2 Corinthians 5:17-21 and New Creation

end-is-nearMany different people are talking about the End of Days and New Creation right now. Some of these conversations are coming from some of the most unlikely sources (just watch this video of a secular Jewish boy who had a vision during a near-death experience). It seems that there is a general feeling among many that the time is right for the end to come.

This may be true, but it is also true that the New Creation began quite some time ago. Look at what Paul writes here:

17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

There will come a time when Christ will return, the Messiah will reign completely, but the New Creation already began when Christ showed up originally. As long as there are Christians in the world, the New Creation will be here. It is already present, if not fully realized.

Christians, members of this New Creation, are given a role in it as well. We are to be ambassadors to the Old Creation for the New Creation. We are to offer people the opportunity to be reconciled with God so they can become part of the New Creation as well. Notice explicitly that this ministry of reconciliation is not about judging people’s sins. Dealing with sin is the Holy Spirit’s job in this world. Our job is to offer reconciliation to people. This is a very important point. Sometimes I think the Church has grown weak in the West precisely because we have tried to take the Holy Spirit’s job of condemning non-Christians’ sins and wanting the Holy Spirit to do our job of offering reconciliation to those people after we have condemned them.

The days may be getting shorter. The time may be drawing near for the End of Days. But until Christ returns, as Christians we have a job to do–a ministry of reconciliation–so that the most people can be a part of the New Creation as is possible when Christ returns.

One other thing about this passage that sometimes gets overlooked is the last verse. Part of being in the New Creation is that we are given the ability by the Holy Spirit to become the righteousness of God. Salvation is not forgiveness for our sins and the ability to continue living life exactly as we did before we were saved, only now knowing that we are always forgiven because we prayed a prayer. That is invocational magic, saying the right incantation and forcing a being on the other side to act as you desire. Christianity is about being forgiven, yes, but so we can become a part of the New Creation and be transformed by God’s grace into the very righteousness of God. Christianity is about becoming holy. Forgiveness of sins is one step along the way of becoming holy. Seek Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your lives to become the righteousness of God. In this way, we will be more faithful ambassadors offering a ministry of reconciliation to the world.

This is how the New Creation begins.

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Amos 2:4-8 and Right Theology vs. Social Action

Liberal-vs-conservativeI know many people who see a dichotomy within the Church between right theology and social action. They see evangelicalism as the champion of right theology and progressives (liberals) as champions of social action, and they do not think the issues can be held together. This passage of Amos contradicts that notion, though:

    The Lord proclaims:
    For three crimes of Judah,
        and for four, I won’t hold back the punishment,
    because they have rejected the Instruction of the Lord,
        and haven’t kept his laws.
    They have been led off the right path by the same lies
        after which their ancestors walked.
    So I will send a fire on Judah,
        and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem.

    The Lord proclaims:
    For three crimes of Israel,
        and for four, I won’t hold back the punishment,
    because they have sold the innocent for silver,
            and those in need for a pair of sandals.
    They crush the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
        and push the afflicted out of the way.
    Father and son have intercourse with the same young woman,
        degrading my holy name.
    They stretch out beside every altar
        on garments taken in loan;
    in the house of their god they drink
        wine bought with fines they imposed.

Here Judah is going to be judged for theological issues–ignoring the Law of the Lord, and Israel is going to be judged for social action issues. Both of these are very important to God, and as well balanced Christians, we have to take both seriously.

Of course we have to make sure we have the appropriate theology–worshiping the correct God in correct ways–and we have to make sure we take up social action for the right issues in the right way. The only way to do this is to look at what we have in the Bible as God’s revelation to us about who he is and what he desires, and to look at how the Holy Spirit has informed and guided the Church for the last 2000 years in keeping and interpreting that information.

Hosea 4:1-3 and Our Connection to the Environment

Disaster-CollagePeople have a connection with the environment. This is obvious. We live on the earth, therefore we are connected to it. What happens in nature affects us (just look at the flooding in South Carolina) and what we do has an effect on nature (remember Exxon Valdez?). This link was written about in Genesis 3, when after the Fall of humans part of the curse involved the land. God said to Adam in Genesis 3:17-18, “…cursed is the fertile land because of you; in pain you will eat from it every day of your life. Weeds and thistles will grow for you, even as you eat the field’s plants…”

This is not a one-time relationship established between people and environment, though. In Hosea God makes the link between people’s actions and the state of the environment:

Hear the Lord’s word,
        people of Israel;
    for the Lord has a dispute
        with the inhabitants of the land.
    There’s no faithful love or loyalty,
        and no knowledge of God in the land.
Swearing, lying, murder,
        together with stealing and adultery are common;
        bloody crime followed by bloody crime.
Therefore, the earth itself becomes sick,
        and all who live on it grow weak;
        together with the wild animals
            and the birds in the sky,
        even the fish of the sea are dying.

Because the people are living in a state of rebellion against God, even the land and animals are suffering. The people’s sins are disrupting the entire world around them. Please note, as well, these are not sins of exploitation of natural resources or pollution (although those are sins as well), but these are intensely personal sins. They are committed by individuals upon other individuals, and yet the earth is sick because of them.

If we would like to see the earth healed, we ourselves need to be healed of our sins. There are no private or personal sins that do not affect others, as this passage shows. All sin has effects on the world around us. Only when we are healed of our sins will we see nature thrive once again. In Christ all things are made new, and that includes us as well as creation, but creation will not be renewed if we are not.

Psalm 148 and All Creation Praising God

St-Francis-Stained-Glass-Window-880x550The last several psalms are called the Praises or Lauds. They all have the same theme–Praise the Lord–at the beginning and end of them. Psalm 148 goes beyond even people praising God to all creation praising God. St. Francis of Assisi wrote Canticle of the Sun in 1224 based upon this psalm, and the English hymn All Creatures of Our God and King was written, in turn, based on St. Francis’ poem. Psalm 148 is a delightful look at everything praising God for how great the Lord is:

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord from heaven!
    Praise God on the heights!
Praise God, all of you who are his messengers!
    Praise God, all of you who comprise his heavenly forces!
Sun and moon, praise God!
    All of you bright stars, praise God!
You highest heaven, praise God!
    Do the same, you waters that are above the sky!
Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
    because God gave the command and they were created!
God set them in place always and forever.
    God made a law that will not be broken.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all you ocean depths!
Do the same, fire and hail, snow and smoke,
    stormy wind that does what God says!
Do the same, you mountains, every single hill,
    fruit trees, and every single cedar!
10 Do the same, you animals—wild or tame—
    you creatures that creep along and you birds that fly!
11 Do the same, you kings of the earth and every single person,
    you princes and every single ruler on earth!
12 Do the same, you young men—young women too!—
    you who are old together with you who are young!

13 Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
    because only God’s name is high over all.
    Only God’s majesty is over earth and heaven.
14 God raised the strength of his people,
    the praise of all his faithful ones—
        that’s the Israelites,
        the people who are close to him.

Praise the Lord!

 

Genesis 11:6-7 and Human Potential

tower_of_babel4Many people get bogged down as to whether or not Genesis recorded actual, factual history.  Good, well-meaning and God-loving people exist on both sides of the issue, and because it has become such an issue there are many people who will simply ignore anything that is said by people on the opposing side.

This passage in Genesis transcends that issue, though, because it is a theological statement about human potential:

And the Lord said, “There is now one people and they all have one language. This is what they have begun to do, and now all that they plan to do will be possible for them.  Come, let’s go down and mix up their language there so they won’t understand each other’s language.”

Notice what God says here.  When we are united, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.  We see this in history to a smaller degree.  When the United States entered into World War II almost the entire country was united in a single cause and that cause was accomplished.  Yet even then there was evil interspersed within it, as modern historians would be quick to point out the Japanese “relocation camps” on the West Coast, the segregation of the service and Tuskegee Experiments.   This is because, for all of our unity, there are still significant divisions between humans.

God provided the solution to this issue, though, in Pentecost.  Acts 2 records the first time the Holy Spirit dwelt within the Church.  One of the signs of this new era was that all the language divisions, in place biblically since this passage in Genesis, were overcome.  Everyone understood the message at once.  Babel had been reversed.  Humanity would, from this day forward, be united in a new mode of being, a new nature.  Paul picked up on this idea in Galatians 3:28 when he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Now, for Christians, we are one in Christ, and there are no longer any divisions.  There is nothing separating us from one another if we are truly in Christ.  And in Christ together, there is nothing we cannot do.  The greatest threat to the established, fallen order of things in the world is a united body of believers in Christ.  But we must be careful.  This is not unity for the sake of unity, reducing things down to a least-common-denominator version of Christianity or some moralistic platitude like, “we should all love one another and accept one another, even if it means radically reinterpreting parts of the Bible to make things more palatable to some people for the sake of unity.”

No, true unity in Christ is a unity of believers who have been transformed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and are being conformed more and more into the image and likeness of Christ.  God transforms us into holy beings, and as long as we are travelling along with God in that transformation, being changed grace by grace, glory by glory, we will be united with each other.

A Church like that can do wonders.

John 19:34 and New Creation

angelicoThere is a strong tradition within the Church that Jesus is a new Adam (see 1 Corinthians for an obvious example of this) and with the new Adam comes a new creation.  Let’s connect a few dots here with regards to something John wrote in his Gospel.

However, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.

This is what happens once the soldiers decide to make sure Jesus is really dead on the cross.  Now, let’s look back at Genesis and the story of creation.

 So the Lord God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being (Genesis 2:21-22).

Jesus called death “sleep” when he was speaking to his disciples concerning the death of Lazarus.  And the Church is the Bride of Christ (seen in Paul’s writings and Revelation).

The two things that help mark out Christians from the rest of the world are the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Each of these are ways in which God gives people his grace and presence in their lives.  They are means by182-3 which God moves us from grace to grace and glory to glory as we become more and more like Christ.  It is the waters of baptism that confirm our relationship in Christ and his Church and the blood of Holy Communion that gives us our spiritual strength for the journey with Christ.

So, Adam fell into a deep sleep, something was taken from his side, and his wife was created (Eve).

Christ fell into a deep sleep (of death), something was taken from his side, and his wife was created (the Church).

I love the way God has guided the writers of the books of the Bible to tell one grand narrative!

John 9:1-7 and Who is Jesus?

jesus.healJesus gets asked several times throughout his ministry who he is, what authority he has to do what he does, and what he actually means by what he says.  Many times his answers are not direct.  This miracle is another instance of Jesus showing all around who he is, but not in a completely direct manner.

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”  Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.  While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work.   While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes.  Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.

There are several things going on in this passage.  First, Jesus shows how illogical it is to assume bad things happen to people because of sin.  This man could not have sinned before he was born so that he was born blind, nor would God have punished him for the sins of his parents.  God holds people accountable for their own sins, not someone else’s sins.

Second, Jesus shows that he is God.  Just two verses before this miracle Jesus answers his accusers with the statement, “I assure you,” Jesus replied, “before Abraham was, I Am” (8:58).  With this statement Jesus tells the religious leaders questioning him that not only is he the One who spoke to Moses from the burning bush on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 3, but because of that fact he is also the One who made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis.  I Am is the divine name of God, and by Jesus using that name for himself, he is telling them he is their God.

Then, immediately following that exchange, we have this miracle.  Here we have a man whose eyes did not form properly.  He was born without working eyes; he was born blind.  Jesus, the I Am, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator, finds this man and takes dirt from the ground to heal him.  Actually, he takes dirt from the ground to create new eyes for him.  He shows everyone that he creates just as he created in Genesis 2:7, where God took dirt from the earth and created man.  Jesus takes dirt from the earth and completes the creation of this particular man.

For all who are paying attention, Jesus just demonstrated that he is, in fact, I Am.