Thursday, March 30, 2017

Affirming the Apostle's Creed by J. I. Packer #3

packerWe are continuing to work through J. I. Packer's short commentary, Affirming the Apostle's Creed. In this post, and the next, we will continue the longest section in the creed about God the Son. Here he discusses the incarnation and death of Jesus. I am posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Next Packer discusses the phrase "born of the virgin Mary." Jesus' entrance and exit from the world in His incarnation was marked by two miracles: the virgin birth and the resurrection/ascension. Both attest to His full humanity and full deity.

The entry and exit miracles carry the same message. First, they confirm that Jesus, though not less than man, was more than man. His earthly life, though fully human, was also divine. He, the co-creator, was in this world—his own world—as a visitor; he came from God and went to God. 73

Certainly, if we deny the virgin birth because it was a miracle, we should in logic deny Jesus’ bodily resurrection too. These miracles are on a par, and it is unreasonable to accept either while rejecting the other. 76

But the real Mary, the Mary of Scripture, saw herself simply as a saved sinner. “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:47, KJV). She sets us a marvelous example, not just of the privilege (and the price!) of cooperating in God’s plan to bless the world (see Luke 1:38; 2:34–35), but also of humble response to God’s grace. 77

Next Packer looks at the phrase "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried." He points out that only Christianity focuses on the legal murder of its central figure. The responsibility and guilt for Jesus' murder fell on "lawless men" yet it was also part of God's eternal plan to atone for sin and bring humanity back into relationship with God. In his incarnation, including the cross, Jesus' experienced all the consequences of our sins and triumphed over them. He provided reconciliation with God and defeated all the forces of evil at the cross.

Jesus knew on the cross all the pain, physical and mental, that man could inflict and also the divine wrath and rejection that my sins deserve; for he was there in my place, making atonement for me. 81

As our propitiation, it was reconciliation, the making of peace for us with our offended, estranged, angry Creator (Romans 5:9–11). We are not wise to play down God’s hostility against us sinners; what we should do is magnify our Savior’s achievement for us in displacing wrath by peace. 82

The cross was redemption, rescue from bondage and misery by the payment of a price (see Ephesians 1:7; Romans 3:24; Revelation 5:9; Mark 10:45); and as redemption, it was victory over all hostile powers that had kept us, and wanted still to keep us, in sin and out of God’s favor (Colossians 2:13–15). 82–83

The next phrase "He descended into hell" is somewhat controversial. This was caused by an unfortunate translation of "Hades" into Latin in the 4th century. The meaning here is that Jesus went to the place of the dead. That is, Jesus was really, truly dead. He has overcome the last and greatest enemy, death and because he rose, bodily, to new life we can have confidence that we will also rise in the same way.

Now we can face death knowing that when it comes we shall not find ourselves alone. He has been there before us, and he will see us through. 89

Having tasted death himself, he can support us while we taste it and carry us through the great change to share the life beyond death into which he himself has passed. Death without Christ is “the king of terrors,” but death with Christ loses the “sting,” the power to hurt, that it otherwise would have. 85–86

What the Creed means, however, is that Jesus entered, not Gehenna, but Hades—that is, that he really died, and that it was from a genuine death, not a simulated one, that he rose. 87

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