Thursday, December 01, 2016

Following Jesus by N. T. Wright #1

Following JesusWith this post I will begin reading through a devotional book, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship, by N. T. Wright. The main purpose of this book is to think and pray through what it means to “follow Jesus” and encourage us to really do it.  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.

This year I am working through devotional books that closely follow the New Testament text. This book is a devotional about discipleship and what it means to follow the real Jesus of scripture. It begins by looking at the overall message of six different New Testament books and then moves to theological themes that run through the New Testament.

Following Jesus, after all, involves heart, mind, soul and strength. A church without sermons will soon have a shrivelled mind, then a wayward heart, next an unquiet soul, and finally misdirected strength. A church without sacraments will find its strength cut off, its soul undernourished, its heart prey to conflicting emotions, and its mind engaged in increasingly irrelevant intellectual games. x–xi

The Final Sacrifice: Hebrews

In Hebrews Wright sees the author offering three lines of thought. First there is a "compelling portrait" of Jesus presenting Him as Son of God and fully human who has gone before us and lead us into His Kingdom. Secondly, it presents the Old Testament as incomplete, as the first part of a book which is completed and realized through Jesus. The point is that Jesus was God's plan from the beginning. Finally, it presents Jesus as the final needed sacrifice through which all humanity is made right with God and all humans have the opportunity to be fully human again. This is a Jesus worth following.

Jesus, the Son of God, the truly human one, is leading his people to their promised land, and is available for all people and for all time as the totally sympathetic one, the priest through whom they can come to God. Following Jesus is the only way to go. 5

The argument of Hebrews runs like this: the Jewish scriptures are continually pointing beyond themselves to a further reality which they do not themselves contain. More particularly, they are pointing to a great act of salvation, of dealing with sin, which they do not themselves offer. This great act has now been accomplished in Jesus; and we must therefore follow this Jesus. 7

The sacrifice of Jesus is the moment when the human race, in the person of a single man, offers itself fully to the creator. The result is that now at last true human life is possible. Now at last consciences can be washed clean. Hebrews 9, 9

The Battle Won: Colossians

Wright sees the main theme of Colossians as thanksgiving for Jesus' victory over the "powers" that control the lives of people and the world systems. God desired to rule the world though humanity, but through sin, that authority was given over to the (personal) forces of evil and they crush those who would try live rightly. Jesus' victory on the cross frees us from these powers to be fully human and to live life in Jesus' victory. Thus, we the church, must live by the cross and extend Christ's victory through the church and through the world.

Events in the socio-political world carry an interior meaning, and often a threatening or disturbing one; the events of Jesus of Nazareth, his life, his death and his resurrection, carry an interior meaning, a powerful and liberating one. He is the image of the invisible God. And this God made the world, loves the world, is in the business of rescuing the world, and calls us to follow his Son as rescued rescuers. Colossians 1.15-20, 13–14

Here is the great irony that stands at the heart of Colossians. This is the reason why the Church has to learn gratitude. The cross was not the defeat of Christ at the hands of the powers; it was the defeat of the powers at the hands—yes, the bleeding hands—of Christ. Colossians 2.13-15, 15

We are called to thanksgiving, where we stand at last in the truly human relationship to the creator and the world; and we are called to thanksliving, where we behave as the free subjects of the true king, and owe the powers nothing at all. There is now only one Power we are to follow, and that Power has a human face, a face once crowned with thorns. Colossians, 1.3, 1.13-14, 3.17, 4.21, 17

The Kingdom of the Son of Man: Matthew

Wright sees the Gospel of Matthew as a "coronation anthem" in which Jesus fulfills the role of Israel by functioning as Jesus, its Savior from sin, exile and death; as Immanuel, the one who dwells with His people; as The Son of Man, who defeats the spiritual, physical, political, cultural "powers" of evil through His death on the cross and resurrection. Jesus is God intervening in human history, the most important event ever to happen. Now Jesus as King calls His people to follow his example of sacrificial living, as in the Sermon on the Mount, and take the message of who He is and what He has done to all the earth.

Matthew... brings before us, in his great Coronation Anthem, one who will save his people from their sins; and one who, precisely in doing so, will share the very throne of God; one who is ‘God with us’, God representing us, God alongside us, God with us always, even to the end of the age. 22

If the Son of Man is the King of the world, we who worship him are to follow him, and are therefore sent into the world with a great commission. We are to make disciples, learners, followers; we are to baptize them, and teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded. There is no corner of the created universe over which Jesus does not claim rightful sovereignty. We are to be his agents, his ambassadors, in bringing the word of his kingdom to all his subjects. 25

In the kingdom of the Son of Man, the power that counts is the power of love. It is the rule of Emmanuel, God-with-us. And if we celebrate that fact, as we do supremely in the Eucharist, let us heed the call that goes with it: that we should go into the world to follow this Emmanuel, to work and pray so that the healing celebration of the Coronation Anthem may woo this weary old world back to the God who made it and who loves it still. 26

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