Blog Archives

The Wrath of the Lamb: Revelation chapter 6

Centered on Jesus Alone: Revelation 1:9-20

Who is this Jesus? Revelation 1:1-8

Jesus Invades Enemy Territory: Luke 8:22-39

Easter Sunday! It All Comes Down to This! Mark 16:1-8

Victorious Messiah!

Theologians have debated over theories of the atonement for centuries; however, almost all of the debate is post-Constantine. Proto-orthodox scholars, who predate the usurpation of Christianity by the Empire, were characterized by persecution, martyrdom, poverty, and sold-out devotion. They agreed on much: the importance of actually doing what Jesus said to do, the trinity, the essential nature of Christ, His bodily resurrection, a Christological reading of all of scripture, and what was much later labeled as the Christus Victor theory of the atonement. Christus Victor sees the entire life of Jesus, not just His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, as salvific. Christus Victor sees Jesus on the cross:

  • Revealing the divine truth about who God really is (perfect love)
  • Reconciling all things (including humans) to God (but not God to humans because God was never mad at anyone – the problem is on our side)
  • Focusing all the sins of humankind into a singularity called “sin,” which was then born and forgiven
  • Healing us of our sin-diseased natures (we are all broken – the true meaning of “original sin”)
  • Invading, immersing, filling, anointing all with the Holy Spirit, which enables us to live kingdom of God lives (loving enemies, turning the other cheek, nonviolent resistance to evil, living by the sermons on the mount and plain)
  • Giving us an example of how to live, love and forgive
  • And, defeating the power of darkness that rule this world by overcoming evil with love (which in reality includes all the others).

Consequently, the cross is not just about having our sins forgiven so we can go to heaven after we die. It is that, thank God, but also includes so much more – nothing short of a complete cosmic victory that will eventually bring all of creation into perfect alignment with the will of God. We are not only forgiven; we are also set free to from all the forces of darkness in this evil age. As we day by day trust in Christ, we share His cosmic victory; we are saved from satan, destruction, the inability to be right with God and others, idolatrous efforts to find a source of life in lesser things, and meaninglessness. We are saved to participate in life, joy, peace, love and goodness. And we are empowered to clean out of our lives everything not in alignment with the Kingdom of God, including the swearing of oaths, violence, retaliation, coercion, unforgiveness, judgmentalism, yielding to temptations, lying, legalism, false teaching, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, pride, nationalism, allegiance to anything other than Christ, and so on.

Moreover, the cross is not a legal transaction as understood by Anselm of Aosta (c. 1033 – 1109), the Archbishop of Canterbury, who gave us the now commonly accepted “penal substitution” theory. According to that theory, God the Father is so holy He cannot stand to even look at us and has righteously concluded that everyone must be tortured in eternal fire forever. To prevent that from happening, Jesus stepped in and took our sin on the cross so that all of God’s wrath, anger, judgment, and punishment could be vented on Him. Having whipped and crucified Jesus instead of us, God can now forgive us because a legal exchange has taken place. God, the righteous judge has punished Jesus the defense attorney instead of us the proven guilty who were rightly accused by Satan the prosecuting attorney.

There are many problems with that view. If God needed to vent wrath somewhere, did He really forgive? How does ruthlessly punishing an innocent person absolve the guilt of a criminal/sinner? How can a loving Father pour wrath on His only son? When we look at the Gospel stories, it is clear that God did nothing violent at Calvary. People caused all the ugliness of Calvary. All the Father did was watch. God is not and never was angry with us. He cannot be – God is love.

The cross is not a legal transaction that absolves us of guilt and by so doing divorces justification from sanctification. Many have taught that a person must first by faith accept Christ, which results in being justified before God, declared right with God, “saved,” heading for heaven after death; to be followed (optionally) by making Jesus Lord of one’s life, obeying Him, following Him, and serving His kingdom. The result is a ton of people who are “saved,” but their lives bear no resemblance to Christ’s. Massive numbers of Christians see no need to live by the Sermon on the Mount and continue to support things diametrically opposed to the Kingdom of God.

The Christus Victor view eliminates all those difficulties. Jesus died for our sins. All the sins of all of humankind were focused into a singularity (“the sin of the world”), absorbed, born, and forgiven by God. The kingdom of evil was overcome, not by violence, but by self-sacrificing love. On the cross, we see the heart of God. As His enemies are torturing Him to death, He forgives them. Now, by faith, we make Him Lord of our lives and trust Him daily for the ability to live like Jesus.

Yet, how do we know love has conquered evil and the Kingdom of God is victorious over the kingdoms of this world that are ruled by the principalities and powers of satan? Are we not surrounded by war, violence, poverty, hatred, sickness, disease, and strife?

We know for sure that Christ won the full and final victory over evil because he is risen from the dead.

We know He is risen from the dead by an abundance of historical evidence, including:

  • Hundreds of eyewitnesses saw Him, talked with Him, ate with Him
  • Nearly all of those eyewitnesses died horrific deaths insisting He was alive and is Lord of all
  • Not one of those eyewitnesses recanted their story even under pain of torture
  • The Romans made sure He was really dead (there was no possibility of a comatose state – Rome was good at killing people)
  • The tomb was sealed under Roman law under pain of death
  • The tomb was guarded 24/7 by Roman soldiers
  • The entrance to the tomb was covered by a disk-shaped stone weighing many tons
  • Something or someone picked up the stone and set it off by itself (Scripture says an angel)
  • The tomb was already empty
  • The graveclothes were still wrapped as if around a body
  • The turban was neatly folded and set aside
  • For over 2,000 years, lives and cultures have been transformed by people attesting to the fact that He is risen.

If not risen from the dead, who moved the stone? How did Jesus get out of a sealed and guarded tomb? How do you explain all the eyewitnesses and changed lives and refusals to recant?

Christ is risen!

Christ is victorious!

Christ is King!

Christ is Lord!

So, where is the Kingdom of God? It is here. It is everywhere women and men trust Jesus and are by faith and grace eliminating everything contrary to the Kingdom from their lives. It is where dedicated followers of Christ love their enemies, provide for the homeless poor, seek justice, house the stranger-alien, turn the other cheek, refuse to participate in war or violence or coercion, share all their worldly possessions with others, live in peaceful community, and spread shalom.

Good Soil, Good Fruit: Why Parables? Luke 8:1-15

What is God Like? How Do I Follow God?

The most fundamental of questions, it seems to me, is whether or not there is a God or gods. I cannot prove the existence of God in a scientific sense. I can, however, offer a great deal of evidence that would, I think, lead most open-minded people to conclude that the answer is affirmative.

That, however, only gets us part way. If there is a God, what is God like? There have been multiplicities of answers historically involving (among other things) polytheism, pantheism, and monotheism. As I listen to the stories and life histories of people nearing the end of life, various images of god emerge.

Some describe the distant, uninvolved, aloof god of the Deists. Echoing Thomas Jefferson and the Enlightenment philosophers, they essentially believe in a god who created everything, set things in motion, and is subsequently detached. This is a watchmaker god – a being who made the complex “watch” we call the universe, which in turn runs on its own. Those who embrace a belief in this sort of deity find little comfort or hope.

Some of my Calvinist friends take an opposite view. For them, God is controlling everything; God is a micromanager; the universe is deterministic; freewill is nonexistent. I hear echoes of that view when people tell me “God is in control,” or “God knows what he is doing,” or “God never makes a mistake” in response to tragedy, sickness or evil. For them, God causes everything, which in my mind makes god a monster to have caused the genocide of indigenous people, the Holocaust, and chattel slavery.

Still others imagine what C.S. Lewis described as a doting grandpa god – the god of Joel Osteen, the god who gives you your best life now, the deity who dotes on you and is there to fulfill your every whim. This god demands nothing and is happy if we are happy. Consumerism, indulgence, wealth – it is all yours.

Quite often, I hear reverberations of god as demanding judge – the divine being who is exasperated with me, often disgusted by me, and may likely cast me off forever in a blaze of holy indignation.

Then, there is the nationalistic warrior god – the god who gave Americans the right to own assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and carry concealed weapons; the god who wants to make America great again, who supports capitalism, libertarianism, “our troops,” institutionalized racism, and patriarchal dominance. God, guns, guts and glory!

All of these “gods” can be found in scripture passages – isolated verses can be cobbled together to picture a distant god, a demanding god, a doting grandpa god, a controlling deterministic god, or a nationalist-warrior god.

The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews tell us that in the past, God spoke through prophets and priests, but now has revealed Godself through Jesus. The Apostle John said he and his companions had seen, heard, and handled the divine Logos made flesh. Jesus said. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father;” and “I and the Father are one.”

God is exactly like Jesus and there is noting unchristlike in God. God looks like Jesus. God is cruciform.

So, what is God like?

Certainly not distant or aloof; instead, intimately involved touching lepers, healing, encouraging, teaching, actively involved in creation, caring deeply about anything that harms or hurts people.

God is not deterministically controlling, but rather refusing to coerce, encouraging free moral agency, respecting individuality, allowing people to make poor choices.

God is blazing out against those who oppress the poor, the marginalized, who condescendingly judge others, despise the immigrants, seek to dominate others – not a doting grandpa by any means.

Nor do we see a demanding judge, but instead one who welcomes sinners, hangs out with tax collectors and prostitutes, and loves to the uttermost.

God is not the warrior god of nationalism. Jesus is nonviolent, anti-war, anti-capital punishment, anti-Empire.

God is exactly like Jesus. He forgives his enemies while they are crucifying him; he healed his enemies when they were injured while attacking him; he forgives infinitely; promises to never leave or forsake us; is with us always, patiently infusing us with divine love.

The great missionary and linguist Frank Laubach practiced with a few friends reading the Gospels by changing the tense from third to first, as if Jesus was speaking directly to us. Laubach invites us to imagine Jesus walking at our sides through the day and our carrying on a running conversation with him. Like Brother Lawrence, he invites us to practice being consciously aware of the presence of Jesus throughout our daily lives.

Famously, in Matthew 7:13 & 14, Jesus says, as part of His Sermon on the Mount: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (NRSV)

Just as famously, the passage is interpreted among evangelicals to refer to where a person goes when she dies. That interpretation is so common that that reconsidering it feels like heresy. But, where you go when you die is not what Jesus is talking about.

Not that where you go when you die is unimportant: Jesus tells us frankly that He is going to prepare a place for us so that we may be with Him forever (John 14:1-3); the Apostle Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 that when we are absent from these earthly bodies, we will be present with Lord. The moment we die, the very instant, we are simultaneously with the Lord. The material flesh and blood body is left behind and, according to 1 Corinthians 15, will be physically resurrected at the time of Christ’s appearing. That is wonderful news, but it is not what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount.

The subject, the mega-theme of the Sermon on the Mount, is the Kingdom of Heaven (also called the Kingdom of God). Jesus is the King of all kings and came to establish a new kind of kingdom, radically different from the empires the world has known. King Jesus said that His Kingdom is right here, right now, in our midst (Luke 17:21). Wherever people are faithfully following the King, there is the Kingdom. The subjects of King Jesus’ Kingdom are those who have pledged their allegiance to Him (and renounced allegiance to all others – you can’t serve God and mammon).

Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to the Kingdom of God as “the beloved community,” a phrase likely derived from one of his primary mentors, Detrick Bonhoeffer, who called it “the community of prayerful love.”

Both the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6) describe what this Kingdom looks like. It has no military forces; it never utilizes coercion; it does not seek to control or dominate or win. Instead, in this Kingdom, people turn the other cheek, go the second mile, forgive infinitely, love like God loves but never try to judge as only God can judge, give generously, and care for the marginalized. In this Kingdom, hatred is met with love, anger with gentleness, injustice with nonviolent resistance, violence with peace, and offence with forgiveness.

Participating in this Kingdom brings actualization, shalom, wholeness, fullness of life, fulfillment of purpose, unshakable joy, and peace that surpasses our ability to even understand it. Participating in this Kingdom brings a love so unfathomable, unbreakable, and ineffable that it seems too good to be true.

But, how do we get on the road that leads us into this new Kingdom?

We must enter by the narrow gate. That road leads us to this Kingdom.

There is another gate – it is wide, easily accessible, and taken by most people. That wide road is the water in which we swim. It is life as we know it, where we look out for ourselves, defend what is dear to us with violence, and gain as much material prosperity as possible. It leads, ultimately, to spiritual emptiness, to a loss of our true selves.

The narrow gate is obedience to Jesus, not doctrine. Many have had impeccable doctrine coupled with lives manifesting hatred, violence, and injustice. Obedience is doing what Jesus said to do. It is living as if Jesus really meant it when He said to love our enemies, take the role of servants, stand against injustice, and spread shalom to all. It means being a red-letter Christian, prioritizing the words of Jesus, which are in some Bibles highlighted in red.

Very few people do what Jesus said to do. Very few Christians even try to live by the sermons on the mount and plain. Instead, they seek political power, promote nationalism, patriotism and war, equate the gospel with material prosperity, and cover racism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia with Bible verses taken out of context. It is only natural that they do so. I did so for most of my adult life.

The way of the Kingdom seems absurd. If you give away everything, how will you make it? If you love your enemies, won’t they take over your country?  If you’re always a servant, how can you advance your career or grow your business? The Kingdom of God is subversive, counterintuitive, reckless.

So, if I can only get on the road to this new way of living, this Kingdom of God by doing what Jesus says to do, from where do I find the courage to obey?

The answer, I think, is four-fold:

First, we pledge our allegiance to the King of Kings and Lord of lords and to Him alone.

Second, we take time every day to be with Him in order to learn from Him how to be like Him. The more we gaze into His Person, the more convinced we become of His infinite beauty, unchanging love, invariable compassion, and infinite capacity to forgive. We are changed from glory to glory into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18). We do this via prayer, contemplation, Lectio Divina, silence, meditation, and deep contemplation on Scripture (all of which points to Jesus).

Third, we must be empowered, enabled to obey by a continual infilling of the Holy Spirit. We need to be engulfed, immersed, submerged and saturated with the Divine Spirit of God. (Ephesians 5:18, 19) Jesus is the baptizer in the Holy Spirit who will give His Spirit to those who ask. (Luke 11:13; Luke 3:16)

And, finally, we need each other. Maybe there have been a few outstanding followers of Jesus who could obey these red-letters on their own, but I’m not one of them. I’m too afraid, too timid, too ready to halt. I need the strength and courage of community. I need to do life with people who want with all their hearts to take the narrow road. I need the beloved community, the community of prayerful love

It’s Not About What You Think It’s About: Matthew 7:13-14

The Narrow Gate

Famously, in Matthew 7:13 & 14, Jesus says, as part of His Sermon on the Mount: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (NRSV)

Just as famously, the passage is interpreted among evangelicals to refer to where a person goes when she dies. That interpretation is so common that that reconsidering it feels like heresy. But, where you go when you die is not what Jesus is talking about.

Not that where you go when you die is unimportant: Jesus tells us frankly that He is going to prepare a place for us so that we may be with Him forever (John 14:1-3); the Apostle Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 that when we are absent from these earthly bodies, we will be present with Lord. The moment we die, the very instant, we are simultaneously with the Lord. The material flesh and blood body is left behind and, according to 1 Corinthians 15, will be physically resurrected at the time of Christ’s appearing. That is wonderful news, but it is not what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount.

The subject, the mega-theme of the Sermon on the Mount, is the Kingdom of Heaven (also called the Kingdom of God). Jesus is the King of all kings and came to establish a new kind of kingdom, radically different from the empires the world has known. King Jesus said that His Kingdom is right here, right now, in our midst (Luke 17:21). Wherever people are faithfully following the King, there is the Kingdom. The subjects of King Jesus’ Kingdom are those who have pledged their allegiance to Him (and renounced allegiance to all others – you can’t serve God and mammon).

Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to the Kingdom of God as “the beloved community,” a phrase likely derived from one of his primary mentors, Detrick Bonhoeffer, who called it “the community of prayerful love.”

Both the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6) describe what this Kingdom looks like. It has no military forces; it never utilizes coercion; it does not seek to control or dominate or win. Instead, in this Kingdom, people turn the other cheek, go the second mile, forgive infinitely, love like God loves but never try to judge as only God can judge, give generously, and care for the marginalized. In this Kingdom, hatred is met with love, anger with gentleness, injustice with nonviolent resistance, violence with peace, and offence with forgiveness.

Participating in this Kingdom brings actualization, shalom, wholeness, fullness of life, fulfillment of purpose, unshakable joy, and peace that surpasses our ability to even understand it. Participating in this Kingdom brings a love so unfathomable, unbreakable, and ineffable that it seems too good to be true.

But, how do we get on the road that leads us into this new Kingdom?

We must enter by the narrow gate. That road leads us to this Kingdom.

There is another gate – it is wide, easily accessible, and taken by most people. That wide road is the water in which we swim. It is life as we know it, where we look out for ourselves, defend what is dear to us with violence, and gain as much material prosperity as possible. It leads, ultimately, to spiritual emptiness, to a loss of our true selves.

The narrow gate is obedience to Jesus, not doctrine. Many have had impeccable doctrine coupled with lives manifesting hatred, violence, and injustice. Obedience is doing what Jesus said to do. It is living as if Jesus really meant it when He said to love our enemies, take the role of servants, stand against injustice, and spread shalom to all. It means being a red-letter Christian, prioritizing the words of Jesus, which are in some Bibles highlighted in red.

Very few people do what Jesus said to do. Very few Christians even try to live by the sermons on the mount and plain. Instead, they seek political power, promote nationalism, patriotism and war, equate the gospel with material prosperity, and cover racism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia with Bible verses taken out of context. It is only natural that they do so. I did so for most of my adult life.

The way of the Kingdom seems absurd. If you give away everything, how will you make it? If you love your enemies, won’t they take over your country? If you’re always a servant, how can you advance your career or grow your business? The Kingdom of God is subversive, counterintuitive, reckless.

So, if I can only get on the road to this new way of living, this Kingdom of God by doing what Jesus says to do, from where do I find the courage to obey?

The answer, I think, is four-fold:

First, we pledge our allegiance to the King of Kings and Lord of lords and to Him alone.

Second, we take time every day to be with Him in order to learn from Him how to be like Him. The more we gaze into His Person, the more convinced we become of His infinite beauty, unchanging love, invariable compassion, and infinite capacity to forgive. We are changed from glory to glory into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18). We do this via prayer, contemplation, Lectio Divina, silence, meditation, and deep contemplation on Scripture (all of which points to Jesus).

Third, we must be empowered, enabled to obey by a continual infilling of the Holy Spirit. We need to be engulfed, immersed, submerged and saturated with the Divine Spirit of God. (Ephesians 5:18, 19) Jesus is the baptizer in the Holy Spirit who will give His Spirit to those who ask. (Luke 11:13; Luke 3:16)

And, finally, we need each other. Maybe there have been a few outstanding followers of Jesus who could obey these red-letters on their own, but I’m not one of them. I’m too afraid, too timid, too ready to halt. I need the strength and courage of community. I need to do life with people who want with all their hearts to take the narrow road. I need the beloved community, the community of prayerful love.

%d bloggers like this: