A Mystery Revealed in Plain Sight

 
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God's Word became flesh. That is a concrete, real fact. This means that the mystery of how God comes to us, to win us back from sin and death, is hiding in plain sight. The physical appearance of God's Word in time and place means we cannot look for God's rescue of sinners in some mystical, spiritual, take the third exit after the tollbooth to find him, kind of place. The mystery of how God saves sinners is located in a specific person, at a specific place, Who speaks a specific word of grace and truth to those who treat Him as enemy. God comes and tabernacles amongst us, and the name He chooses for Himself (the only name by which we may be saved) is Jesus. The mystery of God's saving grace is the mystery of Jesus, God's incarnate Word.

But, sinners have a notoriously bad memory, especially in relation to God's chosen means of salvation. We have a mind of our own, after all. We do not need God to put a straight jacket on us in regard to His works and ways. We need freedom—freedom to choose to move towards our Savior. We can choose our politics, hobbies, exercise routine, dietary wants, what musical genre we prefer, and even which theology we will subscribe to, so surely we must also have freedom in relation to the object of our thoughtful, heart-felt devotion. What good is a mystery, after all, if we are not provided the opportunity to solve it? How can we be authentic, authoritative proclaimers of the Gospel, the Good News of God in Christ, if we are not competent in our handling of the central mystery of our Christian faith?

This approach has a number of built-in booby-traps though. First, and most important, is that it buries the Gospel. Once the Gospel is buried, the God-man is not the One who came to save sinners. He is instead, in our way of seeing things, the One who comes to judge sinners and, in some cases, to turn sinners into non-sinners. When we bury the Gospel we bury the power of God that reveals who Jesus is for us: the God-man Who has come to set us free from sin and death by His bloody suffering and God-forsaken death.

The Gospel Reveals

But, the whole New Testament declares that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. This does not include our choosing, or God's threatening and frightening us into submitting ourselves to his judgment. God does not locate Himself in the manger so we can pay attention, follow His life and career, then use it as an example for how to get our life together. Jesus dies and rises for all those who cannot get their life together, do not get their life together, or do not want to clean up their act. As St. Paul writes, "while we were STILL SINNERS, Christ died for the ungodly."

But, of course, this is too easy. The Gospel is too freeing for us. It is all too simple. We are justified by grace through faith in Christ alone? What about our effort, our good intentions, our time and money and energy dedicated to thanking, praising, and serving our God? Does that not count for anything? And this leads us into the deadliest booby-trap of all. We use theology to bury the Gospel. We turn words about God into words about the godly. We convert descriptions about our Savior into a recipe for self-salvation. We translate Jesus into a system of checks and balances intended to secure dogmatic, moral, and spiritual choice for ourselves. In short, when the Gospel is buried, our theology keeps Jesus on the bench until we are ready to put him in the game.

In Christ, the Word become flesh, this is a concrete, real fact. It is the bedrock foundation of the Gospel.
— Donavon Riley

The Gospel, on the other hand, reveals that the mystery of God's incarnation means the game is already won before we ever think to step on the court. We do not have to search for the proper metaphor or analogy to get a handle on the mystery of God's Word made flesh. He provides it for us in his parables, foremost among them being the Prodigal Son. The father forgives the prodigal before he does anything. He is simply a witness to the Good News that in Jesus' death and resurrection all debts are settled, not because we are competent or incompetent but because in the mystery of the God-man, God is the subject of all the verbs of our salvation. We are simply the object of his grace and favor.

In Christ, the Word become flesh, this is a concrete, real fact. It is the bedrock foundation of the Gospel. It is the revelation of the mystery of how and why, where and when, and most importantly who God is for us. Not some truth we must pursue. Not some problem that needs to be solved if we are to enter into the wedding feast of the Lamb. Just Jesus, God in the flesh, our grace and truth today and always.

 

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'.