“I love you”.
“I love you too”.
This is a beautiful and simple exchange between two persons. Sometimes one or both parties in such an exchange does not live up to that word. A common undercurrent of selfishness really thinks, “I love you based on what I can get out of you”.
Jesus showed what love is. He founded a faith full of sinners that fall short of what ideal love is, including me, who yet have a deposit of faith that affirms and projects unselfish love. This deposit of a faith did not come cheap because it was both exemplified and purchased on the cross.
THE SEVENTH WORD
Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
In his last words on the cross, Jesus said his, “I love you too” to the Father but without the pretense of entitlement fallen humanity is prone towards. These words of Jesus apply to the self-giving at the heart of Christianity. In this fallen world “love” can be cheapened. But the love of Jesus for the Father and our love for the Father in Jesus can be wrapped in trust and be preserved in value. The use of the word “love” can be faked to a point but “trust” less so. Trust is a word always tied to the expectation of immediate choices to that affect which are observable.
Jesus gives of himself in suffering to the Father in a way that is grotesque if seen in only a conventional perspective. But this statement cements his mission to die for us out of love. Love is shown here to be giving ones self in the order of ones creation and of free will. This is the beauty of the cross and why Jesus calls his disciples to carry our crosses to the Father.
The invitation to carry ones cross is born from the beauty of love between the Father and the Son. Jesus gives us a glimpse of that bond the night before the cross. “So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (John 17:5). When he cries out from the cross he is surrendering in agony a perfect sacrifice of love so that there could be many who would join that holy fellowship (John 17:21). That cry is like a lighthouse signal to the meaning of the Christian life on earth and ultimately coming together at the end of this age. Paul laid out a case for this.
Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him name which is above every name, that at name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).
This is the “I love you too” played out from divinity and humanity fully realized in the perfect priesthood of Jesus Christ.
I would like to address the possible reflex of seeing the message of Jesus as foolish and too good to be true. There is a reason that the message of the cross in its grittiness rounds out the ultimate self-gift of God. The driving force of the crucifixion narrative is that the Word becoming flesh better captivates the heart precisely due to its ugliness. It works this way because the other paradox here is that the crucixion is beautiful as an act of love at the same time and beauty a transcendental that intrinsically draws us in (Fr. Julian Carron, Disarmed By Beauty).
Christians can likewise be inspired to offer up ourselves as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1). Any trials and tribulations that come in the life of the Christian we can integrate those sufferings in faith to add to that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24). We can do this through Christ, who is 100 % divine, gives grace of infinite power. If he was only 99% divine then atonement would be only 99% effective.
The connection of that self-gift as divine and human may be hard to connect through the ages but Novatian addressed the mystery of Jesus being God and man well. In his treatise, “On The Trinity,” he sidesteps the appearance of the cross to be foolishness and presents it as glorious, mysterious and applicable.
If Christ had been only man, He would have been spoken of as in “the image” of , not “in the form” of . For we that man was made after the image or likeness, not after the form, of (On The Trinity, Chapter 22).
Novatian points to Jesus being in nature God like Paul said in sharing the same divine essence as the Father who preceded the Council of Nicea by a century. This is a unique existence and not a temporary state. Also what is implied here is like the Nicean Creed in that he is “begotten not made” (Council of Nicea, 325). For Jesus to be Son of God, Son of Man and called Lord and God is a paradox; but is declared true of the Church which by the merits of Christ is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
This mystery does not make sense unless one sees the comment through a lens of divine love and the Trinity as a communion of persons. Christ is shown to live in deference to the Father but not in a way that does injury to his dignity in an eternal context. He brings a development of articulating the doctrine implied in the above Philippians quote in that there is a hierarchy but not lack of dignity to the Son.
He then, although He was in the form of , thought it not that He should be equal with . For although He remembered that He was God from the , He never either compared or associated Himself with the , mindful that He was from His Father, and that He possessed that very thing that He is, because the Father had given it Him. Thence, finally, both before the assumption of the flesh, and moreover after the assumption of the body, besides, after the resurrection itself, He yielded all to the , and still yields it as ever (On The Trinity, Chapter 22).
Jesus eternally expresses his deference to the Father and lived on earth with a sense of security about that. In every transition Jesus was reflecting the will of the Father in self-gift to the world. As risen Lord he is as Son of Man the gift of the world to God in fulfilled worship that the world could not do in its own merit. In Christ being the apostle and high priest of our confession, he was an apostle to earth in his incarnation. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Yet in his humanity fully realized in grace he could contribute something not by increasing his personal power like a subjective spectrum but empty himself as an objective act and being Truth itself.
He even was contented to take on Him the form of a servant — that is, to become man; and the substance of flesh and body which, as it came to Him from the bondage of His forefathers’ according to His manhood, He undertook by being born, at which time moreover He emptied Himself, in that He did not refuse to take upon Him the frailty incident to humanity. Because if He had been born man only, He would not have been emptied in respect of this; for , being born, is increased, not emptied(On The Trinity, Chapter 22).
In this, Novatian points to Jesus yielding his spirit as the beautiful death because of complete trust in the Father the exchange of death for life demonstrated in power. In Christ’s death done in love, there is no waste. This is how things worked for Jesus to be the “apostle and high priest of our good confession”. This is glorious. Paul reflected on this in saying “to live is Christ and to die is gain”.
Christ is said to be in the form of , and since it is shown that for His nativity according to the flesh He emptied Himself; and since it is declared that He received from the Father that name which is above every name; and since it is shown that in His name “every knee of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, bend and bow” themselves; and this very thing is asserted to be a furtherance of the of the Father; consequently He is not man only, from the fact that He became to the , even to death, yea, the death of the cross; but, moreover, from the proclamation by these higher matters of the divinity of , Christ Jesus is shown to be Lord and , which the will not have.
In Christ God is with us, for us and victorious in us. This love between the God the Father and God the Son was played out on the cross so we can be beneficiaries of it. This is the mystery in the cross.
And on Christ’s terms there is a normative way are best able benefit. It was what Peter wrote as partaking of his divine nature (2 Peter 1: 4). This is to receive Christ in body, blood, soul and divinity. We do that by communion in the way Christ intended as we will see next.