The Risen Substitute

The first Easter wasn’t just a day. The Risen Jesus hung around for fifty days, teaching and appearing to over five hundred people. For fifty days, Karl Barth, writes, Jesus was present to the disciples as no less than God. The resurrection, and thus the season of Easter, is the self-attestation, the unveiling, of Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity.

Athanasius says that Christ, as our Great High Priest, not only mediates the things of God to man but Christ also mediates the things of man to God. Including—especially— faith.

We think of faith as something we have, something we do. We think of belief as something we will, mustering it up in us in spite of us, despite our doubts. Believing is our activity, we think. Our act.

But—

If we think of faith as something we do or possess, as an autonomous act within us, we’re not speaking of faith as scripture speaks of it.

In scripture, faith— our faith— is made possible only through the agency of God: “Lord, help my unbelief” the father in Mark’s Gospel must beg Jesus, as we all must beg. Jesus doesn’t just put on our flesh and live the life we live. He puts on the belief, lives the faith and trust in God we owe God as creatures of God.

Jesus doesn’t just stand in our place when it comes to Sin.

He stands in our place when it comes to faith too.

What holds Good Friday and Easter together, what makes cross and resurrection inseparable, is that Jesus never stops being a substitute for us, in our place, on our behalf.

The Risen Christ remains, even here and now, every bit a substitute for us as the Crucified Christ. Our faith, our belief, is made possible by him. It’s his work not ours, and like a parent’s hand grasping a little child’s, our faith, such as it is, is enfolded within his perfect faith; so that, in him, enclosed within his faith, our faith is mediated to God the Father. That’s what the New Testament means by calling Christ ‘the author and the finisher of our faith.” The faith we possess is the work of the Son within us not our own, but the faith by which the Father measures us is the Son’s not our own.

So often in the Easter season preachers point to the story of Doubting Thomas and through it they give a kind of permission for us to have our doubts, that its okay we’re all like Doubting Thomas, that “doubt is a part of faith” goes the cliche.

But John would not have you see in that story simply Gospel approval for your doubts. It is the freaking climax of the Jesus story where someone finally and fully and correctly calls upon Jesus as his Lord and his God.

“…but its okay to have your doubts too.” What kind of crappy whimper of an ending is that?!

That’s not the takeaway John intends Thomas to leave with you. No. John wants you to see Jesus, the Risen Lord. John wants you see the Risen Christ bringing into existence in Thomas, who had insisted unless I can touch his hands and feet for myself, a faith that can confess Christ as Lord and God.

Doubts are okay, sure. I’ve got plenty of doubts and, I’ll bet, I’ve got more reasons to doubt than you do. Sure, you’ve got doubts. Big deal. That’s not very interesting.

If faith is Christ’s work in us then doubt is just our natural human disposition, like Adam and Eve wondering in the Garden “Did God really say?”

Thomas’ doubt is not what John would have see.

 

What John would have us see:

Is that Thomas’ faith—

It’s the work of the Risen Christ.

The Good News is NOT that you are saved by faith. Think about it: that puts all the onus on you. It makes faith just another work. Your work. It empties the cross of its saving significance and it makes his substitution in your place partial. Imperfect because its incomplete with out your faith.

The Good News is NOT that you are saved by faith. The Good News is that you are saved by faith by grace. By the gifting of God. By the agency of God. By the mediating activity of the Risen Christ. Who is every bit as present to us now as those 10 disciples hiding behind locked doors.

You are saved by faith through the gracious work of the Risen Christ, who can compel you- against your natural disposition to doubt- to call upon him as your Lord and your God. Such that whatever of the Gospel you are able to trust and believe, whatever Word from the Lord you can hear, whether your faith is as meager as a mustard seed or as mighty as a mountainside-

Your faith is NOT

YOUR doing.

It is a miracle. Grace. An act of the Risen Christ.

In you and upon you and through you. And it makes you— even you— it makes you exactly what Thomas insisted he required. It makes you proof that he is risen. He is risen indeed. You’re why John ends his Gospel the way he does. You’re the reason John doesn’t need to write down everything Jesus did among those disciples. Because Jesus is neither dead nor disappeared from this world. He’s alive and still doing work among his disciples. And for proof you need look no further than your own faith, your own ability to say to him “My Lord and my God.”

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