Tag Archives: eschatology

The Time has Come: An Epiphany Reflection

“Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” –Mark 1:14-15

This is the third week after the Epiphany—the season of revelation, of seeing the unexpected. The best way to get at what’s going on in the season of Epiphany is to contrast it with Christmas. At Christmas we get to look back, as it were, with 20/20 hindsight.

We worship that little baby wrapped up and lying there in a feeding trough as though he was God in the flesh.

We proclaim that this little baby is The Anointed one of Israel—the source of the world’s hope and peace and joy.

But in Epiphany it’s as though the Church directs us to forget everything we know about Jesus, to put ourselves in the shoes of those first witnesses to his life and to ask with them “Just who is this Nazarene, anyway?”

So in Epiphany we get little snapshots of the life of Jesus: his presentation and naming in the Temple, his baptism in the Jordan and this week we turn to Jesus’ teaching ministry. They are meant to be windows into who the gospel writers said Jesus was and is. Only in Epiphany—and this is so often the case in the gospels—the question gets turned around on us:

“Who do you say that Jesus is?”

So Jesus comes on the scene, in our gospel lesson this morning, proclaiming, “The time has been fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is here.”

Now it’s important to note that of our four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), biblical scholars tell us that Mark was the first to be written down (sometime in the early 70s ad). So this proclamation in Mark 1:14 is the first words of Jesus ever to be recorded. We have no context here. This Jewish Rabbi just comes from out of nowhere and says, “It’s time!”

Well, time for what, Jesus?  Tool time? Game time? Bed time? What time is it, exactly?

As it turns out, all of the first witnesses to Jesus would have understood exactly what he was talking about…well, sort of. They would have understood what Jesus was alluding to, but the claim he was making would have sounded very strange indeed.

Let me see if I can unpack that a bit. All of the first witnesses to Jesus, that is to say Jews in the first century, believed that the God of Israel was a good and just and merciful God. Just think of the Psalms: “For the Lord is good; his mercy endures forever, his faithfulness to all generations” (Ps 100:5). They also believed that this good and merciful God ruled the whole world. Again the Psalms: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). So that was their faith: Their God is a good God who ruled the whole world.

But their experience told them something different: not only, it seemed, was God not ruling the whole world, he didn’t even seem to be ruling his own people. Israel was subject to the pagan Roman emperor. But that was just the flavor of the week—before Rome it was the Macedonians. And before them it was the Persians, before them the Meads, then the Babylonians, then the Assyrians, and Egyptians. And it wasn’t just a matter of political rulership. The Romans were a violent and oppressive regime who defiled the holy Temple and put onerous tax burdens on the peasant class. (Some historians speculate that peasants in first century Palestine may have been paying 75% – 80% of their annual earnings to the Romans). And they squashed any hint of resistance with violence. The world seemed to be a place of sin, injustice, sickness, demon possession, death and violence.

Imagine how difficult it is two hold these two things together: the faith that your God is a good God who rules the world, and the experience that the world is full of sin, injustice, death and violence. Imagine the kind of tension they must have lived with.

We feel that same tension sometimes, don’t we? I mean even in our prayers later this morning we praise the holy, eternal, steadfast God of all creation.

…our stronghold

…our refuge

…and our deliverance.

And then we turn right around and acknowledge that ours is a world of endanger species and fragile ecosystems.

…That the cities of the world cry out for peace from the cycle of violence that perpetuates war.

…We pray for those who flee from war, poverty and famine. And for those who suffer from natural disaster.

…We pray for those who need healing from addiction, despair and illness. And for comfort for the dying.

Which is it? Are we caught in a cycle of violence that perpetuates war? Or is God our deliverance?

This tension we feel is what psychologists call cognitive dissonance—it results from try to hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time. We can handle the pressure for a while, but eventually something’s got to give. We either have to give up one of the beliefs, or adopt a third belief that can make sense of the other two together.

That’s just what the Jews did. They say, “If God really is good and he really does rules the whole world, then he won’t let things go on like this forever. Eventually God will intervene in human history.  He’ll set things right.” This belief—that God will eventually come and clean up the mess that’s been made of the world—is what theologians call—You ready? Big fancy theological word here—eschatology. That’s a very important word if you want to understand the New Testament.

Say it with me, ready? Eschatology.

It comes from a little Greek word eschaton—it means “the end.” It’s a normal, everyday Greek word. If you go out for lunch after Church today, and there’s a long line up to the hostess’ desk, and if you were a Greek-speaking person, you would be looking for the eschaton. And it wouldn’t have anything to do with theology—you’d be looking for the end of the line. So when first century Jews talked about eschatology, they were talking about “When’s it going to end?”

When is it going to end?

Now let me be clear. They were not talking about the end of the world. Eschatology is not about people going up to heaven and the physical word coming to an end. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that it is. That’s not a biblical picture. The biblical picture is not one of people going up, but of the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven and of God restoring the creation. Read Revelation 21 and 22. God doesn’t want to destroy the world—God created the word, and then he looked out at the whole thing and said it’s good, good, good, good, good, very good. It would be an embarrassment for God to destroy the world, like a manufacture having to recall a car back to the factory. Eschatology is not about the end of the world, it’s about the end of sin, injustice, oppression, sickness, demon possession, death, and violence. When will the good God who rules the world, step in and clean up this mess?

When is it going to end?

And so first century Jews thought that you could divide history is tow basic segments. There was the time in which they were currently living, called “This Present Evil Age.” This Present Evil Age was characterized by Israel being ruled over by some foreign regime, by evil, injustice, violence and death.

But there was a day coming—what the Old Testament calls “The Day of the Lord”—in which the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, would come and overthrow the Romans (or whatever regime was oppressing Israel at the time) and create a society characterized by righteous, justice and peace. And he would thereby usher in “The New Age,” or what the gospel writes often call “the kingdom of God.” Now again, don’t think of the kingdom of God as someplace else, where people go to get away from the world. The kingdom of God is about God’s ruling and reining right here among us. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Those two lines say the same thing. God’s kingdom coming means his will being done right here on earth, the same as it is in heaven. So the kingdom of God is about God putting a stop to oppression and violence.

When is it going to end?

When will God finally rule a world of righteousness and peace and abundant life?

When will we see The Day of the Lord?

When will it be time?

So now we can see how the first witnesses to Jesus would have understood his teaching, and why it would have seemed so strange, so weird, so…almost…stupid. Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is here.”

You can almost hear someone speaking up. “Wait, Jesus, could you repeat that. I must have misheard you. I thought you said ‘the kingdom of God is here.’ But you couldn’t have meant that, Jesus, I mean look around: the Romans are still here, the Temple has been defiled, we are treated unjustly and oppressed, the world is filled with sickness and violence. What do you mean the kingdom of God is here?”

What a strange thing to say—the kingdom of God is here already.

This is what biblical scholars call realized eschatology, the belief that, somehow, in the person and work of Jesus, the end is already upon us—right here in the middle of history—that the kingdom of God has, in some sense, already come.

And this seems to be what Jesus is teaching: “I know, I know, the evidence looks mixed. But I’m telling you that the time has come. The kingdom is here…now…it’s among you…it is in you.”

In fact, this is what Jesus’ whole teaching and ministry seems to be about. Just look at the rest of Mark’s gospel: In 1:21 Jesus heals a man of demon possession.

In 1:29 he heals the sick.

In 1:40, Jesus encounters a leper. Now leprosy is a skin disorder. It’s not in any way contagious, but in the culture of first century Judaism, if you have it you are considered unclean. Therefore, you cannot worship in the Temple. You cannot shop in the market, use public restrooms or public fountains. If you’re thinking Jim Crow laws of the 1960’s, that’s probably about right. Except that, by the strictest interpretation of the law, a leper could be stoned to death even for just touching another human being. Lepers could not even eat at the table with their own families. Lepers were complete social outcasts.

So Jesus is teaching one day, probably in the market, when this leper comes running up to him. Remember, this man risked his life—if he had even bumped into someone else, he could have been sentenced to death. But what does a man like this have to live for, anyway? So he runs through the crowd, falls down on his knees at Jesus’ feet and says “Master, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Now we know that Jesus can heal someone without having to touch them. Later in Mark’s gospel Jesus meets a Roman Centurion on the road and from there heals the man’s daughter who is at home. But to this leper Jesus says “I am willing,” and then he reaches out and touches the man.

Can you image?

This is probably the first meaningful touch from another human being that this man has felt in years. The healing must have seemed anti-climatic.

You see what Jesus is doing? He is beginning to deal with those things that we said characterize This Present Evil Age: demon possession, sickness and injustice.

And we’re still in chapter one.

There’s a wonderful story in chapter two about a quadriplegic. Not many opportunities in the ancient world for someone like that. Can’t get a job, can’t get around. His friends have to do everything for him. So when they hear that there’s a healer in town, they take their friend to meet Jesus.

But there’s a problem: The house Jesus is teaching in is packed…standing room only…they can’t even get in the door. That doesn’t stop these guys, though. They climb to the roof and start to dig a hole in it to lower their friend through.

Now we know that Jesus was homeless, so someone else must have invited him to teach in their home. And presumably if you’ve invited Jesus to speak at your home, you want to hear what he has to say. So we can probably guess that the owner of this home was standing in the living room beside Jesus when…

…little bits of his ceiling started to fall down one their heads.

Now image you’re the paraplegic, laying on your back, staring up at the man whose roof you friends just dug through. And you can’t go anywhere.

Then Jesus looks down at the guy and says something which seems to me a little insensitive. He says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now if I’m this guy I’m thinkin’ “Jesus, I appreciate the gesture and I understand you’re into this whole religious thing, but right now I’d like for someone to deal with my leg situation so that I can get out of here before that guy realizes what my friends just did to his house.”

That, at least, would be a reaction I could understand.  But the text tells us that when the Sadducees hear this they got angry. Why would anyone get angry about forgiveness? Isn’t that a good thing?

Well, how do you receive forgiveness of sins if you are a Jew in first century? You go to the Temple, right? You have sacrifices made on your behalf. And by the first century this was big business. And the Sadducees run it. And get kick-backs on the Temple fees. So if someone can go around proclaiming forgiveness of sin outside the Temple, they’re Sadducees are out of a job! So they say “Listen here, buddy, nobody forgives sins but God alone,” (meaning nobody forgives sins except in our building…on our schedule…by our prescription…and with our price tag).

So Jesus asks the question: “Okay, which is easier, for me to tell this man his sins are forgiven?  Or for me to tell him”…“Get up! Take up you mat and go home.” And the paraplegic gets up and walks out of the room.

Demon possession…sickness…injustice…sin…

In chapter five Jesus is on a boat with his disciples when a great storm comes and threatens to capsize them. The disciples are terrified, but Jesus is asleep on the back of the boat. So the disciples go and wake him up: “Jesus, how could you be sleeping through this? You don’t care if we die out here? Why don’t you do something?” So Jesus gets up, looks out over the sea, and says what most English Bibles translate as “Peace, be still.”

Actually what he says is phimoō—shut up!

And suddenly the waves stop crashing over the ship and the winds die down.

The disciples are amazed. “Even the wind and the waves obey him.”

You see what they’re saying? Somehow, through this man, God’s will is being executed over the earth, just like it is in heaven. The kingdom has come.

Makes you want to ask though, doesn’t it, “Why don’t you calm the storms in my life?”

I think what Jesus is trying to get at is this: In some strange sense, there seems to be an overlap in the ages. The Day of the Lord was not the might fell swoop so many had expected. So it’s true that this Present Evil Age is still a reality that exists all around us. But it’s also true that in the person of and work of Jesus the kingdom of God has in some sense already come. More importantly, there is a day coming when This Present Evil Age will finally come to an end—when cowardice and fear and murder and sexually perversion and idolatry and lies will all be burned away like sulfur, as the book of Revelation says. And when the kingdom of God will fully realized at last. We will see the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.

…A city whose gates will never be shut, for they fear no evil.

…A city where God will reign forever and ever, and he will make his dwelling place among us.

…Where there will be no more death.

…Where there will be no more pain.

…or mourning.

…And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. For those former things will have passed away.

…And, behold, he will make all things new.

But for now it seems that we are living in the time in between these times. Or what C. S. Lewis calls “the already and not yet.” For the kingdom of God has, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, in some sense, already come. But still This Present Evil Age has not yet passed away.

The already, and the not yet.

And the thing we must never forget for life in between the time is this: Don’t judge by appearances.

Yes, I know, the evidence looks mixed. Of course it does. This Present Evil Age still persists. But, friends, I’m here today to announce that the old regime of violence and oppression, of sickness and death, of sadness and loss—it is getting tired, and soon it will lie down to rest. But dawn is breaking upon the kingdom of God and soon we shall walk in the light of its new day.

So do not judge only by what you can see.

Yes, there are many who are sick and dying. But many are healed.

Yes, our world is full of injustice and oppression. But many find freedom.

Yes, we are plagued by sin. But there is forgiveness.

Yes, there are storms in our lives. But even the waves obey our Lord.

So don’t judge by appearances.

For the time has come.

The kingdom of God is here.



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Beauty & Affliction

Romans 8:18-30

Simone Weil once wrote: “There are only two things that can pierce the human heart, beauty and affliction.”  I read a story recently about a young black man growing up in South Africa during the 20s and 30s.  Though he was descendant of a royal line, this boy was the very first of his family to go to school.  In fact he went to a United Methodist mission school.  Shortly after graduation he headed off for Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, to pursue even further education, and maybe to escape an unwanted marriage arrangement.  But like so many young men in Africa’s violent cities, he was seduced into believing political change and justice can be achieved with guns and violence.  He wound up leading a rebel army until it was scattered and he was forced to spend two years hiding out alone, on the run as a political fugitive.  When he was finally caught, he spent his next 27 years subject to unspeakable conditions in a South African prison.  Tragedy, like this young man’s, is a dramatic invitation to us to wrestle with deep theological questions.  Why—if God is all powerful and all good—do we live in a world of violence and torture, of suffering, of cancer, rape, and murder?  And why is there an innate sense deep within us that in all this something is tragically wrong with the world?  That we’re made for something better? 
The Price for Glorification

In our text for today, the Apostle Paul begins to grapple with some of these questions. The major theme of Romans chapter 8 is glorification.  Or, the formation of women and men into reflections of the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  Now, that’s an interesting definition of glorification.  When we think of “the glory of God,” we often picture an immense beam of light with perhaps a long Gandalf-like beard sitting on a cloud.  And swarms of angels and cherubs (what ever the difference) circle around serenading this thing with harps and saving peacock feathers, and that’s the glory of God.  But the Bible says that the glory of God is revealed in a sweaty small-town carpenter, with dirt under his finger nails and dust on his feet.  The kind of guy who spits in the dirt and rubs mud on people’s eyes.  The glory of God is revealed in Jesus Christ, and God desires to form us into his image.

But if you want to talk about the formation of women and men into reflections of the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ—which is what I have suggested this passage is about—you’ve got to talk about suffering. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time,” Paul says, “are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” Paul’s was a time of great suffering.  The Roman Empire in the first century was not the glorious place you read about during the classical period.  By this time, the fall of the empire was imminent.  Economic hardship was the status quo.  The average family didn’t know where they would find their next meal.  Barbarians marched to the gates to attack and plunder helpless Roman villages.  The government had grown oppressive and tyrannical in the name of home land security.  And increased migration caused astronomical increase in disease.  Almost every home would have had an empty room once occupied by a family member who had now passed.  The Romans knew about suffering.  And it was even worse if you were a Christian—Christians were thrown into dens of hungry lions by emperors looking for scapegoats for the empire’s problems.  Vast crowds of people would fill the stands to watch and chomp on government bread like popcorn at a movie. 

Paul is anticipating a question in his writing: that if he is to talk about glorification—formation into reflections of the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ—one of these Roman Christians will inevitably ask “Paul, if we are supposed to be glorified, then why is life so hard?”  Why Paul—if everything you’ve said about the gospel is true—why are things still so painful?  Or another way to put it: In light of all the pain and suffering in our world, why should we buy into this gospel business anyway?  Pretty good question isn’t it?  Perhaps some of us have asked this kind of question before.  Paul anticipates that question, and he doesn’t skirt around the issue.  No, Paul embraces the subject of suffering, he says that the entire creation is “subject to futility,” and groans in pain.  The entire creation.  Even before Al Gore, the Apostle Paul knew that the entire creation was in desperate need of the grace of God and of redemption—because, you see, the effects of sin are not just personal and spiritual.  We often think that the effect of sin is that feeling of guilt that I have inside.  No, the effects of sin are not just personal and spiritual; they are material and cosmic.  I once read quote at the beginning of a cheesy movie that said something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.  Now, I have no idea whether that’s true.  But I do know that Christian theology teaches that it was a small bite of fruit, a simple act of disobedience that was the ultimate cause of all disease, famine, disaster, and war.  Sin pervades every wonder of the natural world, every structure of authority, every person, every molecule of creation.  In other words Paul says, “Yes, you are being glorified, but you live in a pre-glorification world, a world of suffering, and the price you pay for glorification in a pre-glorification world steep.”  As he said in verse 17 “we suffer with [Christ], that we may be glorified with him.” 

So it’s not just the creation that groans in pain.  Look at verse 23, Paul says, “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan.”  But you get the sense that our groaning is somehow curious to Paul.  Like we shouldn’t be in pain if we have these “first fruits”—even we, he says, who have the first fruits, groan like the rest of creation.  So what is this business about first fruits? 

The Pattern of Glorification

Paul says in 1 Corinthians that Christ, as he is raised from the dead, is the first fruits of those whom have fallen asleep.  In other words he was saying to the Corinthians that the dead in Christ have hope of resurrection, because of the resurrection of Christ.  If he, the first fruits, is raised form the dead, so they will be raised at the full harvest.  What Paul is describing here is the pattern of our glorification.  Yes it’s true that we must suffer with Christ.  But it is also true that we are being glorified with him.  Just as Christ is raised to new life, the first fruits of the resurrection, so we are offered abundant life, the full harvest.  Just as Christ, the first fruits, ascends to set at the right hand of the Father, so we are called into an intimate transformative relationship with the Father, the full harvest.  In other words, so only in our suffering prefigured by Christ’s, but our glorification is patterned after him as well.  Our glorification is Christ-shaped.

Paul says it’s like being pregnant.  “The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains.”  During this time in which we live we are subject to pain and discomfort, we have strange cravings and uncontrollable appetites, right?—desires for things that aren’t so good for us.  But it’s also a time of great hope and anticipation.  That’s why Paul says in verse 15 that we have already “received a spirit of adoption,” that we are in some sense children of God, but then in verse 23 that we await (we eagerly expect) our adoption, and the redemption of our bodies.  We have the first fruits of adoption, but not the full harvest. 

That’s also why he says in verse 24 that “we are saved in hope.”  We have somehow got into the habit of talking about salvation as if it’s something we possess, or an action we do: “I got saved 10 years ago.”  But that’s not the way the Bible talks.  Paul says we are saved “in hope” and that we hope for what we do not yet see.  Another time he addresses the Corinthians as “those who are being saved.”  It’s not like the insurance business where you just pay a big premium up front, and then you’re all taken care of in the event of death.  God’s not in the insurance business; God is in the transformation business, and transformation takes time.  The writer Maya Angelou, who is herself a proclaimed follower of Jesus, said she is always interested when one of her students says to her “I am a Christian” and Maya Angelou had a standard response: “already?”  Christian eschatology requires the discipline of waiting and faith that “the one who began a good work in you,” as Paul says in another place, “will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)  But for now we live in the gestation period. 

So there is a price for glorification: we suffer with Christ, that we may be glorified with him.  And there is a pattern for our glorification: it is Christ-shaped.  In verses 29-30 Paul lays out for us the process of glorification.

The Process of Glorification

The problem with conceiving of salvation as a one time insurance transaction is that we lose the story of God’s work in our lives which began before the foundation of the world, which we hold now in hope, and which God will bring to completion in the day of Christ Jesus.   In other words, we lose the gospel.  But here we get to eve’s drop on Paul’s conversation to the church at Rome as he explains the process of salvation.  Let’s see if we can begin to recover the gospel story.


First, Paul says, God foreknew us.  The way the word reads in English, it sounds like Paul is saying that God knew you before something—perhaps, before you were born.  And of course God did.  God knew you before the foundations of the world were laid.  And Paul knows that.  And Paul knows that you know that.  Which is why he’s not particularly interested in telling you.  No, Paul probably has in mind the Semitic sense of the word that connotes a deep, intimate knowing—the way a husband knows his wife, or a father knows his children.  Like the Hebrew word yada used in Hosea 3:2, when God says to the people of Israel “you only have I known of all the families of the earth.”  Does this mean that God is not omniscient?  That God does not see the all the peoples of the earth?  No, of course not!  But only Israel does he know like a loving father or a good king. 

Paul himself uses a related word in 1 Corinthians simply to say that “anyone who loves God is known by [God]” (1 Cor. 8:3) In other words, when Paul says that God foreknew us, he means that intimate and kind knowledge that draws us to God.  Wesley called its prevenient grace, the loving-kindness with which God reaches out to us before it is even possible for us to reach for God.  We love God because God foreknew us.


Then, Paul says, God predestined us.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Joe, this is a Methodist church, we don’t use words like that here.  But whaddaya know, it’s right there in the Bible.  Well, allow me, a non-Methodist, to try to easy your mind a bit.  The reason, I think, most people who get afraid of words like predestination, get afraid of them is because these words connote to them a loss of control.  And we’re obsessed with notions of exclusion.  As though the big issue of salvation and Christian spirituality is who’s in and who’s out.  And we want to know that when it comes to the “big questions” like who’s in and who’s out, that we’re in charge. 

But Paul defines predestination for us right here in this passage; he says “those whom [God] foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”  In other words, predestination, at least in this passage, is not a word of exclusion, but of expectation.  It does not tell us who’s in and who’s out, but what those whom God foreknew can expect, namely, formation to reflect the Glory of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. 


But all of this—God’s foreknowing love and drawing us to Godself, our predestination to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ—it all began before the foundation of the world, and comes to crescendo at the cross of Jesus Christ—all 2000 years before any of us were born.  So God, in God’s wisdom and grace, thought “maybe I should let them know.”  So Paul says, “those whom [God] foreknew, he also predestined…and those whom he predestined, he also called.”  Calling is God’s gracious way of inviting us into the process of glorification he is working in our lives.  He says, “Hey!  I love you deeply and intimately; I foreknow you.  And because of this great love, I have destined you for transformation into the image of my Son.”  You heard the one about the woman who on her fiftieth anniversary said to her husband, exacerbated, “In fifty years, you have never once said you loved me.”  To which the husband politely responds, “That’s not true!  I told you on our wedding day, and I’ll let you know if anything changes.”  Well, God does not have the same philosophy when it comes to God’s children.  God’s divine and intimate love for us is the secret of the universe, and God lets us in on this secret all the time.  God calls God’s children. 


“Those whom God foreknew, he also predestined…And those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called he also justified.”  If predestination is the Christ-shaped blueprint of our salvation, justification is its construction.  Justice in the Bible is the term for the entire cosmos set back to its glorious original order.  That Paul says God is justifying us means that God is making us the kind of persons we were intended to be, reflections of God’s glory.   The entire plan of salvation is a plan of justice.  It’s what Christ accomplished on the cross.  But it is not yet completed.  The first fruits of our justification began with Jesus on the cross, but we await the full harvest.  Martin Luther says we are at the same time righteous and sinners.  We are in the gestation period.  And we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, as God justifies us, molds us into the image of Jesus Christ.


“Those whom God foreknew, he also predestined…And those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified.”  So what does it mean to be glorified.  What that is mean that we are being formed into reflections of the glory of God in Jesus Christ?

(…Woops, apparently I didn’t type this part of the sermon.  But never fear, audio should be up soon enough!)


So there is a price for our glorification in this pre-glorification world: we suffer with Christ, that we may be glorified with him.  There is a pattern for our glorification: it is Christ shaped.  And there is a process to our glorification: foreknowledge, predestination, call, justification, and glorification.

That young man that I began telling you about.  After twenty seven years, the man was released from prison, and while inside he had had a change of heart.  That young man’s name was Nelson Mandela, and in May of 1994 he was inaugurated the first black president of South Africa.  During his term and after, Mandela made leaps toward racial reconciliation and civil liberties in his country.  He worked tirelessly the draw international attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa.  And this once-militant-rebel became a leader for nonviolence in Africa and around the world.  All the guilt he must have had from leading violent rebellions, the searing pain of running for you life, spending two year utterly alone, all the suffering incurred in this dark dank South African prison could now be seen as part of the process whereby Mandela grew into his calling to be a leader for peace and reconciliation in the world.  All of his suffering could then be seen from his vantage point as steps on the road toward glorification.  His affliction had turned into beauty.

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And That Changes Everything

Acts 4:32-25

There a Billy Currington song that goes like this:

I said, “I know a shrimp boat captain out of Galveston”
I’ve been thinkin’ I’d go down and work for a spell
Oh, you never can tell it just might suit me fine
Spend some time out on the bay

But then there’s always cowboy work in Colorado
And I was thinkin’ that that just might be the thing
Make a little pocket change I figure what the heck
Ain’t nothin’ standin’ in my way

But then she smiled at me
Looked a while at me
And that changes everything
That’s a whole ‘nother deal
That puts a brand new spin
On this ole rollin’ wheel
That’s some powerful stuff
That’s a girl in love
And that’s one thing
That changes everything

Billy ends up staying in that dusty old town, he even buys a house.  He never gets to set by the bay, or see the Colorado sunset, he gives up on all his dreams of the footloose life.  But somehow it’s all okay, because she smiled at him and looked a while at him, and as anyone who’s ever fallen in love knows, that changes everything.

The disciples had an experience similar to Currington’s.  Sometime in the first century, they came to believe that Christ is risen.  The resurrection of Jesus is the most fundamental and elemental facet of Christian theology.  Without the sacraments we’d have no worship, without the teachings of Jesus we’d have no ethics, without the Bible we’d have no theology, but without the resurrection, there’d just be no Christianity.  That’s why the first thing we notice in today’s text describes the message of the early Church, it says simply “they testified to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”  If you want to strip Christianity down to its bare bones, you’ll come up with the earliest sermon of the Church, Christ is risen. And for this ragtag bunch of Jewish fishermen and businessmen, everything changed. Let me tell you what I mean by that.

Christianity was from the outset a kingdom of God movement—they started to live, in other words, as though the Kingdom of God had come.  And for Jews in the first century, the kingdom of God had a very specific religious and political meaning.  We will sometimes talk, for instance, as though the kingdom of God is a place souls go to be with God when bodies die.  This could not be farther from what 1st century Jews meant by the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is not so much a place as it is a certain type of rule or governance.  The kingdom of God is also not a religious experience.  Oh, a 1st century Jew may have a spiritual experience, they may feel the presence of God in a special way, or come to see God more clearly, and that would have been nice, but they never would have described it as the kingdom of God having come.  And if they had described it that way, whomever they were talking to would have said, “That sounds like a very nice experience, I’m glad for you, but what does that have to do with the kingdom of God?”  Because, you see, to the 1st century Jew the world was, and had been for some time, situated in what they called “This Present This Present Evil Age.”  This Present Evil Age was characterized by war, injustice, sin, sickness, death, and the oppression of Israel by Rome, or whatever other power currently controlled her.  But they believed that at some future time, God would move in history in a dramatic way to free Israel from her oppressors and bring all runaway Israelites back to the land; to bring life, forgiveness, justice, and peace to the world—to bring about the kingdom of God.  And like I said Christianity was from the beginning a kingdom of God movement—they lived as though the kingdom of God was already at hand.  We’ll talk about what exactly that means in a moment, but first let’s consider: Why did they live this way?  If the kingdom of God has such a specific religious and political meaning, and the characteristics of the kingdom of God had obviously not come to fruition—Israel was still under the control of Rome until long after the New Testament was written, in fact Israel did not because a fully independent state until 1948.  And to this day the Jewish people are scattered all over the world, they are not living in the land of Israel.  Moreover, we still live in a word at war, and a world of injustice, a world where in America alone over thirteen thousand children live below the poverty line.  We live in a world of sin.  And despite all of our advances in medical technology, we still live in a world of sickness and death.  It does not take a very hard look at either a newspaper, or into our own heats to see that we are steeped in This Present Evil Age—then why did the disciples of Jesus begin living like the kingdom of God had come?  Why would they think and act in a way that was so obviously not in accordance with reality?  This would be like us deciding to walk around in our winter coats and earmuffs in the middle of August because another ice age is upon us.  So, why did they decide to live in a way that seemed so obviously wrong?

The answer lies in another quirky, little feature of the kingdom of God.  Many Jews believed that when the sun set on This Present Evil Age and dawn broke on the new age of God’s kingdom, God would speak to the dry bones of Israel and all the dead would be raised to new life.  Let’s be careful not to over spiritualize the text from Ezekiel that Jennifer read for us this morning, because we’ll miss the point.  They really believed this.  Many first century Jews fully expected, when the kingdom of God had come, to bump into their once dead ancestors in the street or at the market. “Hey! Uncle John, haven’t seen you for years.  You’re smellin’ a little musty.”  So here again we see just how weird the disciples must have seemed by insisting the kingdom of God had already come.  Anyone who heard them talking or saw them acting this way would say “Look, I was just at the cemetery yesterday and not an ounce of dirt was displaced.  You’re crazy!”  And yet, the disciples were convinced that the kingdom of God had in fact come.  They were convinced because on Easter morning they saw the stone rolled away.  They were convinced because they met with Jesus three days after they had watched him suffer a brutal death on a Roman cross, and broke bread with him in their homes.  They were convinced because they met with him on the road to Emmaus and listened to his teaching. They were convinced because they met with him on the sea shore and had flame broiled fish for breakfast.  They were convinced because Christ is risen.  And rising he was the first fruits of the great resurrection.  So the disciples came to believe that the kingdom of God had already come despite a lot of evidence—despite the fact that no dead-ancestor sightings had been reported, despite the fact that Israel was still held captive by her Roman oppressors, despite the fact the world was still plagued by war, injustice, sin sickness and death.  They came to believe that the kingdom of God had come because the great resurrection had already began in one man.  They believed the kingdom of God had come, because Christ is risen.

Which brings us to the second part of today’s text, because it’s all well and good to believe in the resurrection, to dress up in our Easter best once a year and sing “Up from the Grave He Arose,” but as Shane Claiborne says, “The whole world could believe in resurrection, but little would change until we begin to practice it.”  Well the disciples of Jesus practiced resurrection.  What does it mean to live as though the great resurrection has already begun, as though the kingdom of God is already at hand?  What does it mean to live as though Christ is risen?  Well, to the early church at least, it meant that they traded up a politics of This Present Evil Age, for Easter politics.  The text says, “All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had…There were no needy persons among them.  From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostle’s feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”

All around them, the world seemed to remain in This Present Evil Age.  And it lived a politics of This Present Evil Age.  They looked around and saw an Israel that continued to be held captive by the Roman regime, and who, as a result, practiced a politics of fear hiding every good pleasure they could from their oppressors.  But the disciples practiced an Easter politics of trust— from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and just laid it at the apostle’s feet, knowing that it would be used justly and wisely.  They saw a world that practiced a politics of violence through war and injustice, but the disciples practiced an Easter politics of peace—“they were one in heart and mind,” as the text says.  They saw a world plagued by sin that practiced a politics of greed and accumulation trying to surpass the Joneses, but the disciples practiced an Easter politics of love—they did not count any possession as their own, but shared everything they had.  They saw a world of sin and death that practiced a politics of hoarding and stockpiling knowing that they had to take care of themselves in case of an emergency, but the disciples practiced an Easter politics of giving—money was distributed as anyone had need.

Now let me make a very important point about Easter politics.  None of it was legislated.  The text says that “from time to time” people sold their homes and land and gave the money to the apostles, indicating that it was not a mandatory; they just did it as the Spirit led.  The fact that they even had homes to sell meant that they had personal possessions; they just did not view them as private possessions.  You see it is the politics of The Present Evil Age that tries to legislate kindness and sharing.  Easter politics is borne out of love.  It is borne out of the conviction that the world is fundamentally different than it seems.  The good news for us to day is that we get to live this way.  We get live with confidence.  We get to share.  We get  to believe that our sin if forgiven.  In a world that often seems so desperately evil, we get to live like Easter people.  We get to live as though Christ is risen!

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