Still Drunk on the Gospel
Over the years we have endured much resistance and misunderstanding for our insistence that divine pleasure is the expected portion for the believer. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” Is it not a marvel that the Lord began His earthly ministry by miraculously transforming 180 gallons of water into wine? What is the practical purpose? For 2,000 years the church has been trying to change it back again. The notion of a God whose ambition is the unbridled happiness of mankind offends us to the core.
There is nothing balanced or sensible about this glorious Gospel. It is a message of extravagance, unfettered abundance and lavish scandal that God would pour the depths of His loving kindness on His
creatures. That He would give His life unto death and graft us into the family of the Trinity.
Heaven does not include a party. Heaven is a party. Martin Luther said the Gospel is nothing less than laughter and joy. Fr. Robert Capon said the Gospel is a joke! It is God’s laughter over the problem of the ages which He solved before it ever began.
For the Fun of it
There was no utilitarian purpose for the incarnation or death of Jesus. It was completely illogical by our standards. He could easily have clicked His fingers and cured Adam’s disease from the Lazyboy in the sky. He can do whatever He wants. Why did He step down and forever bond Himself with mankind? Why go to such depths and fervor to demonstrate His love? For the fun of it. For the sheer pleasure of union with humanity. The incarnation of Christ was not something He dreaded, like waking up for the office on Monday morning. In emptying Himself in kenosis – setting aside the fullness of His celestial glory to take up a human body – Christ was not begrudgingly clocking into work, muttering under His breath at the Father’s command. No, it was always his eternal intent and heart’s passion to become man that mankind might become everything that God is. “By grace and adoption man becomes God. … He took on my condemned flesh and endowed me with complete divinity,” wrote St. Symeon. “Our beatitude consists in the participation of divine happiness.”
Catherine of Sienna writes, “O priceless Love! You showed Your inflamed desire when You ran like a blind and drunk man to the opprobrium of the cross. A blind man can’t see, and neither can a drunk man when he is fast drunk. And thus He [Christ] almost like someone dead, blind and drunk, lost Himself for our salvation!”
Our limited view of the agony of the Passion has blinded us to the eternal joy of the Passion. For the joy set before Him – the eternal party – He endured the cross. Standing outside of time and space is an immemorial attribute of God: He was always the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. His very identity is summed up as the other-giving God of love whose very nature is to pour Himself out for His bride. There was not a moment of hesitation – for Jesus to step into the incarnation was akin to a child going to Disneyworld. His eternal dream and obsession was to enter your world and weave you into His.
Tasting Mr. Grace
For years, we too have been mesmerized by the wine of His love. In fact, this mystical pleasure of the divine presence is the very thing that ultimately wooed us into our present understanding of the Gospel of grace. We were not liberated from our legalisms by reading theology books or listening to better sermons by “grace preachers.” We were intoxicated
by the fatness of His house – and since we had tasted and seen that God is good, the revelation of the finished work of the cross only made perfect sense when we began to understand it theologically. Long before we had a theology of grace, we had tasted Mr. Grace.
The old Orthodox theologian, St. Symeon, whom I’ve quoted above – spent a considerable time hammering out the importance of being led by Holy Spirit in the development of theology. The Word cannot be divorced from experience. More than words on a page, or a snappy quote regurgitated from a book … the Gospel is a revelation. It is an impartation. It has a frequency, a flavor, a sound. It must be drunk down and enjoyed!
An Intoxicating Covenant
For years we’ve been harassed for focusing on the wine of God’s presence. I didn’t make up the wine analogy … blame that one on the Bible. The scriptures brim over with the analogy of celebration and wine – the persons of the Trinity intoxicated with love for one another and drawn out of all sensibility, reason or pragmatism by their infatuation with mankind. Not only did Jesus start his earthly ministry with a banquet of wine … he also wrapped it all up in the end with drinks around the table with the boys. This cup is the New Covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. … Drink ye all of it!
Jesus didn’t pass around a butterscotch milkshake or a vanilla bean latte. Have you ever considered how scandalous this is? The New Covenant – your very faith – is symbolized by an intoxicant! Something that’s not even legal in most world religions! His Spirit is the wine. God is no prohibitionist; He’s the life of the party. Never trust a depressed theologian!
These “worldly” symbolisms were always intended to offend because they fly in the face of every gnostic, religious, puritanical system hell-bent on rejecting the world. No, Jesus embraced the world with open arms. He plunged Himself into our bars, our mafia socials, our awkward family dinners and Joseph’s carpenter shop and baptized materialism by assuming into Himself our material world. The symbolism offends us because it echoes that truth we all know deep inside yet stubbornly cover our ears from hearing … that God is in a good mood and He’s madly in love with us.
Why would we run from such a positive announcement? Because it is not really rejection we ultimately fear – but total acceptance.
It is too overwhelming an idea that the colossal weight of divine love is aimed right at us like furious, unrelenting storm – utterly unwilling to take “no” for an answer. But you cannot avoid the inescapable love of God any more than you can stop Him from being Mr. Love.
Kenotic and Cruciform
Inebriated with His consuming fixation toward you, it was only right that He would pursue mankind in the lostness of our hardheaded spiral into darkness. It was not unlike God to leave His lush heavenly abode in order to come walk with us.
Although he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to but emptied himself (kenosis), by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:6-7).
Our perception of God is that He acted against His very nature to begrudgingly step down and rescue us. Because He’s benevolent, He threw us a bone, but it was just a random act of kindness. Or as the hyper-Calvinist believes, God didn’t owe any of us anything, so we should just be glad he chose a select few to be saved, while burning all the rest!
Although He was God he emptied Himself (kenosis). Notice the contrast and paradox here. Although He was a powerful entity, He gave up its benefits. This is indeed paradoxical – as if you have two separate agendas going on – as if He was acting against His very celestial nature to humble Himself and die.
But hold on … Let us revisit the verse above! The word “although” in this passage is better translated as “because.”
Because He was God … He emptied Himself.
Do you see? Christ was not acting against His nature in emptying Himself to the point of death. Quite the opposite! By very nature, He is the God who divests Himself in love to others. Because in fact He is God, it is His very nature not to exploit His status as God! Kenosis – self emptying – is not just something He did as an act. It is something that He is by nature. The cross was not merely a one-off event that Christ accomplished – His very nature is cruciformity! He wasn’t going against His character on the tree. He embodied His very character on the tree.
We see that the actions and the person of Christ are one in the same. When we see that Christ’s very nature is cruciform – that the exhilarating joy of God is to always pour Himself out – we learn
something about who we really are as well!
His Cruciform Nature is Ours
We are created for an ecstatic life of pleasure as we lose ourselves – empty ourselves – like men who are blind and drunk with love for humanity. The true source of our joy is found in this Gospel identity: our old nature was crucified with Him and He has given us His very nature! As He is, so are we in this world (1 John 4:17). I am just like Him. His very image and body on planet earth. Therefore, my True Self is also kenotic and cruciform! By very nature I thrive with passion when I am spending myself for someone else – my eyes bloodshot and love drunk for the poor, the broken and the hungry. Drunk on the senseless fun of Gospel participation, I consume His never-ending love for me and I spill it right back out to the human family.
It is quite obvious to me, as we have developed our understanding of this Gospel message over the past some-odd years, that many are learning a language – but they are not drunk on the Substance. So many amateur theologians – many who would even claim to walk in my footsteps (I am no theologian, just a student) – are ripping and tearing at religion with every Facebook post and Tweet. There is truly a season of deconstruction in the church where we’ve re-evaluated so many doctrines and dogmas that needed overhaul. But at the end of the day, all of our self-important pot shots at the machine of religion get lost in a sea of irrelevant voices if we have not learned one thing … have we learned to love?
There’s only one place to learn that lesson. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Behold Love – selfless and mesmerized by every intricate aspect of your being. It is only in drinking in His tangible love for you that you will ever know what it means to love others.
Grace Language or Substance?
We must not replace our dry doctrines with less-dry doctrines. We cannot so attempt to articulate this New Covenant in words that we miss it in silence and awe and wonder. “O what intoxication of light, O what movements of fire!” said Symeon … Grace is a pure drink. Not mere theory or ideology … He is a person. Real. Present. The True Gospel always resonates in the spirit of a man and makes his heart sing unbiddingly.
Now is not the time to polish up our sermons and social media posts and turn “grace” into the latest trend to build bigger ministries that offer easy answers. It is not a time for relentless debate and petty explanations for the inexplicable. Yes there is a clarity of Gospel revelation that is waking us up from the striving superstitions of our past. But the Gospel has not tasked us to explain away all its beautiful intricacies or to package up the Person of Jesus in a little analytical room in our head called “Grace theology.”
The True Gospel manifests in a radical sense of amazement. It overhauls our entire lives and hurtles us forward with a compulsion to be those kenotic, self-giving lovers. Theology alone cannot inspire this, nor any sense of religious duty. Now is not the time to sober everyone up by making the Gospel of grace a passing “trend” – for it is not a passing commodity. Let us recover awe and wonder and transcendent intoxication. Now, like always, is really about shutting up and getting on with the Feast.