The Resurrection of the Jesus the Messiah, and the Task of the Church

Christmas is upon us, and so it seems a bit weird that I’m writing a post about the resurrection of Jesus (maybe I’m in Easter mood 🙂 ), but when you are hit with a great ‘aha’ moment, you either “write it or lose it”. So here I am, writing it. Maybe you’ll see my point, and how that is even related to Christmas.

So here I was, reading a recent blog post by NT scholar Scott McKnight on his Jesus creed blog. He’d been reviewing a certain Mike Birds’s “Evangelical Theology” book, and reiterated something that Mike said in the book – that the resurrection of Jesus is the most neglected chapter in evangelical theology. He referred to the sermons that Peter and Paul gave in Acts 2, Acts 13 and Acts 17 to buttress his point. Now those of you who are familiar with my posts will notice I’ve made a big deal of these passages because these are the first recorded evidence of how the apostles presented what we call “the gospel”. And yet, it seems as human as I am, I had missed something striking in the passage, something which upon further attention, I wonder how I’d missed it.

I know that the dominant mindset regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that it signifies that we will also resurrect in the last day and also go to heaven. But I want to challenge you that the resurrection of Jesus means miles and miles more than that. So just think and read with me as I go along.

 

Acts 2

When Peter was first called upon to defend what had happened on the day of Pentecost, he describes what the prophets had said about the pouring out of the spirit (v 14-21). He then proceeds to talk about the life, activities and miraculous deeds of Jesus, and his death at the hands of the Jews. (v 22-23). But from 24 all the way to 36, he hones in on Jesus’s resurrection, quoting David and saying that Jesus’s resurrection vindicates him as the Messiah that they were waiting for. In effect, the fact that Jesus resurrected from the dead was the good news. Now, maybe you may not see what I’m talking about, but Acts 13 makes it even more explicit.

 

Acts 13

From verse 13 we encounter Paul in a synagogue, invited to speak to the gathering (I guess his credentials as a Pharisee had something to do with that, but that’s just my personal hunch). He accepts the invitation, and begins by recounting the history of the nation Israel, (v 16-22). He then states that the expected descendant of David is Jesus, describes his life, and the events leading to his death (v 23-29). The he hones in on the man’s resurrection from v 30 to 38, and makes a startling statement in v 32 – “We tell you THE GOOD NEWS: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, BY RAISING UP JESUS”. As we all may be aware, the word “gospel” means exactly that – “good news”. And Paul here states exactly what it is – the fact that this Jesus is the resurrected Messiah from the dead.

 

Acts 17

Again, we encounter Paul at the Agora in Athens, and he is trying to put forward his best argument for Jesus amongst the other Gods that the Greek worshiped. It is interesting that he finds himself amongst Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, for those were the worldviews that dominated their lives at the time. From Acts 17:22, Paul tries to make a case for the God of Israel being the one and only God who created heaven, earth and everything within it. He states that this God of Israel intends to judge the earth with justice by a certain man, and the proof of his appointment by God was not by any other means else than by the fact that he is resurrected. “He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead v 31”. With the mention of resurrection, you can see the reaction of the people captured in v 32. Some sneered, but some said they wanted to hear more. It seems then, that Jesus resurrection is truly the real encapsulation of the message of the apostles.

 

What’s With Resurrection?

To The Jew

To the 1st century Jew, who was used to many people calling themselves Messiahs, ranging from Judas Maccabeus (probably the most successful one because of his success in fighting the Syrians, for which the Jews now have the festival Hanukkah today) to Menaheim, to John of Gischala to Simon bar Kochba, none of them had ever died and resurrected. To the Jewish mind, the ultimate enemy was not sin, but rather death. This is also why Jesus Christ talks a lot in the gospels about “life” i.e. he being the giver of life; the way, the truth and the life and many more such statements.

The Jewish hope was that in the age to come, all righteous Jews will be resurrected to obtain their promised inheritance – the kingdom of God. Therefore for someone to claim to be the Messiah, do all the wonderful signs he did as prophesied by the prophets, and to conquer death, the last enemy (even in Revelations 20, death and Hades are the last enemies to be defeated ), this person was truly the Messiah. No wonder then that announcement of the resurrected Messiah was “the gospel”, heralding the beginning of the kingdom of God. It is also not surprising what Paul says in 1 Cor 15:1-8, where instead of simply stating Jesus’s resurrection as he stated the other events of his life, he adds 3 additional verses of evidence to shore up confidence in the resurrection of Jesus.

 

 

To the Gentile

The Gentile world (and the Jewish as well) was ruled by Romans at the time, whose emperors did not fail to announce themselves not only as the kings of the world, but as gods and “sons of gods”.

In fact, Emperor Augustus official title was “Emperor Caesar Augustus, son of God”. After his death, his successor had him officially declared a god, and thence the emperors that followed began demanding worship, not just as king, but as gods. And yet, not one of them, from Augustus to Tiberius to Vespasian to Domitian ever died and resurrected. Not one.

Therefore a King who had died and resurrected, was definitely worth pondering about. For neither Stoicism (which was and is a closer worldview to Christianity) nor Epicureanism (which is much closer to today’s postmodern worldview) were prepared with an answer to a king that had overcome death. This was definitely important, and required either that one accepts Paul’s message and ask for further clarification as some did, or reject it as incredulous as others did. There’s no middle line.

It is also not surprising for the early disciples to use the same word “euangelion” (the greek word for gospel aka good news) and the title “son of God” that the Gentiles used in announcing their king. In fact, there’s also very high suspicion that the disciples were very intentional about their use of the following statement

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” – Peter in Acts 4:12

There is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved than that of Caesar” – Augustus Caesar – 27 BC to 14 AD

 

And so what?

After Paul’s long diatribe on the resurrection in 1 Cor 15, he makes a significant statement at the end of the chapter.

Therefore my brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58)

Now what labour is this old man Paul talking about again? I thought resurrection meant we were all getting pimped up to go to heaven, not so? Well, of course that’s true, but that’s only half the story so let’s look at the other half.

 

The Coming of the Messiah not only Means Hope, But also Work for the Church

One of the cardinal hopes of Judaism, especially of 1st century Judaism was that Israel may be the light of the world. As God had promised to Abraham, he will bless them, that through them all nations will be bless (Gen 12:1-3) This expectation is especially captured in Isaiah 60:3, about the glory of Zion

Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn”(Isaiah 60:3).

And this they prayed for and sang about in their Psalms, displayed in a psalm like Ps 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us – so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations” (Ps 67:1-2).

The confusing bit is that the task of the nation Israel is almost always expected to be the task also of the Messiah, again captured by Isaiah about the “servant of God”.

I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, and a light for the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6)

It is too small a thing for you to be my servant … I will also make you a light for the Gentiles …”(Isaiah 49:6)

Other tasks of the servant/king/Messiah are documented in the Psalms and Prophets but Ps 72:17 links it directly to the promise to Abraham. That Psalm is probably the most comprehensive statement of the job description of the Messiah in all the Psalms.

Since Jesus explicitly said that the nation Israel had failed to be that light (Mt 5:13-16), he was now constituting a new people who shall share his task (Jn 15, he is the vine, and we are his branches, and other such passages) called his church, just like the Zion was supposed to share the task of their expected servant.

 

This then is the driving force behind Paul’s ministry. He preached a gospel of the resurrected Messiah, and he strengthened the people so converted to be the carriers out of the task of that Messiah, not as individuals, but acting as a nation would – together. This is what then he says in Eph 3:10-11.

His [God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made know to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord”

I posit that this is Pauls equivalent of saying “you (the church) shall be the light onto the nations”

Ok, We’ve Had Enough

Well, I’ve had enough too, because that’s basically the end of my amazement. Of course, I had always complained in previous posts that centering the message of Jesus around forgiveness of sins so we could hold hands and sing kumbaya in heaven was only the quarter of it, but the fact that the kingship of Jesus Christ validated by his resurrection is what was the pivot of the “good news”of our beloved early disciples did shake me myself.

I had read the 800 page “Jesus and the Victory of God” in which NT Wright made the parallel between the task of the Messiah and the task of his people, but I still hadn’t made the connection between resurrection and the gospel, and why that was the basis of their confidence. Because if strengthened and emboldened by the resurrection of their messiah the task of the Messiah becomes the task of the church, then faithful Christians are those who, working with others in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, pursue the Messiah’s task, not their personal agendas.

And this also is why Paul wrote his epistles. Not as love letters to be read by “me, myself and I”, but as guiding principles that a people who everywhere together represent the Messiah, shall think and act together that they truly shall together, be the light to the world. The task of shining a light, the task of justice, the task of relief to the poor, the task of self-sacrifice, the task of relieving the oppressed and the many other tasks described in places like Ps 72, Isaiah 61 etc is not mine, neither is it yours. It is ours, and we the church must be busy about that task. If not, we have acted like Israel – we want the blessings, that we may spend them all on ourselves and not extend it to the Gentiles. But the worst part is if we choose to devolve it to individual activity. For then, the task is totally not achievable.

But when we’ve truly been busy at the task, then we can sing joy to the world, because we have indeed brought joy through our king. For his coming is indeed “good news”.

Advertisements

Of Theologies, Songs and Mantras

Last  Sunday at our meeting, we found ourselves questioning another song that we Ghanaian Christians sing and take for granted every day, and also reflects a general trend which we believe is worrying. The song is recorded below, with its English translation alongside it. Please forgive my translation if it’s not too exact, but I think we all get the drift of this song.

Ye beyi Yesu aye (We will Praise Jesus)

Wo odo a odi ado yen (For the love he has for us)

W’ama ade pa akye yen biom (For he has made us wake up in health again)

Ye beyi n’aye daa (We will praise him forever).

 

Our beef was with that third passage which talked about Jesus waking us up in good health (or something to that effect). I know most people have not given much thought to that sentence in the song, but I believe it reflects the general malaise that has eaten into the Christian message and witness in our times, especially in the Ghanaian context. So please stick with me a while and you’ll get the point I’m driving at.

 

Thinking Globally

There are 7 billion citizens of this world. The Indians hold 1 billion of that, and the Chinese close to 1.5 billion. Statistically then, these 2 countries alone constitute 28% of the world’s population. Yet the majority of these people are either Hindu or Buddhist in one form or the other. In fact according to Wikipedia, 82% of Indians are Hindu, so that makes that 820 million Hindus in India alone. And these are people who may have not even heard about Jesus Christ, or may have but don’t believe in him. And yet, China’s economy is the fastest growing economy in the world, and we in Africa are importing their products by droves. India is coming along just nicely after China economically. I have not even begun to talk about the Buddhists/Hindus outside of Asia, much more the abundance of Muslims all over the world.

All of these huge masses of people have something in common – the live and breathe and have their being as Paul put it, but it’s not because they believe in Jesus Christ. It’s simply because God has allowed it to be so.

 

 

Marriage

The Indians, with all their Hinduism, have the lowest divorce rates in the world. Contrast that to America with all its “Christianity”, where according to the pollster George Bana, 50% of specifically Christian marriages (not American marriages in general) have led to divorce. Again, this figure is not general American marriages, but Christian American marriages. And yet we kid ourselves with the notion that “If Jesus is in our marriages, they will be successful”. Of course, nobody actually stops to think that the standards that Jesus sets for our marriages are far higher than those of the general public. Jesus himself is not the guarantee of a successful marriage – learning to live a life of love, respect, humility and self-sacrifice for one another in marriage is the guarantee, and Jesus gave no other standards.

 

Wealth

The wealthiest people of this world are not Christians. And I don’t mean people who have Christian names or believe in the existence of God (we seem to confuse a belief in God with a belief in Jesus), neither do I mean Jews. I mean people who believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God and the savior of the world and who are part of a community of saints, spending their time and lives with them. It is universally self-evident that if a Christian wants to be the most prosperous man in the world, he probably is in the wrong religion. Just go make your money and spend it, and forget about being a Christian. Alternatively start up a church, and find ways to justify collecting money from the members in the name of “God blessing a cheerful giver” and “doing God’s work”. Obviously not all of us Christians can be “pastors”, so this wealth is even segregated. Hmm, remind me if we are still running a priesthood of all believers.

 

Long Life

The oldest living human beings in the Guinness book of records are not in Christian dominated countries, but in Asia, specifically Japan. Yet most Japanese are either Buddhist or Shintoist. Again, both the Bible and science have shown us the keys to long life. When we are busy NOT living a healthy life, but rather damaging ourselves and expecting God to miraculously give us good health, we have none to blame but ourselves. And even when through no fault of ours we are struck down by disease and are not healed by God, we do not see how our sickness may be a means to an end, and either point fingers claiming “you don’t have faith”, “there is sin in your life” or some other judgmental mantra.

 

In Short

Afterall God gives everybody life, and takes as he pleases. The bible says God supplies rain to both the good and the wicked as well. Waking up to a good day has got nothing to do with believing in Jesus Christ. The 820 million Indian Hindus woke up this morning, and some of them have 1 million dollar weddings to attend this weekend, if my Indian friend Himanshu’s statements are anything to go by. Being wealthy has got nothing to do with believing in Jesus. In spite of our plenty Christianity, we are borrowing a paltry 3 billion from the Chinese with plenty political hoopla and I don’t need to remind you what they believe in.

 

Surprised By Hope, Ignited by His Kingdom

And so I wonder why we do not sing and shout about what makes us unique in this world. I wonder why we sing “God has been good”; when it should be “God is good”. Was there ever a time when God was not good, or are we only talking about when times were good for us? Has our theology become so warped that we uncritically accept any song labeled “Christian/gospel”? I wonder why our “Double Doubles” and confused gospels are all about how me and my family have woken up to good health, how God is going to “change my destiny” (wonder where that is in the bible?), how what God has said about my life he will fulfill (when He has said all He will say about his church already, and we are only part of that communal vision), how God is going to “butter my bread” and “sugar my koko”, giving me double houses and double cars? What about the days when we wake up with malaria and can’t go to church on Sunday? Or when because of persecution, our brother is killed for their faith in Jesus (as is happening in Asia & Middle East)? Can we still sing “W’ama ade pa akye yen biom” sincerely? Can we still sing “Your house na double double” when by no fault of ours the house we’ve sweated to build is burnt down in a fire? Or is it because we’ve believed Jesus Christ because of what we think we will get from him in this material world, and not his mission for us on this earth?

 

Because if that weren’t the case, our songs will be more about Jesus and his call to us as a people to be the expression of his nature – a nature of love. Our songs will express eternal truths about his coming to die to bring us cleansing and salvation. Our songs will galvanize us to build his kingdom on this earth, through love and devotion to one another, and through a dedication to see the destitute, hopeless and lost feel and see that the coming Kingdom of Jesus Christ “go be keke”. Our songs will reflect that joy is found in Christ and his community, even when the world is pressing us on every side. Our mantras will be about how through our faith in Christ we are able to galvanize our resources towards meeting our own needs, as well as those less fortunate around us; that we are the bearers of good news, bringing hope to both the rich and the poor, the lonely and the famous; that there is something unique about us as a people of Jesus, something that neither sword, nor persecution nor riches nor poverty can take away from us.

Let us leave the songs about daily bread to them that have not the hope of Jesus, and let our songs tell what kind of people we are that the rest of the world isn’t. If not, let’s stop kidding ourselves, become Japanese so we may live long, marry an Indian so we have blissful marriages and become American Wall Street brokers, so we can become wealthy.

In the end, we changed the words from “W’ama adepa akye yen” to “W’aba be wu agye yenkwa” (He has died to bring us salvation). So don’t be surprised if you hear me sing it differently then.

We have a kingdom to build, and we cannot waste time.

Vicit Angus Noster Eum Sequamur – Our Lamb has Conquered, Him Let us Follow 

Of Double Doubles, and Confused Gospels

As I grow in life and grow in Christ, it seems that I keep rediscovering the Jesus I believe in. And I’m more excited each day discovering his wondrous worth as the risen Messiah, the one spoken of by Israel’s prophets of old. However, when I turn round to what I see and hear of we who follow him, my heart sometimes fills with such sorrow. And one of those instances is when I heard the words of the “gospel” song “Double Double”, because nothing can be farther from the truth when it comes to the reality of what the New Testament determines to be God’s blessings.

The Background to the NT & Jesus’ Times

I strongly believe that one of the problems of Christian teaching and teachers down the centuries is a very severe ignorance of the background and times that Jesus and his apostles lived in, and this ignorance allows us to continuously misappropriate scripture to our own purposes, ignoring totally the theme that drives the use of certain words in the NT. We don’t realize that Jesus’ work is part of a narrative of historical events in which Jesus participated as a very important figure, and in which we are participating after he has left. We therefore just pick out as we please, and the resulting Christianity we get tends not be pretty, to say the least. Let us examine some of these backgrounds, and then we’ll look at what we mean when we talk about God’s blessing vis-à-vis the Christian in the NT. For those interested in details, delving into “New Testament History” by FF Bruce, “New Testament History” by Ben Witherington III and other NT historians will be helpful.

About 400 years before Jesus birth, Israel had just returned from exile. Whiles in exile, they’d been encouraged by the words of prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel to continue to be faithful to God and that they will see God’s faithfulness to his covenant to Abraham when they are delivered. This deliverance finally came through the Persian king Cyrus who allowed the likes of Ezra and Nehemiah to return and rebuild the Jewish nation. It is believed that it is within this period of exile that institutions like the synagogues sprang up because they did not have a temple like in Jerusalem to concentrate their worship around anymore. When they returned, they were led by their leader Zerubabbel to build a new temple in Jerusalem (recorded in Ezra 3-6), and this second temple named after Zerubabbel is the temple that existed at the time of Jesus Christ. The Judaism that was practiced after this second temple was built is what scholars refer to as Second Temple Judaism. One of the important things to note at that time was that because of the problems created by having to live in exile for so long, a whole new batch of religious laws had crept into the Jewish society aside of the Old Testament (Torah) that we Christians know, and these laws were called the Talmud, sometimes referred to as “the tradition of the elders”. In fact, in some places, they overrode the Torah given by Moses which was directly from God. These Talmudic laws are what Jesus condemns when he says to the Pharisees that they break the command of God for the sake of their traditions (Matt 15:1-3).

In addition to these, the institution of Pharisees and Pharisaism arose during and after the exile. These were men learned in the Torah and Talmud, and who guided the religious lives of the ordinary people. Though the Jews looked to the council of priests (The Sanhedrin) for ultimate leadership of the whole country during this period, the Pharisees were more respected because they seemed to follow the laws more devoutly and spent more time directly amongst the ordinary people than the priests, who were busy politicking and doing their rituals in the temple. Of the two popular Pharisaic factions, Paul the apostle was originally of the Hillel faction, having studied under Hillel’s grandson Gamaliel (Ac 22:3).

The Hope of the Jews

Despite their return, all was not well with the Jews. They knew that they had a special covenant with God as the children of Abraham, and that their prophets had prophesied to them that God will bring his promised kingdom to pass through the “Son of David” – the “Son of Man”, the Messiah – after their exile. Despite all the prophecies about God restoring them from exile and bringing everlasting peace to them, here they were under occupation – first by Ptolemy (one of the generals of Alexander the Great) and his descendants, and then by Caesar and his Roman empire thereafter. To the 2nd temple Jew therefore, salvation was not centered on a personal redemption from sin and its effects, but God entering into the present and changing the world order by virtue of His anointed one (Christ means “anointed one”), that they the Jews may be vindicated as the true nation of God.

One of the expectations of the coming of that kingdom is the gift of the Spirit of God to his people, enabling them to be able to obey God’s commands without a written law. This was because they believed their own efforts at being obedient to the law were insufficient in pleasing God, but then he would give them the means to please him himself if his spirit dwelt in them. As Ezekiel 36:25-27 records God’s intent:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

Jesus & the New Testament

400 years after the exile and whiles the 2nd temple Jew is seriously contemplating why God hasn’t brought his kingdom into fulfillment, Jesus enters the scene and begins to talk about this same kingdom whose coming he says is very near. In some places he actually says that the kingdom has arrived in the present. The “kingdom of God”/”kingdom of Heaven” is mentioned in the gospels about 84 times, many times more than the word “salvation” in the entire NT. And yet it is very odd that the current Christian discourse has very little mention of the kingdom. Jesus’ mission of creating a people in every location who are expressing his nature and his kingdom in the now has been totally subsumed by our own self-defined missions of “winning souls” to sit in pews and wait for heaven to come, doing nothing but clinging onto “faith alone”. In fact waiting in pews has become tiring, and therefore we’ve moved on to claiming material property in the name of “God’s blessings”. Two millennia of Christianity has managed to emasculate the Gospel from its Judaic background, and has lead and is still leading us down a path where every theology can be easily supported by stringing together any number of proof-texts from the bible in the name of “God’s word”. The least said about the “motivational speakers” the better, for that genre of preaching does not even need a Christian to do.

Blessing

One of such proof-texting comes from the typical use of the word “blessing” with regards to Gal 3.

A lot of Christians have thought of the “blessings of Abraham” to connote being blessed with material wealth like Abraham was blessed by God. And yet it is very obvious from the context of Gal 3 that Paul is talking about how the Galatians received the Holy Spirit – which is exactly what God promised in Ezek 36 above. Oh, by the way, a promise is not a wish – it is expected that a promise will be fulfilled, given that all conditions for its fulfillment is met. This is important as we’ll see later.

“Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? … The scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you’. So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal 3:2;8-9).

Which blessing is Paul talking about here, except in direct reference to the blessing of receiving the Spirit of God? The argument is sufficiently ended when we look at v14.

“He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gal 3:14)

 

Riches

Another of such usage is with regards to “riches”. The typical proof-text is 2 Cor 8 and 9

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).

As usual, in the haste to claim things for ourselves whether legitimate or not, we have totally ignored the context of this passage. We notice first that Corinthians is an epistle not to a person, but to a congregation. Even v 1 says “And now brothers”, meaning he’s not referring to one person becoming rich, but the congregation’s collective increase, whether through one person or through many. In addition, the English language does not help us here because the language uses “you” to refer to both singular and plural numbers. However the “you” and “your” used here are different forms of “humei” in Greek which denotes a plural, not singular. This fact is even supported by “for your sakes” as properly translated by the NIV.

Given the foregoing, how can we come to the conclusion that 2 Cor 8:9 says that every Christian must be rich, or there’s something wrong with their Christianity? And yet we’ve lost sight of the really important thing that Paul was saying – that even in extreme poverty, the Macedonian churches gave to help their Jerusalem brethren. I know many Christians who claim they are willing to help their less fortunate brethren, but they are waiting to be rich before they can do so. I wonder if they’ve read 2 Cor 8 properly.

Prosper

Oh, and the favourite proof-text:

“I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 Jn 2).

There is no doubt that John the apostle is wishing his brother Gaius well, and as any Christian will wish his brother a happy birthday – there is no guarantee that his brother will indeed have a happy birthday. This is not a promise of God, recorded in the Law, Prophets or Gospels that we must at all times prosper and have good health. So I ask a simple question: if I pray that my friend’s marriage is successful as we always do when we go to our friend’s weddings, does that automatically mean that their marriage will be successful? Is logic not allowed to prevail anymore when reading the scriptures?

Again, the real problem that John the apostle sought to address (which is what is happening everyday in our churches today – authoritarian self-imposed leadership in the name of “serving” the church) is nicely glossed over? Do we not have an abundance of Diotrepheses in our churches? In fact, haven’t we institutionalized “Diotrephesism”? In fact, New Covenant theologian Dr Jon Zens is challenging us to rethink the institution of the clergy today in his book “The Pastor Has No Clothes” in an attempt to deal with such problems, and we probably need to pay more attention to men like him.

When Jesus was praying for his disciples in Jn 17, I believe his focus was that God give them the strength to fulfill the commandment he’d given them and to be united as a people in doing so, not in making sure they “prospered and had good health”.

Conclusion

I know that songs like “Double Double” are very nice to dance to and get all worked up on. But if there’s any theological strength to such songs, I’m obviously not getting the message. In fact, it actually is getting depressing listening to “gospel” music of today, whether it comes from the polished American singers of the day or the not-so-polished Ghanaian ones. The value is the same, and we need to get back to talking about Jesus, his kingdom and how we can make him and his kingdom real in the community of the brethren.

The Gospel of The Kingdom: Resurrection Perspectives

Easter has just passed us and gone, and it definitely afforded us the time to reflect on the impact of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So I want to share my reflections on this period, with particular emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. One of the eminent NT scholars of our time, Nicholas Thomas Wright, has been challenging my notions of the implications of Christ’s resurrection in his book Surprised by Hope, and I cannot but share them with us all.

We have all read and re-read some of the recorded instances of public preaching in the book of Acts. However, a little bit more attention to detail will show that one of the continuous themes that most Christians have missed (simply because most of the preaching of the gospel we hear misses it too) was the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we already know, the word “gospel” means “good news”. Now look at how the “good news” always included the resurrection in the ff passages.

“Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, the he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Ac 2:31-32 NIV) – Peter preaching the gospel on the day of Pentecost

“We tell you the good news; What God promised our fathers, he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus …” (Ac 13:32 NIV) – Paul preaching to the Jews & God-fearers of Psidian Antioch

“A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked ‘What is this babbler trying to say?’ Others remarked, ‘He seems to be advocating foreign gods.’ They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.” (Ac 17:18 NIV) – Paul preaching in Athens.

Before we go on, it is important to note that most Jews of the time of Jesus and the apostles sided with the Pharisees on the belief that one day there will be a general resurrection of the dead. This belief is echoed by Martha when Jesus said her brother Lazarus will rise again in Jn 11:24. And by resurrection they don’t mean the spirit rising and the body being left behind, as Greco-Roman influences have changed the Christian message over the years. Resurrection was meant to be just like Christ’s own – a resurrected body being a fusion of the spirit and a transformed body that can be recognised, seen, and touched, but can also enter rooms without opening doors (1 Co 15:35-44). The idea that the body is a corrupt thing which must be left behind for the purified soul/spirit to go to heaven is totally pagan Greco-Roman philosophy which has been imported into Christianity, and works against everything that Judaism and it’s younger brother early Christianity taught about resurrection.

We are familiar with the Jewish belief in a Messiah who was supposed to come and rescue Israel from it’s assailants (Is 40) – at the time of Jesus their political assailant was the Roman Empire. According to Ps 72 (especially v 8), Ps 47 and other OT passages, this Messiah will not only rule over Israel, but also over the whole world. In the light of all of this, why is Jesus’ Christ’s resurrection so important that the delivery of the apostle’s gospel to unbelievers always included mention of the fact that Jesus Christ was resurrected?

Christ’s Resurrection Was a Repudiation of the Earthly Powers

At the time of Jesus Christ and the apostles, the Roman Empire revered it’s dead emperors as gods that needed to be worshipped. Overtime however, the living ones coveted this honour, and declared themselves gods as well. These emperors had their images placed in temples of all the cities they’d conquered, forcing everyone to worship them. However none of the emperors in all their vanity, ever died and resurrected. However, Jesus had resurrected. That is why Paul says God has given the world proof that Jesus will judge the world by “raising him from among the dead” when he was talking to the Athenians.

To therefore declare Jesus as the king of the world was not a simple matter, because Paul was definitely challenging the Roman emperor. With this background then, it is very easy why Paul will be accused of treason whiles in Thessalonica in the ff:

These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here … They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Ac 17:6-7)

According to the German historian, Ethelber Stauffer, the religious principle of the Roman Empire, from the days of Augustus on, was salvation by Caesar: “Salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus, and there is no other name given to men in which they can be saved”. Now, tell me how different this is from what Peter said in Ac 4:12? In the same way, tell me how different this is from our blindness to the political systems of the day including democracy, which claim to be the solution to men’s problems? The resurrection of Jesus was truly a political statement (not just a spiritual one), and a treasonous one at that.

If Christ is indeed the king of this world, shouldn’t Christians be reconsidering their die-hard following of earthly political powers, since salvation is indeed to be found only in Christ?

Christ’s Resurrection Commissions Us to Build His Kingdom on Earth

To most Christians, our idea of the kingdom of God/heaven is a kingdom that will only come in the future. For now, all we need to do is to believe in Jesus Christ and go to church and “worship” him, all in waiting for the time when we “go to heaven”. But if this king’s kingship was all about a future kingdom, then there was no need for the people of Thessalonica to feel threatened by the declaration that Jesus is Lord (not “Jesus will be Lord”).

What has worsened this erroneous idea of “worship until he comes” is a misunderstanding of passages like Phil 3:20-21 where Paul says “our citizenship is in heaven”. Most people have miscronstrued it to mean that we are meant for heaven, so we have no role on this earth except waiting for Christ (and thereby the purpose of church is to save more people for heaven, and that the church is just an association of the saved). However, the Philippian recipients would have understood what Paul said quite differently. Philippi was a Roman colony. Augustus had settled his veterans there after the battles of Philippi (42 BC) and Actium (31 BC). This was done to spread the rule of the Roman empire, as well as to prevent overcrowding of Rome with old veteran soldiers. Therefore most of these people were Roman citizens by default. Paul is only using the same imagery of Roman citizenship that they are very familiar with to show them who they were to God and what their purpose was – God is using them, citizens of heaven, to establish and extend his kingdom over this earth until he comes, just like Augustus was using them to spread the Roman empire.

Paul spent the longest chapter he’d ever written of his epistles on the topic of resurrection in 1 Cor 15, yet he did not conclude that because we are going to be resurrected, we should cross our legs and go to sleep – he rather says that we should stand firm and not be moved, because our labour is not in vain (v 54). What labour could that be? Believing in Jesus so we can go to heaven? I think you’ll agree that there’s very little “labour” involved in that.

Christ’s Resurrection & Kingship Shows Us the Way of His Kingdom

But if we are to build his kingdom, we are to build it as he wills it and with the methods and means he has shown us – with love and self-sacrifice. Many people have sought to “establish the kingdom of Christ” by using the same tools and methods that the world uses in establishing itself – violence, laws, discrimination, nationalism, political systems, bureaucracy and abuse of authority etc. But the author of the gospel of John spent chapters 13 to 17 laying down the true markers of Jesus’ kingdom (some scholars say the Gospel of John was indeed written by Lazarus, being likely to be the “disciple Christ loved”, and the evidence is rather interesting, see Jn 21:22-24) . He begins with Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet and the call to self-sacrifice for one another (Jn 13:13-17), to love for one another (Jn 13:34), to laying down our lives for one another (Jn 15:13), to the work of the Holy Spirit in showing us the will of the Father, to praying to the father that they may be one in community with each other (Jn 17) just as he is in community with the Father in the Trinity.
These standards are standards that the earthly political systems will never be able to live by, being driven by greed, power, pride and divided interests. This is why it is amongst them that claim to be part of this kingdom inaugurated by the King who is superior to Caesar (here referring to all socio-cultural and political ideologies) that we are supposed to see these virtues alive. If our king is truly alive now (and not just in the future), then we have a responsibility to make his kingdom’s impact felt through his way, not our way. And yet there is much to be desired amongst us believers, for predominantly we prefer the means of the world in achieving the purposes of our king. Any other way apart from his, and we are simply building our personal kingdoms and not his eternal one.

It Shows Christ’s Victory Over Death and the Coming Judgement

Then as now, the number one tool that can be used to threaten a people into submission is the fear of death. Just look right now at what Ghadaffi is doing in Libya, and you’ll know why that is. However, when a people see death as only an inconvenience because they will rise again (not just their spirits alone), they are not afraid to stand before those who do evil and condemn them. Unfortunately Christians have been trained to think that death is a good thing, because it is the means by which we “go to heaven from this evil world” anyway. Hear NT Wright

A piety that sees death as the moment of ‘going home at last,’ the time when we are ‘called to God’s eternal peace,’ has no quarrel with power-mongers who want to carve up the world to suit their own ends.”

And this state of affairs is clearly played out in the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees on the one hand and the Sadducees on the other. Though Jesus seems to be quite critical of the Pharisees, he tended to agree more with them than with the Sadducees for good reason. According to NT historian FF Bruce’s “New Testament History”, the Sadducees were the council of priests who run the temple. At the time of Jesus the high priest was no longer appointed from the family of Zadok, descendant of Aaron, but chosen by the Roman authorities dependent on ones political connections and or how much bribe one could pay. They were therefore more interested in oppressing the people, the upshot of which was their resistance to the idea of resurrection, because resurrection was tied to judgement. This is very similar to the reaction of the Athenians regarding the ideas of resurrection and judgement in Act 17:31-32.

How different is this reaction against the idea of resurrection from those of world leaders from communists to democrats who abhor the idea of resurrection and judgement – simply because what they do with their political leadership tenures today has implications?

Conclusion

There are so many implications of Jesus’ resurrection  that NT Wright talks about in arguably his most popular book, “Surprised by Hope”, which I can’t cover for lack of space. But one of the points which I cannot conclude without mentioning is what resurrection means to our concept of salvation. If Christ’s resurrection is about declaring him king of now and in the future, then the purpose of my salvation is not just my personal deliverance from sin, but my inclusion into that community of people who are making his kingdom felt on this earth until he comes. I have written elsewhere about the problem with our individualistic eyeglasses through which we read and practice the NT, so I couldn’t help resonating with NT Wright on this point. To the early Christian, salvation was not only about them being saved, but them being added to the Lord (as correctly translated by the KJV in Ac 5:14) and to his community. Christianity is not centered on “my relationship with God”, but “my membership in the family of God”. This is why there are 58 references to “one another” in the NT. This is why Paul talks about “Christ in you (plural “you”) – (Col 1:27)” and “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor 12:27). One thing I’ve noticed is that when a person is the center of attention, their focus is on projecting themselves. If the center of attention is on the group that he belongs to, then their focus is on projecting that group. As the Americans say, we pick our poison, and contemporary Christianity has obviously picked the former, so today we are bearing the fruits in individualisim and personal prosperity/breakthrough seeking over communal advancement and sacrifice for one another. But the problem started long ago, and today’s fruits are only latter day manifestations.

The implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his claim to kingship of the world both now and the future are seriously challenging on multiple fronts. We have a lot of restating of our message and purpose to do because the resurrected king and his kingdom is already amongst us.

Vicit Angus Noster Eum Sequamur – Our Lamb has Conquered, Him Let us Follow

The Gospel – Is It About Salvation From Sin?

I’ve felt the urge to share my thoughts on the gospel that we preach for a while, but having spent the last few weeks reading T. Austin-Sparks “Prophetic Ministry” (which is freely available here), I came across a passage that reminded me of the need to put these thoughts down. There are few recognized books on prophecy, and Austin-Sparks’ is definitely a must read for those who are interested in what the prophetic gift is supposed to be all about. Suffice it to say that from Austin-Sparks’ perspective, our “prophets” of today have quite a ways to go to reach the purpose that God defined prophecy for. But I digress.

You do not find anything concerning Israel that suggests or indicates that they came out of Egypt, and were in the wilderness and later in the land, to declare as their gospel that God brought them out of the land of Egypt. That was not their message. Of course, it is recounted many times, but that was not their message, not what they were proclaiming. What was it that was always in their view? It was what they were brought out for. It was God’s vision in bringing them out. So many of us have settled down to preach just the ‘coming out’ side – salvation from sin, from the world. It goes just so far, but the Church does not get very far with that. It is good, it is right, of course; it is a part of the whole; but it is only a part. It is the full vision that is needed to go right through … They come to a standstill, in a realm of limited life and power and influence, because their vision is so small” (T. Austin-Sparks, Prophetic Ministry, pg 39-40).

The Mindset

This passage captures exactly the mindset of Israel after their salvation from Egypt to the time of Christ’s coming. The people left Egypt behind to reach where God had intended them to be and to build what God had intended to build – the land of Canaan. Although they recognized the wonderful and marvelous deeds of God in redeeming them from Egypt, God’s interaction with them was focused on making them a nation through whom his plan of redemption of mankind will be fulfilled. As a result, Jesus Christ came to meet a people who were very proud not of their salvation from the grips of Egypt, but of their heritage as children of the promises of God to Abraham. Indeed Christ had a lot of altercations with the people discussing this particular heritage they felt they’d acquired simply by being born Israelites and being circumcised. There’s very little reference by Christ himself (and in all the Gospels) to the Israelite salvation from Egypt. Fast forward to today, and compare the Israelite message focusing on God’s intended vision and purpose for them to our focus on Christ coming for salvation of mankind from sin, and you’ll see that there is something very deficient in our gospel.

In fact, I’ll encourage you to take a look at the three instances in the book of Acts where the speeches of people preaching the gospel are recordrd (the other is Stephen’s statements when he was about to be stoned which again follows the pattern, but we’ll skip that for now). Take a deeper look at Ac 2:14-39 (Peter’s gospel at Pentecost), Ac 10:34-43 (Peter, speaking to Cornelius and his household) and Ac 13:16-41 (Paul speaking at Pisidian Antioch). In the first two, sin and it’s forgiveness are mentioned somewhere at the end of the message. In the case of the third, there’s actually not even a mention of forgiveness of sins in over 25 verses of a gospel message. How intriguing! However, their focus was on how Christ was the fulfillment of all the promises that God had made to the people of Israel through their fathers Abraham, David and co. Look at what Paul calls the “good news”.

We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” (Ac 13:32).

Again, Paul states why exactly he was being persecuted by his fellow Jews in Ac 28:20 when he was speaking to the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome after being put under house arrest there.

For this reason, I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” (Ac 28:20)

Obviously from the above, their message was more about something that transcended forgiveness of sin, to something which God had laid down a long time ago, and which was now being fulfilled amongst them. And therefore, the gospel must be preached with these perspective in mind and with the appropriate emphasis, and then we can begin to see a true transformation of the lives of men in their relationship with God, Christ and his body.

Christ, The Center Of God’s Eternal Purpose

One of the questions which I’d never asked myself before until recently (and I bet many Christians also never have) is what would have happened if man had not eaten the forbidden fruit – if man had passed the test? In fact, if our God is an omniscient God and knows everything, why did he not foresee that man will fall to the devil? Had his omniscience somehow been outwitted by the devil? Or maybe he’d gone to sleep, like the gods of Baal in the days of Elijah.

In answering these questions, let us not forget that in the same garden of Eden where there was the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, there was also the fruit of the tree of life. As we see later, when man failed the test, God cut off access to the tree of life. Interestingly, Christ has told us in Rev 2:7 that he will give overcomers the right to eat of the fruit of life in the paradise of God. Add to that the fact that Christ as part of the Godhead, existed before the creation of the world, and the facts stated in Eph 1:4 and we have some sort of picture forming up.

For he chose us in him (Christ) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Eph 1:4)

It is safe to conclude then that God had intended our holiness, righteousness, salvation, divinity etc to come through Christ even before the foundation of the earth and the creation of man, whether sin came in or not. Christ was still the one to give us to eat of the fruit of life, and sin coming into the picture is only one of the possible paths that things could have gone to still reach that destination. We still had and have to go through Christ. This is why Paul says such wonderful things about who Christ is in Col 1:15-23, such as the fact that in him the fulness of God dwells. The Ephesian epistle describes God’s intended role for Christ as ff:

… to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Eph 1:10).

This is what Paul calls the mystery that God had revealed to people like him to go out and call others into. It’s very clear from the NT that Paul was not a harbinger of “forgiveness of sins”, but rather of the glorious gospel of an eternal Christ.

Confronting the Israelite Mentality

Christ immediately came into confrontation with the Israelite mindset concerning their selection as the only sons of Abraham and therefore as the heirs of all the promises of God. God had already determined that all mankind, not just Israel, will be partakers of the nature of God (2 Pe 1:3-4) i.e. become an extension of the Godhead, and he spoke these through Abraham that many nations will be blessed through him. These promises of God superseded the giving of the Law, but the Israelites only held on to obedience to the Law as a means to be partakers of this promise. In the same way, they expected a descendant of David to come and save them from their enemies and establish an everlasting kingdom. They’d forgotten that God had always intended to be their king (1 Sa 8), and he himself through Christ, will be the fulfillment of that promise.

These and other issues were the mentalities that Christ faced in his ministry, and to these he commanded “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. The people had to repent from their mindset that they could somehow be considered worthy of sharing in that kingdom simply by means of being descendants of Abraham, though indeed it is a kingdom with a king – Jesus Christ. It is a kingdom which transcends both heaven and earth. It is a kingdom which belongs to God the father, whose king is Christ and whose nobles and heirs are sons (not just children) of God by virtue of adoption through Christ and maturity through suffering (Heb 2:10;5:8:12:7). This maturity was to be achieved through active engagement with and within the body of Christ – the church. As a matter of fact, Paul was not accused of preaching “forgiveness of sins” in Thessalonica when the people brought Jason with whom he stayed before the city officials. He was accused of preaching about a king called Christ (Ac 17:1-9).

Confronting the Contemporary Mentality

Like Austin-Sparks said above, it was not that Christ coming to die for our sins was a trivial and unimportant event. Au contraire, it is one of the important issues that has to be dealt with in the process that Christ is using to bring us back to the divine purpose. Therefore, a gospel that is centered around salvation from sin and from the world’s troubles tends to get the people into the pews, but they stay there and never move on into the real purpose of their being called.

It’s just like the Israelites on their way to the promised land. Whenever they lost sight of the ultimate intention of God to take them to Canaan and got sidetracked into focusing on their everyday troubles, they easily gravitated towards dissatisfaction with and lack of absolute faith in God. It is not therefore surprising that after having seen all the miraculous handiwork of God in the desert including the parting of the Red Sea, they still couldn’t realize that it wasn’t they who were taking themselves to the promised land, but God who was taking them there and that he was entirely capable of doing so in the face of any giants that they will meet there.

To those interested in Christian history, the focus of the gospel on redemption from sin can be attributed to the work of Christian leaders in the 1800s, from the years following the Great Awakening. These include Charles Finney, C. H. Spurgeon and most importantly, D. L. Moody. These men were deemed to be great preachers by virtue of their fervent preaching in hammering on sin, and driving people to Christ by means of guilt. For them the driving force was to “show the sinner their sins”, and then they would repent. There is probably more reference to the word “sinner” in each of their sermons than you will find in all the books of the NT put together, and it is their influence that has made evangelical Christianity today see the church gathering as the station to win souls in, not as a gathering predominantly of those who already believe and are supposed to be engaging one another in building up the body of Christ.

I’ll try to illustrate what the problem is using a recent occurrence with a cousin of mine who is a part of our church. He asked me how he would preach the word to a friend who he felt was living a bad life i.e. involved in drinking, smoking etc. I responded by reminding him that Cornelius was probably one of the most pious men of his time, but needed to become a part of Christ. Therefore his interaction with this friend should not focus on the particular “sin” which they were engaged in. He should rather present him with the wonderful purpose of God in calling us into his kingdom – that we may be co-heirs with Christ in that kingdom. As that person comes to understand Christ’s purpose and to be involved in a certain body of believers who meet somewhere close, he will begin to see the need and also through engagement with them, find the strength and help to overcome those sins without a hostile judgmental environment which will not even listen to him but assume that a Christian cannot be engaged in these sins.

People say that “Come and listen to the word of God and you’ll never be the same again”. I say that “Come and be part of the purpose of God, and you will never be the same again”. Transformation is best achieved in engagement with others, not with magically “hearing” the word of God.

Maybe it’s time we updated our gospel to the world. Christ is light years more than just about redemption from sin.

Inheritance! What Inheritance?

This article is available in pdf format here

I don’t know how many of us actually have actually taken time to digest Galatians 3, but it is one of those chapters that made me go like “Wow!!!”. I believe it behoves us to go into the implications of the content of that chapter and how they affect the hope and faith we have, against that which God had predetermined from the foundation of the earth. We’ll start off by looking at a passage from that chapter.

The Gospel was First Preached to Abraham?

The Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you’” (Gal 3:8).

The first wow comes from realising that the gospel – the good news – did not originate from Jesus Christ on his earthly mission, but rather was in existence way before that, to the extent that it was preached to Abraham. Wasn’t the gospel about Jesus Christ? How did Abraham understand the gospel announced to him then, if there wasn’t as yet the one to bring it into fulfilment? The basis of our modern faith is Christ’s work on the cross that redeemed us from sin and brought us to the Father. But what was the basis of his faith? If “we who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal 3:9), then how similar or different is ours?

The key to understanding this is found in the same Galatians 3, this time in v 16.

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds’, meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’, meaning one person, who is Christ” (Gal 3:16).

It important to note that in most of the passages in the NT where the word “promises” are used, it does refer to the promises God made to Abraham. In fact, most of the passages containing this word are misapplied in contemporary Christianity to mean some prosperity that God has promised for those who have faith in him on this earth, without recourse to what God has already told our “father of faith”, Abraham.

But back to the point. These promises were spoken to Abraham when God called him out of his father’s house in Ur. God promised to give a certain land through which all nations will be blessed to Abraham and to his offspring. He was to “take possession of the land”.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it” (Ge 15:7).

A Stranger in His Own Land. Promise Fulfilled? Not Yet.

But we find that Abraham lived in tents and as a stranger on the land even when he had finally arrived there. He never built a city, neither did Isaac nor Jacob. Even God acknowledged that fact.

The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Ge 17:8).

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day” (Ge 18:1)

To understand this stranger-in-your-own-land behaviour of Abraham, we have to ask why there is always the attachment of the offspring to the promises, and not just to Abraham, Isaac or Jacob alone. As Gal 3:16 says, it was because that offspring is not a plural one and no ordinary singular one as well. He is the Christ himself. Note that the Israeli nation, though they have inhabited the “promised land” for so many years, have had periods long of total exile from their own land. Indeed, they themselves continue to wait for a Messiah who will grant them total unconditional reign over that land and over the earth. And in that same wise, until that offspring has come, that land will never belong fully to Abraham (and to all who are heirs with him of that promise). It is this offspring who shall bring the promise to fulfilment.

The writer of Hebrews does a brilliant expose on this particular issue in 11:8-10, and it is one that every child of Abraham, everyone who lives by the faith of Abraham, must continuously imbibe.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign land; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:8-10).

The inheritance of a city is what Abraham looked forward to, and he looked forward to it by faith alone. It simply wasn’t one he could bring about. Only God in all his wisdom and power could. And obviously he never gained this promise, but he determined to live like a stranger on this earth until that promise was brought to fulfilment by He who had made it. And he was not the only one who lived by faith in the promises, however all those who shared in this faith with him had one thing in common – they were looking forward to a country of their own.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have the opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb 11:13-16)

So we see that Abraham and these men of faith were waiting for a city that God Himself will build,a heavenly city. What city is this city? Where is it and what is it like? The only city in the Scriptures that match this criteria is the New Jerusalem, described in Rev 21. I’ll encourage us to take the time and read all of it, but verse 1&2 of it says:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Rev 21:11-2).

This was their inheritance, and everywhere that you see the word “inheritance” or “inherit” especially in the NT, you should have this picture in mind. This was their privilege and their honour – to be found in the city of God at the end of the age of men. Let us look at some examples.

As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance (Dan 12:13 – which was spoken to Daniel at the end of all the visions he received from God).

Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified(Ac 20:32 – Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders)

who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:14 – Paul talking about the Holy Spirit the Ephesian disciples had received by faith).

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29 – speaking of their future inheritance)

He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev 21:7 – declaration of God to John in his vision about the heavenly Jerusalem)

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world (Mt 25:34 – Jesus separating the sheep from the goat in his judgement on his throne of glory”

Note that inheriting this city is only an extension of the millennial reign, in which these same overcomers will rule with Christ over the whole world, physical and spiritual.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge … and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev 20:4)

Christ and the Inheritance

So then, did Christ teach about this inheritance of a kingdom, of an eternal city? Did Christ promise the reign in that kingdom (not just entry into it) to his disciples? What did Christ preach at all?

The stage was set for what Christ was to do on this earth even before he entered the world from Mary’s womb, when the angel appeared to her concerning the son she was about to give birth to.

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end”.(Lk 1:32-33)

And so, Jesus carried the message of who he was and what he was bringing to us who believe in his message. Let’s take a look at what he preached at the very beginning of his three year ministry, right after being tempted by the devil in the wilderness.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Mt 4:17).

Jesus began by calling people to repentance. But you will observe that the call to repentance is not for repentance sake, but for a purpose – because of the kingdom. You see, the gospel has always been about the kingdom. It is not about Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is not about redemption from sin. It is not about healing and miraculous deed of Jesus, neither is is about healing us and providing us with daily bread. These wonderful themes aforementioned are the process through which the purpose is achieved – God’s ultimate plan of sharing the reign of the world physical and spiritual with His called out people (‘eklessia’ or the church) in a kingdom whose capital is the new Jerusalem – the one Abraham was looking forward to. The fact that the kingdom Abraham looked forward to is the same one Jesus has prepared for us can be seen in the light Mt 25:34 and other places, which states that the Kingdom was prepared for us “since the creation of this world” or “before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4; 2 Ti 1:9). It is no wonder then that Jesus himself calls His gospel “the gospel of the kingdom”.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14)

It will interest you to know that there are more than 50 references to the phrase “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew alone, not speaking of the other Gospels. In fact, when Peter was beginning to wonder what exactly they were following Jesus for, he got a clear and straight answer reminding him not of gaining repentance from sin and eternal life, but an inheritance in that Kingdom. He didn’t tell Peter of the process, for Peter was already part of those who were following me. He was telling him of the purpose – the kingdom.

Peter answered him, ‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’” (Mt 19:27-28)

You see, the Jews have always been a strong-headed people who prided in their position as children of Abraham, children of the promise. And Jesus’ message never changed that promise, or made a different promise to them. Have you wondered why there are a so many of the parables which talk about the kingdom of God (“the kingdom of God/heaven is like ….”)? The Parable of the Weeds, the Parable of the Net, Parable of the Mastard Seed, Parable of the Talents & Pounds, Parable of the Wedding Banquet, Parable of the Ten Virgins etc? And neither did the Jews misunderstand Jesus’s message in relation to the promise, for they had come to know and believe he was the Anointed One, the expected king who was going to bring about the kingdom of God.

While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” (Lk 19:11).

All this belief culminated in the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem described in the Gospels. In fact, the Jews of his day are the direct opposite of modern Christian – they had a good glimpse of the purpose (though not completely), but were completely thrown off tracks when Jesus expounded the process by which they may enjoy that purpose – repentance, faith and obedience to God through a renewed life offered by Jesus alone. On the contrary, we are caught up in different stages of this process, and I honestly cannot say that much for our appreciation of the purpose – the kingdom.

Implications of the Inheritance Life

If we are to be called true children of Abraham (Gal 3:7), then the examples in the life that our father Abraham lived should become cornerstones of our faith. And therefore it behoves us to look at certain characteristics of the life of our “father of faith”, that we may apply these to our own. Because I guarantee you that we cannot have it any easier than he had it and still be fit for the inheritance.

  1. Be ready to live like a stranger on this earth – As we have already established, Abraham lived as a stranger on this earth, this same earth that will be given back to him to rule over when Jesus returns. We as Christians cannot set our goals and priorities on what the worldly also desire. We must fully understand that although we are in this world, we are only waiting for our heavenly city and until Christ returns, we can only wait in faith and in His earthly representative’s power – the Holy Spirit. We should expect the world not to understand us for living like this, because they have not submitted their lives to the Holy Spirit that quickens us. If we endeavour to build our cities now, we will gain the world’s approval alright, but I believe I don’t need to state the obvious when it comes to God’s own.

  2. Be ready to suffer for your faith – Not because God hates you, but because as Frank Viola put it last week, God intentions grow the “human spirit but frustrates the soul and bids death to the flesh”. Between the time God called Abraham and blessed him, till the time he gave birth to Isaac was 25 years. It was such a long time that he was tempted to get the blessing through some other means – through Hagar. Of course that wasn’t God’s plan, but it shows us the importance of total reliance on God for the fulfilment of his own promises to us, something that our rebellious soul hates.

  3. Be ready to loose much for your faith – Related to the theme of suffering is loss. Here was Abraham, missing the company of family, friends and familiar settings. And these losses do not preclude the loss of the comfort of religious institutionalism. Just as Abraham was called out of his comfort zone, history has continuously shown that true spirituality does not breed well in the institutions of the day, which tend to exist for their own self-perpetuation.

    Also this loss could be also very personal. Take the case where Abraham was prepared to lose his son, knowing that God was capable of providing again through resurrection (Heb 11:17-19). Little did Abraham know that the real sacrifice was yet to come in the form of “the seed” – Christ.

  4. Become a friend of God – I’ve heard the popular song “I’m a friend of God”, and I’ve had cause to ask myself how I am a friend of God. We will all agree that friendship does not just form in the air. It is based on sharing a mutual concern or love or participation in something, and our friendship with God is definitely not about our interests, but His. If we are truly friends of God like Abraham was, we will be busy about building his kingdom, not ours. The one thing most important to God on this earth is the church which is to be the bride of Christ (if you doubt that, take some time to digest the book of Ephesians), and we better become active participants in building it, not warming its pews. Oh, and I don’t mean the church buildings, but his organic church, composed of them that that are gathered in his name.


If you study this gospel of the kingdom and it’s attendant Spirit produced lifestyle, it makes you understand the dearth of true spirituality in the church today. And it is not surprising, given the condemnation that Paul pronounced on those who preach any other gospel.

Conclusion

If you study this gospel of the kingdom and it’s attendant Spirit produced lifestyle, it makes you understand the dearth of true spirituality in the church today. And it is not surprising, given the condemnation that Paul pronounced on those who preach any other gospel.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really on gospel at all. Evidently, some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal l:6-9)

Today, the gospel we hear keeps “motivating” us to build our cities on this earth. They keep telling us that what is good for the world is good for us as well. The pulpit has become the stage for teaching philosophy and management skills, all wrapped up with a semblance of Jesus Christ. Even though Paul reminds us to “set our heart on things above” (Col 3:1), we have woefully turned it upside down. As for those who keep to the reformist theology, they unfortunately only continue to harp on the processes as individual in their own right, and fail to see their connectedness to achieve that ultimate purpose.

Or is it because of this?

As for the prophets who lead my people astray, if one feeds them, they proclaim ‘peace’; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him” (Mic 3:5).

The Importance of Purpose & Process

I talked with a friend about the Gospel of the Kingdom the other day, explaining what it was and how our preaching of the gospel had deviated from what the apostles preached. However one argument of hers was that people should not come to God with the idea that he will reward them with co-heirship in the kingdom, but should just serve him because he is God who created us and who has forgiven our sins and therefore demands our service. I disagreed though and attempted to articulate the importance of Purpose and Process in everything that God does (though I’d never fully though of this separation before this discussion). Finally we came to a consensus that the gospel of today was fundamentally flawed and that Christians needed to take a second look at what we preach to avoid what I call a “heavenly disappointment”.

I’m currently reading the book of Exodus, and I find it interesting the exact measurements that God gives for the building of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Testimony etc. all the way down to the way the priests should be dressed. I’m a New Testament Christian and definitely do not live according to the Law. But from Heb 8:1-2; 9:24, God was really mirroring the tabernacle above. He knew what he was seeing above and his purpose was to replicate that here on earth, though in a less perfect way.

Heb 8:1-2 The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.

Heb 9:24 For Christ did not enter a man made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

And if we believe in an unchanging God then we’ll understand that He is very purposeful about whatever He wants. And to conform to that purpose God always gives the process to attain it. But when a people begin to revere the process more than the purpose, we get legalistic righteousness – this is on the Pharisaic side of things. On the other hand when people totally ignore the process, then I wonder if they even know what the purpose is in the first place – and I believe modern Christianity is on this side. No wonder we’ll end up with disappointment when our work is tested against the purpose for it.

Much of Christianity today has become of two extremes; either of institutionalisation or emotional sentimentality. The former demands a by rote obedience to certain principles, a lot of them man-made and unscriptural. The latter an unrestrained display of ignorance all in the name of “Holy Spirit” guidance. Although principles and emotions definitely have their place in a Christian life, the important thing is whether that is what God really wants us to be doing.

To understand my argument with this friend, lets look at who Jesus is. I think that this is the most important characteristic of Jesus Christ – he is a King, a Priest, and a Prophet. Some other terms that could apply is “righteous ruler” or “royal priest” (1 Pe 2:9). Note Heb 6:20.

Heb 6:20 … He has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Ge 14:18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High.

Lk 1:33 And he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end.

Next who are Christians destined to be?

Ro 8:17 Now if we are children, the we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Lk 22:29-30 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Eph 1:4-5 For he chose us in him before creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

By Romans 8: 29, Christ is our senior brother and a pattern that we are to conform to. If He is king, priest and prophet, what will you his disciple be?

For His promises on our kingdom kingship, check out Mt 19:27-28 and 2 Pe 1:10-11 as well.

The destiny of Christians is to be the people of God, sharing in the nature of Christ – as kings and priests. Simple. That is the purpose of Christianity. The process is what we call discipleship (a transformation process beginning with the new birth). From hearing the gospel of the Kingdom and submitting to it’s message for salvation, to baptism by water and Holy Spirit to bearing fruit in service to God till the end of our physical life or till Christ comes for His church. Therefore in all the examples that the New Testament gives about how the apostles preached (eg. Ac 2:14-40 and Ac 13:13-48  )  the fact was always mentioned that Christ was coming to rule over the world as promised to David and reiterated by the prophets. In fact it forms the central part of these messages, with the call to repentance and faith as describing the first step of the process. And if whoever is preaching really knows what he’s doing, he will go on after people have repented and believed to teach the foundation messages (Heb 6:1-2).

The Gospel is the entry point into the purpose of God. And I believe in all sincerity that every unbeliever must know right from the start what they are getting themselves into, the rewards of it and the righteous requirements (Ro 8:4) that need to be fulfilled for that reward. Then the preaching of the gospel becomes purposeful. This is not about motivating people to become Christians because of a certain promise of a kingdom, as my friend had a problem with. God’s covenants with people of the bible have always been purposeful and motivating. When God called Abraham, the first statements out of God’s mouth after he told him to leave his father’s land were promises to make him into a great nation. He didn’t just tell him to leave his father’s house because “I’m God” or because “I have forgiven your sins”. Even Abraham with these promises, faltered along the way by going for Hagar to get a child. Even he with the greatest motivation to serve God in the world failed along the line to be faithful to God. That is why when God calls you, he gives you hope. And this hope has been the foundation of the Israeli nation over all these generations. If we are children of a better covenant, will God not do the same?

Col 1:4-5 Because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel.

Col 1:12 Giving thanks to the father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

This is the hope on which the Colossian’s faith and love was based. This is my analogy between hope, faith and love. Hope keeps where we are going in mind. Faith is the walking stick with which we take each step towards that place of hope. Love is the test of whether we really are on track to achieve that hope. When the disciples in Antioch were despairing because of their persecutions, what did the Apostle Paul say to them? How did he encourage them to go on?

Ac 14:22 Strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”.

He reminded them of the hope of a kingdom, stressing that there is no easy way to get there. If there was no real hope in being a disciple of Christ, then what is the whole point of it?

1 Co 15:19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Certainly the preaching of the gospel today is an explicit example of not following the process – examples of preaching the gospel in the Bible – because most of us don’t even know the purpose of our Christianity. This confusion of purpose is the same reason that most of us don’t understand why God called us into a world visible unified church and why a denominational stance is against the will of God and is simple disobedience. And so we think however we do it does not matter.

Let me give this scenario to put a point across. While in Kumasi, I noticed that so many Methodist churches were named after John Wesley, and this was the case even on most of the Methodist churches I saw on my 5 hour journey back to Accra. My stance against denominationalism aside, I’m here just considering the purpose of the church – the body of Christ. We are called into a family where God is the Father, and Jesus Christ the first born brother. As we have established already, conforming to Christ is the purpose of a true Christian. He (Christ) alone is our purpose and every respect and honour is to be given to Him.

Ro 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Eph 3:14-15 For this reason I kneel before the father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

Heb 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

In every endeavour the purpose must always supersede the process. But as human as we are we have classically focused on the processes – what they are and how they are brought about. And this is truly a testament to how carnal we’ve become as Christians of today when Paul recognised the same tendency in the Corinthian church, rebuking them for aligning themselves with people who are only part of the process or who are a means to bring about this purpose.

1 Co 3:1-4 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul”, and another “I follow Apollos” are you not mere men?

So I ask the Methodists (and not just them but Christianity in general). Why have they paid more attention and respect to the process or means rather than the purpose? Why have they revered John Wesley more than the word of God? If you don’t believe me speak to a Methodist and he will tell you how proud they are to be followers of the Wesleyan tradition – whatever that is. (Oh by the way, another example is the International Central Gospel Church branches I’ve seen nationwide, who put the picture of their “founder” on all their signboards. I could give a million and one of these.)

John Wesley came to achieve a set purpose for a set time. The word of God is revealed in portions and continues to be additional to what has previously been revealed. Do they mean to tell me that since his time centuries ago, God hasn’t given any other direction/revelation concerning the Christian life that they may live by them as well?

If there is one thing I’ve come to believe, it’s enshrined in 2 Ti 4:2: The word of God is complete.

2 Ti 4:2 Preach the word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.

(By the way I have a lot to say about “correct, rebuke and encourage” and I’ll do that by God’s grace in my next post.)

  1. We cannot preach it better than it was preached and written down for us in the Bible. It behoves us to ask for the Spirit’s leading to know the purpose of every word written the way it is so we can preach it the way it is.

  2. We must teach it with the 2 ingredients above – great patience and careful instruction. There shall be no haste about it’s preaching or it’s desired effect will not be realised. It is very easy for us to think that we can preach or teach the word of God anyhow and still get the same results. But the end result of such haste and disregard is recorded in the next verse.

2 Ti 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

I hope none of us become either one of the “great number of teachers” or those who are eager to listen to “what their itching ears want to hear”.