nazareth and the naturally sinful and thereby divinely condemned condition of all of fallen mankind. Athanasius writes that the miracle of the Incarnation of the eternally-existing Only-begotten Son of God has a two-fold purpose: (1) to reveal the reality of God the eternal Father to sin-infected and divinely condemned mankind and (2) to obtain for fallen mankind the immortality and incorruptibility which it lost as a result of the Fall into sin in the Garden of Eden (and yes—there Adam and Eve were real people and it was a real place)! How did this ultimate of all tragedy’s come about? Through the intrigue of that fallen angel named Satan: “But God has not only made us out of nothing; but He gave us freely, by the Grace of His Word, a life in correspondence with God. But men, having rejected things eternal, and, by the council of the devil, turned to the things of corruption, became the cause of their own corruption in death,…” (DI. 5.1). St. Athanasius continues by explaining the still on-going tragic consequences of the reality of sin not just satanically implanted in Adam and Eve but that which they have passed on to each succeeding generation of their descendants in these words: “For even in their misdeeds men had not stopped short at any set limits; but gradually pressing forward, having passed on beyond all measure; having to begin with being inventors of wickedness and called down upon themselves death and corruption; while later on, having turned aside to wrong and exceeding all lawlessness, are stopping at no one evil but devising all manner of new evils in succession, they have become insatiable in sinning” (DI., 5.3). St. Paul got it exactly right: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
We know this not only from our study of the sacred word, but also from the increasing evidence clearly on display in the society that surrounds us, and there are no signs of it slowing down. St. Athanasius’ words are almost prophetic: “insatiable in sinning.” In truth, as the faithful children of the one true and only God, we’re now hard pressed to think of anything that is seriously viewed or widely held as a “sin.” In our time even the most egregious public offence is quickly branded as offensive or insensitive or perhaps even “publically embarrassing” but certainly not – sinful!
Tragically, Satan got his desire by working his sin-driven will in the lives of Adam and Eve and he has continued doing such in the life of every one of their descendants conceived of an earthly father and mother. St. Athanasius has these words of reflection on the natural sinful and thus spiritually dead condition of fallen mankind: “For this cause, then, death having gained upon men, and corruption abiding in them, the race of men was perishing; the rational man made in God’s image was disappearing, and the handiwork of God was in the process of dissolution. For death, as I said above, gained from that time forth a (note the superbly chosen term he used here, my comment) ‘legal’ hold over us, and it was impossible to evade the law, since it had been laid down by God…” (DI., 6.1). Surely St. Paul was one of Athanasius’ sources, the Apostle having written: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
What then was to be done? From mankind’s perspective – nothing! Sinning had become natural, easy, a daily routine, and at times even downright exhilarating. Life was good! There was no need for change, after all, “everyone did it”, or “said it” or “believed it.” And, everyone knew that mankind was still really good by nature! So, what’s this talk about something called sin, and divine accountability? Why it’s a myth, a legend, and a silly one at that!
But God knew what had happened, and so God acted – on behalf and for the salvation of the greatest of His creation, the only creature He brought into existence after His own image and likeness, mankind – apart from sin! St. Athanasius put wondrous redeeming act, which is the Passion of Jesus of Nazareth in these words: “For He did not simply will to become embodied, or will merely to appear. …But He takes a body of our kind, and not merely so, but from a spotless and stainless virgin, knowing not a man,… (IC., 8.3) And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death He gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Father – doing this, moreover, of His loving-kindness, to that end that, firstly, all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone… and that, secondly, whereas men had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like straw from fire” (IC., 8.4).
“For the Word, perceiving that no other way could the corruption of men be undone save by death as a necessary condition, while it was impossible for the Word to suffer death, being immortal, and Son of the Father; to this end He takes to Himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word Who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all, and might, because of the Word which came to dwell in it, remain incorruptible, and that henceforth corruption might be stayed from all by the grace of the Resurrection” (IC., 9.1).
Is this not what Holy Scripture declares: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). And again, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Thus it was that God the Holy Trinity acted to save dying mankind in a most radical and truly unforeseeable way – that of sacrificing Himself as the Incarnated Only-begotten Son and all that the holy Passion required of Him as Jesus of Nazareth: His totally unjust arrest; the completely false accusations; an absolutely illegal trial; and condemnation unto death by crucifixion with no legal basis what-so-ever, by which God Himself made the final and complete Atonement for the sins of the world for all time. This is nothing less than the divinely-revealed truth “…that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them…” (2 Cor 5:19).
The Passion Story we have been reading and reflecting on during Lent is intended to remind us of what God the Holy Trinity chose to sacrifice in order to spiritually transform us from the likeness of that which we are by nature, after the fashion of the first Adam who brought sin, suffering and death not only into his life but also into the life of all of his descendants, including each of us, into the Second Adam, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus willingly underwent all the terrible pain and suffering that He did during His Passion that we could be divinely forgiven all our sins, and that required death, that new life might come forth. It is precisely as the faithful prophet was divinely inspired to write: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities;… All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth (Isa 53:5). I urge you to prayerfully ponder this divine and saving truth in your heart. Amen and Amen.
Pastor C.D. Hudson