By Linda Rex
4th SUNDAY OF EASTER—I have met many people over the years as I have been doing ministry here in Tennessee. I am sometimes surprised by how many times a person has been baptized on their journey with Jesus Christ. It seems that some churches require baptism as a mark of entry even though the person had been baptized before. Baptism, I believe, can begin to lose its significance when it is treated solely as a ticket for membership.
Jesus tells a story about a king who sends out invitations to a wedding feast (Matt. 22). The people he invited didn’t come, so he had his servants go out and invite anyone they could find to come. Finally, the day came. At the banquet, he finds a guest who doesn’t have on a wedding garment. Since every guest had been given a wedding garment when they were invited, there was no reason for this man to not to be dressed in one. He was excluded from the banquet.
When Jesus hung on the cross, all of humanity hung with him. When he was laid in the tomb, we all laid there with him. And when the resurrected Jesus walked out of the tomb glorified, our humanity walked out glorified with him. In his life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus carefully constructed our white robes of righteousness, preparing before time began for us to share in his glory.
It’s not when we are baptized that Jesus includes us—we were included back when he did his perfect work in our place and on our behalf. But we do come to a point in our lives when the Holy Spirit brings us to the place of recognizing and believing in who Jesus is and trusting in his finished work, gratefully receiving what he has done for us in place of our self-centered and self-sufficient ways of living and being. Our baptism becomes a participation in Jesus’ baptism, a symbolic sharing in his death and resurrection.
We can know about Jesus and even believe he is the Son of God, but never put on what he has given us. He has given us a new life, a new existence, a sharing in his love and grace which is life-transforming, healing and renewing. Jesus has included us in his perfect relationship with his Father in the Spirit. He has drawn us up into their perichoretic dance of love, and is allowing us to participate in his life in the Trinity both now and forever. He has baptized us with the Father’s love by and in the Spirit.
We express our grateful reception of and participation in Jesus’ perfect and extremely expensive gift through baptism. But going beyond baptism, we begin to live in the truth of who we are in Christ. In essence, we take the white robes which are ours and we put them on. As we eat the bread and drink the wine of communion, we tangibly “put on” Christ—we acknowledge our dependence on and trust in Jesus—we “feed” on him in an ongoing way, because he is our life. God works to grow us up in Christlikeness, as we respond to him in faith.
A lot of us, though, act as if we have to make ourselves good people. We work really hard at “being good enough to go to heaven.” The reality, though—if we are honest with ourselves—is that we will never be quite good enough. We are broken, sinful people who just can’t get it right. We can put on a nice front, make ourselves look kind, helpful, and generous, but at the same time be greedy, selfish, and indifferent. We can learn a lot of Bible verses, spout them at will, and yet never have a kind and thoughtful word to say to someone who is hurting.
Jesus’ finished work speaks volumes to us if we are willing to listen. It is because we are so faulty and in need of rescuing that he came to rescue us. It is because we are broken and sinful that he came to live in our humanity and redeem us. It is because we were captured by the kingdom of darkness that he, like a knight in shining armor, came to our defense and brought us safely into the kingdom of light at the risk of losing his own life like a sacrificial lamb.
This shepherd king, Jesus Christ, is the one who found us starving and wallowing in the pig sty, and brought home to his Father. God created us for so much more than this—we were intended to share in Jesus’ kingship and priesthood by the Spirit—an elevation to dignity and worth which is far beyond our own ability to attain. We were meant to live with God forever, immersed in his love and grace, filled with his Spirit, and participating in his plans and activities. We have a reason to live—a purpose and a hope beyond the temporary pleasures of this life. Whatever we do in this life now, and in the life to come, has great meaning and value as it is connected through Christ and in the Spirit with God’s love and will.
The fundamental issue which we face when faced with Jesus Christ is—are we willing to submit, surrender, relinquish all our claims to the throne? Are we willing to take our appropriate place as his dependent children, humbly surrendering to God’s desire for us and our lives? Are we willing to allow Jesus Christ to define our humanity and how we live our lives? This is the place where we are faced with the ultimate decision.
It’s easy to go through the motions of repentance, faith, and baptism. We can do the things we believe are necessary to become members of whatever church we may wish to join. But can we—no, will we—allow Jesus Christ to be who he is, the Lord of this universe and our Lord as well? Will we surrender to all to his purposes and plans, allowing him to redirect our lives and our relationships? Will we live and walk in the Spirit and not in our flesh any longer? This is where things get tough.
When Abba through Jesus sent his Spirit on all flesh, he opened the way for each and every person to make their very own the finished work of Jesus Christ. There is substantial freedom in what God has done. We can come to the wedding banquet wearing our own clothes or we can toss them in the trash where they belong and put on the white robes Jesus made for us. We are free to make this choice. It does not alter God’s love for us, but it does alter our experience of that love and whether or not we can participate in what God has planned for us, both now and in the world to come. The Spirit says, “Come.” Will we?
Thank you, Jesus, for doing everything necessary so we can be with you both now and forever. Thank you, Abba, for the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Give us willing and obedient hearts, and enable us to gratefully receive and live in the truth of all you have given to us. Amen.
“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ ” Revelation 7:9-10
by Linda Rex
The last thing I would ever want to do would be to make God look like he is an evil monster looking for opportunities to destroy you or me because of our badness. It seems our ways of looking at God and thinking about him do enough of that without my helping them along.
But we do need to understand that God isn’t just a nice, feel-good sort of Person all the time. Just because he is loving and compassionate doesn’t mean there aren’t things he really truly hates. Indeed, God abhors and vehemently opposes anything which mars the beauty he created you and me to reflect—he is passionately opposed to those things which keep us from being the image-bearers of God he created us to be.
This passion of God—this “wrath” of God—is behind all he has done in sending his Son to live, die, rise and ascend on our behalf, and behind his sending of his Spirit to dwell in human hearts. This passion of God has driven him from before time to ensure what he began in us would be completed through Christ and in his Spirit.
There is one who has opposed God from the beginning, and who, with his followers, seeks to destroy God’s work and to undermine his efforts in renewing all things. The adversary opposes all which is good and holy. He labors constantly in an effort to turn human beings against the God who made them, sustains them and redeemed them. Any effort we make to trust in and obey the God who is Father, Son and Spirit is resisted and thwarted by the evil one.
In many world views, good and evil are seen as equal opposites, who must be kept in a constant state of balance for people to be able to exist in harmony and peace. The balance I see being kept in the divine life and love is not of the balance between good and evil, but the perfect harmony and oneness of the Trinity in their equality and diversity. Evil in this worldview only exists as that which opposes the Trinity, and is allowed to exist only because of the freedom of will given to those who are created by God.
God summarily dealt with evil and all who oppose him in our cosmos by taking on our humanity and dealing with it from the inside out. He was very aggressive in tackling the issue of our broken humanity and the efforts of the evil one. In Jesus Christ, God conquered death and Satan, and gave us all a new life in Christ which is ours through the Spirit.
The message we find in Revelation and elsewhere is Satan and death are defeated foes, and we have nothing to fear. In fact, God sent his Spirit and he is systematically penetrating this world with his very life through his gathering of believers (which we call the church) who are the body of Christ. There is a finality about the destruction of Satan, his demons and evil, as well as death. As far as God is concerned, it is already over with. All that’s left is the mopping up. What we experience today of evil and death and suffering is just a temporary blip in the radar, and in time, it will all be gone.
Dr. Michael Heiser, in his book “The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible”, puts it like this:
The theological messaging couldn’t be more dramatic. Jesus says he will build his church—and the “gates of hell” will not prevail against it. We often think of this phrase as though God’s people are in a posture of having to bravely fend off Satan and his demons. This simply isn’t correct. Gates are defensive structures, not offensive weapons. The kingdom of God is the aggressor.(a) Jesus begins at ground zero in the cosmic geography of both testaments to announce the great reversal. It is the gates of hell that are under assault—and they will not hold up against the Church. Hell will one day be Satan’s tomb.(1)
While I may not agree with every detail Dr. Heiser writes in his book, I can appreciate his emphasis on the already, not yet, focus of the establishment of the kingdom of God today. God has invited believers to participate with him in the expansion of his renewal of all things to fill the whole cosmos. He is allowing those who follow Christ to join with him as he aggressively intervenes to bring healing, hope and restoration in many people’s lives all over the world.
We forget sometimes we are at war. We forget our Jesus is a mighty warrior fighting on behalf of all that is just, holy, right and good. And he has invited us to go with him into battle against all his foes—all which oppose the glory he created human beings to reflect.
God is not impotent against the forces of evil at work in this world. But he has invited us to share in the battle, and he has reasons for allowing things to happen the way they do. As the commander-in-chief, who died at the hands of humanity so humanity could be saved, he has a way of dealing with evil which often seems out of sync with our reality. This is why it is so important that we follow the lead of his Spirit and grow in our knowledge of Who Christ is and who we are in him. God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts.
The bottom line is to trust him—to believe Abba so loves you and me that not only did he send his Son Jesus to free us from sin and death, but that he also is sending his Spirit to bring to fruition all Jesus forged into our humanity in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Thankfully, Jesus even took care of our need for faith, by accomplishing in himself our perfect response of love toward Abba. We are held, we are loved, and we are Abba’s beloved children, and God will accept nothing less than this for you and for me. This is his passion and Jesus will see that it is realized by his Spirit.
Thank you, Abba, for your great love and faithfulness toward all you created. Thank you for giving us the freedom to choose, and the privilege of mirroring your glory and goodness. Thank you for allowing us to participate in all you are doing to renew what you created and you sustain. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us through your Son and by your Spirit. In your Name, we pray. Amen.
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Mt 16:18 NASB
(1) Heiser, M. S. (2015). The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (First Edition, pp. 284–285). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
(a) [Note by Dr. Heiser] See the discussion in John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 2005), 675.
By Linda Rex
I was reading in some Karl Barth tomes this morning and got caught up in his writings regarding the kingdom of God. I agree with Barth that if any of us truly caught the vision of the kingdom Jesus brought and illustrated for us here on earth and began to live it, we would turn the world upside down—or more likely, end up dead because we so radically opposed all that society stands for.
Indeed, as Barth pointed out, it would be almost suicidal in our society to live in the way Jesus lived—always turning the other cheek, living free to move about rather than owning things, caring for the outcasts and rejects, and refusing to conform to the religious and cultural traditions of his people. He honored the governments and institutions of his time, but at the same time, he never yielded up his position as Lord of the cosmos and his right to rewrite the God-concepts and societal norms of his peers.
Thinking about all this makes me wonder if we have ever truly come to grips with what it means that Jesus came to this earth as the king of a divine kingdom. What does it mean that someone who is other than us became one of us, lived as we did, and yet lived and died in a way none of us would or could live and die, so that one day we could share the world he came from?
Seriously, that almost sounds like a script from “Ancient Aliens” (no criticism or ridicule intended). Indeed, while his followers were anxiously preparing for the invasion of a political kingdom, Jesus had something totally different in mind. While they were thinking in terms of positions of power and who would be the greatest, Jesus was hammering out what it would take to transform a human being into the image of God he or she was meant to reflect. Jesus was working on a transformation of our very being while everyone else was thinking about getting ahead in the human sphere.
Our culture today for the most part is wrapped around our marketplace, whatever form that may take. What we own, or what we want to own and how we will pay for it, consumes our attention. Our culture is money and power driven, whether we like it or not.
I can almost see Jesus with his scourge chasing out our cash cows and other financial obsessions. It has infected the church, just as it did many centuries ago, and has created so much grief in the process. How often we have had to be pained by the sight of another Christian leader infected with greed, falling from grace! It breaks my heart, especially since I know the capability of my own human heart to fall prey to that disease.
I’m thrilled to see and hear that God through the Spirit is calling people everywhere into relationship. Relationships should always supersede the demands of the marketplace. If we can keep the reality of who we are and who we were created to reflect foremost in our minds, then surely all the rest will fall into perspective.
Maybe, instead of constantly collecting more things for ourselves, we could follow the lifestyle of a friend of mine. Her policy was that whenever she was given something, or something nice came her way, it was because God had someone in mind for her to give it to. Believe me—I saw this in action and it was a beautiful sight to see!
This is like the kingdom of God as expressed in the early Christian church. The believers shared so that no one was in need. No, it wasn’t a communal society. But it was a fellowship, a communion. They loved and cared for one another so much and so well that no one had to go without. In the process, others noticed and became caught up in the experience with them.
Jesus’ effort to change the world was accomplished through the changing of our very being as humans. His work through his life, death, resurrection and ascension has been and is life-changing. The kingdom of God is a kingdom that crosses all human kingdoms and cultural boundaries. It is open to each and every person because the gift of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus sent to transform human hearts and minds, is available to everyone.
Perhaps if we were less willing to content ourselves with the trappings of this human life and sought instead to embrace the gift of radical grace in the Holy Spirit, we might find ourselves experiencing in fuller measure the kingdom of God now in our lives and in our culture. Bonhoeffer, in his book “Ethics” talked about how important it is that the body of Christ influence its culture and the government of the world in which it lives. We don’t try to create a theocracy so much as we live out the kingdom of God in our being, and that living it out in all we think, say and do will dramatically transform the world around us.
The path to the death of our human kingdoms and the darkness in our world is the path that Jesus took on our behalf. Through death and resurrection, Jesus ended the kingdom of darkness and in its place, inaugurated the kingdom of God.
At some point we’re going to need to release our grip upon the things of this human existence and begin to embrace the values and lifestyles of God’s kingdom. And the only way that will happen is through our sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection. We express this symbolically through water baptism, and we partake of Christ’s life in an ongoing way as we eat the bread and wine of the eucharist table. As we daily turn away from all the things we depend upon and idolize, and turn to Christ instead, we experience the life and death of Jesus in our human existence.
Living in the reality that there is a world or kingdom that is ours that is beyond this life enables us to hold loosely to the things of this human existence. Accepting that one day they will all be gone and all that will be left is what has been built in the spiritual sphere, in our relationships with God and others, helps us to stay focused on what really matters.
One day this will all be gone—and it could happen in this next moment—and what will be left? Just ashes? Or a beautiful being refined by suffering and glowing with love and grace? It’s worth considering.
Father, thank you for sending your Son Jesus to establish a new, glorious kingdom that includes all of humanity. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to dwell in human hearts and to bring to pass a transformation of our lives and our world. Forgive us, God that we resist you and deny you entrance to our hearts and lives, and instead fill them up with clutter of every shape and size and shut you out. Grant us the grace turn to you and to reject anything that may stand in the way of a loving relationship with you and with others. May we trust you to finish what you have begun in us through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 11:15