Yes, I’ve been off the blog for a while. In my defense, I’ve been writing a dissertation, which finally looks to be going somewhere.
I came across an interesting quote last night as I was doing some research. Months ago, while writing about Edmund Spenser, I found an allusion to Mary Magdalene in The Faerie Queene that nobody seems to have written about before, and I’ve been trying to figure out what Mary Magdalene is doing in this particular place in the narrative. So, I did what one usually should do when a Protestant from this historical period does something unusual with Scripture. I checked the Geneva Bible.
The Geneva Bible (1560) was the most popular English translation of its day. Even after the KJV was published (1611), people continued to use the Geneva Bible, partly for the marginal notes that explained the text and added cross-references. In a sense, the Geneva Bible was a study Bible, and it was used for personal and family devotions.
John 20 is the only place in the gospels where we read about Mary’s encounter with Jesus at the tomb – the one where she laments that someone has taken her Lord, and she doesn’t know where to find him. When she realizes that she is speaking to a risen and living Jesus, she immediately grabs hold of Him, only to have Jesus tell her that she must not hold onto Him, as He has not yet ascended to His Father. The Geneva Bible adds this note: “Because she was too much addicted to the corporal presence, Christ teacheth her to lift up her mind by faith into heaven, where only after His ascension he remaineth, & where we sit with Him at the right hand of the Father.”
I have to say, this set off some fireworks in my brain. We often think about our salvation in terms of Christ dying for us, and rightly so, since there is no forgiveness of sins without the atoning sacrifice (Heb. 9:22). But my research into Reformation teaching has shown me a different emphasis. Luther and Calvin frequently spoke of the sufficiency or righteousness of Christ. His sacrifice is important as the way that this righteousness is transferred to us. When I stand before God, I will be saved, not just because Jesus died, but because His death has given me a righteousness without which God cannot find me acceptable.
For this reason, just as I remember the cross and empty tomb, it is equally important that I think of heaven when I think of Christ. He occupies the place of ultimate approval — at the right hand of God. Those who are “in Christ,” those who share the rewards of His suffering, also occupy this place of approval as Christ represents us and intercedes for us to His Father. For this reason, Jesus says to Mary, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn. 20:17, ESV). To call Him our God and Father is a privilege that Christ gives us through His own good standing, the approval that God gives Christ is extended over you and me as a holy covering.
For this reason, Paul states, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34, ESV). I think believers cannot hear this enough. We constantly reproach ourselves (usually with good reason), and our adversary, Satan, is always the accuser of the brethren. But Christ does not accuse us. He is as gracious to us as He was to the adulterous women when He sent her accusers packing and refused to lift so much as a pebble Himself. He stands between us and judgment, then His Spirit gives us the power to go and sin no more.
I wonder, when we confess our sins to God (as indeed we must), how would it change our prayers if we were not trying to earn approval or acceptance? Christ has won approval for us. Rather, we must seek God’s grace to mend the broken places in us, and the power and the filling of the Spirit to transform our deepest longings and ambitions. It is for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal. 5:1).