November 17, 2019
Today in with both our Old Testament and Gospel reading we hear prophecy. Prophecy tells us what will come and how we get there.
We can glean from these readings that we need help – we have a problem with sin that we need help outside ourselves to solve. We are not powerful enough. But God is. But what becomes fascinating is that Jesus came, lived, suffered, died, and was resurrected from the dead, and though we live in the miracle of our Christian faith, we still are fallen – we sin, we have separation through sin with God, self, and others.
We hear from Jesus in our gospel reading, referred to as apocalyptic warnings, that there will be an ushering in of God’s ultimate reign. This comes to us either when we die; Jesus said to the thief on the cross beside him, “today I will see you in paradise,” or when Christ returns.
In Isaiah we hear the need for help and looking forward to the Messiah and in the gospel, we hear of Jesus’ second coming. Through both we hear of renewal, healing, recreating.
Simply put, Jesus came and needs to come again. Even for God, it takes more than one visit to heal and deliver us from sin. Take that in for a minute. Even for God, it takes more than one visit to heal and deliver us from sin. We can glean a bit the magnitude of the problem of sin and how much help we need.
Witherington, in his commentary on Isaiah (Isaiah Old and New) articulately asserts: “a single bringing of help and healing and some resurrection back to life in this world would not solve the whole problem…There would need to be a further and final coming of the messiah, a final redemption of the earth…not back to the old mortal life, but forward to the immortal life.” (Kindle Loc 6592).
The Christian life is multidirectional: Jesus came, looking back – we have been saved. In our present we literally are a new creation in Christ, the old is gone and behold the new has come…but in our limitation we are as Paul puts it in Philippians, “working out our salvation,” looking around in our present reality - we are being saved. And as we transition into eternal glory the reality of what we already have will be fully accomplished, looking forward – we will be saved.
Looking back, looking around, looking forward.
We have been saved. We are being saved. We will be saved.
What in the world?
A few theological terms help us understand our present, this place where we are being saved.
The first is justification – which envelopes these three descriptions of our Christian experience I just mentioned. We see through scripture that justification is the miracle that happens to us at salvation that gives us righteous standing before God. A little play on the word is: Justified. Just as if I’d never sinned. A new creature. This is how God sees us, everyday, all the time.
But we do sin. Every day. All the time. How can that be? It’s the now and not yet of the Christian life. As we journey in this life, we are catching up to the miracle we have already received.
We are justified, but we are becoming sanctified and consecrated more and more to God. Albert Wolters in this work, Creation Regained, explains: To sanctify means ‘to make free from sin, to cleanse from moral corruption, to purify.’ To consecrate, on the other hand, generally means simply ‘to set apart, to dedicate, to devote to the service of worship of God.’
Consecration therefore means external renewal; sanctification means internal renewal.
More simply put, inside and outside we are being transformed into Christ’s likeness.
Understanding the idea of catching up to the miracle, the process of sanctification and consecration is a game changer.
In part it means that the Christian life shows up. We can see it in our lives and in the lives of those around us. That’s why Paul says to the Thessalonians, kind of in a way that sounds really snarky: “…we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness…”
He’s a bit exasperated because this is not the first time, he’s talked to them about this…but really the point he’s making is – get actively involved in your sanctification and consecration.
The Christian life is really a miraculous thing that changes everything. But leaves us with limitation – but does not give us permission to be passive or idle. Think of…Spiderman – he was Peter Parker, then that spider bite. As if a miracle happened – he’s a superhero, but he’s still Peter Parker. It’s kind of like that for all of us – each one, has experienced a miracle in this Christian life – is a superhero. But we are also still just us. We are Spiderman. We are Peter Parker.
And the thing with superheroes that we all learned most directly from Spiderman, is that with much power comes much responsibility. In our Christian paradigm – with much miracle comes much responsibility.
So, what is Paul saying? He is saying what Spiderman did: With much power comes much responsibility. The word Paul uses for ‘idle’ there is more like disorderly – not in a rowdy way, but more of a word picture of a soldier in the military who is not staying in line, keeping up, fulfilling their responsibilities (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance).
In our Christian life we live forward, Paul also says in Philippians: “Not that I have already obtained this…but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Catching up to the miracle.
Each day we can either be Peter Parker idle Christians or Spiderman, living forward Christians.
What might this look like?
In our personal spirituality, continuing the word picture from Paul’s use of idle, we are in that military picture; in the opposite of idle - disciplined. Not in a crazy legalistic standard way, but in terms of education and practice. We are learning and applying and demonstrating intentionality, commitment, and follow through. So, for example. The alarm goes off in the morning and we plan to say our prayers and read scripture. Peter Parker Christian might not get up…might just hit snooze one too many times. Spiderman Christian gets up – even when tired - and through the habit of getting up, does not entertain not getting up really at all.
The difference is that commitment, intentionality, and that healthy place of not relying on feelings to make value decisions. Peter Parker stays in bed because Peter Parker feels like it. Spiderman gets up because Spiderman decided to.
This plays out in our commitment to the body of Christ too – going to church, serving in the church, and being involved in society at large outside of the church. These kinds of things cost time and may be inconvenient. But commitment provides the oomph to do what we need to do to know God and grow into Christ’s likeness.
The Christian life is multidirectional, mostly simple to understand, but hard to live out…unless you know you are a superhero.
So, let us walk in our miracle of the Christian life. This now and not yet. This Peter Parker and Spiderman.
Because we are all superheroes in the Kingdom of God.