Luke Timothy Johnson on the Significance of Jesus the Living One

The following from Luke Timothy Johnson, professor of New Testament at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, is worth reading and meditating on:

Luke’s two ascension accounts (Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9-11) serve to remove Jesus’ body from the sight of humans as preparation for another mode of existence.  This is a deeper level of absence than the empty tomb, for it means that even as the Living One, Jesus will no longer be present in the sort of bodily shape that his disciples knew.  That earlier mode of bodily presence was still limited.  If Jesus ascends to the right hand of God and receives from him the promise of the Holy Spirit, then the ‘life’ that is at work in him can be poured out over all humans, so that his presence can be mediated in all the ways in which those led by his Spirit body forth.  Thus Luke’s Pentecost account in Acts 2:1-5 is truly the climactic and decisive symbolization of the resurrection of Jesus, as Peter’s speech makes clear: it is because God has made him both Christ and Lord by sitting him at God’s right hand that Jesus can pour out the Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:33-36).  Absent from the dead, present in a new bodily form to a few, absent in body altogether, present more powerfully to all flesh: Luke’s sequence of stories exquisitely expresses the truth that is in Jesus.”  (Living Jesus, 21-22, emphasis added)

Then professor Johnson asks the question, “How, then, does Jesus now find continuing embodiment as life-giving Spirit?”  Answer: “Jesus is embodied in the texts that speak of him.  Jesus is embodied in the sacraments.  Jesus is embodied in the lives of the saints.  Jesus is embodied in the little ones of the earth.”  And, “But the ways in which Christians have come to recognize the face of the living Christ exist mainly within that assembly of those gathered in the name of Jesus who have drunk of the Spirit and have become ‘the body of Christ'” (p. 22).

Now while I appreciate much of what Luke T. Johnson has to say, I believe there will be some differences, given that fact that he’s a Roman Catholic and I’m a Baptist.  For example, I know that we will flesh out “Jesus is embodied in the sacraments” quite differently.  This, however, is not to detract from the weight of what he’s arguing about the powerful presence of the Living One, Jesus the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45).

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