The Great Exchange

“You stand before God as if you were Christ, because Christ stood before God as if He were you.” – Charles Spurgeon

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Done and Done

“It is finished!” Are there any happier words in the universe? It is done. All done. Nothing in my spiritual inbox. Nothing in my trays. No lists to tackle. It is finished! Jesus lived the life I could not live and died the death I dare not die. He took my duties and performed them perfectly; He took my failures and paid the penalty. That’s the foundation, the starting point, the beginning of all true Christianity. Done! Done! Done!” -David Murray, The Happy Christian

Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, Chapter 4, “The Death of Christ”

A Disclaimer on Book Synopses

19. The works that the Savior did in a human body were intended to point fallen man to God. This is equally true of Christ’s death, “Even the very creation broke silence” through darkness, earthquakes, and awe-struck men, confessing “that He Who suffered thereon in the body was not man only, but the Son of God and Saviour of all.” His death was not incidental to his mission, but “the very centre of our faith” and “no less than by his other acts” reveals God to man.

20. Just as the Son alone could (again) make man incorruptible, renew the Image of God, and give knowledge of the Father, so also he alone could pay the “debt” and “settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression.” This is the second reason that the Savior became man, to settle this debt through his sacrificial death in a human body. Through this sacrifice, “He showed himself mightier than death, displaying His own body as the first-fruits of the resurrection.” Athanasius explains that though he already dealt with this theme, it is better and safer to repeat it too much than not enough.

21. Because Christ has died, “we who believe in Christ no longer die, as men died aforetime, in fulfillment of the threat of the law,” and by “the grace of [his] resurrection… we may obtain thereby a better resurrection.” Athanasius then begins to interact with objections concerning the nature of Christ’s death on the cross. First, why could he not have died a more honorable, private death, instead of a public, humiliating crucifixion? If he had died privately, say in his bed, “it would have looked as if He did so in accordance with His [weak] nature.” This would raise questions about his ministry. “How could He fall sick, Who had healed others?” Objection: “Why did He not prevent death, as He did sickness?” Because it was “precisely” in order to die that he was incarnated. Also, “to prevent the death would have impeded the resurrection.”

22. Objection: It would have been better if He had “avoided the designs of the Jews” and death altogether. But this would have been “unfitting.” The Savior “waited” for death because he had come to put an end to it and provide an “offering on behalf of all.” Further, his death was not an “individual act of dying” but the death by which death is destroyed. Athanasius says that “the supreme object” of the Savior’s coming was to accomplish the resurrection for us; so, it would have been “unfitting” for Him to die privately, as though sick, because this would cast doubt on the meaning of the resurrection.

23. If he had hid himself, died privately, and then emerged saying he was resurrected, he would have appeared to be “a teller of tales.” “A secret and unwitnessed death would have left the resurrection without any proof or evidence to support it.”

24. Objection: Even if he must die publicly, why did he not choose a more honorable death and avoid the ignominy of the cross? This would have suggested that his power over death was limited to a certain kind of death, thus casting doubt on the resurrection. So, He allowed death to come to Him in the form of His enemy’s choosing. “A generous wrestler, virile and strong, does not himself choose his antagonists, lest it should be thought that of some of them he is afraid. Rather, he lets the spectators choose them, and that all the more if these are hostile, so that he may overthrow whomever they match against him and thus vindicate his superior strength. Even so was it with Christ.”

25. Meanwhile, Christians ought not to doubt the significance of death on the cross. It was necesary for him to be “hanged on a tree” so that he would bear the curse of sin, break down the wall of seperation between Jews and Gentiles, draw all people to himself, overthrow “the prince of the power of the air” (by dying, hanging in the air), and open the gates of heaven. He did not do these things for Himself, but for us.

Chapter 1          Chapter 2          Chapter 3          Chapter 5          Chapter 6          Chapter 7          Chapter 8          Chapter 9

Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, Chapter 2 “The Divine Dilemma and its Solution in the Incarnation (Part I)”

A Disclaimer on Book Synopses

6. Athanasius describes the “dilemma” that God faced after the Fall. “Man, who was created in God’s image and [by possessing reason] reflected the very Word Himself, was disappearing, and the work of God was being undone. The law of death, which followed from the Transgression, prevailed upon us, and from it there was no escape.” Though it was “unthinkable” for God to repeal the penalty of sin, it was also “monstrous” and “unfitting” for him to allow humankind, made in His image and participating in the Word, to come to nothing because of sin and the devil’s deception. Allowing sin to run its course would defeat God’s purpose in making the human race; if he allowed that to happen, it “would argue not goodness in God, but limitation.” Thus, it was “impossible” for Him to leave us in the state of sin and corruption.

7. Since God enacted a law concerning sin, it was “unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back upon His word regarding death in order to ensure our continued existence.” What was could be done? Repentance could not satisfy the demands of God’s law or restore humankind; the transgression had deprived human beings of the Image-grace and reduced them to their natural state, susceptible to death. “What—or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required?” The Word of God, who made man out of nothing, could “bring again the corruptible to incorruption” and “maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all.” The Word “alone” was “able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father.”

8. Though the “incorporeal,” “incorruptible,” and “immaterial” Word of God was present throughout creation, “now he entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.” Seeing the plight and misery of the human race, he pitied our “limitation.” Thus, he took a human body, born “from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father… He, the mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt.” “[Out] of sheer love,” He surrendered his body to death “in place of all,” and “offered it to the Father.” In doing this, the power of death was “voided” for mankind, so that we might be ‘turned again’ to incorruption through “the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection.”

9. The immortal Word assumed a human body capable of death in order that his death might be “a sufficient exchange” for mankind. Through offering his body to death as a spotless sacrifice He “abolished death” for “His human brethren” by “the offering of the equivalent [of their bodies to death].” In doing this, he fulfilled “all that was required” by the law of death. Through taking a human body, the Word clothed us with “incorruption” and “the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s dwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all.” This is like a king who enters and dwells in a city; the city is honored and robbers cease criminal activity because of his presence. So it is with “the King of all” who has dwelt in our country and, thus, caused the plan of our enemy, the corruption of death, to cease.

10. This work was worthy of God’s goodness. Having seen his kingdom treated carelessly by its inhabitants and overrun by robbers, he set out to restore it. By His death, the-Word-made-flesh ended the law of death, and made a new beginning of life for us, by giving us the hope of resurrection.” Thus, “By man death gained its power over men; by the Word made Man death has been destroyed and life raised up anew.” This was the first reason that the Savior became man.

Chapter 1          Chapter 3          Chapter 4          Chapter 5          Chapter 6          Chapter 7          Chapter 8          Chapter 9