The 4th of July brings to light the significance of what is perhaps my favorite parable (Luke 19). To understand the connection, let’s remember exactly how different this day would have been back in 1776.
As the ink was drying on the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War was just around the corner. Whether willingly or reluctantly, every citizen was thrust onto the horns of a dilemma:
- Take up arms as citizens of the new nation and simultaneously condemn themselves as traitors against Britain.
- Take up arms on behalf of the “homeland” (Britain) and fight to quell the rebellion. (Be traitors against America.)
- Play it safe by avoiding allegiance to either country in order to await the end result of the war before deciding. (Be condemned as cowards regardless of who won the war.)
Undoubtedly, there were many reluctant decision makers in the days following July 4, 1776. Many people were going about their lives, doing their work, paying their taxes, and raising their families. Most weren’t politicians. Most weren’t soldiers. They were simply swept into something bigger than themselves. Many were forced to make a decision that they didn’t want to have to make.
This is exactly the scenario that Jesus describes in Luke 19 to help us understand the circumstances in which we’re living. He has declared (and revealed) himself to be the King over all creation – the heavens and the earth. The kingdom of God has come. However, his reign has not yet been fully implemented. And in the meantime, conflict is underway because many people are living in opposition to the King’s reign.
How we emerge into God’s story is determined by how we respond to Jesus’ claim of lordship in the meantime. We find ourselves (along with every person we’ll ever know) on the same horns of a dilemma faced by the first citizens of America back on July 4, 1776:
- We can be faithful to the King and live in faith and anticipation that he will indeed reign.
- We can be appalled that Jesus’ claims lordship over us and live in opposition to him.
- We can try to play it safe and simply go about our own business trying to offend neither Jesus nor his opponents.
The decision is inevitable. Our circumstances have been thrust upon us whether we like it or not. The only question is how we will respond and who we will be in God’s story.
One day, the decision will seem as obvious as it does for us today looking back on America’s Independence Day. Jesus will reign over all creation. Everything will be restored and renewed according to God’s eternal plans for his creation. God’s people will live eternally and immortally, reigning over creation and governing it according to God’s design. We will eternally celebrate what God has done and remember every step we took along the way to be faithful to him, living in response to his goodness and in anticipation of the New Creation.
Throughout the Bible, everyone and everything emerges from within the same story – God’s story. Every New Testament teaching about our new life in Jesus Christ overlaps and compliments the others. This is especially the case as we consider one of the New Testament’s most contextualized metaphors for Jesus’ followers:
“We are the temple of the living God.”
(2 Corinthians 6:16)
To appreciate the significance of this verse (and others like it), let’s trace this line of thought forward from its origin in Creation.
Creation. When God created, there was no temple. Creation was whole. There was no division between heavenly and earthly realms. Creation was God’s resting place. It was home. God was fully present to people and people fully present to God. People walked with God. They talked with God. They knew the sound of God approaching. God wasn’t present in special places; he was just present.
Israel. Part of the fallout of humanity’s rebellion was the veil that came to exist between the heavenly and earthly realms of Creation. Humanity was exiled from the presence of God.
As we know, God did not stand idly by with his creative intentions for humanity shattered. In short order, redemption was underway. God called Abraham and set his descendants apart from the nations as cooperative participants in the redemptive plan for all creation.
A major aspect of Israel’s uniqueness was that they were called to build and care for the Temple –- the one place on earth where the heavens and earth would remain intertwined…the place where God would dwell. The Temple was a testimony to the way things were supposed to be. It was filled with the imagery of creation as a reminder that God’s rightful dwelling place with humanity was not confined to the Temple.
Unfortunately, Israel fell to the same fate as humanity: rebellion and sin. After repeated calls for Israel to repent and return to God and his purposes for the nation, the presence of God departed the Temple. Shortly thereafter, the building itself was destroyed in the Babylonian invasion. Rebellion once again led to exile: God’s people were separated from their God-given dwelling place and from God’s presence.
Jesus. With Jesus, everything changed. Sin was forgiven. Exile ended. God returned. He became present with his people in a manner anyone could see and experience, but no one could have predicted.
Everything the Temple represented and every religious purpose it served was fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ.
Then, despite all Jesus accomplished, his first disciples watched him ascend back into the heavens a short while after his resurrection. God departed again. And the disciples were told to wait… (Luke 24:49)
Church. On the day of Pentecost, the unthinkable happened. Per Jesus’ instructions, his followers had gathered to wait and to pray. Then suddenly, in a scene reminiscent of 2 Chronicles 7 when the Spirit descended and filled Solomon’s Temple:
“There came a sound from heaven like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…”
The Spirit of God returned as the people of Israel had long been hoping –- only not in the manner they anticipated. It was not to a rebuilt Temple that the Spirit returned. No longer would a single high priest enter God’s presence on one solitary day each year.
The Holy Spirit came and filled Jesus’ disciples! In and through Jesus Christ, the disciples became the new Temple/s:
- the resting place of God
- the place in Creation that is once again whole –- where God’s presence resides
- the witness in the world of the way things are supposed to be and will one day be again fully
As Jesus’ disciples, we are the temples of God in the world today. We are the intersection of the heavens and the earth. We are the witnesses of the way things were always supposed to be and the way they will one day be again. We are foretastes of what it truly means to be human. The Holy Spirit has come to dwell within us to empower us for this very high calling (Acts 1:8). In response, let us learn to live and walk by the Spirit:
- Living intentionally.
- Remembering where our story began & anticipating where it’s going.
- Pursuing ongoing apprenticeship unto Jesus.
- Loving sacrificially.
- Living an eternal kind of life here & now.
- Establishing our allegiance in Jesus’ eternal kingdom.
- Showing the rest of the world how to live well here & now…
WHEN JESUS IS KING.
(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)
Today, let’s consider a couple of New Testament ideas that are sometimes familiar to Christians, but which are not often taken too seriously.
- The Church is a co-HEIR with Jesus Christ of the New Creation. The New Creation is our INHERITANCE in the Lord (Romans 8; Galatians 4; Ephesians 1; Titus 3).
- When God’s Kingdom culminates at Jesus’ return, we’ll be set in place to REIGN over it (2 Timothy 2; Revelation 5 & 22).
Imagine with me for a moment that you have the greatest, most compassionate, most brilliant uncle ever. From the day you were born, he’s been watching over you -– thrilled with every step you’ve taken and with every aspect of your development. Although he’s very modest and humble, this uncle happens to be the owner, president, and CEO of a multibillion-dollar company. And from the day you were born, he’s been grooming you and inviting you into his business that you might share in it with him. You are his heir. You are his apprentice.
How would life be different if it was shaped by such anticipation and knowledge? What hard decisions would you be free to make knowing this was your future? What circumstances would you now be empowered to endure as the heir to your uncle’s kingdom?
What if this scenario were true, except the reality was infinitely bigger? What if the Kingdom encompassed ALL of creation? What if you’d step into this inheritance for ETERNITY?
How would life be different…here? Now?
“…No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in [that city], and his servants will worship him.
They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:3-5).
This is the future of the Church. This is the anticipation of all those who live in faithful service of Jesus Christ. Though this scenario seems surreal, it is much easier to grasp with the whole biblical narrative in mind. God created humanity to govern creation on his behalf. Despite the initial catastrophe, Jesus put creation back on course. God’s plans will not be thwarted. Creation will be renewed and restored and God’s people will reign over the New Creation under Jesus Christ.
Following Jesus and submitting to a life of discipleship is not some religious act. It is the only reasonable response once we understand what’s really unfolding around us. If we believe that things are coming to pass as indicated in the scriptures, embracing discipleship wholeheartedly and with great effort only makes sense.
As with everything in life worth doing, however, discipleship comes at a cost. This inheritance comes at a cost. We must lay aside our own ambitions and desires to be adopted into God’s family and to inherit the Kingdom. If we cling to our lives, we’ll lose them; but if we “lay down our lives” to live for Jesus Christ, only then do we truly find them (Mark 8:35). This was the way Jesus modeled and it is the way for his followers.
Jesus’ teaching. With this scenario in mind, many of Jesus’ parables and teachings make more sense. Jesus wasn’t making quaint, moral points. He was conveying a new reality of life because he was becoming King. He used various metaphors to reveal the true context of our lives and the corresponding invitation to take part in what was unfolding in and through him.
Count the cost. Throughout the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) Jesus often reiterated that in order to follow him, people would have to “count the cost.” Christians sometimes interpret these passages as gloomy, depressing demands. They hear the message, “Give up everything you love and hold dear and live a deprived ‘Christian’ life. And when you die you can go to heaven.”
But this is a misinterpretation. To accurately “count the cost”, we must understand both the cost and the reward/benefit. We must know the story. We must know what God is up to. And then we must consider what price we would pay to be part of his eternal kingdom. To be clear, God’s promise is not death and clouds and harps and heavenly choirs. It’s much better than that. It’s far more audacious:
- God’s promise to you is an inheritance in an eternal Kingdom.
- God’s promise to you is immortality.
- God’s promise to you is reigning with Jesus over the New Creation.
This is God’s invitation to you in and through Jesus Christ. So now –-
COUNT THE COST.
What’s this invitation worth to you?
What are you going to live for?
Who will you become in God’s story?
(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)
Imagine this scenario in Matthew 3…
A wild and controversial prophet emerges after centuries of divine silence. He’s inviting God’s people out into the wilderness to re-enter God’s promised land through the Jordan river in a prophetic act of baptism for repentance from sin. And as he does so, he’s announcing some good news: The Kingdom of God is within reach! And there was someone among them who would immerse the people in the presence of God!
Imagine the ancient memories and hope that John the Baptist was awakening in the people. John was acting out & proclaiming the imminent fulfillment of the deepest longings and hopes of Israel!
The time has finally come! Our exile is ended!
The Kingdom is at hand!! God is returning!
This explosive anticipation was the context into which Jesus stepped and began his ministry. The mysterious and long prophesied Messiah –- a seemingly irreconcilable vision of Israel’s King, the prophet Isaiah’s “suffering servant” (Isaiah 53), the promised “prophet like Moses” (Deuteronomy 18), the Redeemer, the Son of Man, the Son of David, the Son of God –- had come. Beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, this was all to be fulfilled in and through one man –- Jesus…the Christ.
Let’s place all this within the context of God’s story:
As the center and apex of God’s story, everything sovereignly pointed toward the coming of Jesus Christ, in whom all things are fulfilled and on whom the story turns. The full wreckage of humanity collapsed onto the cross in all its fury. Evil, rebellion, sin, and death culminated in the crucifixion of perfect love. But in the face of what looked like ultimate disaster, the fullness of sin and death was absorbed at the cross and then epically defeated at Jesus’ resurrection. The renewal which all creation now anticipates became a reality in Jesus’ resurrection (Rom. 8:22). The story turned.
In light of God’s epic victory in and through Jesus Christ, perhaps it is no wonder that the phrase “personal Savior” never appears in the Bible. In fact, the New Testament puts very little emphasis on individual forgiveness or passage to heaven upon death. You and I were never intended to be the center of the story. God is not concerned with us escaping from creation.
The gospel just isn’t big enough or good enough when individual forgiveness, security, and well being after death are its center. Instead, Jesus is the center. He’s where everything comes together. And he’s MUCH bigger than most people realize:
- Jesus is the quintessential human.
- Jesus is the faithful Israelite.
- Jesus is God incarnate.
- Jesus is the Messiah.
What was accomplished in and through him is FAR greater than most people ever imagine. And we’re being swept into this same story! We’re invited to share in his victory! We’re invited to take part in something much bigger than ourselves. We’re offered a place in a coming, eternal Kingdom –- Jesus’ reign over the New Creation.
(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)