Letter from Dr. Joseph Tkach - April 2017


April 1, 2017

February is Black History Month, and as I reflect on the significant contributions my African-American brothers and sisters have made to our nation and to the church, my mind turns to a wonderful documentary our media department put together over the last few years. This video highlights the Chicago South Side Congregation, a member church of our organization with an inspiring history.

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April 2017  

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As I write to you, I’ve been reflecting on and preparing my heart for the Easter season. It’s an opportunity to celebrate an event of unparalleled significance for us as Christians – the day Jesus rose from the dead. Every Easter, we commemorate how Jesus’ sinless life ended in atoning death, and how three days later he rose again, embodying God’s promise of eternal life extended to all who turn to him for salvation.

This year, I’ve been thinking about another astonishing fact of history that precedes all the miracles and teaching of Jesus’ life on earth, his death by crucifixion, and his resurrection and ascension in glory: the wonder of his incarnation. In taking on a physical body, Jesus knows what it means to be human through and through. Although in Easter we celebrate his resurrection, it’s worth remembering that none of what followed would have been possible without his birth. The empty tomb points to the revelation of the virgin birth.

This is how Trinitarian theologian Thomas Torrance puts it in the book Incarnation: The Person and Life of Jesus:

“But such a resurrection of true man and true God points back to the virgin birth of Jesus as a union of true God and true man. The humiliation of Jesus began at Bethlehem and reached its climax on the cross, just before his glorification in the resurrection. The new life began at Bethlehem and reached its unveiling in the resurrection. Thus the mystery of the virgin birth is the basis of the mystery of the resurrection. By the mystery of the resurrection the mystery of the virgin birth becomes effective and understandable. Here we have a closed circle—to deny the virgin birth involves a denial of the resurrection, and vice versa.”

Torrance makes an important point here: the glory of Christ’s resurrection cannot be understood without embracing the mystery of the incarnation. The gospel reveals how marvelous the incarnation truly is. When God the Son took on human form as a tiny infant, he enacted an unimaginable union of God and humanity. Jesus is as fully human as he is divine; because of this, his death and resurrection are extended to include us in everlasting life in him.

As Christians, we believe that we are made in God’s image, and shaped to be in communion with him. And yet, after the fall, our sin distanced us from God, and that separation was one we could not hope to heal by our own power. This is why the gospel is so transformative: it tells us that when we could not succeed in reaching toward God, he reached out to us. And he did so in a way we never could have anticipated: God became a man. Jesus’ incarnation is not just a necessary step toward his crucifixion and resurrection: it’s the very moment where his redemptive work on our behalf begins.

Some have described this as Christ’s “vicarious humanity.” It’s important to remember this human life lived on our behalf wasn’t only encompassed in the week of Jesus’ Passion. Instead, the whole scope of his human life lived out on earth – Jesus’ finitude, his mortality, his susceptibility to temptation and to hunger and to heat and dust, are all a part of what it means that he is able to take our place. He has both a divine and a human nature, and it is because of this that Jesus is able to include us into God’s family. Jesus’ incarnation is God’s plan for our redemption. Jesus took on our life so that we could be invited to join his.

As Paul put it in his letter to the Philippians, Jesus “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil 2:6-7). Jesus’ example in adopting a limited human life is a model for all of us. Paul, reminding us of Christ’s ultimate humility, tells us “in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus,” the mindset of humbling ourselves before the call of the gospel. Our Savior was willing to “make himself nothing” to follow the will of the Father. The ways we serve one another, spread the gospel, and care for fellow believers can be modelled on Jesus’ life because of his incarnation.

This is what we strive for here at GCI: a Christ-like submission to God’s will and to one another. Rather than focusing on how to draw attention to ourselves or get ahead, we as Christians should be reminded of our primary example for how to live life on earth: the fully human, fully divine Jesus Christ. When we set our eyes on him, it revolutionizes what it means to live life on earth, because it shows us another way. When our sin nature tempts us to seek power or acclaim, Jesus’ humble human life lived in relationship with his Father offers a different path. At GCI, we are committed to following in the footsteps of our Savior, and that means focusing on God’s kingdom above all (which means Christ above all). When you give to GCI, you can be confident that you are supporting that mission in your local congregation and around the world.

God the Son submitted himself to a humble human life on earth for our sakes. Born as a vulnerable baby in a tempestuous time, Jesus lived, died, and rose again to save us. His own humility should guide ours: this Easter, let’s remember to serve one another and God first, and to submit ourselves to the work of the kingdom. As we celebrate this important holiday with countless Christians across the globe, it isn’t just Jesus’ resurrection we remember: it’s also the glory and the mystery of his incarnation – “God with us” in living a human life on earth, and in sending his Spirit to abide with us and welcome us into eternal life with him.

Celebrating his incarnation and resurrection,

Joseph Tkach
President – Grace Communion International

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