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.