Many of the major heresies of the early church involved relationship between Jesus’s humanity and divinity. Steeped, as the theologians were, in the works of the Greek philosophers of old, this notion that Jesus could be both God and man simply didn’t work. Some of the proposed solutions involved Jesus not becoming fully and completely human. If there was some part of Him that was not connected to His divine nature, then it could be that part that died on the cross. God should be entirely incompatible with death. God dying on the cross should be an impossibility, so another answer must be found to this conundrum.
Gregory of Nazianzus, one of the primary theologians leading the charge against this flawed thinking said:
“If anyone has put his trust in Him as a Man without a human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole. Let them not, then, begrudge us our complete salvation, or clothe the Saviour only with bones and nerves and the portraiture of humanity.”
Gregory Nazianzen, “Select Letters of Saint Gregory Nazianzen,” in S. Cyril of Jerusalem, S. Gregory Nazianzen, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1894), 440.
Jesus takes on our entire human nature. Every part of who we are is taken on by God. We are in need of complete restoration, complete re-creation because every part of us is subject to sin and thus subject to death. God made Adam and Eve as a spirit-filled body, with all of the parts that go with that body. Since sin means seeking something other than God as the source of life, there is no part of us that is not dying. Thus, God must take on all of it.
This tells us something about how committed He is to saving us and restoring His broken creation. God takes on human flesh, all of it. There is no part of our humanity that Jesus does not also have. His death is a complete death. His sacrifice a complete sacrifice. He holds nothing back because to do so would mean losing some part of us.
In Matthew 10, Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
God rules all creation and so everything is rightfully His. In that sense, God can, and does, simply demand we offer Him His rightful tribute. But, He only does that when we get too hard-headed to listen. More often, He’s demonstrating what it means to give everything and what that is so important. He gives everything so we may be saved and it is only because he gives everything that we are saved.
At the same time, He demands 100% of us as well. We must give everything to Him and hold nothing back. For if we hold something back then we are still seeking something else to give us life. Since God is the creator of life, anything we hold back from Him will ultimately be lost.
The thank offerings described in Leviticus 7 are given not given because of any particular sin, but simply because someone wants to give something to God as a way of saying thanks for all He has done for them. An interesting feature of this offering is that, unlike the various sin-oriented offerings that God either claims entirely or gives to the priests, this offering is claimed by God and then given back to the person to offered it. There are some restrictions on how it can be eaten and who may eat it which are there because the offering is now God’s. Nevertheless, the sacrifice is given back to the one who offered it, only now the offering isn’t the person’s, it’s God’s.
Last week’s post discussed how Christ is the perfect offering. We, who are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, have been made a part of His life. As we place the bread and wine on the altar, soon to be the Body and Blood of Christ and the very stuff of His life, we are also offering our own lives along with it. This is not an atonement for sin, for only Christ, the perfect sacrifice, can do this. Rather, our offering is a thank offering, a joyful response to what God has done for us. Like the thank offerings of Old Testament times, God takes what we offer, claims it as His own, and then returns it to us. He takes ownership of us, of our very lives, but then He gives that life back to us. That life is and forever will be owned by Him, but He gives it back to the giver that it may be used appropriately.
Thus, in the elements we bring to the altar, as we carry them forward to God and lift up the bread and wine before Him, we also are offering ourselves along with them, that we may have, not our life, but His given back to us in the sacrament.