29 March 2013

Behold the Image of God in the Man

It is amazing how visual the Gospel of the Passion is.  “Look!” you are told, again and again.  “Behold the Lamb of God.”  “Behold the Man.”  “Behold your King.”  “Like this,” St. John will describe, as though you could actually see some gesture he is making while he preaches.

No one has ever seen God at any time, but now the Incarnate Son, from the bosom of the Father, has revealed God to us.  For the Word of God, who is God, by Whom all things are made — He has become Flesh.  In Him, God tabernacles among us.  Behold, in Him, you see God.

In the beginning was this Word — the Word was with God; and the Word was God — and as God spoke this Word of His, the Father’s Son from all eternity, so did creation come into being out of nothing.  “Let there be Light,” and there was Light.  For this Word is the Light in the darkness, which is the Life and Love of God.

And on the Sixth Day, on that first Friday of creation, God said, “Let Us make Man in Our Image.”  From the dust of the ground He raised the man and crafted him, and breathed into his body the Breath of Life, which is the Spirit of the Lord.  So did man become a living being.  And, that he should be and live in the Image and Likeness of the Holy Trinity — Who is an eternal relationship of mutual Love between the Father and His Son in the Holy Spirit — God caused the man to sleep, and opened up his side, and from his body crafted the woman, his beautiful bride, to be a helpmate comparable to him.  The Lord brought her to the man to be his wife, and behold, it was very good.

But the Image of God is not a static or stationary work of art, which simply stays put and looks pretty on the wall, on a mantle or a shelf.  In order to see God in man, the man is to live in mutual love with God and with his neighbor: Receiving and requiting the Love of God, and loving the household and family of God in His Name.  Such Love, by its very nature, cannot be forced, demanded, or manipulated.  It is given and received in freedom, in the peace of friendship.

In that freedom, though they were the friends of God, the man and the woman doubted and denied His Word, and betrayed Him with their disobedience.  Though they were His own creation, and His beloved children, from whom He had withheld no good thing, yet, they fled in faithless fear from His Image, and sought instead the knowledge of self-righteousness, which is not the Truth but the likeness of death.  They ran from God and returned to the dust.

The first man and his wife were blinded by their sin.  They could no longer perceive the Lord their God in His good creation, in the clarity of faith and love.  Instead, they were afraid.  They were lost.  They were no longer free, but fallen; no longer fully alive, but subject to death and decay.

Even so, God still beheld them in His mercy, and the gracious freedom of His Love for them was not defeated by their disobedience.  Neither did He punish or destroy them for their sin.  He did not look upon their nakedness, but covered their flesh and clothed them with animal skins: Thus did the Lord offer the first sacrifice, in order to remove the shame of fallen man.

And the Promise was given, that God would remedy the problem, and rectify the situation, and make all things new.  The Seed of the Woman would crush the adversary’s head, and reconcile the world to God.  In Him, the Image and Likeness of God would be seen.

Behold, this is the New Creation that God has accomplished in Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, conceived and born of the Woman.  He does not scrap the first creation and start over, but He redeems and restores it, raises it up, and perfects it in this Man: He is the completion of Creation.

For now, again, on the Sixth Day, on the Good Friday of His Cross, God the Father said to His dear Son, “Let Us make Man in Our Image, and after Our Likeness.”  And that is what He has done.

Indeed, this is what the one true God looks like in His Creation.  This is the fullness of the Deity embodied and enfleshed.  And, therefore, this is also the true Man.  For Christ the Crucified is the very Model and Pattern — the Image and Likeness of God — in which the first man, Adam, was fashioned and formed.  From the beginning, yes, even from before the foundation of the world, it was this Man, Christ Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Son, whom God the Father beheld in Love, and for whose sake He created the heavens and the earth, and Adam and Eve, and all things.

It is specifically His Sacrifice for the salvation of sinners that shows the grace and glory of God most clearly.  So, if you want to know what God and Man are like, look at Him upon the Cross.

He lives and dies, not for Himself — He does what He does, not for His own sake or benefit — but in love for His Father, and in love for you and all His creatures.  It is such divine Love that you behold in Him; and also perfect faith in His own God and Father, as the faithful and obedient Son.

Thus He becomes your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God; not only for a little while, but forever and always.  Because He has fully taken your place, as the true Man, and He has thereby established His place, as the Son of God, in His human flesh and blood, for you.

He has taken your place, not only by His Incarnation, by His conception and birth of the Woman, but also by coming in the likeness of fallen flesh.  That is, although He has no sins of His own, He takes the sins of the whole world upon Himself, and bears the entire brunt of their burden, the full extent of their curse and consequence.  So that He, who is Life Itself, is made mortal and subject to death.  He suffers all your pain and grief and sorrow, from the cradle to the grave.  He is tempted in all the ways that you are tempted.  He sympathizes with all your frailties and weaknesses.

He takes your place — the place of Adam, and of all the children of men — the place of the skull.

You know that no one takes His life from Him: He lays it down willingly, in love; and He shall take it up again, by the Spirit of His Father.  But He takes that place of yours on purpose, that place of death and the grave, so that He might take you up from there to His own place with the Father.

As your great High Priest, He offers up Himself to God — the Son to the Father — in the faith and love for which you have been created.  He does so, not under ideal conditions, not in the bliss of Paradise, but from within the curse of death and damnation, under the terrible weight of your sin.  Burdened by all the hate and hurt and heartache of the fallen world, still He perseveres in the fear, love, and trust of His Father.  He has no other gods but Him.

Not as though it were easy for Him, but rather, because He is faithful and true; because He is the Son of God, the true Man; and because He loves you, He calls upon the Name of the Lord, even with tears, with loud cries and deep groans of anguish.  He entrusts Himself to the Father.  He takes the Cup and drinks it, confident in the One who is able to save Him out of death.

He was heard because of His piety.  And, Christ be praised, His matchless piety now and forever avails for you before the Father in heaven!  For the Body of Christ, who has been crucified for your iniquities, is your Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies.  Therein is where He ever stands for you, as your own High Priest, and ever lives to make intercession for you.  His priestly garment, His unrent seamless tunic, covers your naked guilt and shame.  Therefore, do not run and hide, dear friend, for you are reconciled to God in Christ.

As your merciful and great High Priest, He is also the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, which is to say, the King of the Lord’s Creation.  He truly is the King of the Jews, for salvation is from the Jews.  He is the King of Israel, indeed, of all who are children of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, by faith in the Promise.  But He is also the King of the world; even though His Kingdom is not from here.  Just as Pilate decrees, by the authority that was given to him from above, that Jesus of Nazareth is “the King of the Jews” in the languages of the whole world.  Thus it is written, and so shall it be, wherever in the world the Gospel is preached concerning this crucified King and His Cross.

As the New Adam, He has become the Head of a new humanity.  But see how His headship is so different from the rulers of the world.  They lord it over their subjects, and use their power to serve themselves, to promote their own advantage and agendas.  The Lord Jesus is not like that.  He reigns in love, He rules in peace.  He lays down His own life, in order to give life to His people.  His Kingdom, and His Power, and His Glory, are the Gospel of His Cross.

And so it is that His own Bride, His Queen, His Holy Church is taken from His opened side as He sleeps the deep sleep of death upon His Cross.  By the water and the blood that pour forth out of His innermost being, the New Woman is fashioned and formed after the Image of this New Man, to be a helpmate comparable to Him.  Even His own blessed Mother is given this new identity, as she who once gave birth to Him, is given new life by Him.  She, too, is redeemed and sanctified by His atoning death, by His holy and precious blood, which she beholds at the foot of His Cross.

She stands there, beneath His Tree, as a member and an icon of His Holy Church, the Mother of all the living.  And so does the beloved disciple stand there with her, as an icon of each and every Christian, who are the children of God by grace, by the adoption of sons.  Behold, in this Mother and this Son, the household and family of God in Christ.

She is entrusted to the care of the apostolic witness and preaching of Christ the Crucified.  And by the Word and Spirit of God, the Church conceives and gives birth to His children, as Mother Mary had conceived and given birth to the Christ Child Himself.  Born from the waters of the font, they are nourished by His blood and flesh at the Altar of His Church.

These are the Fruits of His Tree: the water, blood, and Spirit, which He hands over and gives out from the Cross; His Word of forgiveness, and His Body given, for you and for the many.

As He enters upon His Holy Passion from the garden, and as His sacred Body is temporarily laid to rest in the garden, so is the Cross of Christ the true Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise.  Its good fruits are no evil, no poison or hurt, but the very medicine of immortality, the true ambrosia, by which you have life, and health and strength, in body and soul, forever and ever.

You don’t have to get yourself back to the garden.  Nor could you have done so, but would only have returned to the dust whence you were taken.  But here the Garden of God has come to you, and it is found wherever Christ the Crucified is lifted up in the preaching of His Cross; wherever He is given and poured out in the Fruits of His Cross, His Body and His Blood.

You, now, beloved, who are born from His Body in the water and the blood, and who are fed from His Tree of Life with His flesh — you, now, are like Him, who made Himself to be like you.  You are made brand new in Him.  You are what you eat and drink: the Image of God.

Do not doubt that it is true.  Despite the outward appearance of the Cross, which the world despises in Christ Jesus, and now also in you; and notwithstanding the fact and experience of sin, which remains in your fallen flesh — where you feel it, and the Law reveals it, daily — nevertheless, the Truth of Christ stands fast and remains for you.

He is the Man, and He is the Image of God in Man.  As He has taken your place, even unto death upon the Cross, so has He given you His place, as the Son of God, even unto life everlasting.

That is what His God and Father graciously beholds in you: Not the nakedness and shame, the suffering, sin, and death that Christ Jesus bears on your behalf, but the perfect piety, steadfast faith, and holy love with which He has gone to the Cross for you, and which He lavishly bestows upon you by His Gospel.  Amen, amen, it is and ever shall be so.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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