When you or I say ‘Amen’ to something (assuming we really mean what we say), we give it our affirmation. We say ‘Yes!’ to it, we acknowledge it to be truth and yield ourselves and our assent to it. An Amen is a giving of oneself over to the truthfulness of something else. It is, fundamentally, an act of faith. And it is something that we do all the time, whether we realise this or not: all of our lives are premised on certain objects of faith, whether that is God or money or science or a political cause or even simply the intelligibility and reality of the world we live in. Often this faith is not a matter of conscious reflection, but only implicit in what we do. Whenever we vote, we are saying ‘Amen’ to a system of government, assenting to the authority of that government to govern us. Whenever we use currency, we are saying ‘Amen’ to a whole monetary system that assumes everyone in a society assigns an identical value to a piece of paper. In a myriad of ways, every single day, we utter silent and subtle Amens to all sorts of things.
But most importantly, we do this to ultimate realities: we believe in God or in gods, or perhaps in an impersonal ultimate Unity that binds everything together, or perhaps in no higher reality whatsoever. Perhaps we say our ultimate ‘Amen’ to something in ourselves (our faculties of perception and reasoning, our intuition, our desires), or to something in human life more broadly (a certain philosophy, societal progress, the scientific method). Whatever it is, we all say it to something whether we want to or not—we place our faith, we yield our ‘Amen’.
The weekend of Good Friday and Easter tells ‘A Tale of Two Amens’. These Amens are not things so much said as they are things done: they are two acts in a drama, in which two actors—God the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ1—say something to one another by what they do. And we need to listen.
The First Amen: Good Friday
The first Amen is the Amen of Good Friday. It is the Amen of the Son of God to God the Father, the Amen he had been speaking to the Father from eternity, now finding its way into the depths of our estranged humanity on the cross.
Born of a woman, the Son of God’s entire human life was a faithful ‘Amen’ to his Father: healing the sick, announcing the kingdom, welcoming sinners and outcasts and warning of the coming judgment—in all these things Jesus was true to the God who chose and called him. His life was an Amen to the kingdom of God. And through his faithful, lived-out Amen, the kingdom was appearing in the world with signs and wonders that shocked and astonished. But on the cross, that kingdom-bringing Amen to God reached a terrifying and unexpected climax. Here the kingdom’s judgment, which Jesus warned would accompany the kingdom’s arrival, unthinkably fell where you’d least expect it: on the kingdom-bringer himself. The Son of God, the Messiah, the ‘Anointed’ king of Israel, became the bearer of his people’s judgment. He became the concentration and distillation of all their sin and accursedness.
Why? Because the ‘Amen’ Jesus spoke to God—the total consecration of his life to God’s kingship and will and grace and judgment and love—was not only for himself, but for us. It is not merely his Amen to God, but ours—his Amen spoken to God in our place, when all we could do is mutter lesser amens to idols. Vested in our corrupt humanity, Jesus carried the blameless Amen of his life before God down, into the worst of our human condition where by definition God’s kingdom was not, and precisely there he spoke the faithful ‘Amen’ of a Son to a Father. He established the kingdom of God in the citadel of sin, looking in horror on the awfulness of human wickedness and the accursedness of the evil that it had unleashed on the whole world; looking in sober resignation on the unwavering ‘NO’ of God’s judgment on all of it. And there, fully realising in himself the true human response to God’s judgment on sin—the response of ‘Amen’—he died in our place. And with that death something new came into being: now the death of a man before his God was not only the death of the rebel before his ruler. Now, in the still body of Christ crucified, death was forever transfigured into the faithful self-giving of obedient humanity to God even within the depths of its sin and estrangement. Now, even death itself means sonship: in Jesus Christ on the cross, God has adopted our dereliction. He has adopted our sinful death as his own, and transformed it into a final, reconciling human Amen to God for our sake.
But within that Amen to God’s judgment on sin that he spoke for us, Jesus also spoke a plea, no less the words of a faithful Son to a Father: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Particularly in the passion stories in Matthew and Mark, which give us these words from Jesus, we are left to wonder: is the triumphant Amen of Christ’s life, obedient to the God who called him and who delighted in him, to be snuffed out forever on this cross? Silent Heaven has no answer on Good Friday, and if in fact the only Amen in the tale belongs to Jesus, then we are left in a world that is ultimately without hope. There is just death.
The Second Amen: Easter Sunday
But here is the fulcrum on which Christianity itself turns: the tale is not of one but of two Amens. Not only the Amen of Jesus to God in our place, but the Amen of God to Jesus for our sake. A silent Heaven is not the end of the story—nor of mine, nor of yours. The Christian gospel is premised on the assumption that Jesus’ faithful Amen, and the cry of dereliction that accompanied it, was answered. To Jesus’ faithful dying Amen, God spoke an Amen of his own on Easter Sunday, when he raised Jesus from the dead in a restored humanity free from the corruption of sin and evil, discharged of any guilt and no longer consigned to the land of silence. This mighty act of raising Jesus was indeed an Amen of God’s own: to everything that Jesus had done, to everything that he was, God said an unreserved and unreluctant ‘Yes!’ By raising his Son from the dead, God told the world, ‘This is the humanity that will truly bear my image: a sin-stained son faithfully coming back to me from the far country. This is the humanity that is meant to rule the world: the humanity that says ‘Amen’ to me and not to lesser things, to Creator and not to created. This is the humanity that shares my fellowship and receives my inheritance: the humanity that embraces my judgment on sin in the hope of my restoration and forgiveness.’ In short: ‘This is my Son, my Beloved; in him I am well pleased.’
On Easter Sunday we witness the consummation of God’s kingdom in the new man risen from the dead—a consummation brought about through his faithful human Amen to God, answered by God’s faithful Amen to humanity. And this is the divine-human Amen that rules the world, as God always intended: in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and raised from the dead, the human destiny of governing the creation God has given us finds its fulfilment in a man whose kingship is none other than the kingship of God, whose unique Father-Son relation to God oversees the world and gathers it into a divine-human family. Not only this, but Christ’s authority dawns in the world by the way of the cross—by self-sacrificial love that fathoms and fills the deepest depths of pain in the world and carries it back to God by grace. Risen from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand, he never ceases to be ‘the Lamb that was slain’, the one who was crucified. His cross-shaped Amen to God rules and restores the world, and at his return, God’s Amen that began with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead will be completed when he transforms the physical world you and I live in to be the eternal habitation of God and his people, free from every haunt of evil and sin.
In the meantime, God restores us by giving this human Amen of Jesus on the cross, freely, to us. The risen Lord of the world becomes our Brother, and God our Father, when we hear the good news (gospel) of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and say ‘Amen’ to it. When God’s Spirit breaks into our hearts and minds through the gospel message, we find that it compels our assent. It summons forth our ‘Amen’ to everything that God has done for us, and everything he promises to do when Jesus returns. The Amen of Christian faith is to look on what God has done in Christ and on the forgiveness he freely holds out to us, and to say, ‘All right; Amen,’ and with that Spirit-birthed Amen to be united with Christ and freely gifted the new humanity that he won for us in his death and resurrection. It is to hear God say, ‘This is what I think of you’ as he holds forth his risen Son before our eyes. And in this faith, this Amen, we have the hope that God’s Amen to Jesus will one day embrace our brittle bodies and the whole creation, when he returns. The Tale of Two Amens makes us part of its story, forever.
- There is, of course, a third actor: the Holy Spirit by whom the Father and Son are bound together, and apart from whom the Atonement (of which we are speaking) could not have taken place. Nonetheless, I think we are right to speak of a drama with two actors that take centre stage and on whom the audience’s attention is focused. ↩