We’ve all heard that sermon! Set a good example, be a good example, etc.
Remember those picture puzzles? Two pictures are presented. They are very similar, but as you study them carefully, you begin to notice subtle differences. The ‘challenge’ was to find as many ‘differences’ as you could.
Today’s ‘challenge’ has but one picture. But in it are both Christ and the church. They are SUPPOSED to look the same. In reality, they seem to have very little in common.
Today’s challenge is to illustrate differences between Jesus and church. Examples:
Justice or No?
Jesus’ ministry manifesto proclaimed release to captives, restored sight to the blind and freed the oppressed, etc. That is, justice!
But church is often reactionary and is an obstacle to justice. Some churches opposed slavery, but others supported it. Ditto on civil rights in the 60s.
We’ve heard, ‘all [or the best thing] we can do is save souls and hope people act better. The pictures of Jesus and the church are more than a ‘little’ different … Jesus says ‘yes’ to justice. The church … well …
Here is another example of differing pictures.
Church and Kingdom
Church: Kingdom is future and Jesus will bring it when he comes. Your concern is the build the church. So get busy!
Jesus: I will build my church, but to YOU I give the keys of the kingdom.
See the difference? Somebody gets church and kingdom backwards! Anyway, this challenge is to provide examples of the cartoon’s point.
If we see Kingdom justice and Gospel righteousness as an ‘either/or,’ we might want to rethink a few things. More easily said than done. Why?
Whenever justice is mentioned, panic erupts. Accusations of heresy follow. Could the intention be to retain earthly systems of power and authority intact? Recall the uproar caused by Jesus’ birth:
‘When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him’ [Mt 2:3].
What produced Herod’s distress if not his deep reliance ON Caesar’s authority? And Jerusalem’s distress: why did good Jewish believers react the same way to Jesus’ birth unless it was because they as much as Herod were deeply invested in that earthly power system called imperial Rome?
Preaching, teaching, reinterpreting the law and the prophets, miracles and healing, exorcisms, raising Lazarus, controversies with temple bosses, lawyers and pharisees — Jesus continually resisted the powers of this age! That was his agenda, which makes it our agenda. We can sympathize with council’s exasperation with Jesus:
“If we let him go on like this, all men will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place [jobs, status] and our nation.” [Jo 11:48].
The kingdom that Jesus embodied evoked a faith incompatible with the powers of this age. That’s the thing. We know where Jesus’ agenda took him; we know where it will take us. An exasperated Thomas put it best:
‘”Let us also go, so that we may die with him”‘ [Jo 11:16]!
And what of us?
Do not we separate kingdom and Gospel in order to avoid confronting the earthly powers of War, Famine, Pestilence and Death in Jesus’ Name? Is that not why no less than Jerusalem, Herod, the council or Thomas, many of us are dismayed by a mere mention of kingdom or justice?
What if Gospel fidelity isn’t at issue at all? What if it is a frantic desire to escape the potentially lethal consequences OF faithfulness to the King?
What if the issue is that our devotion and loyalty to Caesar runs deeper than our commitment to the risen Lord of Creation, Jesus Christ?
What if the interest is to preserve our deep investment in that earthly power system called ‘Capitalism’ or the ‘United States of America?’
What if the issue is that we have confidence in the United States military than in the promises of God to keep and preserve us?
What if it is that the narrative of American Exceptionalism of Manifest Destiny is more compelling for us than Jesus’ death and resurrection?
What if our ‘trust’ is invested in our political system and its functionary head of state, in our national economy, in our military, in our stories of and belief in American greatness? What if these are the idols to which we cling bow down in reverence? What if that is our de facto religion and all that remains of our ‘faith’ are platitudes about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, a gospel offer of forgiveness, and future blessedness?
Such a ‘faith’ incarnates nothing, disturbs nothing, challenges nothing. Since this ‘kingdom’ has no earthly implications [for the present at least], there is no reason it should cause an uproar.
Perhaps Caesar, Herod, the Jerusalem city and council, scribes and pharisees understood better than many fundies and evangelicals the import of Christ’s presence. That may be a good reason to ponder the view of kingdom and of Christian/nation relations in another post.
Some classical artwork portrays strange worlds where angels and demons pull people toward their destiny. But at the time, that wasn’t strange at all. We are more affected by the scientific worldview than we suspect.
Generations ago, we believed that spiritual forces caused crises. If crops failed, there was a spiritual reason for it. Suppose an extraordinarily cold winter froze a lake solid. In spring, the lake liquefied. Dead fish rotted everywhere. But blame the fish for polluted waters? Nope! Fish don’t curse waters; those fish died because those waters were cursed already!
Challenge those ideas and you might well hear Paul’s word on ‘earthly powers’ and ‘world forces of this darkness’ and ‘spiritual wickedness’ [Ep 6:12]. Or you could get a reference to the four horsemen of the apocalypse — war, famine, pestilence and death [Re 6:2-8].
The previous post saw 1Co 15:3-4 used to sum the Gospel in terms of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Peter harmonizes kingdom action with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. So does Paul, but his strategy differs. Paul relates Jesus’ resurrection to our own; this in turn leads toward the kingdom consummation [1Co 15:24-28]. Then, Jesus will:
Deliver the kingdom to his Father
Bring all rule/power/authority to an end
Reign to the extent of subduing his enemies
Abolish death itself.
Or as 1 John 3:8 puts it:
‘The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.’
Gospel word and kingdom life serve together and interpret each other. Word explains life; and life reveals the power of the word. Whenever Jesus appears, illness, demonic oppression [Ac 10:38] and demonic powers [1Co 15:24-28] must fall. For if the devil’s power and works are not broken and destroyed, then there is no deliverance from sin.
“Pray, then, in this way …’And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ [Mt 6:9, 12-13].