Duccio di Buoninsegna, “Majesty (Maestà)“ (c.1308). Tempera and gold on wood.
At the crux of Christian faith is mystery—the God-man, the incarnation, the Word in flesh, clothed in sin yet was not. It is a mystery that surpasses all understanding yet brings peace. (Philippians 4:6) It sets a boundary line for knowledge yet pours out wisdom. (Job 11:7) It buries empathy into the unknown yet dispels fear. (1 John 4:18) Words cannot express, yet it is Word that manifests. And, somehow, we are called to participate in this mystery. Not alone, but together.
How wonderfully burdensome is our mutual call to glory! Serpents to live like doves, wolves to lie by lambs, sinners to be of Christ, not as impersonators or actors as to be hypokrites, but to live through the same Spirit of the Creator. Not as mere acquaintances or mutual relations, but as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, eternally glorified by the Father.––That call!––To adoption. To glory. To sacrifice. To be on earth and yet of heaven. To indwell that same Spirit as a temple of the living Lord. To live as a lamb ready for slaughter by wolves who may very well be sheep one day. To live as the body of Christ.
Oh, how we have missed the forest for the cross! The gospel is so much more than affirming Christ’s unjust crucifixion, the spilling of blood, and the remission of my sins. The gospel is so very much more than my affirming of an historical event that took place two thousand years ago. Christ’s whole life, the incarnation, the making of disciples, is the gospel. (1 Timothy 3:16) His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension are but the climax of the gospel story, acting as proof of our long-awaited magisterial adoption, a promise foretold to Abraham for our benefit. It is the disciplinary call to participate in His mystery together; in teaching (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15), in baptism (Romans 6:4; 1 Peter 3:18-22), in communion (1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 11:23-26). So, what is it that Christ calls us to do to inherit his promise? We are called to take up our cross and live like Him; a self-sacrificial, faithful love on public display in intimate communion with the Holy Spirit.
How can we, then, as some Christians have done, live our life selfishly, privately, void of communion? To do so is to deny the mystery of Christ’s work, is it not? (Ephesians 3:1-6) The gospel is mystory through Christ. (Colossians 3:4) Our own cross to bare, our own hill to die on, all for His glory. (Mark 8:34; Matthew 10:38) Not alone, but together. As Simon of Cyrene carried Christ’s cross. (Mark 15:21) As Christ was crucified with a fellow brother at his side, each on a cross. What am I getting at? You cannot march your cross to Calvary unless you’re living like Christ. From Christ and for Christ. That is, not to just affirm Christ’s deity and death and resurrection and ascension, it is to participate in His life, as a living sacrifice, now. It is to be as a living temple on earth as it is in heaven, the mystery of the incarnate Christ. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Hebrews 3:1,6) We proclaim the mystery of Christ through our words, our ways, our will (Colossians 4:3; Ephesians 6:19-20), so that no man is won over by the wisdom of this age or the power of social pressure (1 Corinthians 2:1-5), no man finds rest in motivational monologues or persuasive diatribes, no man can boast in his own aptitude or power–––the gospel be understood by the mystery of living. Our day-to-day life is the heavenly expression of the gospel on earth. Not just living for God alone, as if to bury our talents, but in togetherness. We proclaim the mystery of Christ through our love for one another. (John 13:35; 17:22-26)
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…. Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
– Colossians 2:2-3,4:2-4
Together, united in love, do we form the building blocks of God’s temple, do we come to understand the mystery of Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:16) And was not the temple overthrown? Was not Christ’s temple destroyed, too, only to rise again? (Matthew 24:1-2; John 2:19-22) And are we not called to be the body of Christ, to sacrifice, not just for God but for one another? (John 15:13) Not noble or glamorous by worldly opinion, but a humiliating sacrifice thought as unfalsifiable, incredulous delusions, the likes of which are not even self-conceived so one could boast in secret of their creativity or cleverness. (Acts 26:22-25; 2 Peter 1:16) Consider the wisdom; the hiddenness of God made visible in sacrifice and humiliation! That mystery! The suffering of self manifests meaning of a higher self, the taming of pride unveils the purpose of life. To take evil captive, to conquer death, for the love of others. Christ through us.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
– Colossians 1:24-27
At the heart of our hope is humility—unjustly beaten, bloodied, berated, and nailed to a cross in utter humiliation. Of no earthly value, of no social esteem, of no economic advantage, of no political power. But to suffer. Is it not through suffering, in which illuminates our shadowed purpose, by which we, in turn, overcome suffering? A shadowed purpose casted by things above, which gives birth to perseverance. And yet it is suffering that refines humility to a razor’s edge, it gives wisdom its sword and passion its shield and mercy its armour to withstand the venomous snares of “irrational animals” and bestial appetites. A precious perseverance that can withstand death itself, that refines meaning into hope. (Romans 5:3-5) Not of wishfulness but of reconciliation. An indispensable, indestructible hope. A hope grounded in our freewill offering to live in forgiveness, to die in repentance. A hope grounded in forsaken humiliation, in that pit of being. Do our passions not testify to this, are they not against us? Are we not inescapably hopeful creatures, yet utterly hopeless in desire, till death do us part? That is, without resurrection life, what is hope if not to be without it, to be divorced of it? Humility fills that hidden desire lost between wholeness and harmony, it satisfies the hungry and quenches the thirsty, it is the Eucharist we share, the covenant we bear. It being that which becomes.
Behold! Another mystery: How is it that a suffering tree produces good fruit? Its branches pierced and torn and twisted into a crown of thorn. To strip my stubbornness, to cage my arrogance, to kill my presumption. That, somehow, mystery is alive in sacrifice? In baptism? A burial of being, a birth of becoming. Are these not what bind the faithful? His humiliation is mystery, yet to those buried with the living, it pierces the soul and spirit asunder. How can it be? How can humbleness quake the earth, tear the temple two, split tombs in its wake? (Matthew 27:51-53) ––That power!––A suffering that which conquers death itself. What is humility, then, if not aliveness, a walking dead to sin, a new birth under heaven through Christ.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
– Philippians 2:1-11
Is not the fruit of humility, then, a persevering aliveness in mystery itself, stemming from an experiential knowledge of Christ? Is not humility, then, to know that which I know not, that is, knowledge knowing itself? O’ to know the wisdom of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and inscrutable are His ways! (Romans 11:33) How is it that pure humility is perfect knowledge? To be humble is to be accurate–––prophetically accurate; to hit the mark is the nails in His hands. How is it that such mystery of a gospel kingdom may abound without our understanding it? Yet is it not the glory of kings to search out things concealed, to seek the unsearchable? (Proverbs 25:2-3) And does not God reveal such mysterious, unsearchable things to the prophets, to the apostles? (Jeremiah 33:3; Ephesians 3:2-5) Should the lips of a priest not guard such knowledge, should the people not seek instruction from his mouth? For is he not the messenger of God? (Malachi 2:7) What, then, is the mystery of His incarnation, humiliation, and our adoption all for, if not, for a crown?
At the height of God’s love is majesty—the ascension of Christ, adoption of sonship, the glorification of the royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9; Romans 8:5) All for a kingdom. A kingdom of dust and stars, of earth and heaven, of flesh and spirit. A kingdom cut by no human hand but given freely to the people of the saints. (Daniel 2:34-35,44-45; 7:27) A mysterious kingdom, visible yet invisible, persecuted yet majestic, humble yet exalted, loving yet just; invisible to the naked eye, visible to the beatific mind. (Matthew 5:1-12; 23:12; 25:1-12) It is a humility that binds itself, yet its dominion knows no end. It marks its boundaries yet presides over Hades’ gates. A kingdom of faith, a growing faith, set out to extinguish evil once and for all. A kingdom of persevering, sacrificial, humble faith, of birth pains, giving life to love.
To think; it started with a seed. A kingdom hung upon a mustard seed. (Matthew 13:31-32; Matthew 17:20) The seed of the Word that which is the Tree of Life. As His cross grows and matures, the seeds of the Abrahamic promise pollinate the dust scattered over the earth, sowing new seeds in good soil, producing more crosses and more good fruit, reaping shade from burning judgment to protect the weak, oppressed, fatherless, and widow, so that even the heavenly creatures may perch in our branches. (Luke 8:11-15) As a seed sacrifices its shell to grow into a living tree, we, too, will bear the image of the Tree of Life. (1 Corinthians 15:35-49) For are we not called to be living sacrifices, to bear the fruit of the Spirit? (Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 5:22-23) Therefore, what is sown is perishable now is raised imperishable now; from dishonour to glory, weakness to power, death to birth. Is it not self-evident that our sacrificial life begins now? Is the Kingdom of Heaven not growing now? But how can this be? How is it that a mystery should grow? How is it now and not yet?
Tell me; how many trees are in a single seed? Therefore, we wait. For the Day death dies and mystery reigns revealed. Not passively, but patiently, in perseverance, in power. Quietly waiting for His triumphal reentry, so that His rapturous kingdom may abound. (Lamentations 3:25-27) Then, and only then, will the kingdom be mature, the mountains be moved, the wilderness be tamed, the chaos be conquered. By a kingdom of faith, cut by no human hand, to become an everlasting mountain to fill the whole earth. (1 Corinthians 13:2) A new Edenic kingdom, a Living Forest of crosses, God’s eternal temple, is all that remain.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
– Ephesians 2:19-22
For are we not called to a royal priesthood? Do priests not work the Temple, guard sacred knowledge, and present sacrifices before the Lord? And are we, together, not the holy temple of the Holy Spirit? If God is love and Christ is mystery, our high priest working through us, atoning for sin in the Holy of Holies, what does this tell about the mystery of love, of suffering, of sacrifice? Is it not through a suffering love, of service and sacrifice, by which we overcome the snares and darts of evil? Illuminating the roaring darkness within, unveiling the hidden purpose of the kingdom–––to see God. (Matthew 5:8) To see that which is unknown. The invisible kingdom made manifest. But how? How is it that a perfected kingdom is built together by weakness? (2 Corinthians 12:9) To that, we ask: How is it that God, who made all things, should care? To be mindful of man? To crown us with honour and glory? (Psalm 8:3-5) It is undeserved, is it not? For we did not love Him. But He first loved us (1 John 4:7-21).
Is love such a mystery that it should be without being? For if God is love and truth, and we are but becoming, that which is being fulfills that which is not yet become. Rather, does the Spirit not indwell the holy temple forever? Love never ends. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away…. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-12) Is love, therefore, not knowledge? What, then, is this love for, if not, once and future wholeness? To rid fear and defeat Sheol. Not alone, but together. Together with everything.
Is it any wonder that Christ wore Adam’s crown, piercing two temples, to redeem Eden lost? (Genesis 3:17-19) The crown of cursed thorn blossoms, the temples of His covenants bear fruit, all for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2; Ezekiel 47:12). The glorification of the flesh through the body of Christ! Earth is lifted up, heaven is sent down, flesh and spirit together again. Transfigured to see His magisterial glory, with our own two eyes materialized once and for all (Job 19:25-27). A mystery till age’s end! Christ’s ascension, His glorification, assures that. It is our call to adoption, to sonship, to discipleship. Our call to baptism, to communion, to priesthood. Not alone, but together. For God so loved the world, even while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8) A kingdom of magisterial love. A majesty beyond our grasp yet endows humility to search out things too wonderfully concealed, knowledge to stand guard as royal priests, and understanding to reveal the unsearchable depths of God. (Matthew 13:11) Therefore, the mystery of ascension is majesty, and the majesty of new creation is love.
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
– 1 Corinthians 15:51-55
Our faith is left of three–––mystery, humility, majesty. Where there is mystery, there is sacrifice. Where there is humility, there is resurrection. Where there is majesty, there is ascension. This is the living gospel.
Matlock Bobechko | August 20, 2022 – 9:00 AM EST.
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Would you mind clarifying your meaning behind the title of this post?