Wednesday, December 09, 2009

3. Aliens

Christians are aliens.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't mean that Christians are extra-terrestrial life forms. Christians aren't that kind of aliens. But no matter where they live or what culture they come from, Christians don't belong. The entire world is a kingdom which, as we have seen, we are all born into – including the curses of this kingdom: vanity, decay and despair for anyone with eyes enough to see it. While Christians still live in this kingdom our entire lives on earth, we are resident aliens, sojourners in a foreign land. Christians don't belong.1

All of this starts with the work of Jesus Christ when, on the cross, he purchased you from the punishment of God upon this world. This world was your home, but now it no longer is.2 The great saving of the universe which happened in Jesus death and resurrection is already in the process of regenerating everything that exists. But he's not starting with the trees and the seas.3 He's starting with you.4

Life, of course, is not about you. But that doesn't man that God doesn't have a plan for you. That plan which gravitates in, with and under who Jesus is, what he did, and what he's coming again to do – that plan means that you and all who believe in him are no longer children of this earth.5 This doesn't give you super-powers any more than it gives you tentacles. There is only one root difference between a Christian and every other person on this planet, and that is faith.

Not the blind trust “faith” that is paraded around pop-culture, faith in yourself or some other person. Christians have faith in Jesus, which means they have faith in the Word of God. We'll be coming back to this idea full throttle. But first it is important to know that this Word, this faith, will make you weird. It will make you an alien. The more that the Holy Spirit of God reveals to you who Christ is, and what he did, and what he is coming again to do, the more your believing these things becomes your new “super”-nature, the more it will become clear to you as you lift up your eyes to the hills and the cities of this world that this place is just no longer where you really belong.6

The body and blood of Jesus were real real flesh and real blood infused with the true Supernature of the Son of God. In piercing, scourging and crucifying, he spilled that real blood in order to use it to make citizens of a new Kingdom, a better Kingdom, a Kingdom not of this entropic7 world.8 The kingdom of this earth, though it has much good, is nevertheless filled with despair, envy and hate.9 It is flush full of vanity that is as old as the idea that there is nothing new under the sun.10 All of this God has overcome and saved you from, but he has not taken you out of it.11 There is a war going on for the life of this world.12 When Jesus died for you and called you through that news, he drafted you into his military, and left you behind the enemy lines.13

This is a glorious calling.14 You are a soldier, away from your home for a time, thrust into the middle of a great and heated battle.15 And the first step in this battle is for you to believe that there is a war going on, all around you, every day, and this war has already been won for the purpose of taking you and every other person you see home. In this war, there is still the curse, the pain, the temptations to evil, and the weapon specifically aimed at Christians: doubt.16 But the good fight of faith is the Truth that Christ in his cross has utterly overcome and slaughtered this pitiable state.17

The great weapon of this faith is a holy peace in the midst of the ransacking of the warfare, a peace which the world of vanity and entropy cannot know, an alien peace.18 No matter what befalls you in the fight, whether it be the death of children or spouse, the loss of home and income, or if you are one of the few called to die a martyr's death for the simple cause of confessing what the Word of God has said, you are always all the more the greater victor because the life of the world to come in Jesus can never, ever be taken away. 19

The Kingdom of God is the reign of Jesus. Jesus reigns now through the Spirit-filled Words which he sent preached into the nations, and now into your own heart, all of which is pressed down and distilled into phenomenal and precious promises that are coming to full fulfillment now for the sake of their utter fulfillment in eternity.20 There is a powerful mystery at work in these promises, the mystery of a Kingdom that is both now and not yet. Christianity is a religion of having it all in the midst of having nothing. It is a spirituality of being freed from all obligation in order to be the slave of all.21 It is the cross of receiving the fullness of what is foretold while ever waiting for its immanent completion.22 It is a life as an heir to a Kingdom, living in a foreign land while waiting for the coronation.23 It is all now complete in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Words about him. It is not yet what we see, but it will be. Soon.24

Now is the reign of the Kingdom and Now is the day of salvation.25 Not yet is all creation renewed to see and Not yet do we have the crown of bodies that never perish.26 Now is a life of waiting in Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit-filled Word for the Not yet life of immortal being which is coming.27 Now is a life of looking forward to the promises to be fulfilled. Not yet is the the fulfillment of the promises you are waiting for.

This tension of the now and the not yet, lived out in the midst of the epic, raging war against principalities and powers of all darkness for the very everlasting life of the world – finding the wisdom of this foolishness revealed in the person of Jesus Christ – is what the Christian life is all about.28 And believing it makes you weird. It means you are an immortal resident alien living in a dying world.

Tenting

The Word of God uses many different images to explore this now but not yet tour of duty. One dramatic image which is rooted in the real-life experiences of some of the earliest Christians living the ancient near-east is the image of tents and buildings.29 Abraham, the patriarch of Christianity, faced an amazing and impossible calling out just as you have. Except where you are being called into a Spiritual experience, Abraham's experience of the same happened in very clear flesh and blood ways.

Abraham was told to leave the city and land of his birth, Ur of the Chaldeas, and to go out into a desert in order to wait for God to give him a real Nation, one that would never perish or be threatened. He was told to be still and know that his God was God – and in the meantime he had to wait in a tent.30 In order to have a true homeland and a real home, he was put into the school of faith in the promises of God, a school which taught him that unless the Lord built the city, those who built it labored in vanity.31

What Abraham learned in tenting, you will learn in the same way. Only now, because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, you can see this picture more clearly than Abraham did. What Abraham longed see and understand, we have now.32 The tents and cities are only a metaphor. The reality takes place not in our possessions, but in our own human bodies.33 Like tents, our bodies are frail, easily destroyed, and never able to endure very long. But the great host which surrounds us, the cultures and peoples in which we live, spend their lives trying to pretend that these tents are actually cities with foundations that can be made firm. This is the great deception. There is no city here.34 There are only shanty-towns.

But God promised something more than this in the Messiah who would come from Abraham's own children. Even the temples which God had Abraham's children build with their human hands would be unable to endure in the same way as the real temple-city which God had in mind.35 Jesus Christ, who was torn down for our sins and razed for our transgressions, is that city – that new body.36 His resurrection from the dead is the ultimate proof of his power to be the forerunner of a new humanity, one that no longer dwells in tents which pass away, but a people who dwell in a city whose foundations are the knit with the essence of God himself.37

Abraham's faith has much to teach us. He died never having seen all the promises fulfilled – he died waiting.38 He was often tempted to doubt, to sin and to meddling with the plan, as if he could somehow use his vanity to preserve it from the threats of decay which he saw. And there was always the opportunity to return to Ur, to cease believing in the Word and go back to the shanty-town to at least enjoy himself for a while before he died. But he did not return.39

Better than that, he could not return. God's Word was too powerful. He was utterly compelled by the school of faith which took the shape of a cross, to the point where by the end of his journey there was no Word from God that he did not take on face value as the most necessary Truth in the universe.40 The promises were ever-brewing up in him. He lived as an exile, but he knew God had something planned that was much, much better. And since the God of Abraham was actually God, Abraham, though a stranger in a strange land, knew with firm conviction that sooner or later God was going to give him a home.

The Pit-Stop

But “heaven” is not that home. One of the most common myths of American spirituality is that after death people go to heaven and then that's it. In this picture, heaven is the goal, where things are better than they are here, where maybe you get a halo and a pair of wings from a guy at the door who has a long beard and a checklist. It's actually a pretty tame idea, but its also completely made up.

The warfare into which you've been drafted into is for a Kingdom that is going to be a lot more enjoyable than sitting on cloud and strumming a harp for the rest of forever. In order to understand just how much better, it helps to remember exactly what it is we lose when we die, even as Christians. When you die trusting in the cross of Jesus and go to be at rest with him, as Scripture teaches, you will still be leaving behind a very important part of yourself, a part of yourself which Jesus has, in fact, saved, a part of you that you can't really be you without: your body.

Part of being human is having a body.41 This is why death is such a terrible thing. Death is a spectacular disaster because it rips you apart, tearing your spirit from your flesh in a way that you just weren't created for. While countless pagan religions try to make this bodiless ending sound like some great super-spiritual evolutionary step, Jesus didn't seem to think it was a very good idea. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus didn't just get rid of the tents, he replaced the tent with a Temple. Death was God's punishment against man.42 The resurrection is his gift.

When you die and leave this vale of decay and tears, you will go to be with Jesus. The Bible says you will be “asleep”43 and at “rest.”44 It will be a pit-stop version of paradise.45 But God has something even better than heaven in store for us. He is bringing a new heavens and a new earth.46 He is making all things new altogether.47 This is why we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come as the one great hope of the Christian life.48 This is why even the souls who are in heaven right now are praying “How much longer?”49

How long until God brings the last Day, ends this warfare and judges the earth? How long until the final trumpet sounds and Kingdom comes? How long until the dead in Christ rise to receive physical immortality? That we do not know. We can't really even begin to imagine how great that reality will be. But we do know this: as surely as Jesus is risen from the dead, it will happen, and it will happen soon.50 And when the dead in Christ rise first, it's going to make even spending eternity in heaven look like a pretty lame idea.

Seeds and Flowers

Right now is the sojourn. Right now is the exile. Right now you are a resident alien. With all Christians you wait for the city which is coming to replace your tent. Then you will bet he you that you were always supposed to be. Heart, mind, body and soul, you will be purified, regenerated and made whole. And not only you, but all those who are in Christ, together.

Jesus himself has already experienced this resurrection, so that he is the proof and the firstfruits of this new Kingdom. What that means and how great it will be is enough to make yoru head spin. We are creatures who have never known anything beyond this cursed planet. How can we even begin to imagine what it will be like to have bodies which are prefect, not to mention hearts and minds which are full of joy, generosity and love all the time?51

One of the other images the Bible gives us is the picture of seeds and flowers. Seeds and flowers are technically the same thing, at least genetically. The only difference is the time and the place where they exist. Conveniently for the metaphor, all that it takes for a seed to become a flower is for it to get buried and rise again out of the earth. But just picture the difference for a moment. Seeds are small, hard, often dry. They are rarely if ever pretty, and they have no ability to bear fruit. Flowers, on the other hand, are vastly superior at first glance. They are full of color, blessed with smell, and lead to much fruit and value for all sorts of other creatures.

That picture, that difference, is the difference between the human that you are now and the human that you will be when Jesus transforms your lowly body to be like his resurrected body. Whether you are buried in the ground and sent to rest with him first, or whether he comes again and changes you in the twinkling of an eye, the change which is promised and already accomplished by Jesus will be as phenomenal ash the blossoming of flowers in the spring from the single, dull brown seed you planted in the fall.52

It is like the difference between the light of the moon and the light of the sun. It is like the difference between the earth and the starts.53 Now you are perishing. Then you will be imperishable. Now your heart is clothed in shame and guilt. Then you will be clothed in honor and innocence. Now your a merely dust, then you will be supernatural.54

All of this is the hope that was given to Abraham in the promise of a city. All of this is the reason God keeps in heaven those who are waiting for a homeland, but who die before Jesus return. All of this is what it means that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead as a new and better first man and father of the human race. In him, not only is death swallowed up, but so in the sin of the heart which took us into death in the first place. Not only will you be fixed inside and out, but all creation with you will be fluid with righteousness. Wolves and lambs will lay down beside each other on the grass. Lions will eat straw like cattle while never once being any less lion than they are now. Even getting up and going to work every day will bring you great contentment and joy.55 How beyond us is this promise! How great is this hope!

The Bible goes on. There will be no lies or injustice.56 All tears will be wiped away. Words like “hunger” and “thirst” will no longer have any meaning,57 In the person of Jesus, God himself will dwell with us, as our King and as our brother.58 You'd almost wish it would hurry up and get here. In fact, you ought to pray for just that very thing.

Maranatha

Christians have always lived as Abraham lived, full of a deep yearning and conviction that they no longer belong in this world. You are waiting for a homeland. You are a resident alien. At one point this great longing came to be expressed in the powerful cry, “Maranatha!” It means “Come!” Knowing that this life was dying, they lived and died praying for the resurrection to get itself going already. They were asking Jesus to come back.

This was not to say that there are no good blessings in this present life. But once the fullness of the resurrection in Jesus was revealed, even the best this world has to offer can only ever be a shadow of the paradise which is coming.59 Creation itself groans with longing for the Kingdom of God to break forth in more than not yet and make itself now revealed.60 As good as things can sometimes be, there will always remain a lot of curse left in your day to day life, not to mention a lot of sin stored up and spilling out of your own heart. But laid to the root of this fearful reality is the very ax of God's promise in Jesus.

The foolishness revealed in Jesus' cross is a resurrection wisdom that takes the real sting right out of death.61 You will be forced to mourn so long as this life continues to be what it is, but in Christ you are even mourning the death of those closest to you can never overcome the hope we find in the empty tomb of Christ. There is a way out of the valley of the shadow of death.62 There is a light coming over its hills, and that light is the second coming of Jesus. There is a Kingdom, not yet having fixed your body, but already now having begun to fix your soul by giving you a real and tangible Word from God, a Word vindicated by a real man, with a real body which shall never pass away.

Day after day, this Word is enough to pick you up and send you back into the fray with a confidence that the chaos will not quite triumph after all. This Word is the certainty that even the your own vanity shall never be the end of you.63 Your spirit and the Spirit who comes upon the wings of who Jesus is and what he has done will continue to re-birth you into a living hope which is bound up in a living God. He is a God who is God.64 And even if you do die before Christ's return, it will only be to stand before him in heaven, clothed in a white robe, and told to pray for the reunification of all things.65

Knowing this, seeing this, feeling this, alien as it may seem, the irony is that the best thing that could possibly happen to tomorrow would actually be the end of the world.

Amen. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

Inwardly Digesting

The Foolishness: The best thing that could happen tomorrow is the end of the world.

Verse: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3

Prayer: Father in heaven, you give a peace which the world cannot give through the great and precious promises that your Son Jesus Christ has risen from the grave for the sake of raising us all to a new life in paradise together. Make this faith our ever-present hope, so that we may truly live as sojourners in this world, undeterred and not distracted by its many pretensions, but instead with our eyes fixed on the better homeland, the city which you have founded in Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of us all. Maranatha. Amen.

-----


1 Psalm 69:8-9 “I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother's sons. For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”
2 Hebrews 11:13 “These all died in faith, ... having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
3 Revelation 21:5 “He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
4 James 1:18 “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
5 John 15:19 “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world...”
6 1 Thessalonians 5:8 “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do....For those who sleep, sleep at night....We belong to the day....”
7 Ephesians 2:19, “You are no longer strangers and aliens [of God], but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”
8 Titus 3:3 “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”
9 Ephesians 5:16 “...the days are evil.” Ecclesiastes 2:11 “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
10 John 17:15 “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
11 Psalm 2:1-2 “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.”
12 Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
13 Hebrews 3:1 “Holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.”
14 1 Peter 2:11 “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”
15 Romans 14:23 “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
16 1 Corinthians 5:19 “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
17 John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
18 2 Peter 3:13 “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
19 Philippians 1:6 “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
20 Mark 10:44 “Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”
21 Luke 9:23 “He said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'”
22 Titus 3:7 “Being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
23 Hebrew 2:8-9 “We do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him.”
24 Luke 11:20 “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” 2 Corinthians 6:1 “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. ”
25 2 Timothy 4:8 “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day.”
26 2 Timothy 1:10 “The appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus...abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
27 Galatians 6:14 “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
28 Hebrews 11:13-16 “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
29 Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
30 Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”
31 John 8:56 “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
32 2 Corinthians 5:1, “We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 5:4 “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”
33 Revelation 18:1ff “He called out with a mighty voice, 'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!...Alas! Alas! You great city,
you mighty city, Babylon!”
34 Mark 13:1-2 “As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher!' And Jesus said to him, 'There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.'”
35 John 2:19 “Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'”
36 Hebrews 11:10 “He was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
37 Hebrews 11:13 “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
38 Hebrews 11:15-16 “If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”
39 Genesis 22:2 “He said, 'Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go...and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains....'”
40 Psalm 139:13 “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.”
41 Psalm 89:48 “What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?”
42 Luke 8:52 “He said, iDo not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.'” John 11:11, 1 Corinthians 15:16, 1 Thessalonians 4:14
43 Revelation 14:13 “'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Blessed indeed,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!'”
44 Luke 23:43 “He said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'”
45 Revelation 21:2 “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.”
46 Isaiah 65:17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”
47 Hebrews 10:25 “[Do not neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
48 Revelation 6:10 “They cried out with a loud voice, 'O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'”
49 Revelation 22:20 “He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
50 1 John 3:2 “What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
51 1 Corinthians 15:52 “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet... the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
52 1 Corinthians 15:41 “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.”
53 1 Corinthians 15:43-47 “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. ... Thus it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. ... The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.”
54 Isaiah 65:22-23 “They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.”
55 Zephaniah 3:13 “Those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.”
56 Revelation 17:16 “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.”
57 Revelation 22:3 “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”
58 Colossians 2:17 “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Hebrews 8:5, 10:1
59 Romans 8:22-23 “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons.”
60 1 Corinthians 15:55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
61 Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;”
62 1 Thessalonians 4:13 “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
63 1 Peter 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
64 Revelation 7:9 “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'”

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

thank you, very edifying.

RevFisk said...

even the typos? xD

  ©Template by Dicas Blogger.