CHRIST IN HUMAN HISTORY
In seeking to know and understand the Person of Christ, we tend to place the emphasis on the experiential: "Christ in you." And truly, the glory of the Christian religion is that, by faith, we can have fellowship with Jesus Christ. By faith we receive and trust Him as our Saviour and Lord. We commit ourselves into His hands for guidance and direction. Experientially, true religion is when Christ is welcomed into the heart, abiding and ruling in the life.
However, for "Christ in you" to be true, and for us to have any basis for reality in our Christian experience, we must understand how and in what way Christ is the full revelation of God to our world, both in His life, His death, and in His resurrection. God's supreme revelation does not occur in any subjective mystical experience.
Absolute truth and righteousness have been historically revealed in Jesus and in no one else. God's supreme revelation is found at one single point in history: the incarnation of the second member of the Godhead. This makes Christ to be the center of human history.
Christian experience, however important it may be, does not suffice for the affirmation of our faith. In Jesus Christ there has come into our world a new objective truth from God that is decisive for faith and experience. Through the ages millions have doubtless felt the reality of the power of Jesus Christ in their lives; but this does not constitute God's revelation to sinful man.
The Christian faith rests upon the belief that certain divine events in the history of our world are of supreme significance for the understanding of God's purpose and for the destiny of the human race. The key event is the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In light of this event the question is asked, How should sinful man think of God and the sin problem in the world? The answer is found in the light that shines from the supreme revelation of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. Here we can see God in action for the rescue of the human race from sin and death.
To deny or reject this historical revelation from God leaves man's destiny at the mercy of human interpretation. Consequently, the Christian faith is nothing without this historical reality. God saves us by virtue of what Christ accomplished in His life and death. Our salvation is God's achievement, not ours. Christianity cannot live without this affirmation. And there is no meaning to our lives or the universe apart from the historical fact that God Himself came in the Person of His Son and redeemed the human race.
Hence, the Christian faith is first of all a statement of what God has done in and through His Son. Man has no way of finding God. No trip by human astronauts out among the stars will discover Him. Unless God chooses to reveal Himself and invade our world Himself, man must remain forever in darkness. God is never the creation of man's own thinking. Revelation is fundamentally historical in the Person and nature of Jesus Christ. The Christian faith is first of all an objective event; only then does it become a subjective experience by faith. The revelation of God in human history is our starting point.
Despite the varying aspects of Christian experience, there is an exclusive, absolute, final, once-and-for-all revelation in Christ that can never be repeated. Our most sacred truth and divine possession is not contained in human experience, but in Christ. Christian faith and experience are possible because God has done something supernatural and spectacular in Jesus Christ. This truth decides the genuineness of Bible history. The Christian church has always put its faith in the Jesus of history. Without this faith there could be no saving power within us. The Christian looks away from the precariousness of human moods, motives, and weaknesses to the one absolute, unchangeable revelation manifest in Christ, for "the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary. . . . There is no searching of his understanding" (Isa. 40:28).
Sacred and Secular History
Secular history is the story of men and nations, their accomplishments and relationships. It is the story of events and forces connected with them, described in terms of ordinary, natural, human experience. It means the recording and explaining of events without reference to the supernatural. The evolutionary view of origins conceives of history as moving without any divine interruption of the historical process. This position rejects the miracles of Creation, the incarnation of Christ, the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement, and the resurrection.
History in which it is recognized that God takes a part and directs, is sacred, or salvation, history. Human history is the arena in which God's purpose for our world is worked out.
The Bible is not primarily a collection of religious ideas of great thinkers, nor a description of the mystical experiences of religious geniuses. It is the inspired record of the acts of God in human history, the movements of God on the plane of human life. This means that history is infused with supernatural significance. Thus, the events of men and nations recorded in the Bible are unique events in which the hand and the purpose of God are seen. Secular history sees no controlling and guiding hand of God. It is naturalistic and humanistic.
This assertion places the historical Jesus at the very center of the Christian religion. Man is warped and blinded by sin. Sin has alienated him from God. To rescue sinful man, God has taken the initiative and revealed Himself to him in Christ. Thus the supreme gift of the Son of God to man is Christianity's greatest truth and asset.
The most revolutionary thing that ever happened in the history of our world is God's revelation in His only-begotten Son. In this respect the accuracy of Biblical history is decisive for our faith. There is no way of divorcing the Christian faith from the historical Jesus of the Gospels without destroying that faith.
Why this dependence upon a historical revelation as recorded in the Bible? Because there and nowhere else do we learn of God's revelation of Himself to sinful man. This dependence upon the revelation of God in human history is coextensive with the irrational fact of our sin and the Fall of man away from God.
Something terrible that radically affected the human race happened in human history six thousand years ago. Man no longer lives in the original righteousness and open communion with God as he did when he was created. Revelation presupposes the darkness of man's mind and the great gulf between him and God. Man has no way of his own back to God. Every man sins and every man dies.
Just as sin happened in human history when our first parents fell from righteousness into transgression, so revelation and reconciliation have happened in history. Revelation connotes that the right relation to God cannot be restored by sinful man. However compelling, forceful, and brilliant man's ideas of God are, in himself he has no way to know God or possess the truth of God.
So one member of the Godhead, the Son of God, broke through and became one with the human race in the person of Jesus. In a particular place and at a particular time in human historythe fullness of timea child was born, the God-Man. This Child grew to manhood. He lived the only sinless life lived in this world. He was crucified. He arose from the tomb and went back to heaven.
The incarnation of the Son of God is as much a statement about God as it is about the sinfulness and lost condition of man. The Christian faith arose because God saw fit to intervene in a personal way in the life of man.
The fall of man and the incarnation of the Son of God are historical, not symbolical. They did occur as the Bible affirms. The historical record inscripturated in the Bible constitutes an infallible norm. Revelation is given and recorded in propositional terms. Whatever knowledge men have of God is obtained through Christ. He Himself affirms: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18) . God was seen by Abraham, Moses, and the prophets; but they saw Him in the person of the Son of God only.
We believe that the Bible stories are tied to real historical persons and events-Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Jonah and the whale, the Exodus, and God's calling forth a special people led by Moses to prepare the world for the first advent of the Messiah. We see God's revelation in the judgment at the Flood, in the destruction of King Sennacharib's army outside the walls of Jerusalem. Biblical history is unique because it is comprised of authentic divine acts without parallel in the history of any other religion.
This is not to deny that in the Bible there are such things as poetry and parable and literary forms of communication, which must be approached as such. But the issue is that the Bible is to be understood and believed as factual. The inspired account constitutes the narration of actual facts. Because of this the Bible has such an authority that Christ could say, "The scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).
The gospel proclaims the good news of the historical Christ as Saviour and Lord with a view to persuading people to become reconciled to God. Salvation in Christ and the factuality of God's revelation in human history as recorded in the Bible stand or fall together.
A new emphasis has come to the fore in recent times. The historical is denied and stress is placed upon a spiritual meaning, a direct encounter with God and the supernatural. Revelation is claimed to be grounded in human initiative and experience. God is said to reveal Himself directly to individuals, not in objective historical events. The appeal is no longer to the factual, but to some immediate awareness of God in the feelings, in the subjective.
Even the historical account of the resurrection of Christ is no longer accepted as factual, but as symbolical, pointing to the "resurrection" change in our own lives. This has the effect of divorcing the Christian faith from the historical Jesus, denying the seven-day creation of the world, the fall of man, since, it is held, all that matters is revelation conveyed on the personal level. This leaves man open to all the spiritistic movements and supernatural manifestations prevalent in the world today.
Preparatory Revelation in the Old Testament
In Old Testament times God sought to prepare man for the coming of the Son of God to our world. Through all that periodwith its tragedies and apostasies, its triumphs and its trust in Godthat dominant truth was kept in view. A thousand voices testified to God's purpose for the redemption of all men. Over a period of some four thousand years He moved toward man in a series of revelatory events and acts that unfolded His purpose and plan for man's ultimate salvation and the triumph of His kingdom. God did His utmost to prepare the world for the incarnation of His Son from heaven.
When we say that God reveals Himself in historical events we mean that history could not happen that way had God not acted and intervened. God manifested His miraculous power before Pharaoh to rescue His people from slavery. The children of Israel walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, while the Egyptian army perished in the water. This was not because of the power of the Israelites. The Bible affirms that this was a miraculous act of God. "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself" (Ex. 19:4).
At Sinai God came down to Israel in such majesty and glory as had never before been heard or seen. He Himself spoke to the children of Israel. They heard His voice. With His own finger He wrote the Ten Commandments in stone. No other moral code ever received such distinction and honor. This revelation changed the entire history of Israel.
All of these acts of God took place in human history. They were part of His eternal purpose. The historical events of the Bible came to be understood and interpreted as the acts, not of men, but of God.
God had a divine destiny for the Jews to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. He made the Jewish people the vehicle of His revelation. His guiding them, His purpose for them, was intended to be the means for that supreme moment in history when Jesus was born a Jew by a supernatural birth. Without this divine factor Jewish history would be secular history.
Devout men and women waited with confidence for the coming of Christ. The incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the climax of all God's revelations and communications to sinful men in Old Testament times. This was the hope of patriarchs and prophets. The coming of the Son of God made certain the fulfillment of God's purpose for this world.
So at a definite point of time and at a certain place upon this earth, the Bible says, God met with Mary, and as a result she brought forth the incarnate Son of God. If the virgin birth was not by the power of God, then there is no such thing as a virgin birth. If the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus did not take place in history, then they did not take place at all. If that is the case, then Christ Is body is still buried in some unknown tomb in Palestine.
Through all the Old Testament period, with its tragedies and apostasies, its triumphs and trust in God, one dominant truth has been kept in view, the coming of Christ. Christ Himself declared: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56).
The Revealed and Inspired Word
Supernatural historical events are meaningful only as God illuminates His acts through His revealed Word. Therefore we have God's Word spoken to us through His prophets and apostles. With respect to the Bible men are not left to their own conclusions and interpretation. Both the historical events and the Word are part of God's revelation to us. An adequate interpretation and word from God as cognitive knowledge is indispensable to our understanding of His revelation in human history.
The knowledge and understanding of God's revealed Word provides a sufficient knowledge basis for faith. God has given us a trustworthy conceptual knowledge of Himself and His acts in history. There is no sacrifice of mind and reason in the sphere of revelation.
Unless God does communicate to us by word, as well as deed, it is difficult to see how there can be any understanding of His will and purpose. In persuading men of His truth, God seeks to reach them through the faculties of the mind with which He endowed man at Creation.
Christ died on a cross at the hands of the Romans as thousands of others died in His time. Without the inspired, revealed Word there could be no way of knowing that Christ died for the redemption of sinners and bore on the cross the sins of all men, Our belief that He did this is based on the confidence that the historical event is the supreme revelation of God and that God's Word is a true interpretation of that event.
In His sovereign love, God sent His only Son to reach all who live on this planet. This is a breathtaking, yet marvelous, truth. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14, R.S.V.). The Son of God was born a Jew. He lived within the confines of humanity. He spoke a human language. He did His work and lived His life in human time and circumstance.
The God who came in Christ is the God whose nature is everlasting love. History is the stage upon which God is at work perfecting His eternal purpose. This is the gospelgood newsabout God, His nature and purpose.
The Ground of Our Faith
History is moving toward a climax. At the end Christ will be victorious and God will be all in all. The gospel affirms a divine purpose for history that centers in Christ. It offers divine guidance for personal security. It proclaims in Christ the love of God that cannot be taken for granted. It provides a norm of conduct through the unique Person of Jesus Christ.
This gospel revelation is the ground of our assurance in the purpose of God for our world. Through it we see in history the emergence and development of God's plan for us all, which plan He will never abandon. Through that knowledge one great truth presses upon us: the ultimate triumph of God's purpose.
Salvation history is, then, the ground of our confidence, the inspiration for our unceasing diligence, and the source of our resolute discontent with all secular history. In the midst of the world's crises, the appalling godlessness, and man's denial and rejection of God's revelation, Christians are charged with the glorious responsibility of proclaiming to the world the climax of salvation history, the imminent return of the Son of God to our world.
Nowhere else has God given such promises, such pledges concerning His purpose for our lives and the destiny of our world as in the gift of His Son. His honor is nowhere else so deeply committed; His love nowhere else so strongly expressed. All the wisdom of the Godhead is involved. No sacrifice in the universe is so costly as that Gift. No other foundation is so sure. No other hope can be trusted.
God knows the end from the beginning. He has ordained in Christ to bring all things into subjection to Himself. His hand will never grow weary. He has prepared and involved all the powers and resources of heaven. In Christ is contained all the fullness of God. In Him is no sin or darkness at all.
The Christian faith rests upon the historical events of Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection. Reliance upon these events is of supreme significance for the understanding of all things that pertain to God and man's eternal destiny.
In the light of the Christ event, the question arises How are we to think of God and His relation to the universe, to us and to our world? The gospel answers these vital questions by the light that shines from and in our Lord Jesus Christ. In the historical Jesus Christ God lays bare His answer to the whole sin problem and controversy.
The rejection by the world of this historical truth leaves it at the mercy of human wisdom and satanic control. The Christian faith is nothing without it. We must take our stand here. There is no salvation apart from the historical person and work of the Son of God.
So, beyond all the wisdom and the philosophies of men, God Himself has come and spoken to us. He has become intensely personal. The logic of men's minds creates neither the gospel nor faith in God. To talk of the Christian faith as a way of life apart from the historic revelation in Christ, is to reduce Christianity to a humanistic system and to render it hopelessly impotent.
The Bible seeks to hold us within the sphere of God's supreme revelation in His Son, where genuine surrender and commitment take place. The individual who lives in this sphere makes his whole life a spontaneous answer to Christ in humble and glad obedience. To have faith in Him means to hold a correct idea about Him, a true knowledge of Him as revealed in His Word. This leads to a personal, complete trust in Him, and finally to loving and serving Him above all things.
Nothing is more paralyzing than to discover that we have no one to depend on but ourselves. Nothing is more inspiring and empowering than a firm trust that looks away from self to Jesus Christ. All our energies and capacities will be turned into God's saving work in the world as we look "unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith."