Tuesday, April 7, 2015

In the Wake of the Resurrection

On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it! (Matthew 16:18)
In the Apostles’ Creed, the early Church confessed that Jesus “was crucified, dead and buried.” But that was not enough to describe what happened. The Creed goes one step further and affirms that he “descended into hell.” This was considerably more than being shrouded and entombed. The Greek word for “hell” is Hades and refers to the place of the dead. While the lifeless body of Jesus lay in the grave, his soul descended to Hades. And what did he do there? Here is how Paul puts it in speaking of Christ’s ascension gifts to the Church:
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. (Ephesians 4:7-10)
Paul is referring to Psalm 68:18 and taking it as concerning what Christ had done. Before he ascended to the highest heavens, Jesus first descended to the lowest depths, that is, to Hades. However, he did not descend into hell as a captive but as a conqueror. He came to free the captives, and he did it by taking captive the captors themselves.

Who were these captors who have now been made captives of Christ? They are the “principalities and powers” (the demonic forces that are behind ungodly kingdoms and cultures) whom Christ disarmed at the cross (Colossians 2:15). They are the works of the devil, which Christ came to destroy (1 John 3:8). It is the devil himself, who held the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). The power of death has been broken so that it no longer has its victory, and the power of sin, which is the sting that brought forth death in the first place, has been defeated (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).

All of this causes me to see Matthew 16:18 in a new light. Jesus announced to the disciples that he would build his Church, “and the gates of Hades will not overpower it!” How could they? For Christ has shattered the gates and stripped death and hell of their power. They cannot keep anything in, they cannot keep anything out. They cannot overpower the Church or keep it from plundering hell.

In the wake of his resurrection from the dead, Christ builds his Church, and the gates of Hades cannot prevent it. In the end, all things in heaven and on earth will be reconciled to God though him, and God will be all in all.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Good Friday Mindset

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! (Philippians 2:6-8)
Jesus has always been God, even before he was Jesus — that is, even before (from our time-bound perspective) he became human and dwelt among us. It was no contradiction for the eternal Son of God to pour himself out and become like you and me, even to become one with us, for God is self-giving, not self-serving. That is his nature, for God is love. So, becoming human did not take away one bit from his divinity. Nor did it disguise his divinity. Rather, it revealed his divinity. After all, when God created humankind, he created us in his own image, and Jesus, in his humanity said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

Nor was it a contradiction for Jesus to humble himself and become a servant, for God is love, and the nature of love is to give and to serve. It was the very thing he modeled for his disciples when he took up the basin and the towel and washed their feet on the night of the Last Supper, the night before he poured himself out on the cross.

Nor was it a contradiction for Jesus to become obedient to the point of death, even to such a cruel and horrible death as the cross. For God is love, and as Jesus himself said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Love has always been the heart and mind of God. It was the mindset of the Incarnation and also of that Good Friday. And it is the same mindset he invites us to share with him. Not only to experience the love of God by receiving but also to experience it by pouring it, and ourselves, out for each other. So, Paul exhorts us, in his letter to the Jesus followers at Philippi, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Thunder from Heaven

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:28-32)
The time of Jesus’ crucifixion was near, but he did not ask the Father to save him from it. Rather, he prayed, “Father, glorify your name.” That is what mattered to him more than anything else. (See Following Jesus Into Holy Week.)

Now came the answer, a voice from heaven: “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” Some heard it as thunder. Others thought maybe an angel. But it was the voice of the Father, and it came not for Jesus’ sake but for all those who were gathered around him. So Jesus explained the significance of it. It concerned what was about to happen and was very powerful in its scope.

Now is the time for judgment on this world. At the crucifixion, the world system of political and religious leaders thought it was judging Christ, but in reality Christ was judging the world. The Light of the World was judging the darkness of the world. The righteousness of Christ was judging the injustice of the world. The faithfulness of Christ was judging the faithlessness of the world. The self-giving love of Christ was judging the self-seeking of the world. And the life of Christ, through death on the cross, was judging the death that plagued the world. The judgment of God through Jesus Christ did not come to destroy the world but to save the world and set things right.

Now the prince of this world will be driven out. The “prince of this world” is the devil. Christ came to break the power of the devil (Hebrews 2:14) and destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). This happened at the cross. Through the cross, the apostle Paul tells us, Jesus has disarmed and defeated the principalities and powers, the demonic spiritual forces behind kings and cultures, and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:15). The devil thought to drive Christ out of the world by putting him on the cross, but it is the devil himself who is being driven out, for Christ not only won the victory over the cross but also triumphs over death and the devil through the cross.

When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself. Here, we come around to what was the occasion for Jesus’ declarations in this passage. In John 12:20-23, there were some Greeks who had come into Jerusalem to worship God during the festival of the Passover. Though they might possibly have been Hellenized Jews, it is more likely that they were ethnic Greeks who were “God-fearers.” That is, they honored and worshiped the God of the Jews even though they were not converts to Judaism. These Greeks had heard about Jesus and desired to meet him. Philip and Andrew, two of Jesus’ disciples, came and told him. It was in reply to this request that Jesus spoke of all these things, concluding with the statement that when Jesus was lifted up (a reference to the crucifixion), he would draw all people to himself. It was not just for the sake of Israel and the Jews but for all people everywhere, including the Greeks who desired to meet Jesus.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Following Jesus Into Holy Week

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name! (John 12:23-28)
The time was now at hand for Jesus to be glorified. And he offered a parable concerning it, about a kernel of wheat. As long as the kernel is clinging to the stalk, holding on to its life as a seed, that is all it will ever be. But when the seed dies and lets go of itself it will, paradoxically, multiply. The life of the seed is transformed, becoming a plant that is the life of many other seeds.

If anyone loves his own life and his own glory at all costs, he is like a kernel of wheat that refuses to fall to the ground. He will end up losing his life anyway, and it will be for nothing. But anyone who “hates” the life of this present world and is willing to let it go will find that his life becomes something greater than he could have ever imagined — the life of the age to come.

The time was now at hand, and Jesus was willing to be like that kernel of wheat, to fall and die and bring forth new life for many. But now he turns the parable around to his disciples, to all who have been following him, all who would come to him: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.” The life of the seed that falls is multiplied and produces many seeds. Shall these seeds not fall also, for the sake of multiplying the life of the master even more? If we would be Jesus’ disciples, we must follow him even in this. We must let go of our own little idea of life and our own little glory so that his life in us may produce even more life. Then we will be like Jesus — where he is, we will be. To the extent we are willing to let go the life of this present age, we begin to experience the life of the age to come.

And yet letting go of this present life is a troubling thing. There is something in us that wants to hold on to what we already think we know or see. To let go would seem to be to fall into a great abyss of the unknown. That is always the test for us. It was the test for Jesus, too. As he thought of what was about to happen, he was troubled by it. Though something in his soul may have wanted to say, “Father, save me from this hour,” yet more than that, there was in him the profound realization that it was precisely for this hour that he came.

His prayer, then was “Father, glorify your name.” That is where Jesus’ own glory would be found, and ours, too. The hour for Jesus to be glorified had come, and it was just as much to be seen in the falling of the seed as in the multiplication of its life — in the cross as in the resurrection. And so it is for all who would follow him.