Category Archives: Michael F. Bird
The gospel is an explosive announcement that the despised and rejected one is now installed in a place of authority and deserves the acclaim normally reserved only for the greatest of worldly kings, for the highest gods of the pantheon , and even for the covenant God, Yahweh put. In other words, Jesus is King and reigns over all.
But merely stating that Jesus is King is an insufficient representation of the gospel if we do not point out how he has shown his kingly power in giving himself up for our sins and being raised by God for our acquittal. The gospel is a royal announcement that God has become king in Jesus Christ and has expressed his saving sovereignty through the death and resurrection of the Son, which atones, justifies and reconciles. There is no gospel without the heralding of the king, and there is no gospel without atonement and resurrection.
-Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message
At cliché as it sounds, looks like the gospel really is about Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Some have made the claim that the apostle Paul wasn’t interested in the ‘historical’ Jesus. As far as they are concerned, Paul was more interested in the ‘theological’ Christ of his redemptive narrative. Regularly referenced to support this claim are Paul’s own words in 2 Corinthians 5:16:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.
This of course potentially is a huge blow for Christians who root their faith in real history. After all, part of the common Christian confession is (according to The Apostles’ Creed) Jesus the Messiah “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” That places the significance of Jesus’s life and ministry within a particular geographical and historical setting.
In his Are You the One Who is To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, Michael F. Bird brilliantly summarizes the theme of messiahship in the Gospel of Mark.
Mark’s story of Jesus essentially unpacks the designation “Jesus Christ” from the incipit (1:1) so as to show that the Messiah who Christians confess is made known as
- The Son of God, who is beloved by the Father, commissioned for his messianic mission by reception of the Spirit, and exercising command over God’s enemies, be they demons or the armies of Rome.
- The Son of Man, who is authorized to speak for God, appointed to suffer and rise from the dead, and destined to judge the inhabited world.
- The Son of David, who heals the afflicted of Israel, is greater still than David himself and ushers in David’s coming kingdom.
- The King of the Jews, who in an ironic twist, at the end of his triumph, is enthroned as the King of Israel on the cross and there reveals the true power of his kingship by refusing to save himself.
In one sense this is a fairly radical reinterpretation of messiahship, but in another sense it is also an apology [defense] for Jesus as the Messiah. The crucifixion is not thrust upon Jesus as a pure accident of unfortunate events; rather, he deliberately embraces it as part of a larger redemptive purpose. Mark’s Gospel is fundamentally an apology [defense] for a crucified Messiah, something that was pertinent theologically, sociologically, and culturally for Christians in the Greco-Roman world. In other words, Mark’s Jesus is not the Messiah despite the cross, but precisely because of it.
-Michael F. Bird, Are You the One Who is To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, 145. Emphasis added.
I’m with Michael Bird on this one:
I’m not a big fan of bumper sticker theology: that is, sticking pithy theological slogans onto the bumper of the car. I particularly dislike the one ‘Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.’ While true at one level, it overlooks the crucial ingredient in the Christian life being the renewing power of God working in us through the Spirit. It might be better to write, Christians are not perfect, but God is at work in them through the vitalizing power of the Holy Spirit to transform these cracked jars of clay into glorious vessels of holiness, righteousness and goodness – if only bumper stickers word that big! In Paul’s writings, renewal is the process of transformation into the image of God that is realized through the operation of God’s glory and via the agency of the Spirit. The Spirit is continually at work in believers to make them less like themselves and more like God’s son.
Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message
Michael Bird paints a vivid picture of the two alternatives of idolatry:
A society that has rejected God will be driven to pursue power or pleasure, the fist or the phallus, Hitler or Heffner. That is not how the story supposed to go. The good news is that Paul can also say that everyone is invited to church: adulterers, homosexuals, warmongers, sex-addicts and sexual deviants of every kind. You may come as you are, but no one is allowed to stay that way. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and need to hear the good news of redemption and experience the transforming power of the Spirit to enable men and women to become the renewed humanity he always intended them to be (see Rom. 3:21-26; Col. 3:1-17).- Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul, 156
What a depressing and frightening picture of sin! What a glorious gospel!
The argument of Romans 5:12 – 21 involves a synkrisis, or comparison between the two ‘types’ or figures, Adam and Christ. In Adam, we have a story of a world gone horribly wrong. As the one who was made to rule over creation is now subject to it, he forfeits his wonderful privileges of intimate fellowship with God. He suffers a severe loss of fortunes, loses divine favor, is exiled from paradise, and even his own being becomes disfigured and corrupted. The one created for immortality experiences the painful horror of death, and so do all of his offspring, as they share his guilt and new-found disposition towards evil. It is not blessings but sins that are multiplied to future generations, as humanity forgets and then forsakes God altogether and so recapitulate the story of Adam’s disobedience in their own persons. Death begets death. Sin dehumanized humanity, so that, despite possessing the divine image, they are little more than complex beasts, fighting and devouring one another.
But in Christ we have a story of a world put right, as Christ is faithful where Adam was faithless, and is obedient where Adam was disobedient. Through his act of righteous obedience, Jesus overturns the transgression of Adam and so is able to deliver and transform the fallen progeny of Adam. Christ creates in himself a new humanity, which, through the renewing power of the Spirit, is able to undo the effects of the fall and become the new Adamic race.