the peace of Christ in a world of trouble

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

John 14:27; NRSVue

I have said this to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution, but take courage: I have conquered the world!”

John 16:33; NRSVue

In his Upper Room Discourse, Jesus made it clear to his disciples what they would face, but also that they would have all that they need to stay the course, and follow in no less than his way, the way of the cross, the way of love.

I’m smacked up against trouble of one kind or another most every day. Some of it can seem threatening and dangerous, indeed is, not so much at this point because of my own faith, but just living in a broken, fallen world.

Christ promises us his peace unbroken in the midst of it all. Part of shalom I take it, but he is speaking here of an inward peace, a tranquility right in the midst of the storm.

I easily want to run from that, and do. But I want to do better, and I think I am at least in the sense of coming back to the posture of faith Christ calls me to. And it’s all the more powerful as we learn to do that together as Christ’s body through our regular gatherings.

The peace of Christ in a world of trouble promised just as much to us as to his disciples in days of old.

“It’s not just that Jesus is God. God is Jesus.”

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Hebrews 1:1-4

Forgive me for borrowing this from someone else who shared this in the recent past on social media, though it’s nothing new, but something we may not think much about. Yes, we take it from the witness of Scripture that indeed, Jesus while fully human is fully God. Just as mysterious as the thought of the Trinity itself, though in our modernistic mindset we somehow think we can explain everything, plumb the depths even of God. Though the world now understands that while we’re blessed with an emphasis on reason and modernity, that simply is not the case. But many Christians have yet to receive or understand that.

But to the point of this post: God is Jesus. While Jesus as portrayed in the gospels might not seem entirely right in our times, that too could be a misreading of some of the stories he told, completely fitting in that day, and not really putting God into the same light as some of the characters which have been misinterpreted as corresponding directly to God. What we clearly do see in Jesus is quite a contrast to even the best of what we find in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, while not at all denigrating the seriousness of the faith of those preceding him. Remember, Jesus said that John the Baptizer was greater than all who had preceded him, but that everyone in the kingdom of heaven were somehow greater than John. That must have to do with the superiority, or in the words of Hebrews “better” covenant, kingdom and King now present.

If you want to understand who God is, then you have to look at Jesus. Study Jesus, especially in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and don’t stop studying him there. And then go on to what follows and consider Jesus in all of that. And begin to grapple with and understand all the rest of Scripture in that light, so that you see where God’s people surely fell short in their understanding of God. Yes, God gets God’s hand dirty by not only taking us seriously where we’re at, but working with us there; full, utter grace. But God won’t stop there until we see God for who God really is. And that can only be seen through Jesus’s life, acts, teachings, death, resurrection and ascension with the promise of his return. We see God as God truly is only in the face of Jesus Christ.

the new world breaking into the old

In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

John 14:19

…if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being!

2 Corinthians 5:17

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:1, 5a

I’m guessing at the moment that this promise Jesus gave to his disciples the eve of his crucifixion concerns his resurrection and appearances to his disciples, though given the context, it might somehow refer to them seeing him after his ascension through the eyes of faith by the Holy Spirit. At any rate, one thing is certain. The new world through Christ’s resurrection was breaking into the old.

This old world is beaten down, and again and again repeats many of the same tragedies, seemingly in death throes, but it seems like it survives to see a new day and again do the same. It seems pushed to the brink of extinction, at least for the human species, and at least largely from what we can tell, humans at fault. And given world history, even in recent times, why should we be surprised?

But God enters in Christ, into the old creation, and brings in something new, yes nothing less than a new creation. And somehow we’re participants in that, even in this old world. We certainly groan with all of creation, awaiting the redemption of all things when the old will be no more (Romans 8). But we also experience inwardly this new life destined to continue now and forever in God’s new creative work in Christ (2 Corinthians 4, etc).

not living under condemnation

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed, it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, then the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are obligated, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if we in fact suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:1-17

There is nothing more debilitating than living under the sense of condemnation, feeling and thinking one is condemned due to what they have failed to do, or whatever may be the case. And indeed the enemy of our souls, really of all humankind, the accuser of the sisters and brothers, likes nothing more than to rain down condemnation on us, to heap that on our heads, so that we’re weighed down and suffocating with it.

But in Christ Jesus we read that there’s no condemnation at all, none! Yes, because of Christ’s death, resurrection and intercession for us (Romans 8:34), we’re set free to live above and beyond any sense of condemnation, through the Spirit. We live new lives in a realm in which sin and death are taken care of, are actually banished as far as holding sway over our lives.

This is not just a matter of accepting something as true so that we escape the sense of condemnation. It’s living in a realm in which guilt and condemnation essentially don’t exist. Not that the accuser won’t be back to make us think otherwise. But in Christ Jesus we are indeed set free to live the life God has for us in love for God and neighbor, individually and together. With no condemnation at all.

a Christ-centered faith

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…

2 Corinthians 5:19a

Yes, the Trinity and the Incarnation all enshrouded in mystery as God is. But what God has revealed is the point. And the center of that revelation is Christ himself. Apart from Christ there is ultimately no revelation from God, at least not in any saving way. And it is a salvation inclusive of all humankind, yet standing in judgment of all humankind as well. Judgment is needed before salvation, indeed shows the need for salvation. Collectively as well as individually we have failed to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. Thus the judgment rendered, and God’s salvation from that judgment in Christ.

Christ might not always be invoked or explicit in our thinking. But if faith is according to the gospel, then Christ is always the light, life and power in creation to bring about the new creation, in this brokenness to bring about the needed reconciliation of all things.

This is the truth and reality on which we as Christ followers and Christ’s church stand. From which we live as witnesses.

seeing each other as equals

Live in harmony with one another; do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

Romans 12:16

There is nothing more evident in the world than someone who is condescending toward you. Some of that comes out overtly, but it is mostly undercover, but the smell, should I say the stench of it is evident.

Really all of us as humans are equals. I want to say that again and underscore it: All of us as human beings, and I include every human being who has ever lived, are equals. That doesn’t at all mean for a moment that some of us didn’t needed serious help and intervention at certain points, or that perhaps all of us haven’t experienced something of arrested development. Nor does it mean that anything and everything a person does should be accepted as okay. Of course not. But underlying everything, we need the firm, core conviction that we are all equals, period.

There is no doubt that in Christ we humans are taken into the sphere of the new creation, something God is doing through the redemption and reconciliation of all things to God’s self through Christ. We especially together, but individually as well, in Christ are a new creation. The fact that this is so of each of us in Christ should in our imaginations at least take our breath away. But let’s not forget for a moment that everyone, yes every single human being is made in God’s image, and has an imprint of the divine, and is a special subject of God’s favor because of that, God’s children in creation, just as we in Christ are God’s new children in the new creation.

That said, let’s work at accepting each other fully: warts and all, just as we are. That’s two sided of course. Just as others will have to accept me, which is more than alright, as long as I continue to make the needed adjustments along the way, we must accept others fully where they’re at and without qualification.

Yes, as they say, we’re all equals at the foot of the cross. None of us has a leg up on another. We’re all sinners in need of God’s grace. But we need to learn not to look down on anyone, including those of other religions and traditions who again like us, bear the image of God, even though for all of us that image carries with it a brokenness. We may learn something helpful through them, even as hopefully they see Christ in us. Because of the cross (Christ’s death and resurrection), Christ receives all who will come to him with open arms. And Christ reaches out his arms to all, regardless. And in the end, God will get God’s way. Yes, through much judgment even with mercy, but the full salvation for all, following.

Let’s see every human being as an equal whom we take seriously, from whom we might receive help, as we love them as well. Something I need from others, and something I must always give, even when there are challenging points in that process. In and through Jesus.

faith is not about knowing and believing certain things

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.

James 2:19

There is the understanding that saving faith simply rests in the finished work of Christ and doesn’t do a thing. Yes, we must rest in Christ and what God has done in Christ at his death, all of that made effectual through the resurrection that follows. But we have to understand plain as day, that if our belief does not result in a change of life in which there is action, then that faith is not only, in the words of James, useless, but dead.

From what I’ve heard, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment resulted in Christians thinking that they had to defend their faith on rationalistic grounds. As a result, there was a strong emphasis on intellectual knowledge and with that supposed proofs of the veracity of the Bible, and of the gospel truth found in it. Other Christian traditions looked at the historical side related to the Bible and found many things wanting according to the standards of modernism. While “historical criticism” can help us understand genre of scripture and ask good questions not unlike scripture itself, it can also lead one down the path of no faith as well, since any reason to see scripture as being special and unique for hearing the voice of God is dissipated or gone.

In scripture faith always is evidenced in action and results in a changed life. Or it’s no faith at all. And it’s not scripture we depend on, but the God it speaks of. The God truly revealed in Jesus Christ for all of us, for the world. Faith can be alive and well only because of that.

is the Bible a flat book?

…from childhood you have known sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:15-17

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, and if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, give your coat as well, and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

Matthew 5:38-41

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:27, 32

There are many who see and read the Bible as if it were a flat book, that is they selectively really, apply parts of scripture for what Christians or nations should do today. Or else scholars attempt to explain away what is clearly in the text. That there are problematical texts ethically in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament should go without saying. Certainly they lived in a different day with norms which are not standard for us. For example in a patriarchal hierarchal society. And in a world in which violence was accepted as necessary at times.

But Jesus comes along and really blows all of that out of the water. A Christian reading and understanding of scripture doesn’t accept all that is in it as normative for today. Some of this is obvious when we consider the Pentateuch and a book like Leviticus. But there are ethical, moral matters which are often transported from the Old Testament today, which are not Christian if Christian means to follow Christ. Just one example among many is Elijah calling down fire on people (2 Kings 1).

We certainly have to find the benefit for us from all of scripture, though again in a book like Leviticus, that benefit may come from broad sweeps of the book and not as much in its details. Regardless of what we are looking at in sacred scripture, and I’m referring to the Christian Bible which includes the Hebrew Bible which is commonly called the Old Testament, at least secondarily the Apocrypha and what is called the New Testament. But regardless of where we look in that text, we have to seek to sift it through Christ, his teaching, to see all of scripture as it were through the eyes of Christ.

That’s a tall order, for sure. And it doesn’t mean we discard anything that is not in harmony or meets the standard of Christ. It all somehow has value as we seek to consider the context. We can at the very least see how God’s people have changed in their understanding of God, of God’s will and God’s way. In a final, ongoing sense through the coming of Jesus and all that follows. In and through Jesus.

by faith we have an understanding

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

Hebrews 11:3; NRSVue

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

John 20:24-29; NRSVue

Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:8-9; NRSVue

Our Christian faith rests on Christ and Christ’s resurrection from the dead. There are many things in scripture which can’t be verified historically, and some are contradicted by findings. Given our modernist rationalist mindset, we want to verify anything and everything before we believe it. But scripture insists that we have it backward. As Augustine well said:

For understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe so that you may understand.

We don’t have to have everything verified, in fact not anything. Though I think one can make a good case for the historicity of Christ’s resurrection (see N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God) but when it’s all said and done, I’m not sure it can actually be proven. Yet if you read the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) along with Acts and what follows, I think it’s much easier to accept than not. Certainly the apostles and early disciples believed it along with those who followed, and right up to the present day.

But the point of this post is that though we can’t see it, though it may contradict our understanding and senses, whatever may be the case, we will enter into whatever reality there actually is only through faith. We have to accept the testimony concerning the gospel, the good news in Jesus. That may be a struggle, but if we set our hearts and minds to that, it will come. God will help us. In the meantime, we need to be patient with ourselves and others. We can’t force it; God gives it. Like Thomas we need to ask, seek and knock. God will assuredly answer and give us much more than rational knowledge and all the answers, but will help us begin to enter into the reality ourselves. In and through Jesus.

we don’t grieve like those who don’t have this “hope”

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; NRSVue

We “in Christ,” especially those of us who were raised up in this tradition like me can hardly imagine the end of life being the end of one’s existence. That like the animals we are simply gone. But in and through Christ and his resurrection from the dead, we have the “hope” as actually God’s promise that we look forward to that God will indeed raise to new and glorious eternal life the bodies of all those who are “in Christ.”

It is a Greek thought not biblical that our bodies are not a part of our true selves. Every part of us is a part of God’s good creation and will be included in the resurrection. Yes, a new us, but new from the old, so that it’s the new you, still you, but made new from the lowly body subject to death down here which Christ shared with us, to the glorious new body like his now ascended, glorified body.

This will take place at Christ’s return. All that has been reconciled to God through Christ will be made new, which I take to mean all things, at least eventually. God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15). Christ is the first fruits of this, and we who have believed follow.

I’m thankful that aging, death and decay do not have the last word. No, a new life forever and ever in the newness of all things. In and through Jesus.