Jonty Rhodes is concerned that in much of evangelical teaching and life, the death of our Lord Jesus has become detached from the other events in his life. The result is that many Christians can explain how the death of Jesus saves us, but they cannot explain how other events in the life of Jesus, for example his incarnation or ascension, saves us.
This dislocation of the cross from the rest of the life of Jesus is a problem because it cheapens our understanding of the saving work of Christ. Not only does it diminish our worship of Christ, it also means that we are not able to enjoy the joy and peace that comes from glorying in His saving work.
Rhodes wants us to have a renewed appreciation of the saving work of Christ by exploring how the life events display Christ ministering to us as our prophet, priest and King. He does this by exploring the key life events of Christ, as separated in two movements – the events related to his humiliation (from incarnation to burial) and the events related to his exaltation (resurrection to second coming).
In His humiliation, Christ fulfilled the role of Prophet as the God-Man who brings God to us and us to God. The Cross is His pulpit. It proclaims the heart of God and what our response to God should be. Christ fulfils the role of Priest, by His death on the cross where He offered himself in our place as our sacrifice that appeases the wrath of God. Christ our Priest suffered the penalty of God’s wrath toward sin in our place. Christ fulfills the role of King by coming defeating our enemies as one of us. The incarnation was an invasion, “the beginning of a heavenly incursion to restore harmony by defeating sin, death, and Satan”. On the cross Jesus destroyed the works of the devil and robbed Satan of the weapon of death by rising from death.
In discussing the exaltation of Christ, Rhodes focuses on how each element of Christ’s exaltation continues the ministry of Christ to us today. He helpfully explains that Christ is still active today in his prophetic ministry because He speaks to us through His word, the Bible. And just as important is that as the Word of God is preached, it is Christ preaching through his servants to us. The preacher is the vessel through whom Christ continues His prophetic work. Christ is in Heaven as our High Priest. He stands there as our advocate before God. As King, Christ continues to rule his church, both outwardly through church officers and inwardly as He brings men and women to life through his Spirit and word.
What did I make of the book? I think the book is sufficiently comprehensive without being too overbearing, although it does not give a clear rationale up front why certain life events are chosen. For example, why is incarnation discussed, but not His circumcision? Why is session of Christ chosen but nothing about the events of His earthly ministry? But what it lacks in analytical precision, it more than makes us with many wonderful theological insights. For example, I liked the discussion of how Adam failed as a prophet, priest and King. Rhodes notes that:
“As prophet, Adam should have spoken up and led Eve to the truth when Satan started to cast doubt on God’s word. As king, Adam should have exercised his rule over all creatures and conquered the snake. As priest, Adam ought to have crushed the serpent’s head and protected the holiness of both his bride and his garden-temple. But instead—standing by Eve’s side…he watched as she reached out and plucked sin and misery from the tree. Indeed, he joined her in rebellion, a false prophet, a defeated king, an unclean priest”
Equally helpful is the discussion of how death and sleep are closely linked in the Bible. Rhodes notes that every time we go to sleep, we entrust ourselves to God, confident that he has the power to raise us again the next day, whether back into this world or safely into the next. Each night, in other words, is practice for our deathbed.
Sadly, this strength is also part of a bigger unfortunate problem with the book. The fascinating theological insights often serves to distract the reader from focusing on the topic at hand. Rhodes often gets side tracked into unnecessarily theological detail. You feel like you are reading a well written literature review about the saving work of Christ rather than a work designed to get you to know and adore Jesus more. This in a nutshell is my main concern with it.
There is nothing in the book that is erroneous or unwelcome. The problem is that it is not clear who this book is for and what it meant to add to what is already out in print, aside from an interesting hymnal based outline. I am guessing this is the sort of book I would give someone who wants a quick understanding of the saving work of Jesus. But to what end?
The whole point of knowing Christ is to worship him. Sadly, I found this book strangely deficient in evoking me to worship Him. This is no Octavius Winslow or Mark Jones. It is brilliantly factual, but the writing style did not have sufficient moments us to bow down and worship. I am afraid to say, that I found it disappointing because for me it reduced a devotionally rich topic to a dry intellectual discussion.
Now, I am not sure whether that is how the book really is or it is just me. I read a lot of works on the person of Christ, which why I decided to read this book. Now most of what I read is Puritan works. I am always moved in worship by the way the Puritans write about the Lord. So I may have judged Rhodes too harshly because of my reading style preference. But for what’s it worth, the above is my opinion. The opinion of a sinner by saved grace. Who is bound to judge poorly this side of eternity.