Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Jesus the Redeemer

[I]t takes a tough faith to be in the middle of an ongoing, no-end-in-sight crisis and think, “I’m glad you’re doing something with this, God.” But faith is exactly for such circumstances; there’d be no need for faith if we could always see difficulty or the end of difficulty coming.

What is faith anyway? It’s not retrospect. Look at how the author of Hebrews defines it: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).

This conviction of things not seen isn’t just about trusting God to use our mess for glory; it’s about trusting that he’s in control and that there is no escaping his steadfast lovingkindness. In other words, it is trusting that both our stumbling and our sinning cannot prevail over his lordship.

This wonderful truth is essentially what Jesus the Redeemer made it his business to announce. Everywhere he went, Jesus made it his mission to redeem everything in sight. What does he say in Revelation’s retrospect? “Behold, I am making all things new!” And just in case they didn’t believe it, he freed demoniacs from their spiritual prisons, restored leprous limbs, and made dead people come to life.

Why do you think Jesus took dirt and spit and put it in a guy’s eyes to heal his blindness? Because it’d be a neat thing to do? Because there was some healing mineral in the dirt? Have you ever thought about that? Why did Jesus do that?

I think it was a conscious echo of Creation. In the story of our first appearance on the redemptive scene, God made man out of the dust of the ground. He made man out of dirt and blew his own breath into him to give him life. Here, then, Jesus is re-creating Creation (redeeming fallen creation) by using dirt and his mouth to give a man a new lease on life.

Jesus the Redeemer even refashioned the Jews’ thinking about the Law, about the way it related God’s will to ours, about the way it related us to our neighbor. This is why the Sermon on the Mount is often thought of as Jesus’ take on Moses bringing the tables of the Law down from Mt. Sinai.

Jesus wasn’t abolishing the Mosaic Law. But in fulfilling it, he certainly created bridges between two points nobody else was seriously connecting. How is the redemption of God’s people made manifest in the land? In large part, Jesus proclaimed, by adhering to a merging of the traditional Shema (“You shall love YHWH with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”) with a bit from Leviticus 19:18 (“Love your neighbor as yourself”). Jesus took this redemptive outlook even further, commanding a clear reversal of Pharisaical gracelessness:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43-44)

When you commit to living a life of grace towards others -- blessing your enemies, praying for those who hate you, forgiving those who keep hurting you -- you are demonstrating that your faith is in something Hoped For, that your convictions are about things not seen. Living a life of grace and hope and joy is really living a life of faith. And when you go around redeeming the moments and being God’s instrument in bringing redemption to others, you are participating in the grand story God’s telling about Jesus the Redeemer. You are a vital character in the story of redemption God is telling about you, the ones you live with and around, and the Church and the world itself.

Isn’t that exciting?
It takes a hard-core faith, though. A radical faith. Anybody who’s lost something dear to them -- whether it’s a loved one who’s died or a hope that’s died -- knows the beautiful agony of such trust.
You likely know Job’s story. Ponder this passage from his prayers of lament:
My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh,
and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.
Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me?
Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?
Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God . . .
(Job 19:20-26)

That, friends, is a living hope. That is a hope that says, “God you’ve taken everything. But I still trust you.”

Elsewhere Job says – remarkably, astoundingly -- “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.”
As my four-year-old daughter Grace would say, “Thumbs up on that.”

I wonder if Job had that kind of faith before the feces hit the ancient fan. I like to think he did but didn’t realize it. That’s something those of us who’ve been through extreme trials of faith realize too -- it takes going through the valley, one step at a time, to realize we’ve got the strength to take the steps.

But Job’s faith here is not a pie in the sky, “wake me when I’m in heaven” kind of faith. Neither am I saying, when I offer the admonition to “Take heart, hold hope, have faith,” to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make yourself feel better, bigger, stronger, whatever. The glorious goodness of the gospel isn’t that Jesus died to make us feel better. Nor is faith in Jesus about avoiding problems. Job cries, “Even though this body will be destroyed, in my flesh I will see God.” He knows that God will redeem his very body, give him new flesh, new eyes to see, new ears to hear, a new tongue to taste how good God is.

That’s what Jesus will do in the resurrection to come, in that final, forever redemption.

See, someday Jesus the Redeemer will return to redeem everything. Fully. Completely. Eternally. He’s going to come to finish what he started. This life will be redeemed, this earth will be redeemed, these very bodies will be redeemed, and so our hopes and dreams and fears and failings will all be redeemed too.

Revisit Revelation 21 with me:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (1-5)

Thumbs up on that! I’m counting on that. I’m “all in” on that.

Behold! He is making all things new. And he’s doing it now. So whatever you’re going through, whatever you’ve been through, trust that the God who loves you is in control and is redeeming your life in it and through it. Trust that the God who loves you will sustain you as you seek to live redemptively with and toward others. Trust that the God who loves you will not forget you, that he’s crafting beauty out of your darkness, that he’s telling a great story in your life, an epic one that places you in a vital role in the story of the Body of Christ.

Let your heart, soul, mind, and strength yearn for their redemption. Believe it is coming deep down in your bones, for it is your bones Jesus is promising to redeem.

(This is an excerpt from a chapter titled "Jesus the Redeemer" in my manuscript-in-revision, The Unvarnished Jesus.)

No comments: