CaptivatedjLook! Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection by Thabiti Anyabwile was a series of Easter sermons. Like the Bible that implores us to take a long look at Christ (Isa 40:9; Ps 34:8; Jn 1:29; Mt 11:29), Anyabwile’s book (95 pages) compels us to stare into the meaning/mystery of the cross and resurrection. The five chapters are five incisive questions that help us behold Christ:

  1. Is There No Other Way?
  2. Why Have You Forsaken Me?
  3. Where, O Death, Is Your Victory?
  4. Why Do You Seek the Living among the Dead?
  5. Do You Not Know These Things?

These probing questions drive to consider the mystery of Easter.

  1. In anguish of soul and with sweat like drops of blood (Lk 22:44), Jesus asks that the cup of God’s wrath pass from him (Mt 26:42). Why does the Father remain silent?
  2. How do we understand Jesus’ mysterious cry of dereliction from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46)
  3. What does Paul mean by asking rhetorically, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)
  4. What do the angels mean when they ask the women at the tomb “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”? (Lk 24:5)
  5. What might we know about epistemology (knowing), when the two travelers to Emmaus asked the risen Christ, “Do you not know these things?” (Lk 24:18)

Why did the Father say No to Jesus? Chap. 1 explains. It was not because of neglect or indifference or that God was a “divine deadbeat dad,” but so that he could say yes to us on legitimate grounds–no legal fiction, no injustice to threaten or question the exchange of our sin for Jesus’ righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). The Father had to say no to present Jesus as a “propitiation” or sacrifice of atonement (Rom 3:25). This saves sinners. But it also proves his justice–to demonstrate his righteousness for sins committed beforehand. Because the Father said no, we will forever–through faith in the Son–enjoy and share the glory of the Father and Son in the unending, timeless age to come.

How can the Father turn his face away from Jesus? Chap. 2 begins with the sacred creed of soldiers–Leave no man behind–in order to express the horror of God abandoning his Son to die on the cross (Mt 27:46). A theologian calls Jesus’ cry “one of the most impenetrable mysteries of the entire Gospel narratives.” Yet God records this mystery for us to consider. There are at least three ways Jesus experienced suffering from being abandoned: Social abandonment, emotional desertion, and spiritual separation. To be face-to-face with God the Father is the Bible’s idea of the highest possible blessing and happiness. Conversely, to have God turn his face away would be the worst condemnation. Jesus experienced the latter from the depth of his being. On the cross Jesus was cursed (Gal 3:13), made sin for us (2 Cor 5:21) and “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24). In the unspeakable terror and agony of being abandoned by the Father, Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34) Calvin said that in his soul, Jesus endured the punishments due to us. But because Jesus was abandoned socially, we become children in the household of God. Because he was deserted emotionally, we become whole again–renewed in the image of God. Because he suffered spiritual separation, we are now spiritually united to him through faith, never to be separated from God’s love. Because he was forsaken, we are forgiven.

How can we truly know what we know? Chap. 5 explains epistemology–a fancy word for any theory of how we know things. Everyone has their own theory of what they know. We say, “I just know it’s true” (subjective feeling), “It’s a proven scientific fact” (confidence in observable facts), “Let’s be reasonable” (insisting on rules of logic), or “I know because someone told me,” which is an epistemological claim based on knowing things by someone else’s testimony. But is there a way of knowing that is more reliable than feeling, facts, emotion, perception, science and testimony.

One way to know what we know. Luke 24 shows three insufficient ways and one infallible way of knowing the truth about Jesus and the resurrection. The three insufficient ways are physical senses alone, facts alone (even if they are firsthand eyewitness testimonies) and Bible study alone (surprise!). In contrast, the one infallible way of knowing the truth about who Jesus is and the power of his resurrection is that we must have our eyes opened by God (Lk 24:31, 16; Mt 11:25-27; 13:10-11; 16:17).

I recommend this book for being fresh, experiential and practical. Please do share other views of the atonement.

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