From the song by U2:
I wanna run, I want to hide
I wanna tear down the walls
That hold me inside.
I wanna reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name.
We have a longing for a place, a way of life, for a reality that exhibits a different kind of justice…a different integrity that the world we observe around us when good so often looses to evil and our lives are broken even though we long for wholeness. This can be an individual desire and it can be a corporate or national one.
In the last entry I left showing the repetition within the early Jewish narrative of exile and return, slavery and freedom, running away and coming back home. All of this lead toward an expectation for justice: for a putting of the world to rights. The hope for this change was nationalistic, and was centered in the prophetic figure of the Messiah.
Jump to the public ministry of Jesus, and the whisperings and murmurings: could this be the one? The eye-witness reports of the miracles he was working were quickly spreading many wondered whether this could be Israel’s King. Maybe God would once again make Israel great, and defeat it’s new Babylon (Rome). Oddly, especially to his disciples, Jesus seemed more interested in a mysterious death, and while he talked about a Kingdom of God, he seemed disinterested in any political or military power. Then, more sudden than his rise to regional fame, he was killed. Crucified. The immediate effect on his disciples defeat: they had backed the wrong horse. Jesus was not the Messiah, because he was just executed by the power that (they thought) the Messiah would over turn.
Then it happened. An event that is Christianity. Without it the word, the people, the religion don’t exist. Resurrection. The dead teacher, and possible Messiah was dead no more, but walking around in his old skin again. His body was different somehow– better somehow. Let me be clear: Jesus’ resurrection is the event that defines Christianity. Before it the movement of Jesus’ followers was dead before it had hardly begun. After it, a powerful force was launched upon the world. Suddenly Jesus was back alive again, his old body having been transformed, and this reality was the catalyst, the truth that shaped the thinking of his followers.
So with Christmas here, I want to remind us to remember Easter. The fact of Jesus resurrection lead to the biblical hope that became Christianity: God is the one God who made the world, and Jesus is that world’s Lord. Having died for forgiveness of fallen men, he was resurrected– defeating the powers of evil and even death itself. Further more, the future promise in the New Testament is that like Jesus, all of creation will be renewed someday, including all who are children of God.
So while Israel was waiting for God’s Messiah who would save them, God was working out his plan to save the world through Israel’s Messiah. And like the history of his people, the theme of exile and return recurs in Jesus. For though he accomplished his task, and the power of sin has been defeated, he left with the job incomplete. For our world is still broken and our lives like it are too. Yet the promise, given supreme confidence by his resurrection, is that Jesus will return again, the second time with power and as King. The Savior of the world who is also it’s Lord, will return to claim all that is His.
Now, in parting I want to point out a part of this truth that is ignored by many Christians. The hope of the resurrection which is the hope of the New Testament is not the escapist hope that many of us Christians in the US hope for. Perhaps your future hope is that someday you will die and go to heaven? Sounds good, right? The only problem is that it ignores the overwhelming weight of the New Testament that points not to our escaping this evil world, but rather to Jesus’ return to this world at a time when God will renew it. And instead of our hope being to go home into some spiritual rest in heaven, Jesus will be coming home to us where he will reign over his new creation.
There is so much to be said here, but I will leave you with a clip from 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul lays out his (and mine and our) hope.
1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance [fn1] : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, [fn2] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
Merry Christmas, and remember that Jesus wasn’t a baby for long. Remember too that he will come back again.