It’s February. Christmas is behind us and Easter is coming. But have you ever noticed that the Apostles’ Creed says nothing about what happens in between “born of the Virgin Mary. . .” and “suffered under Pontius Pilate. . .” There is only a comma. That’s it. But what about the Gospels? Isn’t what happened between Jesus’ birth and death important?
We have entered what I call "the comma period" of the Apostles’ Creed.
Well, is there something more to Jesus than his birth, followed by his death and resurrection? The answer: Yes! But we—and maybe Protestant evangelicals as much as anyone—have too often focused on the bookends of Jesus’ life, putting all our theological weight down on the beginning and the end. But the Gospels are not just extended introductions to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Nor are their accounts of Jesus’ life only presentations of his teachings and miracles, as if to give us some of his more interesting biographical details. Why did the Gospel writers bother to record all this, and why--in the providence of God--do they take up so much space in our New Testament?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that while Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, represents God to us—as Paul puts it, he is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15)—Jesus also represents us before God. In Old Testament terms, he is our high priest. In Jesus’ trusting and obeying, his understanding and knowing, his loving and worshiping, he took up our humanity and presented it to the Father. And the Gospels tell that story of Christ’s faithfulness from four perspectives.
John Goldingay points out that the Hebrew verb nasa is the word most often translated in our English Old Testament as “forgive.” One meaning of this word is “to carry” (which is not to say this is its “root” or “literal” meaning; it can be used in various ways), and “carrying” offers a picture that nicely sums up what we can see more broadly in the Old Testament. “When people do wrong, someone has to ‘carry’ it, to accept responsibility for it, pay the cost of it, bear the burden of it, shoulder the consequences of it” (John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 2, p. 125). We don’t “just forget and move on.” “Carry,” in a grace-filled and positive sense, is a good idiom for forgiveness, and it opens up an avenue for understanding God’s dealings with Israel’s sin and for understanding the work of God in Christ.
Hebrews 2:10 speaks of Christ being made perfect through suffering and so becoming qualified to be our high priest and the author of our salvation. “Made perfect” does not mean a process of becoming morally perfect but of bringing to completion the process that began with his baptism and continued throughout his life. He entered thoroughly into human life and suffering, bearing our humanity to present it to the Father. The church father Gregory Nazianzen said, “The unassumed is the unhealed.” Christ assumed, took up, our humanity and healed it.
So here’s a challenge: Turn the “comma period” between Christmas and Easter into a pregnant pause, and reflect on the faithful obedience of Christ. Read the Gospels as a script of God becoming fully human, living before God the life we cannot live for ourselves, as our high priest.
In the Virgin Birth, God enters the womb of Israel. His birth is not just a vehicle to get Jesus “to earth,” or “on stage,” as if he were an alien preparing for a final virtuoso performance of death and resurrection. See how he represents with his whole life a perfect response on our behalf to the Father. Watch as he plunges into Jordan with repentant Israel. See him tempted as Israel was in the wilderness. Watch his contagious holiness at work, bringing life and forgiving sins to the least, the last and the lost in Israel. See too as he absorbs and bears alone the sins of Israel, the hostility of his opponents, the lack of understanding of his disciples. His is not only a vicarious death but a vicarious humanity.
This is the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, in whom we place our faith.