Thursday, April 28, 2011

When the Firstborn God Returns

For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”? And again: “I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son”? But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” And of the angels He says: “Who makes His angels spirits And His ministers a flame of fire.” But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” (Hebrews 01:05-09, NKJV).
Throughout the course of Church history, especially at its beginning, Christians were characterized as "worshipers of the dead God."

That is the world's misinterpretation, of course, and a gross distortion of the truth, but it is an interesting one. By focusing on the sacrifice of Christ, the world affirms its historicity. It was an event that happened in time and space, and people noticed, but not because Someone was killed in a tortuous and gruesome manner - that happens all the time even today - but because of the impact that that particular death had on a significant number of people. It clearly and permanently changed human hearts and minds, from the inside out. Narcissists became philanthropists; hedonists became self-controlled; reprobates became decent; deceivers became honest - all because sinners became saved and regenerated by the power of the gospel.

The evidence was irrefutable, so much so, that the ensconced civil and established religious authorities of that day, and since, have done their dogged best to undermine the impact. Through persecution, marginalization, libel, slander, extortion and repressive control, true Christianity's abolition was sought with diabolic persistence. Bibles were burned, churches broken up, saints martyred - all to no avail. When outright demolition failed, the world tried the next best thing: mockery.

"They worship a dead God! What kind of lunatics worship a dead God? They must be insane! Pay no attention to them!"

In the end, that strategy fails like all the others. It's hard to really mock people who don't regard themselves as important in themselves. Or more precisely, who don't look at themselves as entitled to being treated a certain way. That kind of person, when mocked, typically bears it with good humor, taking it in stride, knowing that the mockers are like scared children afraid of something they don't quite understand, but are convinced is somehow a threat.

This chauvinism regarding a dead God is particularly fascinating because it stops at the Cross, and does not proceed to the Empty Tomb. Its underlying intent is to dilute the Deity of Christ by decrying how ridiculous it is for God to die. The implicit statement is this: any god worth its salt can't die, so clearly Jesus Christ was no god, and therefore His followers are either woefully deluded, or willfully demented.

They miss the main point, obviously, that God became a Man to be able to suffer death. And he became a Man by being the Father's firstborn. The sense of this word in Greek (prototokos) is not solely chronological, as in the first to emerge from the womb, though it certainly can be used with that connotation. The word is also positional, in the sense that it denotes prominence and privilege. The firstborn son in ancient cultures typically succeeded the patriarch of the clan, and received a double portion of the inheritance. He became the controller and primary shareholder of the family estate and business. In short, he was accorded first rank among siblings.

In both senses then, it is a fitting description of the Only-begotten Son of God. It encapsulates His unique Humanity, while emphasizing His divine authority. And while some have used that designation to argue that Christ is not God because He was born, that argument is just vapor. Nobody is arguing He wasn't born. His virgin birth is an integral part of the miracle of redemptive history.

But note also the subtle summary of salvation in the highlighted verse, But when He again brings the firstborn into the world. He came once as the Suffering Servant, sent by the Father to die a substitutionary atoning death for our sins, but then He rose again and went out of the world. The Father will send Him once again into the world, not as Servant, but as Judge and King.

He will judge men as the Son of Man, and He will rule in absolute sovereign authority as the Son of God. And His Royalty will be of such eminence that not only man, but angels will worship Him.

Later in Hebrews we will learn that He became a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, but when He returns He will be crowned with glory and honor that cannot be denied or escaped.

In fact, the really amazing aspect of Christ's intervention in human history is not just the fact He condescended to intervene, but the surprising way he did so. He was born as one of us, to die as one of us, so that we could live as one with Him.

There is no comparison between Christ and anyone else, except the Father.

He is supreme in every characteristic: humility, divinity, humanity, love, obedience, mercy, grace and power.

And one day, every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.