By Doug Beacham
One of my favorite journals is Touchstone Magazine. It challenges my thinking and addresses contemporary issues and theology from a framework of C.S. Lewis and historic Christian reflection. One of the senior editors is Patrick Henry Reardon, pastor of All Saints’ Orthodox Church in Chicago.
Recently I began reading Reardon’s study titled The Incarnation. It is the first volume of three, with the overarching title Reclaiming the Atonement: An Orthodox Theology of Redemption. No, it is not boring. And no, it is not irrelevant! In fact, this type of serious Christian theological reflection may be more significant than ever.
The world is a noisy place these days. Global economic issues, racial and migration issues, environmental concerns and shifting political and religious borders are just a few of our current debates. And in the United States, our quadrennial Presidential election cycle is as turbulent as the unnerving rumblings we in Oklahoma associate with earthquakes and tornadoes. We desperately need the clear sounds of heaven in this season, so we can declare God’s love, holiness, and truth to this world through Jesus Christ.
This brings me back to the IPHC’s 2016 focus on holiness. Which brings me to some insights about Isaiah that I gleaned from Reardon’s book. I had not given serious thought to this until Reardon discussed it more fully. Take a moment to open your Bible to John 12:37-41 (NASB). It says: “But though [Jesus] had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, “He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.” These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.”
Verse 38 is a reference to Isaiah 53:1 and verse 40 quotes Isaiah 6:10. John’s primary point here is about unbelief, but what is particularly significant is the gospel writer’s insight from the Holy Spirit that Isaiah said these things “when he saw His glory and spoke of Him,” referring to Jesus (v. 41).
We know from Isaiah 6:1 that the prophet, in a time of leadership loss and uncertainty in the nation, “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up.” He heard the sound of heaven declaring, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (6:3). Who did Isaiah see in this revelatory vision? He saw the Messiah of Israel, the One who would come as “Emmanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6).
While Isaiah did not know the name “Jesus” given by revelation to Joseph and Mary some 700 years later (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31), Isaiah did associate the One revealed as the One who would come as the Incarnate Son of God, the One who would suffer and die for our sins, and the One who would be raised in glory to effect the redemption of this cosmos.
Reardon calls Isaiah “the prophet of the divine holiness” and he notes that the motif of holiness “unites all three large sections of this prophetic book.” This claim is validated by the use of language. The phrase, “the Holy One of Israel” is found 26 times throughout the book but is only used 6 other times in the remainder of the Hebrew Bible. Reardon notes that the adjective “holy” is used 33 times in Isaiah and 26 times in the remainder of the Hebrew Bible.
It seems to me that this connection of holiness with God’s redemptive plan through Jesus Christ is an important theme for us as we witness to the confusing sounds of our generation. Since January, our focus each month has been on the Source of Holiness. Last month I wrote to you about Jesus as the manifestation of that Source, and I find myself again drawn back to Jesus.
One of the appealing aspects of Orthodox theology is the emphasis on the purpose of God in restoring humanity’s glory. That is why Orthodox theology puts so much emphasis on the Incarnation, and on Jesus as the revealer of what humanity is meant to be.
This is a needed part of our holiness theological tradition. Our tradition has tended to focus on the “sin” dimension of Jesus’ work related to holiness. Obviously that is true and proper. We desperately need forgiveness of our sins; we need to be cleansed from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).
The work of Jesus on the Cross is essential, and in no way am I minimizing that emphasis. Yet perhaps it’s time for us to also emphasize what we are meant to be, in this life and in the life to come. In the life to come we rightfully focus on glorification. But we need to also affirm the power of the Spirit of God to enable us to live fruitfully and abundantly within the limitations of human existence “east of Eden” (John 10:10; 15:16).
If we can shine as light in the darkness on this side of heaven, the glory of the Lord will be manifested above the dark confusion of our world. Remember what Isaiah heard from heaven? The worship sound of “holy, holy, holy” was followed with this proclamation: “The whole earth is full of His glory!”
Notice that the prophet did not say the earth “might be full,” “will be full” or “should be full” of His glory. It says the earth “is full of His glory.” I sense that “is” is about us, the redeemed daughters and sons of God living holy in this world. There’s no question what this “is” means! It means that God’s “is” is greater than the power of sin that seeks to manifest itself through us!
This article was published in the April 2016 issue of Encourage.
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