Advent is a time of waiting. A time of waiting and drawing closer to Jesus. So we thought we would help you draw closer to Christ and wait by putting this Advent devotional together. So download a copy, and use it each day during advent and wait upon Him.
Here are some pictures from our Veritas Service Sunday yesterday. We partnered with Binding Love Scarves and helped cut recycled clothing so they can be made into scarves and sold and the proceeds go to help fight Human Trafficking. A great way to serve and be a blessing.
So today we come to the conclusion of our 4 week series For, With, One of, In. In the incarnation of Jesus, we see the way that God and Jesus interact with all of humanity. First of all, God is for us. Secondly, God is with us. Thirdly, Jesus became one of us. And lastly when we receive him, Jesus comes to live in us. When we follow this model of incarnational living we become for people, we are with people, we become one of them, so that Jesus then comes to live in them. And so we have spent a great deal amount of time talking during this series of what it means to live an incarnational life.
The first week we talked about the fact that God is actually for us. All too often we have a mistaken view that God the Father is just waiting for us to screw up so that he can crush us. That he is for us as long as we don’t screw up or get out of line. Then when we do, watch out. The Father’s anger comes raining down. But if we are to believe John 3:16-17 (especially verse 17) then we have to believe that Jesus is absolutely for us. And then when we realize that, and seek to live a life that is informed and shaped by God being for us, we become for people. Just ask the regular person on the street if they believe the church and Christians are for people or against them, and we all know what they will say. That Christians are against them. In fact, it is true that we are known more for what we are against than what we are for. How do we change that? We realize that God is for us (and for all people) and then we become for people.
Then we spent time talking about God being with us. Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus. What we celebrate at Christmas. That God the Father isn’t just some deity in the sky who is distant and unapproachable. He showed the Israelites that he was with them on their journey from Egypt to the Promised land through the presence of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And that God took them through the desert. We talked about the fact that God meets us in the wilderness as well. And that he is with us and calls us then to be with people.
Last week we talked about God being one of us in the person of Jesus. How he came to earth, taking on flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood. And that Jesus truly understands what it means to be human. He became one of us and calls us who follow him to incarnate and become one of the people, networks, and neighborhoods that we are a part of. That we are already one of.
This week we finish our series For, With, One of, In by looking at In and to do that we’ll use one verse from the Apostle Paul’s letter to Galatian church. So let’s look at Galatians 2:20 and see what it might say about God living in and through us.
Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
To truly understand this one verse in chapter 2 of Galatians we need to take a look at what the Apostle Paul was writing about in this letter. Paul is writing to the Galatian church regarding their position before God, what set them in right relationship with God. The Galatian church had Judaizers come and teach them that they not only needed to follow Jesus, but that they also had to abide by certain Old Testament rites, especially circumcision. You see Judaizers were Jewish Christians who believed, among other things, that a number of practices from the Old Testament were still binding in the New Testament church. And Paul here in this letter to the church at Galatia is stating that it is by grace through faith alone that people are justified and it is by faith alone that they are to live out their new life in the freedom of the Holy Spirit. It is not the law, and the Old Testament rituals that set us right with God and redeems us. It isn’t whether we are Jewish or Greek, our heritage that puts us in right relationship with God. It is Christ, Christ crucified and Christ alone that redeems, reconciles, sets us right, and by which forgiveness comes. That is what Paul is trying to get across to the followers of Jesus in the Galatian church.
What Paul is getting at in verse 20 is that he realized that on the cross a great exchange happened. He gave Jesus his old try to be right before God by the law life and it was crucified on the cross. Then Jesus gave Paul his life to live. Christ came to live in him. So Paul’s life wasn’t his anymore. It belonged to Jesus. Paul didn’t own his own life, that life was dead, he was simply stewarding or managing the new life that Jesus gave him by his death on the cross. Martin Luther puts it this way, “Faith connects you so intimately with Christ that He and you become as if you were one person. As such you may boldly say ‘I am now one with Christ. Therefore, Christ’s righteousness, victory, and life are mine.’ On the other hand Christ may say ‘I am that big sinner. His sin and death are one because he is joined to me and I to him.”
So we who are in Jesus, our old self was crucified with Jesus, and our new self is bound with Jesus. Our old identity is dead, and our new identity is in Jesus. Whatever you were before Jesus, you are no longer that. We are the Messiah’s people with his life now at work in us. If we are ‘in” the crucified Jesus that means that our previous identities are irrelevant. They are to be forgotten. And if we have a new identity, one drawn from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and if our new identity is because Jesus now lives in us, we have a different life. Our old life, lived under the law (think about why this letter was written- the OT ceremonial laws that the Judaizers wanted the Galatian believers to follow) is now dead. Now we are alive to Jesus Christ and he is alive in us.
And so if Jesus resides in us, if he comes to live within us, that means our life is no longer ours. It is his. And that life, the life of Jesus, lived through our lives need to be cruciform. What is the cruciform life? It means a cross shaped life. Our life is shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross. The cross, representing the life, death, and resurrected life of Jesus is the soul and life shaping core of the disciple’s existence. What Jesus did while walking on this earth is what he wants to do in and through us out in the world. How he lived his life while on earth is how he is calling us to live, since he has taken up residence within us. Taking up his home with those of us who have received him into our life.
So maybe the first thing that I need to ask is have you been crucified with Christ, and have you allowed Jesus to take up residence within you? To give your life for his life? To take up your cross and follow him? To begin living a cruciform life, a life shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross? If not, that is the first thing that you need to do before looking at anything else or hearing anything else that I say. Because you can’t seek to live out this For, With, One of, In reality out in the world, in your neighborhood, networks, and friends unless the reality is that you have received Jesus in your life. Have you traded places with him? Come to a place where your old life is dead, on the cross with him. And that your new life is Jesus living in and through you? If not, I pray that today you would give your life to him, and become a steward of the new life in Jesus that he will give back to you. (This is a beautiful picture of what we do when we baptize someone. Like the other week when Luis got baptized. He went into the water. His old life dying on the cross with Jesus. He came out of the water with Jesus’ new life within him).
And so when we do that, when our life is crucified with Jesus, we receive the new life through Jesus. The new life of Jesus living in and through us, we take on a new name. The name of Jesus. We become Christians, in the best and truest sense of the word, which means little Christs or little Jesus-es. (That is how the early followers of Jesus got their name because they looked like Jesus in the way that they lived his life in and through them).
And so as we have been walking through this incarnational journey, hopefully we have all begun to understand the implications of this journey. The implications of God being for us, with us, and one of us which then often times leads us to invite Jesus to be in us. And that changes everything. God passes the DNA of Jesus into our lives. Because we then possess the DNA of Jesus within us, we are empowered to live as Jesus lived while here on earth. And so when we then possess the DNA of Jesus within us, when our old life is crucified with Jesus, and our new life is cruciform, looking like the cross, then we, like God, must be for people, we must be with people, we must be one of people, so that the DNA of Jesus can be passed through our lives into the lives of others and Jesus will come and live in them as well.
So as we have been walking this incarnational journey together over the last 4 weeks who has God been laying on your heart? Who do you need to walk through this process with (not in a formal way or even an explicit way). But who needs to know (experience) that you are for them, that you are with them, that you are one of them with the hope and dream that the Jesus that lives within you can come and live within them? Who is God calling you to be on mission for? Who is God calling our community to be on mission for? Who is God calling us to be for? Who is God calling us to be with? Who is God calling us to be one of? So that the Jesus that lives, and breathes through our Veritas community, can come and live, and move and have his being in their lives?
And maybe that person is you. Maybe these four weeks have been for you. That you are the person that needs to first realize that God is for you. That he isn’t against you. That he is with you. That he meets you in the mess, the pain, the struggle, the wilderness, and the beauty as well. That he became one of us, took on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. He understands everything that you go through and because he came as a human (all the while still being God) he can be the only one who can set us right with God. And because he is for you, with you, and one of you, he wants to come and live within you.
So let’s spend some time discussing, talking, and applying what it means that your old life is crucified with Jesus and that he is now living in and through you. Let’s talk about who God may be calling us to walk through this process of For, With, One of, In with. And let’s see what part of this series spoke to you the most and what you are sensing God’s call on your life is through the series.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc… does the Scripture and/or message raise in your mind?
2. Who is God calling you (and us as a community) be be For, With, One of so that Jesus comes to live within them? Who do you need to walk through this process with?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
4. What stood out to you during our For, With, One of, In series? Which one of the 4 do you need to internalize and externalize?
Over the last 2 weeks we have been exploring our series For, With, One of, In. 2 weeks ago Matt kicked off our series by looking at John 3:16-17 and sharing with us the fact that God is for us (and for all people, not just followers of Jesus) and that because he is for people, that we should be for people as well.
Last week we talked about the idea that God is with us. That the ultimate reality of that fact is Emmanuel..God with us, in the form and life of Jesus. We talked about the Israelites leaving Egypt and going into the wilderness on their way to the promised land. On that journey the tangible presence of God was with them guiding, directing and being with them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. We talked about God being with the Israelites in the wilderness and how he is with us in our times of wilderness. We also talked about the idea that if God is with us, and that we are vessels of the Holy Spirit and seeking to follow in the footsteps of our Lord, Savior, and Redeemer, then we need to be with people as well.
Today we are entering the 3rd of the 4 weeks and looking at One of. Next week we’ll round out our series by looking at In.
To dig into this idea of One of, we could go many places. Obviously the first and best place to start in relation to the fact that God was one of us is in relation to the incarnation of Jesus, that we celebrate at Christmas time. And while we won’t be using the Scripture narratives from Matthew and Luke regarding that first Christmas, we’ll be using 2 other Scriptures that shed light in what it means and what it meant for God to be one of us, in the person of Jesus.
First, let’s turn to Colossians 2:9 and see what the Apostle Paul says to the Colossian church regarding Jesus, the incarnation and the fact that God was one of us in Jesus. Colossians 2:9 says, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form”
To understand what Paul is getting at in this text we need to do a little historical research on why Paul was writing the letter to the church at Colossae in the first place. You see the Colossian church was being besieged with some beliefs about Jesus that weren’t correct and Paul was seeking to combat the erroneous beliefs that had infiltrated the Colossian church. Colossians 2:9 is a declaration of the full deity of Jesus. Paul is saying that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus and that Jesus couldn’t have been halfway God or a junior God. You see there were three prominent heretical views about Jesus that were making their rounds in the early church and these views needed to be combated with a strong message that Jesus was fully God and fully human at the same time, as hard is that for us to believe at times. 100% human. 100% God.
One of the false teachings among the Colossian Christians was something like an early form of Gnosticism, that would come later. This belief made a radical separation between the spiritual and the physical. That the spirit is 100% good and the physical is 100% evil. So Jesus, if he was 100% good couldn’t have been physically human. That is why Paul says, “fullness of Deity in bodily form.” That Jesus literally took on the bodily form of humanity and not in some strange mystical, spiritual sense.
Another false teaching of the day that some in Colossae may have held to was called Docetism, coming from the Greek word dokeĩn which means to seem. Docetism claims that Jesus wasn’t truly human, he only seemed human. That he didn’t have an actual human body, and that he only seemed to have a human body.
Lastly, the other false teaching was called Cerinthianism and it taught that “Jesus the man” was separate and distinct from “the Spirit of Christ.”
Hopefully knowing what teachings the early church was struggling through, we can see why Paul was strongly stating the fact that, unlike all the other teachings that we looked at, that “in Jesus all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” The Apostle Paul was saying that Jesus literally became human, he became one of us. But at the same time, even though he became one of us, a human, he still retained his deity. It wasn’t like he had to give up his divinity in order to take on his humanity. God became one of us in the person of Jesus. And that this Jesus who came from heaven to walk among people, was also fully divine.
The Apostle Paul talks a lot about the intersection of Jesus’ divinity and his humanity. It seems like, to me, that this was one of Paul’s central doctrine of his faith. That Jesus was truly God and truly man. As I said a lot of the book of Colossians deals with the supremacy and primacy of Jesus and his divine and human nature, but Paul also writes about this in other letters.
One of the letters where he tackles what happened when Jesus took on flesh and blood is found in Philippians. Let’s look at Philippians 2:5-11 and see what this might say to us about how God became one of us in the person of Jesus.
Philippians 2:5-11 says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
In this text, which many theologians believe is a ancient hymn, Paul talks about the nature of Jesus’ humanity and his divinity. In verse 6 we read, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;” First, it is openly clear from this verse that Paul is not denying the fact that Jesus was in his very nature God. But at the same time Jesus did not cling to the privileges of deity. It wasn’t that Jesus was trying to achieve equality with God the Father, he already had it and he chose not to cling to it. This is a crucial statement because it is the reason that he became one of us. That he didn’t cling to the privileges of deity. He could have stayed with his Father, ruling and reigning from heaven, without ever putting one foot on the soil of his creation. He could have pronounced us redeemed, set right, forgiven, and whole all the while sitting at the right hand of the Father. But he didn’t. He chose not to use equality with God to his own advantage. No, he submitted himself to the will of the Father and took on the flesh and blood of his creation. Entered into our reality. Entered into the mess of humanity. Became one of us. Understanding everything we go through. Understanding the brokenness that we struggle with. If you ever ask the question “Does God understand what I’m going through” all we need to do is to look at Jesus and his incarnation, his becoming human to walk among his creation and experience everything that his creation experiences.
NT Wright has this to say about verses 6-7 and the fact that Jesus while becoming human didn’t stop being divine, “Let’s clear one misunderstanding out of the way in case it still confuses anybody. In verse 7 Paul says that Jesus ‘emptied himself’. People have sometimes thought that this means that Jesus, having been divine up to that point, somehow stopped being divine when he became human, and then went back to being divine again. This is, in fact, completely un-true to what Paul has in mind. The point of verse 6 is that Jesus was indeed already equal with God; somehow Paul is saying that Jesus already existed even before he became a human being (verse 7). But the decision to become human, and to go all the way along the road of obedience, obedience to the divine plan of salvation, yes, all the way was not a decision to stop being divine. It was a decision about what it really meant to be divine.”
Jesus, in all respects, was in appearance and likeness, a man. If you cut Jesus, he bled like any other human. It’s not like some of the artwork we see where it’s almost like if you cut him, light would come shining through because he just put on the outer form of humanity over his divinity. No, he was human through and through. You cut him, he bled. When he was tired, he slept. When he hurt for people, he cried. He was one of us. The song that we listened to at the beginning of our gathering was a question, “what if God was one of us?” And the answer has to be, he was one of us. Jesus was one of us. But at the same time, as hard as it is to fathom, Jesus was at the same time God. He was God in the flesh. God and Human all wrapped up together in the package of Jesus.
Now was does it mean to you and I that God was one of us in the person of Jesus? What does it mean to us as followers of Jesus in this time and in this place? Let me throw out some thoughts about what the incarnation means and how to apply it to our lives before we open it up for our discussion time.
First, as I mentioned above, Jesus entered into our reality. He entered into the mess of what it means to be truly human. He enters into our mess. He enters into our struggles, our pains, our darkness. He isn’t afraid to get dirty. He understands what it means to be human. To struggle, to be tempted as we are tempted (though he didn’t sin), to be in pain, to hurt. He can not only sympathize with you in your struggles, he can also empathize with you. He has been where you are. He meets us where we are because he was and is one of us.
Secondly, because God came in the flesh in the person of Jesus, when we become followers of Jesus, than he calls us to incarnate him into the world. To be one of. Who are you called to be one of? To incarnate the gospel of Jesus into the people of which you are already a part of? As followers of Jesus, he commissions us to love the people we are one of. Who is it for you? Who are you already one of? There are a few of you who are college students. Love the students you are already one of. Love and live like Jesus on the F&M, Millersville, and HACC campus. What about being one of those who live in your neighborhood? Love and be a blessing to the neighborhood that you are already a part of. Throw a party. Invite people to dinner. Get a bunch of your neighbors together and serve together. Serve someone in your neighborhood who could use some help.
What neighborhood or network of people are you already one of? As we have talked together over the last 3 weeks, does that network of people or neighborhood known that you are for them? Are you with them? Do you actually like them? Maybe some better questions would be things like: Would the people in my network or neighborhood say that I am for them? Would they say that I am with them? And would they consider me to be one of them?
Let’s talk about what the incarnation of Jesus into the world, taking on flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood means personally for you and I. Let’s talk about what it means to be one of. Let’s ask the question about who we are one of and how we can be for, with, and one of. Let’s talk about the incarnation and how Jesus calls us to be incarnational.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. does these Scriptures and the message bring up in your mind?
2. What does it mean to you that God became one of us in Jesus? How does this impact you on a daily basis? How does it feel to know that God has entered into our mess and our reality?
3. Who are you already one of? How is God calling you to incarnate the love of Jesus in the networks that you are already one of? How can you love, serve and bless who you are already one of?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
So today we continue our 4 week series called For, With, One of, In. In the incarnation of Jesus, we see the way that God and Jesus interact with all of humanity. First of all, God is for us. Secondly, God is with us. Thirdly, Jesus became one of us. And lastly when we receive him, Jesus comes to live in us. When we follow this model of incarnational living we become for people, we are with people, we become one of them, so that Jesus then comes to live in them.
Last week Matt did a great job of kicking off the series by looking at the fact that God is for people. He did a great job of unpacking John 3:16-17 especially verse 17 (which sits right beside probably one of the most well known scripture of all time, and verse 17 which isn’t even that well known). Verse 17 says it best regarding the fact that God is for us, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” And Matt helped us understand that if God is for people (and not just those of us who follow him, but for ALL people) than we need to be for people. We need to become a people more known for what we are for than what we are against. The Church in our world today is seen as being against people and not for people. Jesus, if he is our model for life, which he should be, was sent into the world to love people, not condemn people and to be for people. So if he is our model for life then we should be the most loving, least condemning people on the planet and we should be for people.
Today we are going to look at the second part of our series, the with part. Now when we talk about the fact that God is with us, we should immediately think of Emmanuel, which means God with us. Jesus, taking on flesh and blood, and moving into the neighborhood as the Message translates John 1:14. That is the ultimate picture of God with us. That is the quintessential example of God with us. But there are other examples, other accounts, within the Scriptures that speak of God with us. God entering into the world of humans, and engaging with us. Yes they aren’t as revolutionary, as important, as central to the idea of God with us, as Jesus, the incarnate one is. But they are still examples of God being with humanity, guiding, directing, leading, and engaging in relationship with his creation. One of these stories of God being with humanity is found in Exodus 13:17-22, in which the people of God, the Israelites are leaving slavery in Egypt and heading towards Canaan, the promised land.
Let’s look at Exodus 13:17-22 and see what it says about God being with us, and what it looks like then for us to be with people.
Exodus 13:17-22 says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.” After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”
Now as I said this is the part of the story that is telling us what happened once Pharaoh let God’s people, the Israelites, leave slavery and Egypt. This is the account of the beginning of their 40 year journey in the wilderness. The first thing we read in verse 17-18 is God leading the people out from Egypt. Verse 17 and 18 says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.” Here we see God leading them in which way to go. He is with them and helping them make a crucial decision on what route to take from Egypt to the promised land. You see, just like today, when there isn’t just one way to get somewhere, there were possibly three various routes that people took throughout history. There are only two possibilities mentioned here. The first being the way of the Philistines, which would have been the shorter route, but the Israelites would have faced the most opposition. First they would have probably come across many Egyptian army outposts on their way out of Egypt, and then when they got out of Egypt they would have ran into Philistine armies. The second mentioned here, in which God led them, was into the wilderness. They went on the desert road towards the Red Sea. This was by far a longer trip, but it was probably just as dangerous in other ways.
But God led them to the desert road, and the wilderness, and he would be with them throughout their journey. When they had a decision to make, or needed wisdom or direction for the next steps, God was with them. They knew that, without a doubt, that God was with them. They knew this because they had something to look at. God was faithful to provide the Israelites with a visible manifestation of His presence, protection and guidance. We find what that visible manifestation of his presence was in verse 21-22 which says, “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” The pillar, we are told, was constantly with them and never left (or failed) them. God continually gave his people evidence of His presence with them. What is interesting about the Pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night is that the Persians and the Greeks used fire and smoke as signals in their marches and in a well known Papyrus, the Commander of an Egyptian expedition is called “A flame in the darkness at the head of his soldiers”. By this sign then of the pillar of cloud, basically what is being said is that the Lord himself is the leader or the head of the people of God, the Israelites. He was going before them and he was leading them. He was with them and he was never going to leave them nor forsake them. Deuteronomy 31 verse 6 sums up pretty well the Israelites journey out of Egypt, “ Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
So no matter whether it was day or night, there was a tangible presence of God. Whether it was the pillar of cloud by day or pillar of fire by night, the Israelites knew that God was with them and was leading them. That God was protecting them. And with that protection came their allegiance to their King. Not a king in the fleshy, human sense (that would come later) but God as their King. With the presence of the cloud during the day and pillar of fire at night, the Israelite people knew that their King, God (Yahweh) wasn’t some distant ruler, who ruled from a far. Who demanded allegiance without being for his people and with his people. No. This King Yahweh was for his people. This King Yahweh was present with his people. And because he was for and with his people, they followed him and gave allegiance to him (in this part of the story at least)
I believe there are a few things that we can draw from this passage and apply to our lives today in the 21st century.
First, let’s take another look at the beginning of the text. Look at where God took them. He took them, not by the easiest, quickest route, but into the wilderness. That his presence, symbolized by the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, was with them in the wilderness and the desert. Now, I’m not saying that if you find yourself in a desert place, a wilderness place, a dark place that God led you there. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Maybe you are in a place where God seems distant. Where you haven’t felt God in a long time. That you haven’t sensed his leading. And it might feel like when you pray that you are screaming to the sky and no one is listening. You need to know, that if that is you today, you aren’t alone. You aren’t alone in a number of ways. Many people, even people who are renown for their faith in Jesus have felt that way. There is a book/poem by mystic St. John of the Cross called Dark Night of the Soul. The main idea of the poem can be seen as the painful experience that people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. Also Mother Teresa, known for her deep love and service also struggled with not feeling God. In her journal she once wrote, “In the darkness . . . Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me? The child of your love — and now become as the most hated one. The one — you have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer . . . Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love — the word — it brings nothing. I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”
Others have gone through the desert as well. So you aren’t alone in that. But you are also not alone. Even though it doesn’t feel like God is present with you in the wilderness, he is. If we believe this text, and others like it (especially in relation to Emmanuel..God with us) God enters into our wilderness, our suffering, our pain. Sure you might not feel him. And you most definitely won’t see a pillar of cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night. But that doesn’t escape the fact that God, through Jesus, has entered into our world, and is with us in a very real and profound way. Especially those who are suffering and going through wilderness experiences. So if that is you today, know that God is with you, walking with you through this experience, and that those of us who are followers of Jesus are also with you, and want to walk with you through your wilderness experience.
Secondly, when we look at the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire we see a tangible reality, that God was and is with people. He didn’t wait for people to come be with him. He didn’t sit in heaven and just wait for people to climb a ladder (so to speak) and be with him. And so this story of God coming down in a pillar of cloud and pillar of fire shows us that God is with us. But we see this best in Jesus. In Jesus we see that he came to be with us, that is what we celebrate at Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us. And so, logically, if we, who call ourselves Followers of Jesus, follow after Jesus in the way he lived his life, than we need to wrestle with the idea and fact that Jesus was with people, and that we then need to be with people. We don’t sit inside our “sanctified buildings” and wait for people to be with us. No. We take a cue from this text and from Jesus, and go out into the world to be with people. One great way that I can think of to be with people is to help out with Circles. God is calling us to go out and be with people. He might not lead us by a cloud and by fire, but he is leading us nevertheless. To get out of the bubble, and engage with people who are all around us. To love our neighbor. To learn their names if we don’t know them. To serve people. To bless them. To spend time over a dining room table eating with people. Let’s not only be for people, but let’s take another step on this incarnational journey and be with people.
So what does this look like for you? What does this look like for us? What does it mean to you that God is with us? Are you experiencing a time in your life where that reality needs to sink in to your life? How can you and I be with people? Let’s spend some time wrestling together with these questions and applying them to our individual and corporate lives.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What does it mean to you that God is with us? How do you need this reality to sink into your life? Are you in a time where you need to know that God is with you?
3. How can you and I be with people? What does it look like for you to be with people? What does it look like for us as Veritas to be with people?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Start of new series For, With, One of, In
“The theme for the day is For and the idea that God/Jesus is For us and that because he is for us we can be for people. This is especially played out in verse 17 which talks about Jesus not condemning the world and then if we follow him shouldn’t that be the way we engage with people, that we are really for them? Yet, so often, Christians are perceived (and maybe rightly so) as against people.”
To start this new series, we will begin with a verse that I think I can say without any exaggeration is the best-known Bible verse of all. One that, if you grew up in the church, you probably learned as a little kid, one that you can probably quote without looking it up, one whose reference is sometimes found on big posters held up by fans at sporting events. We are looking at John 3:16-17 today. Let’s read:
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Verse 16 seems simple enough, right? It encapsulates Jesus’ earthly ministry & why it is important to us, His followers these 2000 or so years later. It is a beautiful summary of the humble, selfless act of the Son of God becoming a human, becoming one of us, & His atoning death on the cross, together with His resurrection, His work of conquering sin & death. Verse 16 is rightly very well-known.
But what about verse 17? Did you have that one memorized before we looked at it just now? And what does it mean that these two verses are one right after another, that Jesus spoke them in nearly the same breath? Let us look at the context in which these verses were spoken for some insight.
These verses are part of a late-night conversation between the Pharisee Nicodemus & Jesus.
Nicodemus was a member of Jewish society’s religious elite, the Pharisees. While we look at them now through the eyes of hindsight, they would have been educated, likely well-respected men who knew the Scriptures inside & out. For Nicodemus to be coming to Jesus, a carpenter’s son without nearly as much “formal religious training” as he himself likely had, showed some humility. And some embarrassment, too – he probably met with Jesus at night because he was ashamed to be seen “consorting with the enemy” – clearly the way that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day viewed Jesus – & asking Jesus questions. Nicodemus found himself in a position in which it likely wasn’t okay to have questions about faith.
Jesus seemed perfectly willing to spend time with ANYBODY – including a member of a group that he knew was plotting to kill Him – & tell Him about His plan for His Kingdom & the salvation that he offers.
As for John 3:16 itself, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers remarks that “most young preachers have sermons upon it; older men learn that its meaning must be felt & thought rather than spoken. Still less can it be written; & this Note may not attempt to do more than indicate some lines of thought which may help to lead to others…While the words of the verse are quite familiar to most of us, they were uttered to Nicodemus for the first time”. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was being fulfilled in the person of Jesus, & this would have likely rocked Nicodemus’ world. The Jews of Jesus’ time were figuring on a Messiah who would wipe out the Gentiles, a military Savior who would obliterate their political enemies. There is, after all, an abundance of talk about judgment for sin in the Old Testament, especially in the prophetic books like Ezekiel & Isaiah. But Jesus shows another plan at work – something that is also hinted at by those same prophets, Isaiah in particular. He paints the picture of a Father & his only Son – a picture that suggests the man of faith that the Jews looked up to most – Abraham. God provided a substitutionary sacrifice to take Isaac’s place on the altar then, & Jesus is saying here that God is providing Jesus Himself in place of the guilty parties – all of sinful man, every single person. He doesn’t draw a boundary & say that the salvation would be only for Israel, either, but the whole world. The one & only condition: “That whosoever believes on Him (Jesus)”. Any relationship needs to be two-sided, so Jesus included the fact that each individual person needs to choose to follow Him. Which leads us in to John 3:17.
In verse 17, Jesus seems to be directly taking on the notion of a vengeful Savior. He says, “ For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Jesus is FOR us – He wants to see us saved, & He gives us the avenue for that – Himself. Earlier in the Gospels, in Luke 4:16-21, Jesus ties it all together beautifully. Let me read it:
“16 So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,[j] To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus makes it clear that He is FOR us. He loves us, & God the Father loves us so much that He gave Jesus for us & raised Him from the dead, so that we can spend eternity in fellowship with Him. And also so we can follow Him in life, in building His Kingdom, & in being His hands & feet in the world as we know it.
Let me also make it clear, though that Jesus wants EVERYONE to be saved, to experience His love, to know Him truly. It is all too easy to fall into the trap that the Pharisees & the Jews were likely prone to – the idea that God was only for them. I feel that American Christianity has all too often come off as a judgemental club of easily-offended finger-waggers, breathing condemnation on those who don’t believe as they do. But Jesus is not only FOR us as Veritas, or as American Christians, or as members of the developed Western world. We can’t treat the truth that Jesus communicates in John 3:16-17 as something on which we have cornered the market. This salvation, this life, this relationship is available to all who want it, without restriction. That includes our loved ones, our enemies, total strangers, people on the other side of the world, homeless people, rich people, saints, criminals, you, & me. Simply put, Jesus is FOR us, FOR all people – let us live in the light of that truth.
1. What thoughts/comments/questions/pushback do you have about these verses of Scripture/this message?
2. Jesus is FOR us – what does that mean to you personally? To Veritas as a community? How might this change your perception of other people?
So today we come to the end of our 6 week series called Fight. We have been exploring together questions like:What does the Bible say about warfare and violence? Can a Christian use violence? Go to war? Kill in self-defense? Why does the Old Testament seem to present violence in a positive light while the New Testament seems more negative? Do we kill our enemies (Joshua) or love them (Jesus)?
Now if you’ve been with us throughout this series, you realize that these questions are not easy ones to wrestle with. They are complicated and take a lot of thought, prayer, dialogue, and reading Scripture together. I hope you also realized that the point of this series was to begin to ask the questions, help our community to wrestle with these questions, and look at what Jesus might have to say about these issues. And so maybe at the end of this series you have more questions than answers, that is okay. Keeping searching. Maybe you have really been challenged with the material and you want to continue learning and researching. Some good books that you might want to read include: Fight by Preston Sprinkle, Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd, Jesus for President & Irresistible Revolution both by Shane Claiborne, God Behaving Badly by David Lamb, the Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, and read anything by Greg Boyd and Bruxy Cavey as well. Hopefully these resources will help you as you continue to wrestle with God’s call for his people to live Shalom in all areas of life and out in the world. And maybe you aren’t where I am in regards to Biblical non-violence and that is okay. But hopefully we all have been challenged to live more and more like Jesus and more and more living out his call to Shalom.
But today as we end our time together in this series we are going to tackle probably one of the more difficult questions that people who hold to Biblical non-violence get: What about Revelation? How do you get non-violence out of the book of Revelation? After all one theologian says, “Christ himself will engage in actual blood-shedding, life-taking warfare, when he returns to set up his Kingdom. He also instructs his people to engage in that warfare.” Another popular Pastor said this about the Jesus he found in Revelation, “In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand, and a pension to make someone bleed.” This Pastor is no doubt referencing our text for the morning, Revelation 19:11-21 in his words. So we will take a look at this text which from face value looks like it supports what the theologian and Pastor has said about it. We’ll see how it really is actually flipping violence on it’s head when we understand and really look at the text.
So let’s look at Revelation 19:11-21, “ I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords. And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.” Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.”
Now just from first glance, as I said, it looks like the text supports the statements from the theologian and pastor. But we need to realize something, Revelation is a genre of literature called Apocalyptic. This genre of literature is a highly symbolic type of literature. If you interpret Revelation as a literal snapshot of what is going to take place the last couple of years of world history, then yes you’ll find a Jesus who appears violent. But because Revelation is apocalyptic in it’s genre, it completely rules out a literal reading as virtually every scholar acknowledges. It is important to note, as NT Wright points out, that the military imagery here is symbolic and not to be taken literally. Some people anticipate a real physical battle with actual military weapons when reading and interpreting this passage. These people take military metaphors and make them literal. The Bible, however, takes military language and makes it metaphorical. This is a depiction of a real defeat, but it is not a description of actual occurrences. Evil will certainly be overthrown. Not, however, with an earthly military campaign. This is a spiritual conflict. It is fought with spiritual weapons. No general would actually lead a battle with a sword hanging out of his mouth. No army would actually go into battle dressed in “fine linen, white and clean” (v. 14). This is clearly symbolic language.
Once we stop reading this type of literature literally, we begin to see that the Jesus of Revelation is actually the same shalom-loving, enemy loving, turn the other check, nonviolent activist that we find in the gospel. In fact what John is doing is actually transforming violent images into images that are anti-violent. Also we need to know that this book was written to those who lived on the underbelly of the greatest empire of the world (at the time) and how that fact forms the central purpose of Revelation. The central purpose of Revelation is to call God’s people who are facing immanent persecution to remain faithful to God’s Lamb-like character despite the appearance that this way of living loses in the face of Babylon.
So with the idea that this isn’t to be taken literal (which to some might sound heretical or “liberal”) and the purpose of the book out of the way, let’s look at the words of John and see what it might say to us living in the midst of the empire that we live in and under.
In Revelation 19:11-12 we read, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.” So here we see Jesus, called Faithful and true, on a white horse, which symbolizes victory. The “battle” has already been won before it was ever really “fought”. We see Jesus judging and waging war with justice. Now what does it mean when it says Jesus wages war. Does this totally contradict what we have been saying during this series? This is not a physical war, it is a war of words, ideas, concepts, worldviews. It is a spiritual battle between evil and good. Between the power of Satan and the power of Jesus. This isn’t Jesus riding into a physical battle with physical weapons. This is Jesus riding into a spiritual battle with spiritual weapons, and we’ll find out in a little bit what the spiritual weapon is that he has.
So then we turn to a very interesting part of the text, and one that again seems to totally go against this non-violent reading of Scripture, but when we take a deeper look at it, we realize that it confirms the non-violent, enemy loving, crucified lamb of God that is throughout the New Testament. Look at verses 13-16 which says, “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.” Did you notice anything interesting in verse 13? Here he is getting ready to ride into battle but his robe is already dipped in blood. Dipped in blood even before the battle. Which then begs the question, whose blood is Jesus’ robe dipped in? What kind of warrior is soaked in blood before the battle? Well, when we look at the rest of Revelation we see that Jesus is often called the Lamb of God. And here we see that played out. Jesus, the warrior, is the slain-lamb and he is covered in his own blood. He didn’t and doesn’t spill others blood but allows for his own blood to be shed on behalf of his enemies. NT Wright says this, “the staining of clothes of the Messiah is his own blood. We are told again and again that the lamb has conquered through his blood, his sacrificial death, and that his followers are to conquer in the same way.”
And so as he rides into “battle” covered in his own blood, the text says that his name is the Word of God, and that he has a sword coming out of his mouth. These two facts, his name and the sword coming from his mouth are intimately connected. And remember the spiritual weapon that I mentioned before? This is it, the Word of God and the sword, which are both the same thing. Notice, that unlike what the Pastor says, the sword comes from his mouth. By placing the sword in the mouth of the slain lamb, John is reversing its violent meaning. John is saying that the Lamb warrior fights not by shedding blood but by simply speaking the truth of God, the word of God and slaying the lies of the deceiver. Remember the other week when we look at Isaiah 11:4 when it had a rod coming out of his mouth. This is the same idea. And so Jesus wins the war with a word. Jesus speaks and the armies fall over dead. No swords, no hale storms, no plagues. No giant insects. He speaks and it is over. The power of God’s word to confront, challenge, convict, and judge. It is exactly like Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Just as God created the world in the beginning with the power of His Word, God will judge the world at the end with the Word of Truth and Justice.
What does he do with the sword that comes from his mouth? He strikes down nations. Does that mean he strikes them down by killing them? If that is the case then how can he rule over them with an iron scepter? It’s obvious that Jesus didn’t kill anyone with the sword because right after Jesus strikes the nations down he is set up to rule over them with an iron scepter. And later we find the slain nations walking by the light of the lamb.
And right after the ruling, we read these words, “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” What does that even mean? NT Wright has this to say, “The symbolism is appropriate because it is taken directly from the passages which speak most powerfully..Isaiah 63, where he (the Messiah) will tread the winepress of the wrath of God. As John’s readers know well by now, the actual weapons which Jesus uses to win the battle are his own blood, his loving self-sacrifice.” Also what is pretty interesting about this passage is that while the ruling of the nation with an iron scepter (or better phrased shepherding) is in the future tense, his treading of the grapes in in the present, matching it with the present tense of his use of the sword which is coming out of his mouth. This means that Christ’s teaching on grapes doesn’t come after he smites the deceived nations with the word of truth, but rather treads on grapes while he slays the deceived nations. Or you could say that “smiting” nations with the truth (sword from his mouth) and treading on the grapes in the winepress are one and the same activity These nations are being slain by the truth.
The rest of the passage relies on what is found on Jesus’ robe and thigh, the tattoo that reads, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” The rest of the passage shows the total defeat of the powers of evil, sin, death, hell and of those who oppose the powers of good and of Jesus. That all of those aligned against Jesus at the end of time will come to defeat. That sin, death, evil, satan, and every thing aligned against Jesus will come to an end. That Jesus, the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords has been victorious, not by living a life of redemptive violence. That Jesus won the battle of sin, death, evil, hell and Satan, not by subjecting them to violence, but by absorbing violence on the cross, and defeating the powers that be by his resurrection from the dead. Again NT Wright puts it this way, “The victory here is a victory over all pagan power, which means a victory over violence itself.” In the end Jesus is victor and he is the last word.
He is calling all of us to live the same lamb-like life. One that doesn’t believe in redemptive violence. One that doesn’t respond in violence but absorbs violence.
Jesus is calling each of us, through this text, to the same thing he has called each and every follower of his to, which he says in Luke 9:23, “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
The final judgment of God will not be a cosmic bloodshed initiated by God. Rather, it is God allowing evil to consume itself and the victory of the Cross in not being like the world. As much as this imagery is depicted in 1st century terms, it is still a message for us today. Though we may not be killed in the streets of America, there are still many ways in which we must sacrifice and die to ourselves in order to live for Christ. And Revelation shows that is the true path to victory.
So let’s spend some time talking through this. Let’s talk about what it means that Jesus is victor not through violence but absorbing violence. Let’s talk about how this text might shape our life in the here and now. And let’s talk about what you have been learning and how you have been growing and wrestling with Fight over the last 6 weeks.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. what does it means that Jesus is victor not through violence but absorbing violence. How does this text might shape our life in the here and now.
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it?n What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
4. As we end our series today, what are some things that you are still thinking about, wrestling with, praying through or something that made a difference in your life during this series?
We’ve been spending the past 4 weeks wrestling through questions and thoughts related to Biblical Non-Violence. We’ve walked through the Old Testament looking at the Biblical concept of Shalom. Shalom being defined as peace, but also joy, wholeness, fullness, completeness, and well being. We said that Shalom can probably best be defined as the way that things should be.
We talked about the fact that God’s original intent and his intent all along has been shalom. A world filled with Shalom where people are at peace with God, with each other, with all of creation. And that how we threw a wrench into that dream, but that he is continuing with his shalom dream.
Last week we entered the New Testament looking at the words of Jesus and showing his radical, third way, non-violent activism.
Today we are going to tackle probably one of the top 4 questions that people who talk about Biblical Non-Violence get. The first being what do you do about the Old Testament, the second being is what we talked about last week, the third being about Revelation and the supposed violence in the book and the fourth being “What about the Government? Do you expect that the Government should become non-violent? Should the government turn the other cheek? Should the government live out God’s original intention of Shalom. And what do you do about Romans 13?”
So today we will look at Romans 13 and what it says about how Christians are to engage with the government and what it might say to us about governments and non-violence.
Romans 13:1-7 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
So often, especially in the evangelical world, people read these words as a defense of violence. Wayne Gruden, a theologian and scholar said, “The sword in the hand of a good government is God’s designated weapon to defeat evildoers.” But the question then becomes “Who decides what a good government is and what a bad government is? Is the United States the good guy or the bad guy? Depends a lot on your perspective. In fact Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin and other “Christian” dictators have celebrated this passage as a divine ticket to execute judgment and justice on their enemies. But is this what Paul was getting at when he wrote this passage in the midst of the Roman Empire? Was he talking about giving Rome (or our government today) the okay to go to war or is there more to it? And just so you know Romans 13 doesn’t authorize a nation to police the world, let alone wage preemptive strikes against nations it considers a threat.
To truly understand what Paul is getting at in Romans 13 we need to do a little bit of contextual work not only in relation to where and to whom Paul is writing to, but we also need to go back to chapter 12 as well, which verse 13:1 is the last of Paul’s litany of commands in Romans 12:9-21.
So Paul is writing Romans in the midst of the Roman Empire, an empire that was definitely not friendly to the church. And so what he is saying is super radical. That we are to submit to governing authorities, especially in a day and age in which many within jewish circles, especially the zealots were hoping to overthrow Rome using violence and the zealot dagger. Also super radical when you realize exactly who was in power when Paul wrote these words. The book of Romans was written around 57 AD and the ruler of the Roman Empire at that time was Nero. Nero known as one of the cruelest Caesars of all. Known for taking Christians, covering them in oil, and lighting them on fire so that they could have light at outdoor garden parties at night.
Even still, Paul writes: “submit to the authorities… as a matter of conscience” (13:5). This clearly is not a text that gives any governmental ruler a free pass, so to speak. In fact, by the time this was written, the emperor cult was growing at a rapid rate. The emperor was worshipped as a son of god throughout the Roman world. Paul reminds Christians of who God actually is and of who actually has all authority. The Apostle states in a subversive fashion: “…for there is no authority except that which God has established” (v. 1). This serves as a reminder that Jesus is the world’s true Lord and that Caesar will be subject to his judgment.
But to get more to the point about what Romans 13 means we also have to look at the context. When the Bible was written there weren’t chapters or verses so sometimes we have artificial breaks in thoughts that aren’t supposed to be there. Let’s look at Romans 12 and see how it directly applies to Romans 13. Romans 12:9-21 says, “ Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” So no doubt Paul in Romans 12 is making connections to the Sermon on the Mount. And so there is the connection between Jesus and Paul in relation to Non-violence. Paul is explicitly forbidding the church in Romans 12 from doing what the government is doing in Romans 13. The church is only commanded to submit to but not partake in the state’s practice. And what we read in Romans 12 and 13 could probably best be described as Submit to the sword but don’t carry one.
The word that we find in Romans 13:1 in the NIV is subject but it could be submit to or subordinate. It doesn’t say obey governing authorities, it says submit or be subject to. Submission sometimes involves obedience and obedience sometimes involved submission. The word there that Paul uses is intentionally and deliberately the word for submit and not obey. So we are to submit to the government, as far as the government doesn’t conflict with the Kingdom of God. The New Testament is clear. We are to honor, submit to, and pray for our governing authorities. Paul Jewett says, “Submission to governmental authority is therefore an expression of response not for the authority themselves but for the crucified deity who stands behind them.” And so, as Christians (especially in the midst of the empire) you consider yourself under their order. This word in Romans 13 is not about patriotism, pledging allegiance, or any affection for the powers that be. Paul isn’t trying to convince unpatriotic Christians to pledge better allegiance. Rather, Paul’s problem is the opposite, he must convince Christians who are not conforming to the pattern of this world, seeking to live out Romans 12 to not overthrow a violent government by using the same violence.
In Romans 13 we see that God establishes all authorities. But this doesn’t mean that God approves of everything that these authorities do. The point of this is that God is to be considered greater than, not equal to, all the powers of this world. And that even the best government still goes by the rules and ways of the Kingdom of the World, and is not the Kingdom of God. The United States as great as it is, and I’m blessed to live here, is still not the Kingdom of God and it still plays by the rules of the Kingdom of this world But those of us who are seeking to follow King Jesus, and live under his rule and reign need to put first the Kingdom of God. And so we really shouldn’t expect governments and people who don’t live under the rule and reign of King Jesus, who live under a different King, to live out Kingdom of God ethics like what Paul is saying in Romans 12. It doesn’t make sense for those who aren’t followers of Jesus to honor others before yourself, to bless those who persecute you, to not curse them, to not repay evil with evil, to live at peace as much as it depends on you, and not to seek revenge. And then in reverse it doesn’t make sense for those of us who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus, who seek to live out the Kingdom of God, to live like we are under the Kingdom of the world. To fight violence with violence. To instead of picking up the cross, to pick up a sword. To repay evil with evil. No, Jesus is calling us to live out his upside down Kingdom, spelled out in many places including Romans 12 (and 13 by not calling the believers in Rome to revolt, to pick up swords and fight the powers of the empire with the powers of the empire but to fight the powers that be with the powers of the Kingdom of God- that of love)
A lot of times this text as a whole (while not reading it in the larger context of Romans 12 and 13) has been used to defend going to war, at least in the just war tradition. But this text has nothing to do with war. In fact when we read verse 4, we read these words, “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.” When we look at the word sword we find the greek word machiara. This greek word is used to refer not to war but to the symbol of local policing. The sword which would be carried by Roman officers while accompanying tax collectors. We must remember that Roman soldiers served as modern-day equivalents of both the local police and the national military. And so we see that verse 4 about bearing the sword relates to police action within governmental jurisdiction but not warfare. So to read this text as a means of approving of just war, is taking the writings of Paul out of context.
So based on this reading of Romans 13 in dialogue and in context with Romans 12 it is clear, at least to me, that we as followers of Jesus, are called to separate from the violent roles within the state and to avoid putting one’s self in compromising positions where violence could be employed. That our role in relation to the state is clear. Submit to them, pray for them, pay taxes, respect and honor the authorities that God has ordained. But we are never to live out the values of the Kingdom of the world. We aren’t to plot violent overthrow of the government. We need to leave rulers answerable to God. We should take personal vengeance. And that we are to give ultimate allegiance to another King and another ruler, one who says love your enemy, don’t kill them. Pray for your persecutor. Don’t repay evil with evil. Fight not with violence but with love. And live out another Kingdom and rule right under the nose of the empire in which you live.
So what does this all mean to you and I today? What does in mean to live out Romans 13 in proper context (including Romans 12)? How do we submit to our authorities but giving true allegiance to King Jesus? How does this affect our daily existence? Let’s unpack this together in our discussion time.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What dos it look like for us to live out Romans 13 in proper context (including Romans 12)? How do we submit to our authorities but give true allegiance to King Jesus? How does this text affect our daily lives?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
We continue today our series entitled Fight. We’ve been looking at questions revolving around followers of Jesus and violence. Questions like: What does the Bible say about warfare and violence? Can a Christian use violence? Go to war? Kill in self-defense? Why does the Old Testament seem to present violence in a positive light while the New Testament seems more negative? Do we kill our enemies (Joshua) or love them (Jesus)?
We’ve spent the last 3 weeks looking at various texts in the Old Testament and for the next 3 weeks we’ll be looking at texts within the New Testament. Today we are going to take a look at probably one of the most foundational passages in relation to Shalom and non-violence and probably the most misunderstood passage, possibly within Scripture. This passage is part of a larger context, this context that we call the Sermon on the Mount.
We have talked a lot around the idea that violence is a failure of the imagination. That Jesus is calling us to live non-violently, use our imaginations when it comes to responding to violence. You see Jesus hates violence but he also don’t call us to passivity (many people might think that). No Jesus is calling us to a third way, and no more brilliantly and imaginatively than in the passage that we will look at today found in Matthew 5:38-42.
Matthew 5:38-42 says, ““You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
So before we dive too much farther into this text, I want to point out what Jesus is not saying. Jesus is not suggesting that we masochistically let people step all over us. Instead, Jesus is pointing us towards something more imaginative. A way of disarming others without returning evil with evil or fighting fire with fire.
Now let’s look at the greater context of these verses, the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus way of laying out what life lived out in the Kingdom of God looks like. Or how the Kingdom of God is breaking out into the world. The Sermon on the Mount and what lies within are for those who are seeking to live life under the rule and reign of King Jesus. Yes they apply to everyone, but only those who call Jesus King and Lord are expected to live the Kingdom life out in the world.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is giving 6 anti-thesis of which the text that we just read is the 5th of the 6 anti-thesis. An anti-thesis in Scripture usually contains something like, “You’ve heard it said….., but I say…. and then he fills in an example of what that might looks like. So Jesus in these anti-thesis first cites a rule from the Torah. Secondly, he reinterprets the Torah command in a new and radical way. And thirdly, he provides specific illustrations for following this radical command
So we see this in 5:38-42. The citation from the Torah is found in verse 38, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” Jesus is no doubt referencing Leviticus 24:20 which basically says in whatever way you get injured you can respond in kind. If a man takes off your ear, you can take off his but no more. It was a way of getting rid of the cycle of unending violence and stopping people from enacting unlimited revenge. This concept was also spelled out in many other Near Eastern writings, such as the Code of Hammurabi.
But Jesus is spelling out another way. His radical reinterpretation of the Torah is in verse 39 which says, “But I tell you. Do not resist an evil person.” Now is Jesus saying that when evil comes upon us, we are just supposed to lie down and take it? Is he saying that we are just to let evil go uncheck when it comes against us? The word resist could better be understood as “do not respond in kind”. Walter Wink puts it this way, “The Greek word translated “resist” in Matt. 5:39 is antistenai, meaning literally to stand (stenai) against (anti). What translators have over-looked is that antistenai is most often used in the Greek version of the Old Testament as a technical term for warfare. It describes the way opposing armies would march toward each other until their ranks met. Then they would “take a stand,” that is, fight. Ephesians 6:13 uses precisely this imagery: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand [antistenai] on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm istenai].” The image is not of a punch-drunk boxer somehow managing to stay on his feet, but of soldiers standing their ground, refusing to flee. In short, anti- stenai means more here than simply to “resist” evil. It means to resist violently, to revolt or rebel, to engage in an armed insurrection.” Jesus is not saying never do anything about evil. But he is saying that we need to renounce the use of force and violence. Jesus always resisted evil, but in non-violent ways or what we might call nonviolent activism. And in this text he is calling us to do the same, to follow in his nonviolent activism ways.
So once Jesus reinterprets the Torah in a new and radical way, he provides specific illustrations on what it means to not resist an evil person, or not to respond to an evil person in kind. In each of the three instances Jesus points us towards disarming others. Jesu teaches us to refuse to oppose evil on its own terms. He invites us to transcend both passivity on the one hand, and violence on the other by following a radical third way.
The first illustration he uses is found in verse 39 which says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to hi the other also.” Now this text is so often mistaken for laying down and doing nothing. But when we understand the cultural context of what Jesus is saying, we see that it is one of the most radical, subversive, and countercultural things Jesus ever said. And to explain this I need someone to come up here and help me demonstrate. Don’t worry I won’t really slap you.
So one of the first things we need to understand is that in Near Eastern Culture then (and even today) a person would only hit with the right hand. You see the left hand is what is called the dirty hand and is used for dirty things. In some Jewish communities if you hit someone with the left hand you could be banished from that community for 10 days. So a person would have to use a backslap to hit someone on the right cheek with the right hand. This backhand slap is a slap of insult, degradation, and humiliation. This slap was meant for an inferior. Maybe a slave, a child, even a woman. It was to put them in their place.
And so if the person who had just been insulted, been demeaned and humiliated by a back handed slap would turn the left cheek to the person, that person had a few possible options. They couldn’t back hand them with the left hand, and to take the back of the right hand, turn it over and slap them doesn’t make sense. So they either need to slap them with the front of the hand, or punch them outright. But only equals fought with fists. And what the person is saying by turning other cheek is, I’m a human being, just like you. I refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am your equal. I am a child of God. I won’t take it anymore.
The second example of living the radical third way, resisting violence and passivity is spelled out in verse 40 which says, “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” Jesus envisions a poor person being sued in court for unpaid debt. The person suing the poor man wants his inner garment. The inner garment was made of cotton, linen or wool. It was worn next to the skin, had short sleeves and reached to the knees. The outer garment was blanket-like, used for survival meaning a robe by day, a blanket and pillow by night. Deuteronomy 24:10-13 provided that a creditor could take as collateral for a loan a poor person’s long outer robe, but it had to be returned each evening so the poor man would have something in which to sleep. So the poor person is taken to court by the rich person that they are in debt to. All they have is the clothes on their back. When brought into court, they not only hand over their inner garment but their outer garment as well. Now do the math. Yep, you guessed it, they are now stark naked. This is what Walter Wink says about nakedness and shame and how this move sends ripples through the justice system of the day, “Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen. 9:20-27). By stripping, the debtor has brought shame on the creditor. Imagine the guffaws this saying must have evoked. There stands the creditor, covered with shame, the poor debtor’s outer garment in the one hand, his undergarment in the other. The tables have suddenly been turned on the creditor. The debtor had no hope of winning the case; the law was entirely in the creditor’s favor. But the poor man has transcended this attempt to humiliate him. He has risen above shame. At the same time, he has registered a stunning protest against the system that created his debt. He has said in effect, “You want my robe? Here, take everything! Now you’ve got all I have except my body. Is that what you’ll take next?” Imagine the debtor leaving court naked. His friends and neighbors, aghast, inquire what happened. He explains. They join his growing procession, which now resembles a victory parade. This is guerrilla theater! The entire system by which debtors are oppressed has been publicly unmasked. The creditor is revealed to be not a legitimate moneylender but a party to the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness and destitution. This unmasking is not simply punitive, since it offers the creditor a chance to see, perhaps for the first time in his life, what his practices cause, and to repent.” This was another radical way of exposing the powers that be and not doing it violently, or just sitting by passively and letting injustice happen. The radical third way of non-violent activism.
So Jesus then ratchets up the radical third way non-violent discussion by bringing up what might have been a common occurrence in the life of his hearers. Being that 1st century Israel was an occupied land, occupied by the Roman Empire, there was a rule or practice that allowed the Roman soldiers to enlist the help of the people in the land that they were occupying, and to have these people carry the soldiers packs for 1 mile and no more. They could enlist the help of the oppressed people and have them carry the packs for 1 mile. Going beyond one mile, or going that second mile was an infraction of military code. It would be simply absurd for a Jewish person to be-friend a hated Roman soldier and walk with them an extra mile. And we turn again to Walter Wink to help us understand how this is a radical, subversive, non-violent way of dealing with an “evil person”, “With few exceptions, minor infractions were left to the disciplinary control of the centurion (commander of one hundred men). He might fine the offending soldier, flog him, put him on a ration of barley instead of wheat, make him camp outside the fortifications, force him to stand all day before the general’s tent holding a clod of dirt in his hands—or, if the offender was a buddy, issue a mild reprimand. But the point is that the soldier does not know what will happen. It is in this context of Roman military occupation that Jesus speaks. He does not counsel revolt. One does not “befriend” the soldier, draw him aside and drive a knife into his ribs. Jesus was surely aware of the futility of armed insurrection against Roman imperial might; he certainly did nothing to encourage those whose hatred of Rome would soon explode into violence. But why carry the soldier’s pack a second mile? Does this not go to the opposite extreme by aiding and abetting the enemy? Not at all. The question here, as in the two previous instances, is how the oppressed can recover the initiative and assert their human dignity in a situation that cannot for the time being be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, but how one responds to the rules is God’s, and Caesar has no power over that. Imagine, then, the soldier’s surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume his pack, and the civilian says, “Oh, no, let me carry it another mile.” Why would he want to do that? What is he up to? Normally, soldiers have to coerce people to carry their packs, but this Jew does so cheerfully, and will not stop’. Is this a provocation? Is he insulting the legionnaire’s strength? Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to violate the rules of impressment? Will this civilian file a complaint? Create trouble? From a situation of servile impressment, the oppressed have once more seized the initiative. They have taken back the power of choice. They have thrown the soldier off balance by depriving him of the predictability of his victim’s response. He has never dealt with such a problem before. Now he must make a decision for which nothing in his previous experience has prepared him. If he has enjoyed feeling superior to the vanquished, he will not enjoy it today. Imagine a Roman infantryman pleading with a Jew to give back his pack! The humor of this scene may have escaped us, but it could scarcely have been lost on Jesus’ hearers, who must have been delighted at the prospect of thus discomfiting their oppressors. Jesus does not encourage Jews to walk a second mile in order to build up merit in heaven, or to be pious, or to kill the soldier with kindness. He is helping an oppressed people find a way to protest and neutralize an onerous practice despised throughout the empire. He is not giving a nonpolitical message of spiritual world transcendence. He is formulating a worldly spirituality in which the people at the bottom of society or under the thumb of imperial power learn to recover their humanity.”
We’ll stop there and let’s spend some time unpacking this radical non-violent activism third way that Jesus is speaking about in this text. If violence is a lack of imagination, then let’s imagine and dream what Jesus might say to us today. What instances from our culture would he use to help us see the same point that he made in these 3 instances? Or what is the modern day equivalent of turning the other cheek, giving your outer cloak, and going a second mile? Let’s talk and discuss how we can live this upside down, radical, subversive, non-violent activism in our world today.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. If violence is a lack of imagination, then let’s imagine and dream what Jesus might say to us today. What instances from our culture would he use to help us see the same point that he made in these 3 instances? Or what is the modern day equivalent of turning the other cheek, giving your outer cloak, and going a second mile?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today we continue our six week series entitled Fight. In this series we have looked at and will continue to look at questions like, What does the Bible say about warfare and violence? Can a Christian use violence? Go to war? Kill in self-defense? Why does the Old Testament seem to present violence in a positive light while the New Testament seems more negative? Do we kill our enemies (Joshua) or love them (Jesus)?
We’ve spent a great deal amount of time the last two weeks talking about this idea of peace or better yet the biblical and hebrew concept of Shalom. We talked that Shalom or peace is far more than just the absence of conflict or war. Shalom can be defined also as well being, wholeness, perfection of God’s creation, prosperity, peace, fullness, abundance, joy and harmony. Or think of it this way, Shalom is the way things are supposed to be.
And the text that we’ll be looking at today fits into this idea of shalom being the way things are supposed to be. This is a vision that God gave the prophet Isaiah and it’s a messianic prophecy that will one day come in its fullness, but as I said last week, those of us who call Jesus king, and seek to follow him, should begin to live the future reality now. Or as someone said this weekend at a conference I was at, God’s future is our present. Meaning that if we want shalom to come in the future, we don’t wait until the future, but begin to work that future out in the present. And wait of the day for total complete shalom will come into being through the rule and reign of King Jesus. Both the Old and New Testament proclaim the vision of a coming peaceable Kingdom preached and revealed by Jesus Christ. This vision is sometimes called the Peaceable Kingdom and inspired the artist Edward Hicks, a quaker, to paint 61 versions of a painting that he called the Peaceable Kingdom.
So turn to Isaiah 11:1-9. Isaiah 11:1-9 says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
So Isaiah has this vision, this prophecy if you will and it is a grandiose, amazing vision of the messiah, his rule and reign in the world, and what will happen because of that rule and reign.
Isaiah starts off with this vision in describing where the messiah of God, the anointed one will come from. He says that, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” So this is giving us the lineage if you will of the messiah. Jesus came from the stump of Jesse. The royal authority of the house of David had laid dormant for 600 years when Jesus came as King and Messiah. When Jesus came forth, it was like a new green branch coming from an apparently dead stump. What the Lord is doing, through the prophet Isaiah at the beginning of this text by calling the Messiah a shoot and a branch is emphasizing the humble nature of the Messiah. Jesse was the much less famous Father of King David. It is far more humble to say “from Jesse” then to say “from King David”. Isaiah believed as did Israel that God would send a descendant of David to fix the injustices and restore the Kingdom of Israel. But many of the texts were then later reinterpreted by Christians to be pointing to something even bigger: Jesus restoring the Kingdom of God for all people. And this is not doubt what it happened here…Isaiah pointing to the Messiah, King Jesus who is currently, this very moment, ruling and reigning and his Kingdom will come in it’s fullness and the very system that is broken and fragmented, will be totally healed and fixed and set right. This will result in former enemies, those at enmity with each other now, to live in shalom-peace with each other. And Isaiah’s vision beckons us to enter a new vision, to walk into God’s ideal of what the world might be. His vision calls us to live by an alternative reality to our violent world.
Once Isaiah lays out the vision of where the messiah will come from, the family tree and roots of the messiah if you will, he then begins to lay out the type of ruler and King this messiah will be. What will the reign of the messiah look like? The first thing that will define the messiah, according to Isaiah is found in verse 2, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.” The messiah will live out the Spirit of the Lord. This Spirit of the Lord will be of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. The Messiah will have these seven aspects of the spirit and 7 in Hebrew is the number of completeness. Jesus fits this to a tee. He was spirit filled in the best sense of the word. His everyday existence, his walking around, his ministry, his engagement with people, his conversations with his disciples, were based on his connection to His Father through the Spirit of God. And because of this connection to the sprit, we begin to see how he rules and reigns in the world. We see how he rules and reigns in the world in verses 3-5 which says, “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.” You can see that the Messiah/Jesus will be about the poor, the needy, the marginalized. He sides with those not in power. Those who live under the thumb of the empire, who threatens violence to all those who get out of line. Jesus here does not threaten violence, even though it seems to say that. His words bring judgment. The rod is coming out of his mouth (reminds me of the text in Revelation where the sword of this word is coming out of his mouth.) The mere words of Jesus have the power to judge the wicked. He only has to announce a judgment and it is done.
Once we see how the Messiah rules and reigns, we then come to the section of the vision which spells out the effect of his rule and reign in the world. The effects of his rule and reign The prophet describes in verses 6-9 the effect of his rule and reign in producing peace and tranquility on the earth. Verses 6-9 says, The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” In the coming Messianic Kingdom, not only humans but all of God’s creatures will live together in peace and harmony. Jesus through his rule and reign will bring shalom. Will restore right relationships between not only himself and humans, but also between humans and humans, humans and animals, and all of creation. This vision is one in which former enemies will live together in peace. Where the cow and lion will be together without the cow having to worry and be weary of the coming moment when the lion pounces and kills him. That the child can lead them and be safe. Where the lion fills himself not will the meat of other animals but the straw. This peaceable kingdom also brings together peace between the child and the snake. In this texts Isaiah reminds us of the enmity brought through human sin in Eden and that God will overcome the curse of sin and establish a world in which all creatures thrive.
All creatures thrive because of what Isaiah says in Isaiah 11:9, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” God’s ideal, in terms of human relationships, is depicted in these words. That shalom will fully come and touch down on his holy mountain (remember that we talked about his holy mountain being mount moriah, or the temple mount), And people will be filled with the knowledge of God. This vision touched down in the person, life, ministry and death resurrection of Jesus Christ. There will be no more violence, no more harm, no more destruction, because people are living under the rule and reign of King Jesus. That this shalom comes about because of the life, death, and resurrection of King Jesus. That shalom is only possible because of the cross (which scholars believed Jesus was crucified close to where Mount Moriah was/is and where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac). Jesus took on violence into his life and into his body. He absorbed it and returned it with shalom. He took on chaos into himself and returned it, not with violence, revenge, and hatred but with shalom. Here in this text we see that Jesus, the messiah (who Isaiah is speaking about, prophesying about) has the power to take enemies and make them friends. To turn them towards and for each other and not against each other. To return us and the world to the garden of eden where peace, love, harmony, shalom ruled. Where things were the way things were supposed to be.
The vision of a world in which wolves, lambs, and lions can all lie down together without killing each other, and where a little child can walk among them, stick his hand in a snakes den, and not die clearly moves beyond the possibilities of the present age. We live in a world where enemies don’t lie down together, but seek to destroy each other. Where power, might, and violence “rule” the day. Where shalom seems almost impossible. And if not impossible, some what of a pipe dream. And we realize that this scene of enemy becoming friend, of enmity becoming love, of a restored eden, will not be fully realized until the reign of the King, comes in its fullness and completeness. But remember what I said last week and at the beginning of this message. God’s future is our present. Yes Isaiah’s vision is yet to be fulfilled. But the vision invites us to step into the picture. It calls us to take up our cross and to follow the one who has walked out Isaiah’s vision with his whole life. The vision invites us to be at peace with our enemies and to live out a little bit of paradise in this broken and violent world.
But what does a peaceable Kingdom look like? How does this vision touch down with our everyday reality? How are you and I picking up our cross, and following the one who did not return violence with violence, but called us to love our enemy, return hate with love, and to pray for the very ones who are violent to us? How are we seeing to love our enemies so that they will stop being enemies and become friends? Let’s unpack what the peaceable kingdom looks like in our lives and in the life of our community as Veritas together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What does a peaceable Kingdom look like? How does this vision touch down with our everyday reality?
3. How are you and I picking up our cross, and following the one who did not return violence with violence, but called us to love our enemy, return hate with love, and to pray for the very ones who are violent to us? How are we seeing to love our enemies so that they will stop being enemies and become friends?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?