Category Archives: Christology

How Jesus Rope-a-Doped the Devil

victorThe phrase “rope-a-dope” refers to a boxing tactic of pretending to be trapped against the ropes, goading an opponent to throw tiring ineffective punches.

Muhammad Ali popularized this technique in his 1974 boxing match against George Foreman. Ali allowed Foreman to angrily swing away at him against the ropes, leading Foreman to eventually punch himself out in the process.

It recently occurred to me how this boxing technique is a lot like what Jesus did on the cross. On the cross God absorbed all the sin of the world, allowing evil to do its worst to him (1 Jn 2:2). The devil unleashed his fury on God’s Messiah and he thought he had punched his lights out.

The “ruler of this world” thought it was all over. No contest.

In the gospels we read how Satan went to work on Jesus from the moment he is baptized in the Jordan to his last breath on the cross. The devil was swinging for Jesus’ gut in the wilderness, maneuvering him into the corner with the sinister traps laid by the Pharisees, and had Jesus up against the ropes in his mock trial, dehumanizing torture, and brutal execution by the Romans.

A dead Messiah is no Messiah. It means God loses. Right?  Wrong.

Just as it seemed like the Father had lost the struggle of good over evil with the death of his Son on the cross, the victorious Christ came bursting forth from the darkness of the tomb.

The apostle Paul marvels at this upside-down wisdom of God when he writes:
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Col 2:15 NIV).

This seemingly foolish response to the horrific violence Christ endured on the cross was the counter-attack of heaven. In this way, Jesus smashed the head of the serpent and brought the devil down from his high place, falling from his lofty position like lightening (Lk 10:18).

The enemies of God never even saw it coming.

The demons shrieked, “What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matt 8:29). The dark powers were oblivious to the divine strategy that was being used against them.

Jesus told the Pharisees, “If I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Matt 12:28).

They would thus seek to kill him. In their demonic state of delirium, they set out to unleash hell on Jesus of Nazareth. Knowing this, Jesus readied himself for the relentless blows of the unseen principalities and powers.

The devil would inflict pain on Jesus by the hands of men, those whom he loved. But Jesus recognized this tactic and spoke over those crucifying him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing” (Lk 23:34).

It was the devil’s work the Son of God came to destroy (1 Jn 3:8b). It was the real and ultimate battle for the salvation of humanity, and for the promised renewal of all things (Eph 6:12; Rev 21:5). And Jesus accomplished it.

It was the fight of the ages… when the lamb defeated the dragon. It will forever be remembered as the time when Satan punched himself out.

And that’s how Jesus rope-a-doped the devil.

So the next time your enemies come swinging at you and have you up against the ropes, remember that the real enemy is unseen. If you will wait on the Lord, new life will come forth out of what appears to be your defeat.

Let your accusers punch themselves out. Let the Father raise you from the dead. You may have to take some hits, but the victory belongs to the Lord.

D.D. Flowers, 2016.


God is Love (Grounds for the Trinity)

Tertullian (c. 160-220 AD) is officially given credit for coining the term “Trinity” to refer to the triune nature of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

The Biblical text, specifically the NT, references the Father, Son, and Spirit in about 120 different passages (e.g. Matt 28:18-20; Jn 14-17; Acts 2:32-33, etc.), though not all references use the three together.

While “Trinity” is not actually used in the Scripture, all orthodox Christian traditions have accepted the term as a sufficient way of describing the three-in-one relationship of God, including my own denomination, the MCUSA.

Those that don’t embrace Trinitarian theology are Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, Mormons, Christian Scientists, etc. According to orthodoxy, these so-called “Christian” groups are heretical (or cultic) for being anti-Trinitarian, and for other reasons related to Christology.

The Trinity Revealed by Jesus & the Apostles

I’ve heard skeptics and YouTube atheists claim that Constantine is responsible for belief in the Trinity, and for it becoming the orthodox position. Is this true?

It’s true that the Trinity was further articulated and defended by folks like Athanasius at the Council of Nicaea in the 4th century, but it was by no means an “invented” doctrine of the church. Constantine’s concern was merely for the bishops to settle the theological dispute brought on by Arianism. Yes, he did want unity in his new empire, but the imperial decision was for Christendom’s growing hold on the world, it was nothing new for Christian theology.

On the contrary, Polycarp (69-155 AD), bishop of Smyrna and disciple of the apostle John, expressed Trinitarian belief when he wrote the following:

“O Lord God almighty… I bless you and glorify you through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with Him and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever” (n. 14, ed. Funk; PG 5.1040).

The ante-Nicene church fathers used Trinitarian language unambiguously in their writings. This includes Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus, and Origen. And as previously stated, it was Tertullian in the late second century that identified the communal concept of God as “Trinity” to capture his essence.

Therefore, the Nicene Creed reflects the earliest Christian confession about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dating back to Jesus and the apostles themselves.

The Trinity as Christian Dogma

Despite the mysterious complexity of the Trinity, orthodox Christianity has considered it dogma since the very beginning. The one true God is triune. In other words, there is no room for “variance” or disagreement.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) once quipped, “If you try to understand the Trinity, you will lose your mind. If you deny the Trinity you will lose your soul.”

While I personally believe that folks can trip up on this doctrine and still know the salvation God offers in Jesus, I understand Augustine’s primary point to be this: The Trinity is a non-negotiable biblical truth.

In Theology for the Community of God (p.53), Stanley Grenz wrote:

“Of the various aspects of our Christian understanding of God perhaps none is as difficult to grasp as the concept of God as triune. At the same time, no dimension of the Christian confession is closer to the heart of the mystery of the God we have come to know. In fact, what sets Christianity apart from the other religious traditions is the confession that the one God is Father, Son, and Spirit. As a consequence, no teaching lies at the center of Christian theology, if not of Christian faith itself, as does the doctrine of the Trinity.”

So, Augustine is right about the Trinity being a non-negotiable element of our faith. However, I’m certain that much about the triune God can be understood, and should be understood for faith and practice. And many trusted theologians throughout church history have offered helpful insights.

The Foundation for Belief in a Triune God

One of the most logical and practical insights into the triune God begins with the universally celebrated Christian confession: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). OK, how can we know that? More specifically, why does John believe it?

Listen to his answer: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world…” (1 Jn 4:9a NIV). John is saying that “God is love” and we can know it because Jesus has revealed God in all of his fullness!

Robert Barron, Catholic thinker and practitioner, says, “Love isn’t just something God does, it’s who God is.”  Think about that.

I believe after serious reflection, our confession that “God is love” can be recognized as the very foundation by which the apostles believed in the triune God. And from this God comes our understanding of the church in his image.

Listen to Barron explain how confessing “God is love” makes a triune God necessary and coherent for a truly liberating and practical theology.

What do you think of Barron’s explanation of God as lover (Father), the beloved (Son), and the love (Spirit) shared between them? How else does the Trinity matter for Christian belief and practice?

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

For further study, see my article: Trinity & Incarnation: Finding a Biblical Christology Within a Trinitarian Monotheism (2011).

Suggested Reading:

  • Theology for the Community of God by Stanley Grenz (pgs. 53-95)
  • The Trinity & the Kingdom by Jürgen Moltmann
  • After Our Likeness: The Church as Image of the Trinity by Miroslav Volf
  • God in New Testament Theology by Larry Hurtado (pgs. 27-47)
  • A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology by Thomas Finger (pgs. 423-464)

The Resurrection of Jesus (Sermon)

Hello blog readers, I hope everyone had a blessed Easter Week 2014. Ours couldn’t have been better.

If you’re still hungry for more resurrection, I have written and posted on the resurrection of Jesus a few times over the years here at the blog.

In case you missed those posts, you may want to check them out:

This past Sunday I preached an Easter message based on research I presented in a previous article, The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The sermon was entitled: Encountering God in the Resurrection of Jesus.

You may also be interested in hearing Greg Boyd’s recent sermon Resurrection Principle at Woodland Hills, and Mike Licona’s thought-provoking message Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? delivered to a church in Alabama.

If you’d like to hear a recent academic lecture, listen to William Lane Craig on Objective Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus at Yale University.

Looking for some books and/or videos on the subject?

  • The Case for the Historical Resurrection by Habermas & Licona
  • The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
  • The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright
  • Resurrection (IVP DVD) by N.T. Wright
  • Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? (Ignatius Press DVD)

The Lord has risen!

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Anabaptism 101 (Sermon Series)

Hello blog readers!

This past Sunday I finished preaching through an exciting 6-week sermon series entitled Anabaptism 101 at Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship (CMF) in Virginia, where I’ve been pastoring since the first of the year.

The series focuses on the historical roots and current convictions of Anabaptism. As many of you know, I didn’t grow up within an Anabaptist tradition. And since half our congregation didn’t grow up Anabaptist, this sermon series seemed like a good place to begin as pastor.

 

Here is a brief outline of each message in the series:

  1. Beginning of a Movement—A general overview of key persons, events, and issues that led to the “radical” 16th century Anabaptist movement. What does “Anabaptist” mean? Where does the name “Mennonite” come from? Where is Anabaptism going today?
  2. Radical Discipleship—The Anabaptist view of discipleship in detail. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Did Jesus really expect us to follow his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? What is so different about the Anabaptist view versus the popular evangelical view?
  3. Word Made Flesh—The Anabaptist view of the authority of Scripture, and a Christo-centric hermeneutic (interpretation) of the Old Testament. Do Anabaptists hold a high view of Scripture? What is so different about the Anabaptist view of Scripture versus the popular evangelical view?
  4. Church as Kingdom Community—The Anabaptists saw the church as a missional, counter-cultural family of Kingdom citizens. What is the meaning and purpose of baptism? What is the meaning of communion? Why live a simple life? What does it mean to embrace “the other”?
  5. The Politics of Jesus—The most controversial and oft-misunderstood aspect of Anabaptism: non-violence and the politics of Jesus. In what ways did Jesus resist empire? How far do Anabaptists take Jesus’ message of peace and reconciliation? How do Anabaptists understand church & state? How subversive is the NT?
  6. Triumph of the Lamb—Answers to the most common objections concerning the non-violence of Jesus. Didn’t Jesus come to bring a sword? Didn’t Jesus tell his disciples to buy swords? Finally, does the portrayal of Jesus in Revelation contradict the Jesus of the Gospels? How will the way of the crucified Lamb conquer evil in the end?

You can download and listen to each message by visiting our sermon archive. We will be archiving all sermons on the new church website once it is up and running. Please stay tuned for that.

There was Q&A after each message, but you can only hear it following the Triumph of the Lamb. Our small groups are going through The Naked Anabaptist for further discussion and study. If you’re looking for a good overview of Anabaptism, or Neo-Anabaptism, check out Murray’s book.

If you have questions or comments, please let me hear them here at the blog.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


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