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)

 

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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?

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.

 

God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible

For the past year or so, I have been trying to understand the “big picture” of the Bible. Thankfully, a dear brother in Christ, Don Pucik, told me about a book called God's Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts.
This has been one of the most helpful books I have read on understanding the Bible. Roberts (rightly) sees the overarching theme of the Bible as being the kingdom of God, which he defines as “God's people, living in God's place, under God's rule, and enjoying God's blessing” (paraphrase), and then unpacks this idea throughout the whole sweep of Scripture. Visual learners will enjoy the charts, and there is also a Bible study at the end of each chapter.
I highly, highly, highly recommend this book!!! If you aren't a reader, check out these four videos:

 

 

 

Gospel as Fulfillment

If you are just now joining us, we have been talking about the gospel. We started this series by asking the (disturbing) question: Is something wrong with our gospel? Then, we looked at how the NT authors use the word and how we have reduced their understanding to a simple formula. In this post, we will look at some examples of how the gospel is the fulfillment to which the Old Testament (OT) points.

A Story with No Resolution

If you have ever read through the OT, you have probably realized that it is not a stand alone book. (Conversely, neither is the NT.) It is a story that is going somewhere. If we had nothing after Malachi, the OT would be the ultimate cliffhanger disappointment. So many hopes…so many expectations…so many unfulfilled promises. We are left with a problem longing for resolution, a story awaiting its climax, promises needing to be fulfilled… The resolution/climax/fulfillment is the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ. Throughout the life of this blog, I would like to unpack how the gospel is the fulfillment of the OT, but in this post, I just want to give a few examples showing that Jesus and the apostles saw that the gospel message was the fulfillment of their Scriptures (i.e., the Hebrew Bible, our OT).

According to the Scriptures

  • In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus says, “Do not assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets [i.e., the OT]. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill…” (Mt 5:17)
  • John's gospel account records Jesus' saying to the Jews who persecuted him for healing a man on the Sabbath (John 5), “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about me…” (Jn 5:39)
  • A few sentences later Jesus says, “…if you believed Moses [i.e., the Law/Torah], you would believe me, because he wrote about me. But if you don't believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (Jn 5:46-47)
  • My favorite example is the resurrection story in Luke when Jesus is walking with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. (Lk 24:13-35) The disciples are puzzled because they thought Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, but how could he be their Messiah if he is dead? Jesus begins with “Moses and all the Prophets” (Lk 24:27) and interprets the Scripture in light of himself. Apparently, their hearts were on fire as Jesus did this (Lk 24:32).
  • Later, Jesus tells the Eleven and those with them that not only the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in him, but also the Psalms. (Lk 24:36-49)
  • Upon entering a town, Paul would typically go to the synagogue to reason from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. (e.g., Acts 17:2-3, 11)
  • In Paul's most overt gospel statement (1 Cor 15:1-8, 20-28), he reminds the Corinthian church that Jesus' death and resurrection are both “according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:3-4) Paul would not have had access to the NT biblical artillery used in our “Gospel as Formula.” Paul did, however, spend a year-and-a-half in Corinth teaching the word of God (cf., Acts 18:11). I am going to step out on a limb and speculate that Paul, being the Jewish scholar that he was (cf., Acts 22:3), had time to teach the church the OT story which begged for resolution and how the gospel of Jesus was that resolution, the fulfillment of the promises of God. Maybe when Paul said “according to the Scriptures,” he was confident that the church would recall that story.
  • The writer of Hebrews says, “Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Heb 1:1-2)

This list is not exhaustive. I just want to show that the gospel fulfills the OT. We can't fully understand one without the other…

Part 1 – Is Something Wrong with Our Gospel?

Part 2 – Gospel: Definition and NT Occurances

Part 3 – Gospel (Noun): Initial Observations of NT Usage

Part 4 – Gospel (Verb): Initial Observations of NT Usage

Part 5 – Gospeling the Gospel: Noun and Verb in Close Proximity

Part 6 – Gospel as Formula (a.k.a., “Honey, I Shrunk the Gospel”)