Simply Jesus: Part Three

Part Three of N.T. Wright's Simply Jesus is the “so what?” or “application” or “contemporary relevance” section of the book. He is asking at the outset of the chapter, “What on earth does it mean, today, that Jesus is king, that he is Lord of the world?” (p. 207) People typically take four positions on the subject:

Four Positions

  1. Jesus is dead, gone, and certainly not in charge, though people may have their own private spirtual Christian experiences.
  2. Jesus will be Lord, but not until the second coming.
  3. God is at work in the wider world, outside the church, and the church should merely join in what God is already doing.
  4. The church must not collude with the world in any way. This is how Jesus reclaims what is rightfully his.

He explores these positions by creating a pretend dialogue of sorts between four people who, respectively, hold to these views.

God's Rule – Through Us

It is completely in line with the comission given to human begins, in the creation story, that God would rule the world through humans (Gen 1:26-28). “[H]umans are to be God's image-bearers, that is, they are to reflect his sovereign rule into the world… Jesus resecues human beings in order that through them he may rule his world in the new way he always intended.” (p. 212)

Worship

All that we do for God's kingdom is an expression of and is rooted in worship. God will bless the world through people who are becoming like what Jesus describes in the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-10).

The Beatitudes are the agenda for kingdom people. They are not simply about how to behave, so that God will do something nice to you. They are about the way in which Jesus wants to rule the world. He wants to do it through this sort of people – people, actually like himself… When God wants to change the world, he doesn't send in the tanks. He sends in the meek, the mourners, those who are hungry and thirsty for God's justice, the peacemakers, and so on. Just as God's whole style…reflects his generous love, sharing his rule with his human creatures, so the way in which those humans then have to behave if they are to be agents of Jesus's lordship reflects in its turn the same sense of vulnerable, gentle, but powerful self-giving love. (pp. 218-219)

Church

Wright makes it clear that the church messes things up quite frequently. Nevertheless, he has this to say on the matter:

  1. “…[F]or every foolish or wicked Christian leader who ends up in court, in the newspapers, or both, there are dozens, hundreds, thousands who are doing a great job, often unnoticed except within their own communities.”
  2. “…[W]e must never forget that the way Jesus worked then and works now is through forgiveness and restoration… The church is not supposed to be a society of perfect people doing great work. It's a society of forgiven sinners repaying their unpayable debt of love by working for Jesus's kingdom every way they can, knowing themselves unworthy of the task…”
  3. “The way in which Jesus exercises his sovereign lordship in the present time includes his strange, often secret, sovereignty over the nations and their rulers.” (pp. 220-222) Part of the church's role is to call these rulers to account.

This was a long chapter and I just hit the high notes. If you are just now joining in with me as I work through this book, you can catch up here:

Simply Jesus: Part One

Simply Jesus: Part Two(a)

Simply Jesus: Part Two(b)

Simply Jesus: Part Two(c)

 

Advertisements

Simply Jesus: Part Two(c)

So, this is part three…of Part Two. 🙂 You can read the first blog on Part Two here and the second one here.

At the Heart of the Storm

Chapter twelve looks at three figures from Israel's scriptures as they relate to Jesus' sense of vocation. Those figures are:

  1. Isaiah's Servant (Isaiah 40-66)
  2. Daniel's Son of Man (Daniel 7)
  3. Zechariah's King (Zechariah 9-14)

Why did the Messiah Have to Die?

Wright explains that three strands are coming together in Jesus and his work:

  1. Messiahship
  2. Servant
  3. God's returning to his people
…[Jesus] believed…that the full force of this…would accomplish the purposes for which Israel itself had been called in the first place; and that it would do so in him, in his willing obedience to this vast and terrifying purpose. Israel's God had promised to return and establish his kingdom. He would do this in and as the Messiah, the servant. In and as Jesus of Nazareth… Every other way of bringing God's kingdom had been tried and failed. This one was where the scriptures seemed to point and where his own prayerful awareness of vocation was pointing with them. (pp. 169-170)

The scriptures had said that a great King (Messiah) would come, that a Servant would suffer on behalf of Israel, and that YHWH himself would return to his people. These strands all come together in Jesus himself. Through Jesus' death, God won the victory over the Satan, the power standing behind all that plagues God's good creation.

Under New Management: Easter and Beyond

This chapter can be summed up beautifully in the following way:

The resurrection is all about Jesus as the prototype of the new creation. The ascension is all about Jesus as the ruler of the new creation as it breaks into the world of the old. The second coming is all about Jesus as the coming Lord and judge who will transform the entire creation. And, in between resurrection and ascension, on the one hand, and the second coming, on the other, Jesus is the one who sends the Holy Spirit, his own Spirit, into the lives of his followers, so that he himself is powerfully present with them and in them, guiding them, directing them, and above all enabling them to bear witness to him as the world's true Lord and work to make that sovereign rule a reality. (pp. 203-204)

Wright is here talking about the resurrection, new creation, Jesus' ascension and enthronement at the right hand of the Father, the second coming, and begins to briefly touch on what all this means for Jesus' followers today, foreshadowing what is to come in the last chapter. He also clears up some of our misunderstandings about heaven and the second coming.

 

Simply Jesus: Part Two(b)

As I said in the last post of this series, I am breaking Part Two of Simply Jesus into posts covering three chapters apiece. This post covers chapters 9-11.

The Kingdom Present and Future

In this chapter, Wright offers four examples, both before and after the time of Jesus, to show how the Jews believed that the kingdom could simultaneously be both present and future. The kingdom was “now” when announced and “still to come” in the sense that there was work to do to bring the kingdom to completion.

The four would-be messiahs or established “kings” that he surveys are, respectively, Judah the Hammer (Judas Maccabeus), Simon the Star (Simon bar-Kochba), Herod the Great, and Simon bar-Giora. All four, while having at least some of the seven themes of the exodus (pp.64-65), had at least two main parts: 1) a great battle to fight and victory to win (themes of wicked tyrant, chosen leader, and victory of God); and 2) to cleanse or rebuild the temple (presence of God). By exploring the history of these characters, it doesn't take much imagination to see why Jews started following Jesus around, wondering if he might actually be the Messiah.

(What is interesting, is that Judah the Hammer and Herod the Great were both “successful” in their endeavors. Yet, neither one had a right to David's throne by way of lineage. Plus, it was obvious to Jews that things were still not quite right.)

Battle and Temple

The battle that Jesus came to fight, was not so much against Rome or corrupt Jewish leaders, but against “the quasi-personal source of evil standing behind both human wickedness and large scale injustice” (p. 120), the satan. Wright explains that when the kingdom of God comes on earth as in heaven, “It's a clash of kingdoms: the satan has his kingdom, God has his, and sooner or later the battle between them will be joined” (p. 125). Jesus initially won the battle by being tempted in the wilderness but would fight the final battle on the cross.

Jesus is indeed fighting what he takes to be the battle against the real enemies of the people of God, but it is not the battle his followers or the wider group of onlookers was expecting him to fight. Jesus has redefined the royal task around his own vision of where the real problem lies. And he has thereby redefined his own vocation, which he takes to be the true vocation of Israel's king: to fight and win the key battle, the battle that will set his people free and establish God's sovereign and saving rule, through his own suffering and death. (p. 126-127)

Jesus' “cleansing of the Temple” would have been similar to Jeremiah's smashing of the pot (Jeremiah 19) and interpreted as God's judgment on the Temple. As we saw earlier, cleansing/restoring the Temple was a royal task for the king to perform, which makes sense of the question that the Jewish leaders asked Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things?” (e.g., Mt 21:23) This action could only mean that the Temple itself had become obselete:

It looks as though everyone knew that Jesus was in some sense or other pronouncing God's judgment on the Temple itself – and by implication, on the present regime that was running it… [W]hen Jesus stopped the changing of money…and the selling of sacrificial animals, he was effectively stopping the sacrificial system itself, for a brief but symbolic moment. And if you stop the regular flow of sacrifices, you bring the Temple to a shuddering halt. It no longer has a purpose. And if you do that…it can only be because you think Israel's God is now acting in a new way. (pp. 129-130)

Space, Time, and Matter

Chapter 11 has been one of my favorite chapters so far. The sections are “Redefining Where God Dwells” (space), “Time Fulfilled” (time), “A New Creation” (matter), and “A New Kind of Revolution.” I will briefly summarize these sections:

  1. Space – Jesus redefined sacred space around himself as the new Temple, where heaven and earth overlap. “Heaven and earth were being joined up – but no longer in the Temple in Jerusalem. The joining place was visible where the healings were taking place, where the party was going on…, where forgiveness was happening… [T]he joining place…was taking place where Jesus was and in what he was doing. Jesus was…a walking Temple. A living, breathing place-where-Israel's-God-was-living.” (p. 133)
  2. Time – The time of fulfillment, the time to which all of the sabbath days, sabbath years, and years of Jubilee (if Israel ever actually practiced it) were pointing, finds its significance in Jesus' public career.
  3. Matter – The material world was meant to be filled with the glory of YHWH. Not least in Jesus' healing ministry, but also in the Transfiguration (e.g., Mt 17:1-13), it is evident that God is restoring the created order. In other words, “new creation” is breaking into the old one.
  4. Revolution – Jesus' movement had some similarities to other revolutionary movements of that period, but his was still strikingly different. Here we must debunk a few common misperceptions about what Jesus was doing: He was not a) telling people how to “go to heaven,” b) starting a military revolution, or c) simply doing things to “prove” his divinity.

From what I've posted so far, how does this view of Jesus and the message of the gospels differ from the Jesus and gospel you have learned about?

Simply Jesus: Part Two(a)

As I said in my first blog on N.T. Wright's Simply Jesus, I am processing what I'm learning by blogging through the book. Part Two consists of nine chapters, so I will blog through three chapters at a time.

God's in Charge Now

To summarize chapter six is to say that, in a sense, God's people knew that he was already in charge (before Jesus announced that God's kingdom was at hand), but at the same time knew that all the wrongs polluting God's good world must be put to rights. Up to this point, no leader, whether Jew or Gentile, had been able to do so. After spending much time under foreign rule, the Jewish people longed for God to rescue them as he did when they were slaves in Egypt. They were longing for a “new Exodus.”

Wright uses the analogy of sports fanatics celebrating when their team gets a new coach (or when a country elects a new leader) who will “sort things out” to help us understand the celebration that occurred wherever Jesus was. Israel had been on a roller-coaster ride of just-okay-kings, bad kings, and pagan kings/rulers for many years (see the outline of Jewish history on p. 62), but yet longed for the king (Messiah/Christ) of which their prophets had foretold. Jesus' healing and teaching led many to believe that he was the one they were looking for. Hence, the celebration, the good news.

Wright teases out these seven themes (pp. 64-65) of the Exodus to show what the Jews were expecting when the kingdom of God arrived:

  1. Wicked tyrant
  2. Chosen leader
  3. Victory of God
  4. Rescue by sacrifice
  5. New vocation and way of life
  6. Presence of God
  7. Promised/inherited land

This was the story in which the Jews were living and Jesus used the Passover festival (celebrating the Exodus) as the climax to his public career. It was finally time for the new Exodus.

The Campaign Starts Here

Jesus' proclamation that the kingdom was at hand, that God was becoming king on earth as in heaven, would have been understood by Jews at the time in terms of Jubliee (e.g., Leviticus 25 and Is 61:1-3) and New Exodus. Wherever Jesus was announcing the kingdom's arrival, in both word and action, there was celebration, healing, and forgiveness (pp. 68-73). A new kingdom was forming in the midst of the existing one, right under the noses of Herod Antipas, the high priest, and Rome. Wright explains:

The campaign, you see, isn't about someone running for office as happens in our modern democracies. Jesus isn't going around trying to drum up support like today's politicians. He is much more like a rebel leader within a modern tyranny, setting up an alternative government, establishing his rule, making things happen in a new way. He chooses twelve of his closest followers and seems to set them apart as special associates. For anyone with eyes to see, this says clearly that he is reconstituting God's people, Israel, around himself… This is a campaign. It's a rebel movement, a risky movement, a would-be royal movement under the nose of the present would-be “king of the Jews,” Herod Antipas himself. (pp. 85-86)

Stories That Explain and a Message That Transforms

Jesus spoke in parables about what it looks like when God becomes king on earth as in heaven. His hearers would have heard echoes from their ancient scriptures, which should have led them to recognize that God was fulfilling his promises, but most did not.

Another dimension of what it would look like when the kingdom of God broke through is that people would be restored, not just physically and not by external purity rules, but by transformed hearts:

Jesus had grasped that, if God was to become king on earth as in heaven, something deeper than outward reformation would be required. It wouldn't do simply to tighten up existing laws and regulations and enforce them more strictly… What will it look like when God becomes king? Hearts will be transformed… (pp. 98-99)

Jesus was announcing that God was taking charge, that the kingdom of God was at hand. The campaign had begun, and he spoke in parables to explain (to perceptive hearers) what was taking place.

Simply Jesus: Part One

I have attempted to read Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright twice before, but didn't finish, not because it isn't good, but because life sometimes gets in the way. I am determined to get through it this time and figured blogging through the book might help. This post is about Part One of the book.
 
A Very Odd Sort of King
Chapter one, “A Very Odd Sort of King,” begins with a description of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem during Passover time (Mt 21:1-11; Mk 11:1-11; Lk 19:28-44) and the people's celebration of the coming of God's kingdom. Wright says:
He was not the king they expected. He wasn't like the monarchs of old who sat on their jeweled and ivory thrones, dispensing their justice and wisdom. Nor was he the great warrior-king some had wanted. He didn't raise an army and ride into battle at its head. He was riding on a donkey. And he was weeping, weeping for the dream that had to die, weeping for the sword that would pierce his supporters to the soul. Weeping for the kingdom that wasn't coming as well as for the kingdom that was. (1)

Wright raises the question which he seeks to answer, both historically and theologically, “What did Jesus think he was doing?”

The Three Puzzles

Before we can begin to answer that question, we must acknowledge and address what chapter two calls “The Three Puzzles”:

  1. Jesus' world is strange to us.
  2. Jesus' God is a very specific one: the God of Israel.
  3. Jesus spoke and acted as if he was in charge.

The Perfect Storm

In chapter three, Wright starts using the metaphor of a “perfect storm.” The first perfect storm he describes is the one in the middle of which people who write, preach, and teach about Jesus find themselves. The storms are as follows:

  1. Modern Skepticism – “That stuff didn't happen the way the Bible says it did.”
  2. Conservatism – “Oh yes it did! The Bible says so!”
  3. Historical Complexity – On this note, Wright says: “In any particular historical context, certain things made sense, certain ideas and actions went together in a way that felt entirely natural at the time, but that we may well have to reconstruct with considerable difficulty.” (22)

The Making of a First-Century Storm

Wright begins his attempt to reconstruct Jesus' world and the situation he strode into on the donkey in chapter four. Here he is using the “perfect storm” metaphor in a different way, but only deals with the first two (of three) elements in this chapter.

  1. The Roman Storm
  2. The Jewish Storm

Rome had a story that, they believed, had reached a royal climax. Having been a republic for most of their history, they now had a monarch (Caesar), who was thought to be the “son of god” and pontifex maximus, or “chief priest,” who was also thought to have ushered in a time of peace and prosperity. Wright sums it up this way:

…[T]he new age, for which we have waited for a millennium, is now here at last through the peaceful and joyful rule of Augustus Caesar. The message was carved in stone, on monuments and in inscriptions, around the known world: “Good news! We have an Emperor! Justic, Peace, Security, and Prosperity are ours forever! The Son of God has become King of the World!” (30)

The Jews also had a story, but whereas the Roman story looked backwards from a “golden age,” the Jewish one looked forward to God's coming kingdom:

…[T]he Jews had been living in their great story for, they believed, well over a thousand years. Their story…stretched back to Abraham, Moses, David, and other heroes of the distant past. But it was all going to come to its great climax, they believed, any moment now. It was a single story, and they were living at its leading edge. (32)

The Hurricane

It doesn't take much imagination, given the brief descriptions of the Roman and Jewish storms, to imagine how Jesus' entrance in the middle of it all would initiate the “perfect storm.” Saying what he was saying and doing what he was doing would have gotten anybody killed in that day and age. In chapter five, Wright sketches the Jewish expectation of God's coming kingdom and of the Messiah. He also shows how God himself would one day be king, but that somehow, he would be king through his servant “David,” the “anointed one,” the Christ/Messiah. This is the chapter where the rubber begins to meet the road; if you're like me, you will have many “a-ha!” moments at this point.

I hope this brief overview of chapters 1-5 has whet your appetite to read this book for yourself. Join me! 🙂

 

Recovering the Real Lost Gospel

Most (but not all) of the “gospel” preaching that I have heard in my short time as a Christian has been mostly about a transaction (i.e., you give God faith in Jesus and he will give you salvation; eternal life; forgiveness…) or an avoidance of something bad (i.e., God's wrath; eternity in hell). Rarely have I heard the gospel presented as good news about a restored relationship with a loving, self-giving God. Darrell Bock seeks to buck this trend in Recovering the Real Lost Gospel: Reclaiming the Gospel as Good News. A quote from the introduction will give you an excellent idea of what Bock is trying to communicate in this book:
The gospel starts with a promise: a relationship in the Spirit. It is pictured as a meal and a washing: the Lord's Table and baptism. It is rooted in a unique action supplying a unique need: the cross. It is inaugurated as a gift that is the sign of the arrival of the new era: Pentecost. It is affirmed in divine action and Scripture: God working uniquely and inseparably through Jesus. It is embraced in a turn that ends in faith: invoking the name of Jesus. It involves a different kind of power and is designed to be a way of life: reconciliation and the power of God unto salvation. (5)

Bock unpacks all of these ideas as chapters in the book. This is a short, accessible read that will give you a more comprehensive look at the gospel than most of us are used to. Although the book goes into more detail, the video below will give you a glimpse of some of the ideas you will find in the book.