Jesus and the Gospel of the Early Church

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

What I’d first like you to focus your attention on this week is that Jesus, in the above statement, does not say that the meek are promised that they will go to heaven when they die, but rather that they will inherit the earth. This has a marked effect on one’s focus, once you get what Jesus is saying. We must come to terms with the fact that nowhere in the Jesus story do we see ever see Him going around with a sound-bite style, “gospel” presentation, endeavoring to get people to say a special prayer so they can go to heaven when they die. The Apostles, too, never hold out the fear of post-mortem Hell in the book of Acts as a motivation to follow Jesus. What we do find is that the mission of Jesus, as well as that of the Apostles, is not focused on one day becoming disembodied souls in some far distant heaven, but instead is focused on restoring God’s Kingdom here on earth.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Jesus, (Matthew 6:10)

As we covered last week, Jesus’ coming was the fulfillment of all the Hebrew prophets’ hopes of an age here on earth when all violence, oppression, and injustice would be put to right. Jesus put human beings to right (justification), so that they could then join Him in putting the world to right (justice). Jesus’ mission, far from being about changing human beings’ legal status so they could one day go to heaven, was about delivering “healing [to] all who were under the power of” Satan (Acts 10:38) so that this world, rather than being escaped, could be restored, renewed, and remade. Humanity could regain its original mission and purpose within the new creation for which they were originally intended according to the Hebrew creation narrative.

I want to be very careful not to be misunderstood here. I believe with all my heart that Jesus’ death and resurrection saved us from the terrors of the age to come, but too often we have overemphasized that aspect of Jesus’ saving work without sufficiently understanding or embracing how Jesus saves us in this present age as well. Notice the words of Paul in his letter to the believers in Galatia.

“The Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age.” Galatians 1:3-4 (emphasis added)

Yes, Jesus’ death and resurrection save us from the terrors of the age to come, but His unjust execution and triumphant resurrection, combined with an understanding faith of what the Resurrection story is whispering to us, has the efficacious power to save us not at some point in the future, but right here, right now, from the present evil of this present age.

Jesus came to effect change here . . . now.

Notice what He states about the Kingdom He had come to establish here on earth.

“Looking at His disciples, He said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, who are oppressed by the way this present world is arranged. This kingdom, from God, that I’ve come to establish is especially for you. If you are going hungering as a result of the way this present world is arranged, you are going to be blessed by this Kingdom, through it, you’re going to be satisfied. If you are one whom this present arrangement causes to weep, count yourself blessed, for the Kingdom that I have come to establish will cause your heart to break forth in laughter. And for you as well, who join Me in standing up against the way the world is presently arranged, when you are hated by those whom this present arrangement benefits, when those who are privileged by the present arrangement exclude you and insult you and reject you and even your name as evil, because of the Son of Man (see Daniel 7:13-14). Count yourself blessed! But for you who are rich as a result of the world’s present arrangement, for you have already received your comfort. The changes I’ve come to make are going to be harder for you to embrace. I genuinely feel sad for you who are well fed as a result of the present world’s political, economic, and religious structuring. This kingdom I’ve come to establish will be harder for you to embrace because it will mean that you will go hungry so others might be fed. Woe to you whom the present arrangement of the world fills your heart with laughter, for you will mourn and weep. I’m not turning things upside down, I’m putting them right side up again. And to you whom are invested in everyone always speaking well of you, you who define yourself as being well liked by others, my Kingdom is going to be a deeply challenging for you to embrace’” (paraphrasing of Jesus’ words in Luke 6:20-26).

Today, we are living on the other side of the death and resurrection of Jesus that founded this new world. Today, Jesus, though with us every step of the way through the Spirit, must also remain in heaven “until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21)

We should not just sit back and wait on him to return and do it all. Are we to be passive in regards to the injustice, oppression, and violence we see around us, focusing instead our attention on only “saving souls” for the age to come?

Tom Wright recently gave a presentation in Phoenix. As an illustration, he shared how the stonemasons used to work together to build the European cathedrals. Stonemasons, most of the times, were illiterate, so they were given instructions on the shape each stone was to take, including what parts were to be chiseled off and what angles each was to have. While each mason was focused on one stone, applying his artistic skills, the overall scheme could not be discerned, but when the Master Mason would arrive, he would gather all the individual stones that had been so artistically carved and arrange them together in such a way that they would form the structures of breathtaking beauty found in those cathedrals. If a particular mason was lucky enough, he could find his stone, the one he had worked tirelessly on, and stand back, seeing the part he had played in this beautifully magnificent structure, overwhelmed by the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

This is a fitting illustration of what being a follower of Jesus means in regards to the work of healing Jesus has called us to. To those who would say that we must wait for Jesus to return before beginning the work of putting this world to right, there must be those who say in the name of Jesus, “No, that is just not good enough.” God did not send His Son into this world so that this world would be condemned, but that through Him this world might be healed (see John 3:17). In the same manner that the Father sent Jesus, Jesus is sending us! (see John 20:21)

If we continue to focus primarily – or only – on how Jesus’ death and resurrection save us in the age to come, and if we fail to see how Jesus’ death and resurrection also save us from the evil present in this age, we will continue to miss the connection between the work we should be doing in restorative expressions of justice, mercy, and peace in our world today through humble servant love, feeling as if any talk about change in the here and now or any engagement with evils or evil systems that are presently at work are somehow unfocused.

Far from seeing all engagement with injustice, oppression, and violence in the present age as being futile, the Apostle Paul, right after his most thrilling defense of the age to come, the resurrection and the blessed hope that lay before each of us, sums up his entire defense (notice the word “therefore”) with these words:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord [Jesus], because you know that your labor in the Lord [Jesus] is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58, emphasis added).

No matter how small or how disconnected it may feel to you, no matter how tempted you may be to categorize your present efforts to move this world toward justice, mercy, and peace as temporal, Paul would applaud you with the words, “No labor of love is in vain.”

Each carefully carved stone will be gathered up by the Master Mason when He returns and fitted by Him into the glorious New Creation of a New Heaven and a New Earth! The old order of things will be done away! Behold, He is not making all new things . . . He is making all things new! (Revelation 21:5)

In the words of N.T. (Tom) Wright, “We won’t solve all the problems, but if we just sit back and fold our hands waiting for the Master to come back and do it, we will be like the servant who buried His Master’s money in the earth.”

HeartGroup Application

In Hebrews Chapter 11, a statement is made concerning Abraham and his sojourn on this earth.

“By faith, he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country” (Hebrews 11:9). “This earth has been promised to us by Jesus” (Matthew 5:5). Although we are traversing the world as strangers in a foreign country, this world is your home; you’re not just passing through. The hope of the Resurrection includes not only that you will live again, but also the hope that this world will be made new, both heaven and earth renewed, restored, and refashioned. The old order of things will have passed away, and our labor toward that end today will be caught up together by Jesus as integral parts of His work.

You are not arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. You are people of the Resurrected One. The Gospel message of the early church was about putting the world to right. It was promised so long ago, to the Jewish fathers, and it began with the Resurrection of Jesus.

“We tell you the Gospel: What God promised our ancestors [putting the world to right] he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” (Acts 13:32-33)

As we have said so many times in the recent weeks, the story of the Resurrected One marks the beginning of a whole new world where God’s presence is no longer seen within systems that practice sacrifice rather than mercy, whether those systems are religious, political, or economic. The Resurrection puts on display that the Presence of God is instead to be found in the One shamefully suspended on a Roman cross, at the order of those powers behind those system, as a result of His attempts to bring the way of sacrifice to an end. The Resurrection is the start of a whole new world where we need no longer be coerced to participate in the way of sacrifice through the fear of death. Death has been defeated, and God has been shown to be on the side of those being sacrificed. We need not fear the consequences of engagement against those powers. We stand in the victory of the Resurrection, the victory of our Christ over all injustice, oppression, and violence, a victory that has already been won.

I know in our culture today we always seem to be craving something new, but for good reason, I want you to stay with what I asked of you last week.

I want you to find some quiet time to simply sit with Jesus and ask Him to share His own grief about the injustice, violence, and oppression He sees in this world. Ask Jesus to show you His heart for a particular group of people. Remember, He is not sharing it with you to make you feel guilty, paralyzed, or overwhelmed. It’s not all about you. Allow yourself to share in feeling Jesus’ grief, but also allow yourself to share in feeling Jesus’ hope for this group of people, too.

Pray this way:

“Jesus, would you please take me deep enough into Your heart to sense Your concern for justice, mercy, and peace? As I tune in to those themes, is there some grief in Your heart about an area, or group of people, or issue that you would like to share with me today? Let me see it how You see it. Let me feel how You feel.”

Next, I want you to follow Jesus into action.

Pray this way:

“Jesus, what is the darkness that is prevailing there? Why is it there? What needs to happen there? What would you ask me to do about it?”

During this time with Jesus, be sure to take notice of certain realities.

• What aspects of this group’s experience do you find troubling?
• What stirs your heart to compassion?
• What does Jesus want to show you about the way He is looking at them?
• Lastly, how would He have you advocate for them?

2. Journal who and what Jesus shows you.

3. Share what Jesus shows you with your upcoming HeartGroup this week.

The hope of the Old Testament prophets was not to be able to one day become disembodied souls who had met some condition so they could spend eternity in some far distant place, far away from here. They looked forward to an age here, when all injustice, oppression and violence would be put right. The age of putting those things right has begun. This was the gospel of the early church.

I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in justice. – Mal 3.1-3

We tell you the gospel: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. – Acts 13.32-33 (Emphasis added.)

The Master Mason will come! In the interim, we can join Him in His work of making all things new. No labor for Him during this time is in vain. Yes, the old order of things will be purged as by fire, yet all we do in participation with Him in the world today will be gathered up by Him, fashioned, and fitted together by Him, in His refreshed, restored, renewed, renovated New Creation.

‘Til the only world that remains is a world where Love reigns, keep following Jesus. Keep loving like Jesus. And keep enlarging the Kingdom with Jesus.

I love you guys,
See you next week.

Jesus, The Prophets, and Social Justice

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” (Matthew 5.13)

Salt-less salt. Stop and think about that for a minute. When salt was harvested from the ancient salt sea, the rocks of salt would be gathered with various and sundry other white colored rocks. They would then be placed in a cloth and used during cooking. Over time, the salt would dissolve through the cloth and only the non-water-soluble rocks would remain. Eventually the salt sack would lose its saltiness and be good for nothing more than common road gravel.

For those who claim to be followers of Jesus, what does it mean to lose their salt?

In referring to the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Ron Dart, professor of Political Science at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia, says: “This text represents the distillation of the entire Jewish prophetic vision and supplies the ethical core and center for all Christianity. We must not ignore, domesticate, sanitize, or censure this Magna Carta of our faith.”

Dart is absolutely right to connect Jesus’ words in Matthew 5-7 with the ancient Jewish prophets. Jesus came to usher in the age that all the prophets looked forward to. Remember, as we shared last week, the hope of the Hebrew people was not of gaining some Hellenistic postmortem heaven or escaping “Hell.” The Hebrew people looked forward with hope to a time when the Messiah would come and put an end to all injustice, oppression, and violence. The prophets pointed to a time when politics would no longer be dependent upon violence (The lion would lay down with the lamb), economics would no longer be driven by greed (Justice would roll down like a river), and religion would no longer be rooted in fear (You will call me your Husband and no longer your Master).

Notice the following words from the early Church:

Acts 13.32, 33: “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus”.

Romans 15.8: “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs…”

2 Corinthians 1.20: “For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God.”

Abraham Heschel wrote: “What is history? Wars, victories, and wars. So many dead. So many tears. So little regret. So many fears… The world is drenched in blood, and the guilt is endless. Should not all hope be abandoned? What saved the prophets from despair was their messianic vision and the idea of man’s capacity for repentance… History is not a blind alley, and guilt is not an abyss. There is always a way that leads out of guilt . . . The prophet is a person who, living in dismay, has the power to transcend his dismay. Over all the darkness of experience hovers the vision of a different day.”

Last January, as my mother was passing away in a hospital in Virginia, I was stuck in British Columbia trying desperately to get home. God, knowing my emotional state, arranged for my path to cross with Brad Jersak’s. Brad is an Eastern Orthodox friend of mine whom I met when God sent him to sit and pray with me at a coffee shop in Abbottsford while I was losing my mom. Needless to say, Brad will personally and forever hold a special place in my heart over and above the theological contributions I feel he most definitely has to offer with his insights about the Kingdom. In his book, Can You Hear Me? Tuning In to the God Who Speaks, Brad makes a thrilling comment about the prophets, when he writes: “The prophets have dirty hands (and mouths too sometimes), because you’ll find them wading without apology through the mess of life. Their target audience begins with the church and its religious leaders but extends to nations and heads of state and to corporations with their economic power brokers. They have unabashed social agendas and are not afraid of being perceived as political. Their concern is for the oppressed, the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the enslaved. The mature prophets call for both personal righteousness and social justice. They retreat inward in contemplation then explode onto the public scene as spokespersons for God’s heart and as advocates for the downtrodden.”

What I love about that statement is that Brad (and I don’t know whether he does it intentionally or by inspired accident) taps into the three sacrificial systems we have been looking at over the past view weeks: 1) political systems dependent upon violence, 2) economics driven by greed, and 3) religion driven by fear. Go back and reread the quote from Brad presented in the previous paragraph. The prophets (in harmony with Jesus) confronted the Caiaphases (religious leaders), the Pilates (nations and heads of state) and Herods (corporations and their economic power brokers) of their day, announcing that a new age was coming. A new age that has arrived in Jesus.

Isaiah 1.12-17: “When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you</I>, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies</I>. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice [restorative], <I>encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow</I>” (emphasis added).
Micah 6.8: “He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Amos 5.23-24: “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never–failing stream!”

Those who follow Jesus as the culmination of this prophetic tradition must, like the prophets of old, find their own hearts beating for justice for the oppressed, and mercy, rather than sacrifice, expressing itself daily through humble servant love. As the prophets pointed to an age here on Earth that would commence with the coming of the Messiah, we point backwards, if you will, saying Jesus is that Messiah, and the New Age promised by the prophets has already begun! If the prophets tell us anything, they tell us that you cannot authentically listen to God for long without also sensing that justice, mercy, and compassion are central to Him and His Kingdom.

This past week, a friend of mine on Facebook, a man named Andrew Rester, whom I feel I have traded places with (he actually used to be a student of mine when I taught school, but now I am learning from him), posted this insightful question on his wall:

“How different would Christianity and even the world be if Christ-followers started taking Matthew 5-7 as seriously as we try to make unbelievers take the first 3 chapters of Genesis?”

Brad Jersak goes on to say in the same chapter, “Don’t look for the mature prophets in the third heaven. (See 2 Corinthians 12.) You won’t find them there. You’ll find them here, ministering mercy to those overwhelmed by grief.”

And I would be quick to add to that Jersak’s words apply not only prophets, but to all followers of Jesus.

Bono, lead singer of U2, the Irish rock group from Dublin, said it best: “To me, faith in Jesus Christ that is not aligned with social justice, that is not aligned with the poor—it’s nothing.”

What group of people is Jesus placing on your heart this week?

Let’s be salt that hasn’t lost its saltiness.

HeartGroup Application

I want to ask you do to something special this week. I want you to find some quiet time to simply sit with Jesus and ask Him to share with you about His love for this world. Give Jesus permission to share with you His own grief about the misery and injustice He sees in this world. But when He does, remember, He is not sharing it with you to lay a guilt trip on you. It’s not all about you. Friendship with Jesus must go both ways. Don’t take what He shares in such a way that it will paralyze you with guilt. I want you to feel Jesus’ grief, experience Jesus’ comfort, share Jesus’ hope, and follow Jesus into action.

1) Pray this way:

“Jesus, would you please take me deep enough into your heart to sense your concern for justice, mercy, and peace? As I tune in to those themes, is there some grief in your heart about an area or group of people or issue that you would like to share with me today? Let me see it how you see it. Let me feel how you feel. What is the darkness that is prevailing there? Why is it there? What needs to happen there? And what would you ask me to do?”

Get somewhere quiet and spend some time asking God to show you His heart for a particular group of people, and then ask yourself:

• What aspects of their experience do you find troubling?
• What stirs your heart to compassion?
• What does Jesus want to show you about h\His perspective?
• How would He have you advocate for them?

2. Journal about who and what Jesus shows you.

3. Share what Jesus shows you with your upcoming HeartGroup this week.
The Hebrews, the people that Jesus originally came from, have a phrase: Tikkun Olam. It means “the repairing (or healing) of the world.” Jesus also said that God had not sent Him to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be healed. Jesus came showing us the way, in perfect harmony with the Hebrew prophets. Jesus came showing us the way of Hesed (Mercy), Tsadaq (Restorative Justice), and Shalom (Peace). In other words:

Hesed + Tsadaq + Shalom = Tikkun Olam

This week, pray that Jesus will enable you to take His Mercy teachings, His Justice teachings, and His Peace teachings more seriously. Let our union with Jesus truly be just that. May we join Him in His work, rather than simply inviting Him into our own agendas. We spend so much time asking Him to bless what we are up to; what would happen if we stopped to notice what He is up to in this world?

Unless you’re following of Jesus passes through the cleansing water of the Sermon on the Mount, at the very minimum it will be ineffective and, at the worst, it will be the fundamentalist terrorism of zealots.

This week, let’s follow Jesus further up and further in.

Wherever this finds you, keep living in love as Jesus defines it in Matthew 5-7 until the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.

I love you guys, and I’ll see you next week.

Saved by the Resurrection

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised (Matthew 16:21, emphasis added).

This week I want to share with you what I consider to be the passion of the early church. What came as a shock to me when I first began to realize it was that the Apostles, in the book of Acts, never spoke about Jesus’ crucifixion as a meritorious death that promised postmortem bliss. Rather, they proclaimed the resurrection of One who had been executed unjustly, a resurrection by which God had fulfilled the promises made through the ancient Hebrew prophets, a resurrection by which God established this Jesus as the Christ of both Israel and the world, a resurrection that marked the beginning of a whole new world where the long-awaited work of God in putting the oppression, violence, and injustice to right had begun. I want you to be clear on what I’m saying. I’m not saying Christ’s death was not meritorious promising postmortem bliss. What I’m saying is that if that is true, it is profoundly curious to notice the Apostles never preached this but rather something radically different.

Let’s go all the way back to before the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection took place. Let’s go back and sit with those twelve followers of Jesus, listening alongside of them, as they listen to one Whom they hope will be Messiah. One day, as they are sitting with Jesus, he shares these words with them, saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).

At this stage it is vital that we keep in mind that the hope of the Hebrew people, which included these twelve disciples, was not of one day going to some far distant “Heaven” when they died, nor was their hope of escaping some postmortem “Hell.” The hope of the Hebrew people was of an age, here in this world, when Messiah would come and put all oppression, violence, and injustice to right. THIS was the long-awaited promise of the prophets. Here Jesus shares, much to the shock of the twelve, that THIS hope, which they were longing for, Jesus planned to accomplish through being unjustly killed and then, three days later, resurrected. At this point, it is true that the Apostles did not have a sweet clue what Jesus was talking about, but what we must not miss is the fact that this, right here, would become the message the early church would proclaim to the world. Read through each of the following excerpts of the early message of these Apostles paying close attention to the emphasis each places on the resurrection and what that resurrection accomplished.

Acts 3:13−15—”The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (emphasis added).

Acts 2:22−36—”Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, given to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power . . . God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact . . . Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Acts 5:30−31—”The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior . . .”

There are two key, saving elements of the Jesus story told by the Apostles. In order for the story to have its saving effect, both elements must be present. First was the identification of Jesus as the One we had politically, economically, and religiously victimized. The second is the identification of Jesus as the One God had declared, through the resurrection, was actually innocent! Let me explain. Don’t rush over this. Contemplate it for a moment.

The dynamic that Jesus had been unjustly executed by us through the alliance of our political systems (Pilate), our economic systems (Herod), and our religion (Caiaphas), coupled with the dynamic that God, through the resurrection, had responded to Jesus’ unjust execution at the hands of these allied systems, declaring Jesus innocent simultaneously unmasks our present way of doing life on planet earth for what it truly is. The very first thing that the combination of these two dynamics enables us to do is to experience a very powerful paradigm shift where we identify Jesus as, therefore, allied with, and standing in solidarity with, all of our victims (both contemporary and historical) through whom we maintain our present state by persecuting. It doesn’t matter whether we are victimizing them through our politics, economics, and/or our religion. We begin to see that God is with them, rather than us (see Acts 2.37), and that we are with God when we are standing alongside of them. This identification, when properly understood, “converts” us, as followers of this Jesus, to now stand in solidarity with those we once persecuted over and against those systems to which we used to belong.

This was what the early church proclaimed. And today, to have a saving effect, our theories concerning Jesus’ death must also combine these two vital elements. The gospel we tell must first locate us among the crowd condemning Jesus. We are the people who don’t see what we are doing, believing our actions to be politically “justifiable,” economically “expedient,” or religiously “required.” WE are the people who always turn to violent means driven by fear to remove the tensions in our culture, whether political, economic, or religious. It was WE who crucified the Lord of Glory. AND it was GOD who, through the resurrection, decisively declared and demonstrated that our scapegoat, suspended shamefully in a Roman-style execution . . . is innocent!

In order to have its saving effect, our gospel must include, not just Jesus’ unjust execution, but give great emphasis to the deep significance of His resurrection!

Jesus, in harmony with all the Hebrew prophets, had come to bring an end to politics dependent on violence, economics driven by greed, and religion rooted in fear. Far from the death of Jesus being that which satisfied justice, the killing of Jesus was the greatest act of injustice in human history. Our gospel is the story of when God Himself, in the person of His Son, became the innocent victim of our politics, our economics, and our religion, unmasking them for what they are and triumphing over them as well.

The Apostles announced that the resurrection was the start of a whole new world. This is a world that begins by seeing our oppressive political, economic, and religious systems for what they truly are. This is a world where, as followers of this Jesus, we stand, no longer in solidarity with those systems, but with the victims of those systems, taking our queue from Jesus, all the while realizing we used to be the persecutors of such victims ourselves. (This was Paul’s story exactly.) This is a world where not only has this Jesus accomplished this radical change in us from oppressor to standing alongside those whom are being oppressed, but a world where, also by the resurrection, we, and the ones we are now standing alongside, have been set free from all fear of those political, economic, and religious systems. The Jesus we are following, through the resurrection, has defeated those systems, stripping away from them their power over us through their threat of death and our reciprocal fear of death. Jesus has blown a hole out through the other side of death, so that as Justin Martyr once said, “You can kill us but you cannot hurt us.” This is a brand new world where this same Jesus whom we unjustly killed, has been, through the resurrection, exalted by God to be our new Prince, our Savior, and our Lord. This Jesus truly is the long-awaited Messiah through whom the prophets had promised God would put the world right side up once again.

Acts 13:32−33—”We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.”

Acts 17:31—”For he has set a day when he will [put the world to right] with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

The resurrection of this long-awaited Messiah marks the beginning of a world where our politics (which were dependent on violence) have been replaced with a Love that serves rather than threatens; a world where our economics (which were driven by greed) have been replaced with a Love that shares rather than hordes; a world where our religion (which was rooted in fear) has been replaced with a Love, the beauty of which inspires rather than intimidates. Jesus, as earth’s new King, has forever established on this earth a human community characterized by humble, servant Love, that nonviolently shares its few loaves and fishes with those who are without, endeavoring not to intimidate the world into change, but putting on display the beauty of what a world changed by this Christ looks like, inspiring everyone, both oppressor and oppressed, to come along with us to a whole new world. And this community will never pass away, till the only world that remains is a world where this Love reigns.

When properly understood, the story of the Divinely Resurrected One who was unjustly executed by us causes one to rethink everything. Truly, THIS Truth, when it’s seen, sets you free.

There is a stark difference between preaching a meritorious death, which assures us of postmortem bliss, and teaching about a unjust death and Divinely accomplished resurrection from which light is streaming, pointing the way to a renewed and healed world. Much to ponder, for sure.

HeartGroup Application

This week I’m offering you only one passage, but it is powerful!

“In the same way, as the Father gives life to the dead, even so the Son gives life to those to whom he is pleased to give it.” (John 5:21, BBE)

In the act of the Father giving life to Jesus, who was dead, He has empowered this same Jesus to give life to where there was once death, justice where there was once oppression, and healing mercy where there was once unjust sacrifice. For the Father, according to Jesus, does not require sacrifice, but desires mercy.

1. Spend some time sitting with Jesus in contemplative meditation on this passage in John.

2. Journal what insights Jesus shares with you during your time with Him.

3. Share what Jesus shows you with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

Keep living in love, loving like our Christ, till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.

I love you guys.
See you next week.