More Incredible Than Mr. Limpet
Luther called the Apostles' Creed, The Children's Creed. Be a kid again. Hear what we confess in the 2nd Article as more incredible than Mr. Limpet. The Incredible Mr. Limpet is a 1964 movie based on a 1942 novel about a man who falls into the water and gets his wish to become a fish. Most kids are fascinated by fish and to be one would be incredible. The Children's Creed confesses something more incredible still.
It confesses Jesus who is more incredible than Mr. Limpet because His manhood shares in God's majesty. While Mr. Limpet became a fish and was able to speak and think like a man, he lost his hands and feet and the ability to live on land. Now it's true that God the Son humbles Himself in the way He became man. And C.S. Lewis is right when he says if you want to get a sense of what it meant for the Eternal God to become a baby think of yourself becoming a crab (Mere Christianity,155). However, it also goes the other way with Jesus. The Man Jesus shares in all the majesty of Divinity. Lewis' denomination denies this.
Here's exactly what we believe according to the Formula of Concord: In the incarnation, He entered in God's glory "in such a way that now not only as God but also as man, He knows all things, can do all things, is present to all creatures, and has all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth beneath His feet and in His hands" (EP, VIII, 11). The moment the Man Jesus takes on flesh and blood He's omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. But before He finished keeping the Law in our place and bearing our punishment for not, He didn't always use His Divine Powers as a Man, but He always had them.
The 2nd Article says Mary's Sib is the "only Son" of God the Father and that He rose from the Dead, ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God, and will come to judge the living and the dead. From conception on, Jesus had the power to do all those things. That's why the Magi worshipped Him; the teachers in the temple were in awe of Him, and why art depicts Baby Jesus holding the world in His hands.
As with Mr. Limpet, you can't divide one nature from the other. As you couldn't separate the wimpy bookkeeper from the brave fish, so you can't ever separate God the Son from the Son of Mary. That means when John 1 says, "Not one thing was created without Him," you can say the Man Jesus created. Likewise, with Col. 1 you can say, "In Jesus all things hold together." And with Heb. 1 you can say, "The Man Jesus upholds all things by His powerful Word."
Baptists, non-denoms, evangelicals, Pentecostals, you name the Protestant flavor, deny what I just said. Members of these churches may not know that the Reformed Confessions specifically deny these things and they may in fact think their denomination believes them. But ask them things like: Did Jesus know all things as a Baby? When Jesus was in the womb was He present in heaven at the same time? Could the Man Jesus do everything the Father could? They will trip on one or more of these because the bedrock of their confession of faith is the principle that what is finite and limited is not capable of the infinite and the unlimited.
They are right according to human reason. A 4-pound sack of sugar can't hold 10 pounds. A pint of milk can't hold a quart. A 500-gig computer can't hold a terabyte. All of Mr. Limpet wasn't contained in the fish. He lost some things. That's why Jesus is more incredible. In Him the finite is capable of the infinite, the limits of humanity are limitless. The man Jesus because of the incarnation has all the Majesty of God, so He is stronger than Hercules, Atlas, Superman, or Wolverine.
It is the Man Jesus who descended into the depths of hell as victor and champion; it is the Man Jesus who broke Death's strong bands; it is the Man Jesus who ascends into heaven; it is the Man Jesus who sits on the right hand of God; it is the Man Jesus who will return to judge the living and the dead from whom the sky will roll-up and the will continents flee.
Since Humanity and Divinity were joined in the womb of the Virgin Mary, they can never be separated again. So, that means what you see happening to Jesus in the Passion Reading happens to God too in Jesus. The infinite God is put on trial something we all do when we judge God not to be fair. The all-powerful God is denied by Peter who is backed into corner by a little girl and by us when we are backed into a corner by so-called science. God felt the cold that night in the flesh and blood of Jesus. God feels the sharp slaps, the warm spit, and the heavy fists. The I Am who leveled the mob last week here again confesses "I Am" and nobody falls down but everyone attacks Him.
The only sense that this is more incredible than Mr. Limpet is that God willingly suffers the pain and humiliation. And to redeem you it must be this way. The suffering of a man can't even pay for his sins. No, if that's all you offer God for your sins, you're going to hell to suffer until you do pay off your eternal debt, and guess when that will be? Never. If Jesus' suffering, beating, crying, dying were not that of God, His blood could redeem no one; His being beat could purchase no one; His being spat upon could win nothing for no one. God must be in the balance to outweigh your sins, your doubts, your worrying. God's blood must be spraying from the slapped face of Jesus or it couldn't cover a single sin. God's glory, holiness, majesty must be spat upon or it could not be redemptive.
The 2nd Article confesses something more incredible than Mr. Limpet because it shows the God-Man going to war and defeating more than just the Nazis. Mr. Limpet's story is set at the beginning of WW II, and the man-fish works underwater locating Nazi subs and redirecting torpedoes to sink them. Jesus does more incredible things than these.
In the Person of Jesus, God faces sin, death, and devil in all their might. Luther describes the fight in cartoon terms. He says Jesus "'Swallowed and devoured deathwith all power and might He chops away at and stabs deathgrabs him by the chops, knocks out all his teeth, and blunts his javelin and stinger'" (Peters, Creed, 157). "Even with the [His] weakness, sickness, humiliation, He tears open the devil's belly and breaks hell wide open, opens heaven and alters the whole earth'' (Ibid., 158).
This is what we're confessing every time we say Jesus, God the Son and Son of Mary, descended into hell, rose on the 3rd day, ascended into heaven, sits on the right hand of Almighty God, and will return to judge the quick and dead. Yet we say it as limply, as wimpishly, as blandly as Mr. Limpet would before falling into the sea. We're more blown away by video games and special effects than we are by the truths of our faith.
I think this is in part because we miss where the story turns. We miss the point where the battle is won and the victory march begins. Even though we may bow when confessing how Jesus fought the battle for us conceived, born, suffered, crucified, died, and buried, and even though we may lift our heads at the point of victory descended into hell we still hear hell and think more suffering.
This is not how our Confessions take it. We explain descended into hell' this way: "It is enough to know that Christ went to hell, destroyed hell for all believers, and has redeemed them from the power of death, of the devil, and the eternal damnation of the hellish jaws" (FC, EP, IX, 4). Death, Devil, and Damnation are the evils that chase all sinners and these are what give birth to the monsters of childhood.
You don't defeat them by outgrowing them, by describing them in psychological terms, or by ignoring them. No, you must look them straight in the eye, this is what the Law makes you do, and see because of the sins the law shows you're guilty of, you belong to them. Then 1 Jn. 3:8 will comfort you. "For this purpose the Son of God appeared: to destroy the works of the Devil." And Heb. 2 will even more: God the Son shared in our humanity "so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death that is the Devil. And free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death."
The Devil held the power of death over us because of the Law. The Man Jesus living a perfect life fulfilled the Law in your place; it can't accuse you in Him. The Majesty of God in Jesus suffering, sighing, pleading, dying to pay for sins as a man for all men destroys the Devil's work. Mistakenly thinking he can swallow Deity by swallowing the weak Jesus, Death, Devil, and Damnation swallow the very thing that blows them to bits and frees you from them and from the fear of them.
You know the incredible Mr. Limpet couldn't be everywhere at once. The more incredible Jesus can be and is. No part of us whether internal or external; no humdrum part of our daily life or even the depths of psychic or physical suffering exists where He leaves us alone with our doubts, struggles, desires, or joys. No, the Man who is God has already been everywhere we will go, before we go there (Peters, 166).
Be it in the judgment hall where Satan accuses us of everything from soup to nuts, be it a point of confession where we fail, be it when the bitter tears begin to fall for all that we are and all that we are not, be it when we have no hope but death, no future but the grave, Jesus is there with all of His Majesty as God in flesh and blood to comfort us, to forgive us. This is the truth that Judas and Peter ran away from. This is the truth that Peter came back to and Judas despaired of and so took his life. There is no sin, no depths, no worries, no fears, no future so bad that the majesty of God in Jesus can't reach you in and pull you free from.
More incredible than a man becoming a fish is God becoming Man with all the majesty of God. More incredible still is Him using all that He is and can do to redeem all men. Most incredible of all is when sinners believe it. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Midweek 3 (20170315); Passion Reading 3, Second Article