Thursday, December 10, 2015

What are the seven greatest divine undertakings?

Chafer notices things in lists of seven, or so I noticed, almost as often as Scofield did. Nevertheless, the list seems to fit the plan of God, and if I were forced to succinctly summarize the great undertakings of God in one sentence, I would be pressed hard to find a better sentence than this, “These undertakings are: (1) the creation of angels; (2) the creation of material things, including man; (3) the incarnation; (4) the death of the Son of God; (5) the resurrection of the Son of God; (6) the return of Christ to reign forever; and (7) the creation of the new heavens and the new earth.”1 I want to briefly summarize each of these undertakings, with a comment on how the world at large has managed to deny all seven of these mighty undertakings.

First, the creation of angels. In some sense that we do not fully understand the angels were the first creatures made to be free—that is, they had the possibility of disobedience and the Bible says that a third of the angels fell with Satan. A difference appears at this point between men and angels. Men are called upon to repent and can indeed do that, but angels do not seem to be able to change. Having chosen to follow Lucifer, the Shining One, they seemed to be doomed forever with their choice. Perhaps they do have the chance to change their minds, which might explain why Satan is set free after being bound in prison, but in any case, there is no evidence or prophecy for a repenting angel. They seem to persist in their choice throughout all of time. Those who have chosen disobedience will end in the lake of fire, which burns forever and ever. It also appears that God, having created eternal creatures in the angels, is unwilling to undo that creation, and the bad angels, referred to as demons, will be in the lake of fire forever. Apparently their punishment is without end.
All of creation is a constant testimony of the living and working God. The Bible declares to us that all of creation declares the glory of God, and it is a mark of the great blindness of man, that he is able to look at creation and not see the Creator. The creation is marred in unexplained manners, and Paul tells us that “all of creation” groans in waiting for redemption. I gaze at the wonders of creation now, and shiver in anticipation of what God might do when at last the curse of sin is lifted. What splendid things lie before us to observe! To us at least, the act of creation is a most wonderful one, truly one of the seven marvelous undertakings of God.

Today we see intricate design in everything. Just take the coloring and shapes of the various butterflies, just as if a Creator took the simple image of a butterfly and multiplied it wonderfully in beautiful diversity. Similarly, everything shows creation round about us, as it reflects a strong divergence from a central figure—just what I would expect from a glorious Creator putting forth his craft in a work that shows himself on every hand.

The incarnation is certainly a wonder of the universe! Today, as I was thinking about it, I asked my grandson if he knew what the incarnation was, and though he did not understand the name, he was familiar with the story. Around the world, the story of the incarnation has gone into every nook and corner. Even men that dismiss it at their own peril, have heard the story of the Christ child, and of God’s extension of mercy to mankind. That God should lay aside his divinity and become flesh is a story beyond fairy-tale imagination, and all the more marvelous because it is true. Of course it violates all known laws of naturalism—Joseph knew that, and had a special appearance from an angel, assuring him that it was indeed such a violation.

Recently I heard Mark Lowry in one of his comedy routines comment on Mary’s perspective. Mark remarks that it was certainly a good thing that the angel appeared to Joseph, but what about Mary’s mother? Mary might well have appreciated the same angelic visit to her mother! Indeed, it seems as if the scandal of the birth of Jesus followed him his entire lifetime (John 8:41).2 What shame Mary must have had to endure her entire lifetime! Certainly the incarnation broke all of the known laws of the day, and every thinking man would look at the claims of the Christ-child with a great deal of skepticism. Except that the promised Messiah was due to come, and the scholars could quote passage after passage showing where the child was to be born, and many details about his background. I become weary of those who suggest that these people were superstitious fools who knew not the rules of the world. It was precisely because Jesus was breaking these physical laws. The Bible presents an able defense of what actually happened because men knew that all the rules were being broken, and only the most careful documentation would show that it was true.

The death of the son of God is the next mighty undertaking of God. Only by glimpsing the triune God that is presented in scripture can we begin to understand his coming. For God (the Father?) so loved the world that he sent his son says the scripture. I lay my own life down and no man takes it from me declares Jesus. That God should come in the flesh and give himself willingly for a lost world is the wonder among all wonders. That Jesus would allow himself to be mocked, beaten, and scourged, and then crucified so that all men might be saved amounts to the highest cost of all. In giving himself, he gave all that he had, and he could simply give no more. Thus, what he did in dying passes, in depth and breadth, all the glorious work that he did in the whole of creation.

But of course the death, if anything, must be eclipsed by the resurrection. As important as it is to us that we have a substitute volunteer to die for our sins, if it stopped there where indeed would it leave us? The resurrection stands as the symbol of God’s having victory over death, and we stand more firmly on our own hope of resurrection because we see the power of Christ victoriously putting death down forever. The mighty hymn, Up From the Grave He Arose, makes the skin of believers tingle with excitement and anticipation because it is here that God meets our need. Being lost and condemned to death is wonderfully matched by being found and made alive in Christ forevermore. Corinthians tells us that the last enemy, death, will one day be destroyed, and I think many Christians sense the truth of that verse when they are first made alive in Christ.
The return of Christ to earth is looked for by many Christians, but sadly not all. Prophecy is all but ignored in some denominations, and in others prophecy is severely allegorized into meanings which make little or no sense, but they have long historical roots which lay intertwined tightly with their original fictions. It is only when the Bible reader comes to the Bible fully expecting that God is plainly trying to communicate with us that we can begin to hope to understand the meaning. Particularly through the centuries The Revelation has had contemporary meanings assigned to it multiple times—the one thing which ought to warn us about such allegorizing—and the plain and full meaning will no doubt be laid bare as those final days do come to pass.

I have long noticed that there is a three-fold division to all of history, being termed the three main events of history. First, there is the creation itself, then there is the incarnation, and thirdly, there is the Second Coming. Multiple passages of the Old Testament cannot be understood plainly (how they must tax the efforts of those who allegorize!), except as we understand our Christ to be returning as the long-awaited King of Israel, indeed King over all kingdoms. Stories are told by the prophets about Israel having peace, long-life, and honor among all the other nations. All of this has not yet come to pass and therefore must be future.
The expectation of the return of Christ has been the proper attitude taught in the Bible, and followed by most Christians in history, though they have not always got the particulars right. His return is to be both expected and looked for, as well as much longed for, by all of his saints. One day, soon it is to be hoped, Christ will usher in that age, long foretold, where the swords will be beaten into plow shears, and we will at last see peace on earth.

Those who have looked scientifically at the earth have long seen its demise, and how much comfort it is to know that God has already planned for that demise with a new heavens and a new earth. As we are going to share eternity with each other in the fellowship of Christ, what a comfort it is to know that God will not cease to provide for us. We will forever be at his feet!

I am still missing part of my answer; in the beginning of this piece I said that I would also comment on how the world has denied each one of these seven incredible undertakings. Certainly we have had nearly a century and a half of denying creation. Men have long denied the creation of angels in spite of the recorded testimony of many in history. Today we have major deniers of angels trying to tell us that we have had visits from aliens who probably helped our evolution along. With the advent of Darwin, the gloves of the atheists were taken off, and our culture since then has sought to abandon religion as something no longer needful. The problem is that it takes a lot more faith to believe in evolution than it does in creation. To believe evolution one postulates that the universe had an accidental explosion, and order came out of chaos, with mutation and chance conspiring with time to give us ever more complicated species, ending in the ascent of man. Is it not just simpler to believe that a creator started the whole thing? For those who might like to think this through, I would recommend I Don’t have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler.

Of course men have long conspired to deny the death of the Son of God, both denying his physical death, with postulates that he merely “swooned” and recovered in the coolness of the tomb, and him being the Son of God, for they realize if they can make Jesus to be a mere man they can avoid man being responsible for putting God on the cross. But when it comes to the resurrection, men have danced most energetically around the truth that if God did indeed die and come to life again, then most of mankind missed the greatest event in history. Indeed, how will it look in recorded history to note that the Son of God came, died, and was raised again and the whole of mankind barely managed a hiccup?

The return of Christ is not looked for by mankind today, and unfortunately even much of the church is not depending on his return. Still, he has proclaimed his return, and prophesied that return will be like lightning flashing from one side of the sky to the other, seen and appreciated by all. As we push closer to the repudiation of God with humanistic salvation accorded to all, even while suffering of masses seems to be growing to unparalleled heights, the climax of history will surely not linger much longer. He will return, but will he find any looking for that return? And as for the last undertaking, that of a new heavens and a new earth, the world has seemed to develop a great case of schizophrenia, believing mankind is self-destructing, and that the world is going to continue on nearly forever.

If the world has managed to turn a blind-eye to these seven great undertakings, is it any wonder that so few see God? Or the need for God? The blindness that has come upon mankind is now nearly complete, coming in the culmination of time, that the blind should remain blind even to the end. Truly it is observed that there are none so blind as those who will not see.

1. Chafer, L. (1993). Systematic theology (Vol. 4, p. 80). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
2. John 8:41, “Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.”

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