Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Author N.T. Wright argues in his book, “The Day the Revolution Began”, that “…according to the earliest Christians, when Jesus died, something happened as a result of which the world was a different place… the world had changed. A revolution had begun.”1 A revolution of thought and behavior. This wasn’t realized by many at first, was never acknowledged by some. But the first sign of that difference came three days after Jesus’ crucifixion when he was raised from the dead. “Without that, his followers would have concluded with shame and sorrow that he was just another failed Messiah. (See Acts 5:36,37) But his resurrection was not simply a surprise happy ending to the story. It was… a glorious beginning. It meant that the darkest and strongest power in the world (death), had been defeated. If that was true, then a new power, a different sort of power from all others, had been unleashed into the world.”2
A complicating aspect of this message was what Paul and others insisted was true, that our salvation has been accomplished but not fully realized. For, “…that victory seemed to have been won not at the end of the “present age”, but right in the middle of it, with suffering and wickedness still rampant all around.”3 Forgiveness of sin was a forgone conclusion, it was now imperative that that message be proclaimed far and wide; powered by a love that made any amount of inconvenience and opposition worth it. And opposition there was, as the struggle for Christians involved convincing the world of something that many neither expected nor wanted.
Part of Mr. Wright’s purpose in writing was to challenge us to widen our scope of ‘mission’ beyond just being saved for heaven but participating in God’s plan for his kingdom to be “on earth as it is in heaven.” (The crucial aspect being to widen the scope without losing focus on Jesus.) We are to be God’s “image-bearers”, reflecting God’s glory into the world and directing the praise of all creation back to its creator. And here is where the balance between widening our scope of ministry and maintaining our focus on Jesus comes into play. Some become so involved in influencing the affairs of the world for the better that they lose sight of heaven; others reveling in their attainment of heaven so much that they ignore the world – and the people residing there. In doing so, we leave them wide open to the influence of secularism and the social gospel; the belief that God is either remote and uncaring, or non-existent. Therefore it is up to us to save ourselves.
That is not the model the first Christians left for us as they endeavored to win souls to salvation – and thus heaven – even as they practiced a social activism that embraced their families, community, and nation. “Western” society’s emphasis on education, medicine, and caring for the less fortunate being major, defining concerns of the church since its inception. (See Matthew 25:31-45)
Mr. Wright insists that we should understand the victory of Jesus on the cross “…as a liberating event within history… see(ing) the early Christian movement not as a ‘religion’ in the modern sense at all, but as a complete new way of being human in the world and for the world.”4Not only a message of forgiveness leading to heaven – while leaving the powers that be in the world unchallenged – but proving, by word and deed, that we are likewise set free to be who we are meant to be in Christ; a royal priesthood, mirroring Christ’s love for us in our love for them. People who stand tall in the “in-between times” here on earth, advocating for both heaven and the world God created, loved and died for.
The hope would certainly be that, “A world full of people who read and pray the Sermon on the Mount, or even a world with only a few such people in it, would always be a better place than a world without such people.”5 This core ethical teaching of Jesus was meant to guide us in our relationships and witness to others, the essential belief in his substitutionary death on the cross representing the love that motivated his actions and the love we should express throughout our own lives; even as we anticipate heaven. A deeper resolve to live a life of love and sacrifice coming as we contemplate just how dark and deep the power of sin really is and remember how liberating it was to be set free from it; demonstrating what being a follower of Jesus does for us as people, fundamentally changing what it means to be human.
To be sure, that will put us in conflict with the “powers of this world”, in whatever form they take. (As Jesus and others have always warned. See Matthew 5:11; John 15:20 & 2 Timothy 3:12) The cross representing Jesus’ victory over the world and our victory over sin; launching a revolution that proclaims the truth of scripture by changing the way we understand God’s purposes for us as His diligent followers. (See 2 Corinthians 6:4-10)
For, “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
- Harper One Publishing
- The Day the Revolution Began
- Subtitled Reconsidering the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion
Note: Mr. Wright is certainly on the liberal side of a number of issues, but still makes a good point of calling Christians to positive actions between the time we are saved and when we are called to heaven; reminding us that a lot has happened since Christ’s crucifixion – which signified just the beginning of the “end times” – running up to and including the present; and that a lot more may happen before God decides it’s time for Jesus to come again.
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Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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