Saturday, October 6, 2007

BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING: Address 10: The Finale: Genesis and Jesus Christ

Address 10: The Finale: Genesis and Jesus Christ

I have titled this series “Begin at the Beginning.” There is a sense in which one can only truly know the end of all things by knowing the beginnings, the origins. But by the same token, one can only fully appreciate origins without seeing the final fruit of its growth. Take the tiny mustard seed: by itself one would never think it would grow into a great tree. Or take the human embryo. In this one fertilized cell, the potential of a human being lies latent, to unfold over a lifetime. So now we come to the finale, the last act of which gives full meaning to the first act.

We cannot understand the Person of Jesus Christ without understanding Genesis. What would it mean to say, “Jesus is True God and True Man” if we had not already encountered God and Man in the book of Genesis. What would it mean to say “Jesus was made like us in every way but without sin,” if we did not know how sin came into the world and the wages it exacts and that it is our sin as children of Adam. We cannot understand the reason Jesus was born a Jew and why his ministry was focused on the household of Israel until we understand God’s special relationship with and promise to the children of Abraham.

So as we conclude this series of meditations, I want to review some of our topics and show how it is that Jesus can be called the Alpha and Omega: that is, he is the final end, the Omega point, of all things. For He was indeed present at the beginning, veiled but nevertheless directing the course of human history.

God Made the World

According to Genesis, God exists from the beginning as the creator of heaven and earth. There is nothing before or above him. The New Testament makes the same claim for Christ:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)

John’s Gospel makes this same claim in one simple sentence: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

We Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, and that when God speaks and acts, the Son speaks acts with him and in him.

Christ as the Second Adam

Genesis sees the creation of Man in God’s image as the culminating act of creation. Human beings are made from dust and share common origins with the animal world, and yet we are also different: God breathed into Adam his own spirit to make the human soul. Yet Adam remained a man of the dust, and his attempt to grasp eternal life led instead to the threat of eternal death, separated from God. We Christians believe that God was not willing to let us sons of Adam die in our sins; indeed when he raised Jesus from the dead he also raised us with Him to a new life far beyond an earthly Paradise. St. Paul puts it this way.

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive…. So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22,45-49)

Christ as the Reconciler of the Family

Much of the early history, the “generations” found in Genesis 1-12 is family history, the “generations” of Adam and Eve, of Cain and Seth, of Noah and his sons, and finally of Abraham. The modern term we might apply to most of these families is “dysfunctional,” characterized by lust, envy, murder, boastful pride, shame, warfare and greed. The one constant in this early history is the legacy of the snake, who brought the first family knowledge of good and evil but also the inclination of the human heart and human relationships to be sinful altogether.

The New Testament proclaims God as the Great Reconciler, who “through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). One arena where we are called to live out that ministry is in the Christian family. Here is what St. Paul says to husbands and wives:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. (Ephesians 5:21-28)

This is a vision of the “the two becoming one flesh” in a way that surpasses the bonding of Adam for Eve, because it brings to the family the humility and forgiveness of the Cross. Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave this simple advice to those about to marry: “Forgive one another every day from the bottom of your heart.”

Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law

By showing the failure of Adam and Eve and their explusion from Paradise University, which was not only a matter of knowledge but of self-control, the Genesis story lays the groundwork for the giving of the Law by Moses. The laws of Noah offer humanity general rules to live by, but at Babel we see that these laws are inadequate. The latter books of the Old Testament will show that even the children of Abraham, who carried the Ten Commandments with them into the promised land, failed to keep that law and ended up worshiping idols. According to Jeremiah, God will give a new covenant which will be rooted in the heart not on tablets of stone.

St. Paul, who, until his encounter with Christ had made it a lifelong quest to keep God’s law, describes that law-keeping is not the final way to righteousness:

Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes…. So if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame"…. Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:1-4,9-11,17)

St. Paul was, as he describes himself, a Hebrew of Hebrews. He had every advantage which Genesis gives to the sons of Abraham. But he counted this heritage as “dung.” For Paul, it is only the righteousness of Christ, the righteousness that comes through faith, that can save us.

Christ as the Revealer of the Father

We see in the book of Genesis a dawning realization by the patriarchs of who God is. Adam and Eve only met God face to face as sinners, and when God “comes down” in Genesis, He comes in judgement on human sin. We see the patriarchs grasping at worship through various offerings, but more often than not, their attempts are rebuffed by God himself.

God is seldom described in the Old Testament, and not at all in Genesis, as Father. One scholar has referred to the God of the Old Testament as “the Elusive Presence.” Even the statement I AM WHAT I AM hides as much as it reveals. It is thus a major kairos or turning point in salvation history when John states: “No one has seen the Father; the Son, who is in the bosom, He [the Son] has made Him [the Father] known” John 1:18). In his Farewell Discourse, Jesus has this to say:

Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father…. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:10-12,16-17)

The cry of Judaism is “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God is One…” The cry of the Church is “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. This Triune God was not recognized in his fullness by the first human beings, because He can only be so known through the coming of Jesus Christ as True God and True Man.

Christ as the Hope of the Nations

Finally, we see God’s great plan – a plan which seems at time in jeopardy – to be glorified as the God of the nations. God’s intention never wavered; his plan went through radically different phases. By the time we reach Genesis chapter 12, the nations are dispersed around the globe, and the covenant relationship has been reduced to one man, Abraham. Centuries later, the Old Testament leaves the Chosen People in exile, just payment for their rebellion. But as Matthew’s Gospel opens, we find the genealogy renewed: “This is the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1). Luke’s Gospel carries the line all the way back to Adam, “the son of God” (Luke 3:37).

From this new start, the “Root of Jesse becomes a banner for the peoples; to him will the nations rally and his place of rest will be glorious” (Isaiah 11:1). What is this place of rest for the nations? It is the City of God described by John in his Revelation:

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. (Revelation 21:23-27)

This is the kingdom to which we have been invited, which will be fulfilled when Christ comes again in glory, a fact we remember during the Advent season.

Conclusion

The Bible begins in Genesis with God the Creator of heaven and earth. By chapter 12, we have come to know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. These are our forefathers and their God. But the last words of the Bible are equally important.

He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21)

“Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” We cannot know the God of the Bible without confessing Him as “Lord Jesus,” Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. We cannot follow the God of the Bible without inviting Him into our hearts. We cannot hope in the God of the Bible without looking for Him to come again in glory to fulfill His design that “God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28)


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