Thursday, December 29, 2016

Following Jesus #4

(Note: I actually wrote this post from Guam a couple weeks ago. I was planning to post it when I arrived in California, but circumstances prevented. Upon arriving, I ended up at the doctor and was preliminarily diagnosed with a “serious” blood disease and told I needed to remain horizontal for most of the day. Tomorrow I start the process of doctor consultations and testing to determine what it is and how to treat it. I am not sure yet when we will be able to return  to our PIU ministry on Guam, but we are in God’s hands. I would appreciate your prayers. I will try to catch up on my posts as I can.)

Following JesusThis post concludes my reading through the New Testament devotional book, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship, by N. T. Wright. The second half of the book deals with important biblical concepts for living the Christian life.  I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. I read this book before, but felt like I needed the encouragement of reading it again. I hope you benefit from it too.

In introducing the chapter on hell, Wright makes three important points. 1) If we desire to punish people there is something wrong with us 2) Many of the passages read by some as passages on eternal state really refer to earthly punishment (Jesus' quote of Isaiah 13 in Mark 13 for example) 3) moving away from God makes us less than human. With this Wright, very tentatively sees the warnings of eternal death as the individual person "ceasing to be human at all" far from relationship with God forever. The corporate danger is bringing a society that is a "hell on earth," which has happened many times in human history which Jesus will end at the 2nd coming. Following Jesus as emissaries of his kingdom on earth is the remedy for both of these "hells."

If I find myself wanting to see someone else in torment, I am plucking from the tree a fruit which is sweet for a moment but bitter for an hour, and which will poison me unless I repent. All too often such desire stems from jealousy rather than justice, from fear rather than fairness, from repressed guilt rather than a longing for the kingdom of God. 78

It is dangerously possible to start reflecting gods other than the true God in whose image we were made. But the other gods are not life-giving. To worship them, and to reflect their image, is to court death: the eventual utter destruction of all that it means to be truly human. 79

Comfort, O comfort my people: our God does not intend that his children should live for ever in exile, he does not wish that we should make for ourselves a hell on earth...let us, in our own day, so turn from our sins, individual and corporate, so worship the one in whose image we are made, and so follow the Image himself, that we as individuals and as a society may live out the prayer we pray, the prayer for hell to be vanquished, and for heaven and earth to become one.  Isaiah 40.1-2, 83

Heaven and Power

The ascension challenges the view of many Christians about heaven and power. "Heaven is God’s space, which intersects with our space but transcends it. It is, if you like, a further dimension of our world, not a place far removed at one extreme of our world. It is all around us, glimpsed in a mystery in every Eucharist and every act of generous human love." (85) Thus, it heaven's power we should be concerned about now and the way toward that is the way of the cross of Jesus, the way of His love. This calling is to be lived out in all our human relationships as we live out a "heavenly" kingdom lifestyle now and wait for it to be fully realized when God brings heaven and earth completely together.

The Jesus who has gone, now, into God’s dimension, until the time when the veil is lifted and God’s multi-dimensional reality is brought together in all its glory, is the human Jesus. He bears human flesh, and the marks of the man-made nails and spear, to this day, as he lives within God’s dimension, not far away but as near to us as breath itself. 86

At the heart of the Christian gospel stands the ridiculous paradox that true power is found in the apparent failure, and the shameful death, of a young Jew at the hands of a ruthless empire. Why? Because there are more dimensions to reality than just the ones we see and know in our own space and time. Heaven, God’s space, is the present but unseen reality. And, in that all-important dimension, the crucifixion was not a defeat but a victory. 1 Corinthians 1.18-31, 88

Jesus, at his ascension, was given by the creator God an empire built on love. As we ourselves open our lives to the warmth of that love, we begin to lose our fear; and as we begin to lose our fear, we begin to become people through whom the power of that love can flow out into the world around that so badly needs it. That is an essential part of what it means to follow Jesus. And as the power of that love replaces the love of power, so in a measure, anticipating the last great day, God’s kingdom comes, and God’s will is done, on earth as it is in heaven. 89

New Life and New World

Wright closes the book with a chapter on resurrection and eternity. The hope of Christianity is bodily resurrection into a newly joined heaven and earth. What happened to Jesus at his resurrection is what will happen to his followers. This world will be renewed in the same physical (or a little beyond) way. This should be a motivation for us, not to bring in the kingdom because only God can do that, but to "work for the kingdom." This gives the actions of this life meaning. Finally the resurrection serves as a motivation for holiness and worship.

Resurrection, then, means what it says: not survival, not the immortality of the soul, not eternal disembodied bliss, but bodily resurrection. Jesus seems to have gone through death and out the other side. His new life was not less than physical; but it seems to have had a new dimension to it as well, a kind of transphysicality, humanity with more dimensions added. 93

The resurrection of Jesus is Christianity. And this means that it becomes the starting-point for all Christian thinking and living, challenging all other possible starting-points. This is where Jesus’ followers must orient themselves clearly if they are to follow him truly. 2 Corinthians 5.17, 95

Our humanness is precious; God takes it so seriously that he has promised to bring it out, as it were, in a new edition. Despite what some may say, the real incentive towards genuine holiness, towards taking up our cross and following Jesus, comes not from fear of punishment but from a clear understanding of what it means to be human. And we only get that clear understanding when we grasp the truth of the resurrection. Colossians 3.1-5, 96

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