Christ was there. Christ is here.

December 26, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


A couple of weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend and he shared with me a dark time he had gone through years ago.  He was in the midst of a spiritual crisis, and he decided to move overseas and explore the world.  Unfortunately, his move away from home only precipitated his fall.  He fell in with the wrong crowd, he did the wrong things, and, one night, he found himself at a point of despair.  Walking alone along a dark street, he cried out, “Jesus, if You’re there, I really need You to show up right now.”  After making his way to a phone booth, he fumbled through the phone book inside, deposited his change, and called the first church he could find.  The pastor of the church answered.  The next day, the two of them had lunch.  And thus began my friend’s re-awakening to the glory of God and the grace of Christ.  My friend felt all alone on that dark night.  But he wasn’t.  Christ was there.  In that phone booth.

One of the texts that has long been compelling to me is 1 Corinthians 10:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.  They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

Paul is here recounting the history of Israel during the Exodus.  And he uses Israel’s history to warn the Corinthians against the dangers of unrepentance:

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.  Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.”  We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.  We should not test the Lord, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes.  And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel. (1 Corinthians 10:6-10)

In the midst of the unrepentance, evil, and rebellion of the Israelites, Paul says, Christ was there.  In that rock.  The same rock which poured forth water in the wilderness for the Israelites to drink (Exodus 17:1-7).  What a strange place for Christ to be!  And yet, Christ was there.

The other day, I was reading an article by a prominent evangelical theologian, who was bemoaning the dangers of inserting Christ recklessly and relentlessly into every page and phrase of Scripture.  He wrote, “Christ cannot be found under every rock.”[1]  I would agree – in part.   It is dangerous to present Christ in ways that the biblical text does not mean present Him.  For instance, the Church Father Origen, famous for his excessive allegorizing of the Bible, reads Exodus 17:9 – “Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some of our men and go out to fight’” – as “Moses said to Jesus,” since the Hebrew name for Joshua, Yeshua, comes to us in English as “Jesus.”  Origen comments:

Up to this point the Scripture has never anywhere mentioned the blessed name of Jesus.  Here for the first time the brightness of the name shines forth.  For the first time Moses makes an appeal to Jesus and says to him, “Choose men.”  Moses calls on Jesus; the Law asks Christ to choose strong men from among the people.  Moses cannot choose; it is Jesus alone who can choose strong men; He has said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.”[2]

Origen’s words here certainly strain the bounds of responsible biblical exegesis.  To so immediately equate Joshua with Jesus presents a whole host of problems, not the least of which is that Joshua was flawed and fallen (e.g., Joshua 9:1-14), something which Jesus was not.  Thus, we must be careful in how we interpret biblical texts.  However, there is a sense in which, contrary to what this scholar says, we can indeed find Jesus under every rock, for Jesus is the center, focus, and locus of the Scriptures.  Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 10:4, we don’t just find Christ under a rock, He is the rock!  Indeed, this is the very doctrine of the incarnation:  that Christ shows up in the strangest of ways and places – even under rocks.  Christ was there.  In the phone booth of my friend.  Christ was there.  In that rock.  Christ was there.  In the manger.  Christ was there.  On the cross.  And Christ is here.  In the pages of Scripture.  Christ is here.  In the waters of baptism.  Christ is here.  In the bread and wine of Communion.  Christ is here.  In our hearts.

Christ was there.  Christ is here.  This is the mystery and glory of the incarnation – and of Christmas.

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[1] Ben Witherington III, “Towards a Biblical Theology – Part Two” (11.21.11).

[2] Origen in Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 86.

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