I have been reading a little book by Lois Malcolm on the Holy Spirit. I met Lois at the Rochester College Streaming Conference, and her book, Holy Spirit: Creative Power in our Lives would serve small groups well if you have a group that is interested in thinking about the Holy Spirit and its representation in the Bible. In chapter 3, she starts off by stating, “Something happened after Jesus’ death. His disciples experienced his presence among them as one raised from the dead. They announced that God had vindicated him by raising him from the dead, making him both ‘Lord and Messiah’ (Acts 2:36). And, they experienced the presence of the Spirit within and among them. They affirmed that the same Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead also dwelled within them and gave life to their mortal bodies(Romans 8:11). As they reflected on their memories about Jesus in light of the Scriptures and what they remembered about his life, they interpreted Jesus’ death to be something he offered through ‘the eternal spirit’—the indestructible life of God—so that they could, with clean consciences, worship the living God (Hebrews 9:14).” (35)
She continues, “Throughout Acts, we read how members of the new community were ‘filled with the Spirit’ to move and act in certain ways. The Spirit directed the affairs of the community (Acts 5:3; 9:31), guiding through prophetic utterance (Acts 11:28; 13:2; 20:23; 21:4,11) and through mutual discernment (Acts 15:28). And the Spirit gave individuals power to perform certain tasks for the community…” (38)
As I think about Dr. Malcolm’s writing that connects the church with the Spirit as an extension of Jesus, I find myself deeply drawn to this ecclesiology (that is a way of “doing church”). Here are a few of my observations to think about:
Malcolm asserts, “As Jesus’ living presence with us, the Advocate will give us a deeper and an even more expansive—a more vital and more life giving—understanding of the truth. Jesus told his disciples, the Advocate will not only ‘teach you everything’ (Acts 14:26), but also ‘guide you into all the truth;…and…declare to you the things that are to come’ (John 16:13). Nonetheless, what the Advocate will disclose would always be rooted in Jesus, reminding the disciples of all Jesus has said to them. The Advocate would always only ‘testify’ on Jesus’ behalf (John 15:26). Just as Jesus did not speak on his own but only the Father’s words, so the Advocate would not ‘speak on his own,’ but only ‘speak whatever he hears’ (John 16:13)—from Jesus and the Father.” (45)
As promised, I want to take a look at Philippians 2, a passage of Scripture that recounts Jesus’ journey to the right hand of God. Here is the text:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The Emptying of the Son and the Power of the Father
In Philippians 2:6-11 we find what some scholars suggest is the oldest surviving piece of writing on Jesus. We have what appears to be either a song or an informal creedal statement that we assume the church at Philippi either knew, had memorized, or even used in worship. Paul reminds them of a picture of Jesus that they need to carry with them during their time of struggle. Paul shows us that Jesus is the ultimate example of true service to God.
Equality with God:
But he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Grasped in this sense is not “comprehend” with the mind, but indicates an actual physical grasping. The Greek word means more like “exploited, grabbed, taken for one’s own advantage.” The NIV editorial board updated the translation here to read “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” Therefore, Jesus was not willing to use his divine nature for his own benefit. He refused to exploit his divine authority.
Jesus chose to make himself nothing. He “emptied” himself. This one word has been the subject of so much debate among theologians, “kenosis” in the Greek. It comes from the Greek word for to pour. He pours himself out. He gives himself and his authority away as he becomes born in the form of a human.
Becoming a Servant:
He takes on the form of a servant. There are two words for servant- “diakonos" (where the church gets the transliterated word “deacon”) which is an administrator, server, waiter, attendant. But then there’s “doulos;” a bondservant, slave, one without any authority. Jesus becomes a “doulos” not a “diakonos.”
I want you to notice something extremely important…this is the end of Jesus’ action in the text. In other words, Jesus’ part is over at the emptying, humbling, and serving. Paul is going to use the all important transitional word, “therefore” and so there is a continuation of the story as a result of what just happened…And you might notice that at this transition, it is “God” or the Father that takes over the action in the text.
Again, we might ask the question where Jesus receives his power, and we might also discover that in this text Jesus, the Son, makes himself into a vulnerable servant of God to which God responds by exalting him. It should not strike us as odd since Jesus himself made statements about God opposing the proud and given grace to the humble. Yet, in this text we see the power of the Son being the ability to empty himself, and the power of God being to exalt and bestow honor. While this text does indicate an equality of nature in the Father and Son, that is the same form…a reader of this text must see a striking contrast between the function of Father and Son. The Son reigns by the Father’s power, and the Father is pleased by the Son’s unwavering character.
We must start in the Old Testament, because an important aspect of God’s relationship with his people was God’s presence among them. You might recall that the position of the tabernacle in the midst of the people, representing God’s presence was in the MIDDLE of the camp. Therefore, God’s presence was not marginal or on the fringes, but God was central in his position among the people. (see the picture associated with this post). Now, as we move from tabernacle to the Temple in Jerusalem something very important happens.
Everything is Described in Proximity to God: Including the Son
Jerusalem is proclaimed as the center of the earth among the Israelites, that is, the city itself serves as a representative of God’s heavenly palace and the Temple itself served as a representation of God’s throne, particularly the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. This is established by David as the king, the temple, and the city itself are representatives of God’s authority and reign. And so, along with this centrality argument, comes the notion of traveling (or taking a pilgrimage) to Jerusalem and going to the temple, because it is in this city, and in this Temple, that the presence and power of God can be experienced in a more complete way.
As we move to the New Testament, we must understand that God is at the center and the writers of the New Testament, while proclaiming Jesus as extremely important and in fact divine, always place him in a position at God’s right hand. This is evident in the scripture references below. But more than that, we also must be reminded that Jesus himself claimed that God the Father is the ultimate authority. Listen to Jesus explaining his connection to the Father and how those who acknowledge or reject Jesus must face the Father’s authority:
“Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
“Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me
Now, turning to the “right hand of God” passages in the New Testament, the writers pickup a line from Psalm 110:1 - “the Lord said to my lord, sit at my right hand…” and this becomes a theme repeated in the writings of the New Testament. It is used heavily in Acts, and is also referenced in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Hebrews…among others.
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,
But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Ephesians 1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2)
My point in showing these passages, extremely vague and out of context, is not to proof text some argument but to understand the language being used and what the language itself expresses to us in regards to Jesus’ authority and position with the Father. The Father is on the throne, and the Son is at his right hand. To understand the image of the right hand, you might want to read through the Psalms as the right hand of God is mighty, powerful, and active to save. However, we must also see that Jesus is positioned in reference to God the Father, making God the Father, not Jesus the Son, the central aspect of not just the Old Testament, but the New Testament as well. In theological terms, we refer to this understanding as “theocentric” and we acknowledge that Jesus’ position and power is given by the Father.
As I wrap things up for this part of our discussion, I want to send you to read the vision of the heavenly throne room Revelation 4 and 5 in which God’s throne is described in chapter 4 and then the “Lamb of God” we know as Jesus shows up in the throne room in chapter 5. Take a look at how the language describes the majesty and power and authority and the relationship between Father and Son.
What I have come to conclude in that the Father must be viewed as central, and all creation and even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is to be described in relationship to the One who sits at the center of our existence and experience. In part 3 of our discussion about Father and Son, I want to go to a very familiar hymn in Philippians and unpack this tightly focused passage.
I have noticed recently that there has been some confusion regarding the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son among us. It seems that Jesus has been equated to God the Father and some are referring to Jesus as the Father, but I want you to understand why this is problematic and more importantly, how the language of the Bible shows an intimate and close connection between the Father and the Son while upholding these two entities as performing distinct functions. I’m going to address this over a few posts, so we will start with…
What Causes the Confusion?
I think there are a few factors that make it more appealing to see Jesus as the one in control of everything, AKA the Father, and I want us to ponder these things and how they form a negative portrayal of God.
First, I think the image of Father itself has fallen on hard times. You see, the image of God the Father is such because of God’s protection, provision, and authority. This can be seen clearly in the Exodus narrative in which God comes to His people’s rescue and delivers them out of the land of Egypt. God uses authority to defeat the god’s of Egypt, God protects the people by making distinctions between what happens to the Egyptians and what happens to the Hebrews, and God provides a way through the wilderness along with food, water, shade, and light as they journey. God gives a law to organize the people and establishes a relationship with them. God is seen as a loving and merciful Father, one that disciplines and is present with the people.
In a time when many have experienced the absence of a father, have been left exposed to the “figure things out” on their own, and buy into the anti-authority movement…The image of Father is very different in our world than it was in the world of the Bible. Moreover, given our current situation, if we are to speak of someone who loves us unconditionally, someone who works hard to provide for our families, and someone who practices self-sacrifice to make our lives good; we are most likely not referring to father, but to mother. Furthermore, it seems that Jesus fits the mold of our contemporary mothers given his self-sacrifice, provision of salvation, and unconditional love…and so it is easy to just see Jesus in a parental role, since he is a man we call him “father,” because Jesus best fits our experience of being parented.
However, Jesus always claims that his miraculous power, didactic authority, and divine compassion comes from God the Father, who has loved Him and provided for Him. Listen to the words of Jesus as he talks about the Father…
“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Needless to say, Jesus the Son has a special relationship with God the Father, which brings us to our nest item for thought.
Second, some of us in the church have been taught that the God of the Old Testament is extremely different from the God of the New Testament and that Jesus seemed to serve as a divine correction to bad behavior in the Old Testament. While I would agree that Jesus is a correction for bad behavior in the Old Testament, it is not God Jesus is correcting, but us! The story of God’s people doesn’t end in Exodus, or in the Promised Land, but the Old Testament ends with the people being scattered by means of exile. The Bible’s claim is not that God wasn’t authoritative, couldn’t protect, or provide; but that the people rebelled against God and served other gods, treated others with injustice and oppression, and were essentially a bad representation of God to the other nations.
So what about the picture of God destroying and warring and wiping out folks in the Old Testament? That doesn’t seem to happen in the New Testament! Hm, well, I’m not too sure I agree with this popularized misrepresentation of the Bible, used to discredit the writings of Scripture and the confession of the Christian faith. All the gods went to war, all the nations went to war…the question was not whether or not there was war but whether or not a people was victorious! God’s victories don’t prove God angry or malicious, it proves God powerful and capable, especially in a world full of gods and people who worship those other gods so that they will be blessed by them. When we turn to the New Testament, Jesus is portrayed as a divine warrior that, in the same sort of way, goes after the enemies of sin, death, and the kingdom of evil. Revelation is key to understanding that the war is still raging and those who believe in the wrong gods will suffer the same consequences of their divine leaders.
Both the Son and the Father get angry at evil. They cannot stand injustice and will not tolerate oppression, especially of the orphan or widow or the less fortunate. Jesus’ mission was to make a way to open a relationship with God up to humanity in a way that had never been done before through the well-intended but broken covenants of the Old Testament (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David)…and as the fulfillment of these covenants, Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection stand as the ushering point of a new era in which the Holy Spirit is poured out and the relationship with God is reconciled. Our rebellion is forgiven and our access to the Father restored. Why the Father? This brings us to the next item for thought…
Third, When Jesus claims that He and the Father are one, what is he actually saying? In the gospel of John, Jesus says this in defense of his claims and his disciples…
30 The Father and I are one.”
31 Once again the people picked up stones to kill him. 32 Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone me?”
33 They replied, “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy! You, a mere man, claim to be God.”
34 Jesus replied, “It is written in your own Scriptures that God said to certain leaders of the people, ‘I say, you are gods!’ 35 And you know that the Scriptures cannot be altered. So if those people who received God’s message were called ‘gods,’ 36 why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God?’ After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. 37 Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. 38 But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.”
Is Jesus claiming equality with God the Father or is Jesus claiming intimacy with God the Father in this passage? It seems to me that Jesus is proclaiming his own intimacy with God here, and not making a statement of equality with God. Of course, Philippians 2 claims that Jesus’ attitude was that, “Equality with God was not something to be grasped or expected.” Earlier in John, Jesus defends himself from the Jewish leaders in this way:
18 So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.
19 So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. 21 For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. 22 In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, 23 so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.
Again, Jesus speaks as if the Son is in “training” to do as the Father wants and while the charge from the leaders is “making himself equal to God,” Jesus seems to defend himself by asserting that he is working in tandem with God the Father (as opposed to those who misrepresent God to the world). The authority Jesus has been given is done so by the Father and to honor the Son is to honor the Father. Which means that the leaders Jesus is talking to in this passage are not honoring God because they are not honoring Jesus.
So, this is a good start in our conversation regarding a theocentric view of God the Father and next time I want to discuss how the Bible portrays Jesus, the Son, in proximity to God and never the other way around!
I wasn’t around at the time of the Revolutionary War, but I have read about it in the history books and its effects can be experienced to this day in my life. There is a freedom I have because of what happened so long ago. Today, I will gather my family and go visit friends and watch fireworks tonight to celebrate Independence Day. It will be a good time and a needed rest for my family in the middle of the crazy summer months.
As I think about my faith, I must also understand a different meaning of “independence day” that also has much bearing on my life. I wasn’t present on that day either, but I have read about it both as a matter of pure history and in the gospel accounts in the Bible. I was reminded last week during our Vacation Bible School that Jesus was a soldier against our greatest enemies - sin, death, and Satan…and there was a day he won that battle. Most of us think that it was when he when to the cross, but in going to the cross, Jesus surrendered to the world of sin, death, and Satan to be willingly defeated. But by the power of God, Jesus resurrected from the dead and it is in this event that the world was changed…it was made free. It was this “independence day” that freed us from the shackles of sin, death, and Satan.
Paul writes regarding the resurrection of Jesus: 1 Corinthians 15:
20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.
24 After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says, “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.
I can’t wait for the beauty of this display by our Lord, but until that day comes, I will gather my family and take them to see the fireworks, enjoy the food, and thank my country for the freedom I experience as an American and thank my God for the freedom I experience as a Christian, which I must admit transcends nation and people and position. This freedom we have in Christ, Paul would write later in the same chapter, motivates our lives… “58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” AMEN! Happy Independence Day to you…Come, Lord Jesus!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.