One of the most interesting books I read this past year was Peter Leithart’s Delivered from the Elements of the World: Atonement, Justification, Mission (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016). Leithart skillfully integrates insights from a variety of disciplines to present a compelling, and profoundly biblical, vision of Christian reality.
Here’s a key quote from the book that powerfully spells out the profound theological reality that the church celebrates at Christmas. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to unpack some of the terminology that he has spent earlier chapters developing, however, I trust that it can stand on its own:
“What would a human life look like if not dominated by flesh—if not ruled by the vulnerabilities, weakness, fears, anxieties of flesh, if not driven by the flesh’s desire for pleasure or flesh’s violent self-protectiveness? What would a human life look like if it was lived in the flesh but not according to the flesh?
It would look like the life of Jesus.
In his advent, the Word assumed Israel’s condition and operated under the conditions of Edenic and Babelic curse. Jesus was truly human, and he came so fully under the conditions of weakness, mortality and a vulnerability that John can say, “The Word became flesh.” But he was not controlled by the fear of death and loss, by the desire for pleasure and protection, by the reactive and violent dynamics of flesh. He did not trade insult for insult, wound for wound. He neither attacked enemies nor recoiled from them, but loved them. He did not seek retribution, and he did not the fear the suffering that others imposed on him.
In Jesus, God himself lived a human life in flesh that was not controlled by flesh. He came into flesh by an act of the Spirit, and so while in the flesh and he lived the life of the Spirit. Thus Jesus is the true Israelite, the Davidic king, doing what Yahweh required every Israelite and every king of Israel to do, living according to Torah while in flesh. As Davidic king, Jesus embodies Israel; as just Davidic king, Jesus embodies the just Israel the Yahweh always wanted and promised. It is the kind of life that Torah’s antisarkic regimen always aimed to produce” (135-6).