Wednesday, April 11, 2012
the poetry of theology
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:16
Paul quotes the poetic expression of an ancient Christian creed that many Bible scholars conclude is a part of a first century hymn of the church. It is fascinating to examine the structure of this confession. It centers on the gospel, but in terms just different enough to cause us to think through the "mystery of godliness".
It starts with the fact that Jesus was "manifested in the flesh". This is the wonder of the incarnation, covering every dimension of it from His Nativity to the fact that He died on a Roman cross. In every way in life and in death, Jesus showed Himself to be fully human. God came to us in the most obvious way possible in Jesus. This was the unexpected miracle of the Messiah... that perfect omnipotent deity would reside in a human body and die for our sins according to the scriptures.
The poem says Jesus was "vindicated by the Spirit". The verb used is the same Greek word used to describe being justified. But that is not what is meant...at least not the justification of sin. What is meant is that 1) in the ministry of Jesus the Holy Spirit vindicated the authenticity of his teaching and work, and 2) at the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit vindicated the salvation accomplished at the cross.
The third phrase denotes Jesus' deity in a poetic expression, "seen by angels". Angels proclaimed His birth, they attended to Him after the temptation in the wilderness, they announced His resurrection, and they encouraged the disciples at His ascension.
The next two phrases anticipate the impact of this gospel creed. Jesus is "proclaimed among the nations", which is gospel preaching. It is the work of ALL Christians to lift Him up and testify to His work. And that is effective so that He is "believed on in the world". This hints at the reality of the work of His Church, His called out assembly of believers in the world.
The final phrase reminds us Jesus is relying on us for He has been "taken up in glory". I believe it also hints at our anticipation of His return. If He has been taken up, He will come again in the same way, as the angels proclaimed at His ascension. What an encouraging message and what a deep set of truths the gospel really is!