[This Lord's Supper meditation was given at Grace Evangelical Free Church of La Mirada on 1.29.12.]
Tonight we are about to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, in which we focus our thoughts on the marvelous work of redemption that Christ accomplished for us. In the next 10 minutes or so, I’d like us to mediate upon the depth of what transpired.
We cannot consider Christ’s stupendous work of redemption without first turning our attention to the mind boggling truth of the incarnation: that God himself became a man in Jesus Christ. In the incarnation, God the Son—the second person of the blessed Trinity—assumed to himself a complete human nature, both body and soul. He did so without ceasing to be what he was, namely true God, eternally possessed of the fullness of deity. But in the incarnation, in the fullness of time, he became what he had not been: a human being, possessed not only of a fully human body, but also of a human mind or rational soul. So as a result, this same person, who remained true God, now also became true man.
Now, we might well wonder why Christ became incarnate, taking on a complete humanity. As to its necessity the Scriptures do not leave us wondering. It is clear, as the writer to the Hebrews so succinctly put it, that: “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). It was no doubt with this text ringing in his ears that the great fourth century church father Gregory of Nazianzus remarked, “What he has not assumed he has not healed.” In context, Gregory’s point was that if Christ were merely a redeemer of our bodies, then it would have been enough for him to take on a human body in order heal it. But if he is to be a healer of souls, he must have taken on a human soul as well. Or, as his contemporary Gregory of Nyssa put it, “The Good Shepherd carried the whole sheep and not just the skin.”
In this I believe that both of our friends, who happen to share the name Gregory, are quite correct. But we may still wish to press the question and ask why this is so. Why must Christ become fully incarnate as a complete man, with a body and a soul, in order to save us? Indeed, why did he have to become a man at all? I mean, he was God, after all! Can’t God do everything? Why didn’t God simply save us through an act of divine power? Why not just declare us forgiven and be done with it? Why bother with all this human nature stuff anyway?
To answer this, let me suggest that the solution lies in a slight but important modification to Gregory Nazianzus’s very profound statement. I believe his statement, “What he has not assumed he has not healed” is certainly true enough. But to this I would add a related but slightly different maxim, which might go something like this: “What he has not endured he has not paid.”
The incarnation—indeed, a complete incarnation—is necessary because Jesus Christ paid the full penalty for our sins on the cross, both in body and in soul. In other words, the punishment due for our sin involves suffering both in body and in soul. In order to pay that penalty, Christ had to endure suffering, both in body and in soul. And this required him to take on a body and a soul, which would make such suffering possible. Or, as the fourth century Athanasius said so poetically, “God [the Son] was so full of life that he had to borrow death from us.”
Stated more precisely, the penalty for violating God’s law was death. In Gen. 2:17 God warned Adam and Eve that should they eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in that very day they would surely die. But this death is two-fold, involving both the body and the soul.
First of all, there is the obvious fact of the death of the body. Bodily death consists of the separation of the soul or spirit from the body. Had Adam and Eve not sinned, they would not have experienced physical death. Now, it is true that when they took the forbidden fruit they did not keel over dead on the spot, even though God said that they would die in the very day that they ate of it. But what did happen then and there was that the seeds of death were implanted in them, so that from then on they were on an inexorable death march, until that day when spirit and body finally would be rent asunder and the body would return to dust while the spirit returned to God’s its maker. And so it is for us: As Adam’s offspring, guilty in him, our death march likewise begins from our first breath--yes, even while yet in the womb.
But as I said, this death is two-fold. The other aspect is what the Bible calls the second death, which is the separation of the soul from its Maker. This is the essence of hell: the separation of the soul from God, the only true source of its good and happiness. When you look at the biblical texts on hell, one of the aspects that comes through loud and clear is the awfulness of this separation—this being cast aside, this banishment into outer darkness, this unutterable misery of permanent alienation away from the presence of God. It is horrible beyond description, and the reality of it is worse, if anything, than the metaphors and word pictures that Scripture uses in its attempt to convey some idea of what this wretched state is like.
Now, as we turn our attention to the communion elements of which we are about to partake, we need to ponder the depth of what transpired on the cross. Surely the physical aspects of Christ’s death are beyond gruesome—the crown of thorns, the nails through the wrist, and the many other pains attendant with this barbaric Roman form of torture. But we must not limit our consideration to this. As horrible as the physical aspects of this death were, I believe they actually pale in comparison to the suffering of the Messiah’s soul, in which he cried out from the depths of his being, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” In that awful moment he exhausted the spiritual penalty of death—the separation of his human soul from his heavenly Father.
You must not pass over this point too quickly, or you will easily miss its profound import. Here we have the sinless Son of God: a man who experienced perfect, unbroken fellowship with his Father, every day of his earthly life. This is something none of us can really fathom, because our own spiritual lives are so beset with fits and starts and imperfections and sins. The relationship between Jesus and his Father on the human level—that is, between the man Christ Jesus and his heavenly father—was perfect, complete, and unbroken. And here, at this awful moment, the Father withdrew the sense of his presence and favor, allowing his Son to bear the crushing weight of judgment for the entirety of human sin on himself. And so what else could the man Jesus do but issue that cry of dereliction, that exclamation of stunned amazement and bewilderment at the dreadfulness of that separation. And yet, even then, he does not break faith with his Father but continues to call him “MY God,” despite being bereft of any tangible sense of his presence and favor. There is no other way to put it than to say that Jesus bore the pains of hell, and did it for you and for me.
So, as we take this bread, let us consider his body, broken for us—Christ, the redeemer and healer of our bodies, the one who will quicken our mortal bodies on the last day. And as we drink this cup, let us realize that he drained the cup of divine wrath and exhausted it in himself.
What he has endured, this he has also paid.