If we were to properly celebrate Christ’s saving work, we would start on Christmas day and end on Easter! For our salvation is not confined to Calvary, but begins with a birth in Bethlehem.
Yet some see Jesus’ birth and life like you would a prize bull whose real purpose is to be offered up on some divine auction block. Contrary to popular opinion about Christ’s atonement, while Jesus did live a perfect life, and His death did take away our sin, His purpose was not to become the ultimate human sacrifice in order to assuage some Zeus-like deity’s wrath! God is not Molech; God is Love.
Salvation is not a “go to heaven” ticket you get punched at the altar. It’s an invitation into Christ’s life. It’s about God in Christ taking on humanity in order to heal humanity and restore us to our original image.
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Gen.1:26a NKJV)
A couple of “illustrations” might help us understand this concept.
The marred canvas
In Oscar Wilde’s classic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, the protagonist has a portrait painted of himself that turns into a hideous record of his evil deeds, which he must keep hidden from the world.
This Gothic tale says a lot about our propensity to live in denial and hide our shame. When Adam and Eve ate from the wrong tree, something terrible happened. They immediately hid from God because their view of Him became distorted, His face was now painted with Satan’s brush.
This was the beginning of our “fig leaf” religions, based in fear and appeasement.
Because of this disfiguration, we separated ourselves from Love and traveled down a dark path of corruption and bondage. As with Dorian Gray, even though it was not apparent when looking at our countenance, the “portrait” of our soul became increasingly damaged and our true image had become lost.
This is why Christmas. As Robert Capon has rightly said, with Christ is the announcement of the end of religion.
As I said last time, God became human in order to become one of us. John stated this about Christ: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4). For the first time in human history, we saw God’s true likeness, but what was also unveiled was our true likeness!
1:18 Until this moment God remained invisible to man; now the authentic begotten, the blueprint of man’s design who represents the innermost being of God, the son who is in the bosom of the father, brings him into full view! He is the official authority qualified to announce God! He is our guide who accurately declares and interprets the invisible God in us. (John 1:18 MIRROR *)
And this brings us to my second illustration.
The original image restored!
Athanasius (298 -373 AD) gives a brilliant analogy of Christ’s redemptive purpose using the illustration of the subject being repainted for a new portrait when the original becomes disfigured:
“You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel, “I came to see and save that which was lost.”
This explains His saying to the Jews: “Except a man be born anew….” He was not referring to a man’s natural birth from his mother, as they thought, but to the re-birth and re-creation of the soul in the image of God.” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 3:14 *)
So, according to this ancient Christian view, being “born anew” had to do with being restored to our original image! The sons and daughters of Adam had become marred to where they no longer reflected His image. But God doesn’t throw away the canvas (humankind). Rather, He becomes one of us and sits for a new painting!
1:15 In Him the image and likeness of God is made visible in human life in order that every one may recognize their true origin in Him. He is the first-born of every creature. (Col.1:15 MIRROR *)
Think about this trajectory of glory for a moment. Jesus not only becomes our life in God, He becomes the way for us to become truly human, for He reveals the truth about who we really are (see John 14:6).
3:18 The days of window-shopping are over! In him every face is unveiled. In gazing with wonder at the blueprint likeness of God displayed in human form, we suddenly realize that we are looking at ourselves! Every feature of his image is mirrored in us! This is the most radical transformation engineered by the Spirit of the Lord; we are led from an inferior mind-set to the revealed endorsement of our authentic identity. You are his glory! (2 Cor.3:18 MIRROR *)