Sunday, November 30, 2008

Article 4 of the Thirty Nine Articles --- Michael Jensen

Here is Michael Jensen's brief explanation of article 4 of the Thirty Nine Articles dealing with Christ's resurrection. This paragraph in particular captures a truth we need to recover in today's Reformed, Lutheran, and Evangelical churches:

"And - he will return to judge. It was this aspect of resurrection faith that particularly energised the early preaching of the apostles, giving its urgency. Think of Paul in Athens telling them "...he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all people by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:31). The resurrection stands as a terrifying truth as well as a glorious one - that the world faces a day of just judgement."

Article IV. Of the Resurrection of Christ

Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.

Did this need to be reasserted in the 16th Century? Was it being denied? Perhaps not as it is today, even by Anglican bishops - a former Bishop of Durham called the physical resurrection 'a conjuring trick with bones'. Providentially it seems, the framers of the articles made a strong statement about the physical resurrection. The fourth article goes to some lengths, beyond the creeds indeed, to assert the full physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: 'flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature'. Jesus is not some ghost, then. This is the one into whose side Thomas was invited to place his hands; the one who ate fish in the presence of his disciples. But, also the one who appeared and disappeared, even in a locked room. This wasn't the nostalgic memory of Jesus, or the warming of the disciples' grieving hearts with some spiritual experience which they named 'resurrection'.

No, it was the bones, the flesh and all his humanity. It was not the Son of God now denuded of his ugly and undivine physicality that ascended into heaven; rather, it was the full man. Just as the Son of God, in his entire divinity 'pitched his tent among us' (John 1), so, in his full humanity, Jesus Christ entered into the heavenly realm to sit at the right of God. A human being, then, reigns over the world from the heavenly throne. Now, this humanity is, granted, a transformed humanity; but it is a humanity nonetheless. Jesus in heaven does not become some other thing.

The resurrection of Jesus indicates that redemption is of the whole human person as a human person. Redemption indicates the liberation of human beings from their bondage and corruption, and their destiny of death and judgement – the final obliteration of the human person in body and spirit.

But when redemption is seen in terms of resurrection, what comes into view is the restoration of humans in their entirety, including the emancipation of their bodies. Flesh and blood, after all, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Cranfield wrote:

The Empty Tomb certainly implies that it was a whole Christ who died for us and that it is the whole Christ who lives for evermore; that He came to redeem us as whole men, not just a part of us; that the body is part of the human personality and that contempt for the body and the physical is also contempt for the Creator. C.E.B. Cranfield, Scottish Journal of Theology vol. 5, 1952, p.404

And - he will return to judge. It was this aspect of resurrection faith that particularly energised the early preaching of the apostles, giving its urgency. Think of Paul in Athens telling them "...he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all people by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:31). The resurrection stands as a terrifying truth as well as a glorious one - that the world faces a day of just judgement.



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