Christ, the Meaning of All Scripture, Life and History
Chapter 7—Christ, the Meaning of All Life
We must now turn our attention to the appropriate human response to the mighty acts of God. "He has caused His wonderful works to be remembered" (Ps. 111:4). The religion of the Old Testament saints is a religion of rehearsing the great acts of God.
When we say rehearsal, we do not mean reenactment. The great acts of God are unique and infinite. They cannot be duplicated. Although done for man, they are done apart from human activity. Man makes no contribution to them. They are done wholly without man's participation or cooperation. As far as the religion of the Bible is concerned, man must abandon any arrogant pretense of reenacting the mighty works of God (John 6:28, 29). He is called to recount, recite or rehearse them (Judges 5:11). God's acts are to be remembered in grateful celebration. This is the essence of biblical worship.
God does not leave man to devise ways of rehearsing His acts. He appoints the way His works are to be remembered and celebrated. For instance, when God created the world, He instituted the Sabbath. When He delivered Noah from the Flood, He appointed the rainbow as the means of remembering His saving act (Gen. 2:1-3; 9:13-17). When He rescued Abraham to covenantal fellowship, He gave him the sign of circumcision.
The Exodus is the great event of Israel's history. God wanted His people to rehearse and celebrate this event for all generations to come. Israel's entire system of worship was founded on the Exodus.
You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.—Deut. 5:15.
Almost identical words are used as the reason for Israel's keeping all the feasts of the Hebrew calendar—the Passover (Ex. 12:27; 13:3-9), Unleavened Bread (Deut. 16:3), Pentecost (Deut. 16:10-12) and Tabernacles (Lev. 23:41-43; Deut. 16:13). The deliverance from Egypt is also the reason why Israel brought the firstfruits to the tabernacle (Deut. 26:1-9) and redeemed every firstborn (Ex. 13:2, 14-16). Every religious institution proclaimed one message: "You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand." Israel worshiped God (gave God His worth) by rehearsing what He had done for them in their Exodus.
This rehearsal of the Exodus was not only the focal point of all Israel's sacred institutions. It was the basis of all her ethics.
"Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cleave to Him, and by His name you shall swear. He is your praise; He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrible things which your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the Lord your God has made you as the stars of heaven for multitude.
"You shall therefore love the Lord your God, and keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments always. And consider this day (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the Lord your God, His greatness, His mighty hand and His outstretched arm, His signs and His deeds which He did in Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land; and what He did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots; how He made the water of the Red Sea overflow them as they pursued after you, and how the Lord has destroyed them to this day; and what He did to you in the wilderness, until you came to this place; and what He did to Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, son of Reuben; how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, in the midst of all Israel; for your eyes have seen all the great work of the Lord which He did.
"You shall therefore keep all the commandment which I command you this day, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land which you are going over to possess."—Deut. 10:19-11:8.
"It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the Lord loves you, and is keeping the oath which He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, to a thousand generations, and requites to their face those who hate Him, by destroying them; He will not be slack with him who hates Him, He will requite him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which I command you this day. "—Deut. 7:7-11.
"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
"You shall have no other gods before Me. "—Ex. 20:2, 3.
Israel's ethics, therefore, were grounded on redemption, not redemption on their ethics. The deliverance from Egypt became the reason for all Israel's behavior. They were to live before God, before each other and even before strangers in the spirit of grateful celebration of their redemption. Life was to be a rehearsal of the Exodus. Everything Israel did—the way they kept their holy days and feast days, the way they dealt with the poor, the way they instructed their children, the way they harvested their fields, the way they showed hospitality—was an act of remembering the Exodus.
We cannot overestimate the importance of Israel's continual rehearsal of the Exodus. Many psalms are devoted to rehearsing the Exodus (Ps. 66, 78, 105, 106, 111). These psalms show that to remember is to believe, and to forget is to disbelieve. When Israel forgot to live in grateful response to God's saving act, she forgot her fellow men and lived without justice, mercy or humility (Micah 6:1-8).
When Israel and her saints made intercession with God, their petitions held up before God His covenantal act (2 Chron. 20:5-12; Dan. 9:1-19). Rehearsing the Exodus was not merely a memory. When the covenant was rehearsed, God remembered the covenant. This does not mean He ever forgot it. To remember is a dynamic Hebrew concept. It means God acted to reaffirm and carry out His covenantal purpose. All the power in the original saving act accompanies the rehearsal of that act. This is illustrated by Moses' striking the rock. God did not want Moses to reenact the striking of the rock. It was to be struck just once. Thereafter, rehearsal of the act would suffice to bring water from the rock (Num.20).
When, in his distress, Jehoshaphat rehearsed the Exodus, the power of the Exodus was revealed in delivering Judah from her enemies (2 Chron. 20). When Daniel rehearsed the covenant, the work of God moved forward. No wonder the prince of evil worked to have Daniel thrown into the den of lions! He wanted to end Daniel's intercession (Dan. 6:9, 10). The power and presence of God, revealed in the Exodus, were present whenever the covenant was rehearsed. Covenantal rehearsal, therefore, is not a mere memorial. It is an act of faith in which God is present to reaffirm His original covenantal act.
Rehearsing the Death and Resurrection of Christ
If we have learned that rehearsing the Exodus was the essential nature of Israel's life and worship, we are ready to look at the New Testament exodus in the same light. The principle of Christian existence is also rehearsal. But the rehearsal and celebration of the Christian community should be greater. The old songs of deliverance will never do because the Old Testament acts of deliverance have all been superseded by a deliverance they could only mirror. God's act in Christ is absolutely unique and unrepeatable. God Himself cannot repeat or add anything to what He has done. Christ, the Intercessor at God's right hand, does not reenact His doing and dying. He Himself rehearses it. As our Advocate He pleads His blood and righteousness on our behalf. The Holy Spirit's work is to explicate the glories of Christ crucified and risen for us (John 16:13, 14). "The Holy Spirit does not add anything. He simply permits us to grasp it and to live by it.1
If neither the Father, the Son nor the Holy Spirit can reenact the death and resurrection of Christ, it must be clear that the Christian community can only rehearse it and keep it in memory.
By Preaching the Gospel. This is primary. The gospel is a rehearsal of the death and resurrection of Christ. People are saved only if they keep in memory what has happened and what has been given to them (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Yet this rehearsal is more than a memory of Calvary. The gospel is preached with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven (1 Peter 1:12). By this means Christ crucified is placarded in such a way before the eyes of those who hear that the past event is mysteriously present (Gal. 3:1). The power of the resurrection is present in the gospel because the power of the covenantal act is present in its rehearsal (Rom. 1:16). The Rock of our salvation only needs to be smitten once. It yields its life-giving stream whenever the saving act is rehearsed.
The church comes to life by the preaching of the gospel. She can continue to live only by continuing to hear it. Woe to the preacher who tries to entertain or distract the flock with new inventions! Rather, he must keep before them the scenes of Calvary by the continual rehearsal of Christ's death and resurrection (Gal. 1:6-8).
By Signs and Seals. The new covenant has signs and seals—visible pledges and tokens of God's promise—just as there were signs and seals in the Old Testament. Baptism and the Supper are two signs and seals. The Puritans and Sabbatarians include the fourth commandment of the moral law as a third sign and seal of the covenant.2 We are mindful that baptism, the Supper and the Sabbath have been areas of fierce contention among Christians. Some Antinomians and dispensationalists say no signs and seals are necessary. Others say one or all are absolutely necessary for salvation. Still others say they are "ordinarily necessary" — necessary in normal circumstances. Then there is the question whether Christ is really present in the sign and seal of the covenant, and if He is present, in what way. This is not the place to try to settle all these questions. But we suggest there is much profit in thinking of the signs and seals as appointed means of rehearsing and celebrating the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Baptism, for instance, is not a reenactment of Calvary. It is a means of rehearsing it. It is not primarily the sign of the believer's dedication to the Lord. It is God's pledge that the believer may now stand before Him with a good conscience for the sake of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).3
In the argument over the presence of Christ in the Supper, we can say the Supper is clearly a rehearsal of the cross ("Do this . . . in remembrance of Me"—1 Cor. 11:25). But as we have already pointed out, the saving reality of that unrepeatable act is present in the covenantal rehearsal. The Supper is no mere memorial service. Christ is especially present to give visible pledges of His covenantal promise.
In the arguments over the keeping of any holy day, let us first point out that in itself any day is absolutely empty. No created thing has any meaning or significance in itself. The nature of a sign is to point away from itself to something else. The important thing, therefore, is not to concentrate on the sign itself, but on what it is related to.
From the Old Testament it is clear that the day of rest was instituted and sanctified at Creation (Gen. 2:1-3), again at the Exodus (Ex. 20:8-11; 34:21; Deut. 5:14, 15), and it was repeated at the renewing of the covenant after the Babylonian Exile (Isa. 56:1-6; 58:13, 14). But these Old Testament events were for the sake of Jesus Christ. They pointed to Him and were mirrors of the rest which He sanctified by His own blood (Heb. 4:1-10). Who could miss the correspondence between the statement in Genesis that "the heavens and the earth were finished" (Gen. 2:1) with Christ's triumphant cry from the cross, "It is finished"? (John 19:30). And how could we miss the fact that rest follows a finished work as it did at both Creation and Calvary? We enter Christ's rest only as we rehearse His death and resurrection. We suggest the application of these principles to both the form and spirit of the Christian's rest.
By the Practice of Christian Ethics. The believer is called to live a certain way in view of God's mercies toward him (Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1). We saw that Israel's ethics were based on redemption. So are the ethics of the New Testament. We are exhorted to forgive because God has forgiven us for the sake of Christ (Col. 3:13). We are to speak evil of no one because we too were foolish and disobedient until the kindness and love of God brought salvation to us (Titus 3:2-7). We are to be merciful because of God's overwhelming mercy toward us. The deeds of the sinful nature are to be mortified because God has reckoned that we have died by our incorporation into Christ's death (Col. 3:1-3). If the imperatives of the New Testament are separated from the context of its indicatives (the gospel), ethics degenerate into moralism. All true Christian ethics, therefore, are acts done in remembrance of Calvary. When God remembers His covenant, He acts. When we remember His covenant, we act. This is what the dynamic biblical concept of remembrance means. We could call it faith. Faith is not an idle opinion which flits across the top of the brain. It is a principle which lives out the implications of Christ's death and resurrection.
"Everything that does not come from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). Good works are those things done in grateful remembrance of Calvary. Any activity unrelated to the death and resurrection of Christ is sin. Sin is the will of the creature to have meaning in himself. Sin is existence which does not and cannot rehearse the death and resurrection of Jesus. This not only includes flagrant violation of His moral law. It includes any form of piety, religion or devotion which does not point away from itself to the death and resurrection of Christ. The world should be able to look at the behavior of the Christian community and see a living epistle of the gospel of Christ.
In the Natural Order of Life. To live as a Christian does not mean doing spectacular things. It means doing ordinary things in remembrance of Christ's death and resurrection. God has ordained this life to be a continual round of eating and drinking, working and resting, sleeping and rising, sowing and reaping, living and dying. In this basic order of human existence everybody lives much the same way.
Philosophy asks, "What is the meaning of life?" When Solomon thought about the recurring rhythm of humdrum human existence, he concluded it was all empty and chasing after wind (see Ecclesiastes). The philosophers of our age have come to the same conclusion. The fact is that human life has no meaning in itself. Nothing in the created order has any meaning in itself.
The apostle Peter declares that Christ died to liberate us from this empty human existence (1 Peter 1:18). And Paul confesses, "For to me, to live is Christ" (Phil. 1:21). Christ's death and resurrection give meaning to all human existence. The command, "Do this in remembrance of Me," becomes a principle which applies not only to the Supper, but to every aspect of human life. Life becomes a sacrament, a rehearsal, a celebration of God's saving act in Jesus Christ.
When a believer eats, he should eat in remembrance of Christ's death and resurrection. He should acknowledge that he has food on his table because Christ died and rose again. Not one saint or sinner eats his daily bread without being a recipient of the benefit of Calvary. If Christ had not died, this earth would have perished under God's curse. But because of Christ, God can send rain and sunshine on the just and unjust. So for the believer every meal becomes a sacrament in which the Lord's body is acknowledged.
When the believer drinks, he remembers that Christ is that smitten Rock from which flows the water of eternal life. When he enters the shelter of his home, he remembers that Christ is "a hiding place from the wind, a covert from the tempest" (Isa. 32:2). "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe" (Prov. 18:10). In all his daily needs—food and drink, shelter and clothing—the believer rehearses. Thus, by His death and resurrection Christ has become the believer's living Bread, his living Water, his Garment of righteousness and his Shelter from the wrath of God.
When we lie down to sleep, our lives end, for we live only one day at a time. It is for good reason that death is likened to sleep. At the end of the day, therefore, we should rehearse the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us commit our lives to God as He did on the cross, knowing that as surely as He rose from the dead, we too shall rise again. In the morning we can then rehearse His resurrection. Morning by morning His mercies are renewed unto us because He rose from the dead and now intercedes for us at the right hand of God.
Every time a child is born in our home, we have occasion to rehearse the gift of God. "For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given" (Isa. 9:6). Apart from the Christ child we would have no reason to rejoice in the birth of our children. Apart from His death and resurrection there is no meaning to life and no future for our children.
Marriage too is a time to celebrate that union which alone can give meaning and purpose to the marriage institution. The Christian wedding rehearses that "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph. 5:25). Sickness and suffering are also occasions to remember that Christ bore our sicknesses (Isa. 53:4) and suffered for us (1 Peter 2:21). Even when called to lay down his life, the Christian has occasion to rehearse the death of Christ. Because of His death the death of the believer is turned into a blessing. The old corruptible nature, tainted and defiled by evil, is deposited in the grave and shall be raised again to incorruption, fashioned like His glorious body (1 Cor. 15:50-55; Phil. 3:21).
So the death and resurrection of Christ fill ail life with meaning. Nothing has significance unless it stands in relation to the One who died and rose again. Christ is the meaning of ail life. To realize this makes life a sacrament, a rehearsal and a celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. This spirit of celebration is the life of heaven. Christ Himself, by His continual intercession, rehearses His sacrifice. The angels, the twenty-four elders and the living creatures never cease to rehearse His death and resurrection.
And they sang a new song:
"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because You were slain,
and with Your blood You purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth."
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:
"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!"
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
"To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!"
That which we call sanctification is glorification or the life of heaven begun in the here and now. To live in the spirit of rehearsing and celebrating Christ's death and resurrection in all we undertake and do is the essence of Christian sanctification.
1 Jacques de Senarciens, Heirs of the Reformation, p.189.
2 See Robert D. Brinsmead, Covenant, for a fuller discussion.
3 The word the King James Version translates as "answer" is from the Greek word eperotema, which means "pledge." Recent papyri evidence shows it is a legal word associated with formal contracts or covenants.