In his book Simply Jesus, professor Tom Wright lays out for his readers his case that the Bible is, ultimately, a book about Jesus.
“So if, as the Jewish people believed, they were the key element in God’s global rescue operation, it was doubly frustrating, doubly puzzling, and doubly challenging that the Jews’ own national life had itself been in such a mess for so long. By the time Jesus went about Galilee telling people that God was now in charge, it was close to six hundred years since Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians, the greatest superpower of the time. And though many of the Jews had come back from exile in Babylon and had even rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, they knew things weren’t right yet. One pagan nation after another took charge, ruling the Middle East in its own way.”
In particular, the Jewish people believe that the Temple was where their God was supposed to live. The Temple was the place on earth where ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ actually met. They saw ‘heaven’ as God’s space and ‘earth’ as our space, the created order as we know it, and they believed that the Temple was the one spot on earth where the two overlapped. But the Temple seemed empty. God hadn’t come back.
So where did the hope come from? How on earth do you sustain hope over more than half a millennium, while you’re watching one regime after another come and go, some promising better things, but all letting you down in the end? How can you go on believing, from generation to generation, that one day God will come and take charge?
Answer: you tell the story, you sing the songs, and you keep celebrating God’s victory, even though it keeps on not happening….This is the story of the Exodus…This is the story Jesus’s hearers would have remembered when they heard him talking about God taking charge at last….When he was talking about God taking charge, he was talking about a new Exodus. (NT Wright, Simply Jesus, chapter 6)
He makes similar, and yet somewhat concluding comments, in another book How God Became King:
That is to say, when Jesus died on the cross he was winning the victory over ‘the rulers and authorities’ who have carved up this world in their own violent and destructive way. The establishment of God’s kingdom means the dethroning of the world’s kingdoms, not in order to replace them with another one of basically the same sort (one that makes its way through superior force of arms), but in order to replace it with one whose power is the power of the servant and whose strength is in the strength of love.
…Jesus, after all, has come to Jerusalem and found the Temple no longer the place where heaven and earth do business, but the place where mammon and violence are reigning unchecked, colluding with Caesar’s rule. Jesus himself, the evangelists are saying, is now the place where heaven and earth come together, and the events in which this happens supremely is the crucifixion itself. The cross is to be the victory of the ‘son of man,’ the Messiah, over the monsters; the victory of God’s kingdom over the world’s kingdoms; the victory of God himself over all the powers, human and suprahuman, that have all usurped God’s rule over the world. Theocracy, genuine Israel-style theocracy, will occur only when the other ‘lords’ have been overthrown.—205-206
So we live in a world much like the world of the Israelites: Fractured, chaotic, rising powers and falling powers, messiah’s everywhere, promises for luxury, means to ends, terrorists, power, influence, intrigue, Hollywood, and celebrity. There’s also the constant bombardment of sin and the war against the flesh.
The church often does its best to imitate and mirror the world and so we do silly things like publicly declare our political affinities on Facebook and Twitter. And we rant (self?) righteously about the influx of Syrian refugees because clearly Jesus told us to be more careful about our own safety than about who we love. And we are, of course, concerned about salvation—our own, to be sure.
This is the world. And this is the church. We keep trying to wrangle power unto ourselves or sell ourselves to the ones we think offer us the best chance of being safe or whom we think we will share their power with us so we can continue to be the church and American. We do this because for some strange reason we have allowed ourselves to think that being an American is more important than being a Jesus follower. We think loving the right people is more important than loving all people. We think as long as I am blessed I can be thankful. We, even the church, keep pointing to the American Dream and American Government as the solution to the world’s woes.
The Bible steadfastly points to Jesus, the Messiah, the Lord, the King as the solution. It’s not without significance that while the world points to everything but Jesus as the fix to what ails us, Jesus continually said: I. Am. The way.
And for the apostles, writes Scot McKnight, “it was all about King Jesus.”
So, Thanksgiving. This is what I was asked to speak about today because we are approaching that time of the year when we make a point to be thankful. It is that time when we, Americans, gather together with family and friends and enjoy the fruit of our labor and the company of our people.
It’s also the time when we will forget about what really makes us human because we will spend some time the day after Thanksgiving being thankful for nothing except that which is green and or plastic.
But I digress. I want this sermon to be uplifting to you and I’d like to answer a specific question: for what can we, the church, be thankful? Or maybe I should phrase it this way: What can I say to you this morning that will sustain your hope and enable you to give thanksgiving in the midst of all that we see in our world—all the violence, hate, death perpetuated as it is by the leaders of this world.
If you pay any attention to things at all then you know full well that the world is not quite happy right now. There’s a lot of grumbling and complaining and fighting and war and terror and politics and disease and confusion and tumult and chaos. Everybody is fighting something or someone somewhere. It’s all very disheartening.
Everyone is seeking power.
I see nation rising up against nation. I see brothers rising up against sisters. I see children rebelling against their parents. I see Republican Americans rising up against Democrat Americans. I see one Christian denomination rising up against another Christian denomination. It’s all very disheartening.
It’s all very stupid. Especially when the church imitates it.
And maybe that’s the point: If you pay attention to things at all…maybe we pay too much attention to things…I got to thinking that perhaps there is just a little too much hate in this world. I promise you there’s too much hate in the church. Jesus said that ‘by our love for one another the world would know we are his disciples.’ I have often wondered and lamented whose disciples the world thinks we are…given our current state of discontent, disunity, disharmony, and at times outright hatred for one another.
And we cannot escape this fact: we in the church are experts at killing one another with words and theology and political opinions. All we had to get right was love. That’s it. Jesus said: Around me are my brothers and sisters and mothers. All we had to get right as the church was love.
So what does the Bible do? When we read the big story in the Bible, what is the story the Bible is telling us? Is it pointing to a contented Americanism far flung around the world? What is peace? What did the authors of the Bible continually do when they wrote words for us to read? In which direction did they point? Let’s look. Then you will know what the Bible says about how our hope can be sustained in this fractured and bedeviled world.
Matthew: we get a genealogy that Matthew tells us fairly well sums up Israel’s history and culminates in the birth of Jesus who will ‘save his people from their sins.’ And he called his name Jesus.
Mark: in this second Gospel we read: The beginning of the good news about Jesus, Messiah, the Son of God.
Luke: in this Gospel narrative, the author tells us that all the things told by eyewitnesses and ministers, were about Jesus who was born in the backwaters of Bethlehem in the shadows of people like Herod, Caesar Augustus, Pontius Pilate, and many others. God didn’t send any of these to accomplish his purposes. He sent Jesus.
John: the author of John’s Gospel tell his readers that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and that he was the embodiment of grace and truth, Jesus Messiah, whose kingdom is not of this world.
Acts: this book tells us that what Jesus began on earth he continues on earth through his church. Jesus is the Way; now the Church is described in similar terms. In some way, the church is the current embodiment not of political power, wealth, or cultural savvy, but rather a countercultural embodiment of Jesus Messiah.
Romans: Paul tells us straightaway: the Gospel concerns the Son of God, who descended from David according to the flesh and was declared the Son of God by his resurrection: Jesus Messiah our Lord—a pregnant sentence full of Kingly overtones. And a positive response to the myriads of political possibilities in this current world.
1 Cor.: To the church full of so much sin and division, Paul redirects their attention to Jesus Messiah who ‘sanctifies’ and calls us to be holy.
2 Cor.: To the church full of fear and affliction Paul directs our attention of The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Messiah the God of comfort. And what are we to share with those who are also suffering affliction: For as we share abundantly in Messiah’s sufferings, so through Messiah we share abundantly in comfort too.
Galatians: To those who thought there was more than one way to be saved, Paul says there is only one Gospel: that of Jesus Messiah who gave himself for our sins to ‘rescue from the present evil age.’
Ephesians: To the church concerned with the fear the world induces and our place in it: Paul tells us we are blessed in Jesus who is the ‘raised from the dead, seated at God’s right hand, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, now and forever, with all things under his feet, and head over the church.’
Philippians: When you find yourself in a world where everything is going wrong, where you are suffering for your belief, where it seems that God is silent, Paul reminds us that it is the Name of Jesus every tongue will confess and where every knee will bow.
Colossians: to a church facing tumult and frustration, Paul gives a vision of the Cosmic Jesus who is worthy of our thanksgiving. If we worry about the kingdoms of this world Paul reminds us that he has delivered us from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption and forgiveness from sins.’ Jesus is Supreme in all areas of this life and world.
Let’s move forward:
1 & 2 Timothy, Titus: To a church where infighting and corruption are likely to reign in the last days, Paul points us to sound doctrine which is in accordance with the Good News of the glory of the blessed God.
Hebrews: When you are receiving countless confusing messages from the messiah of the day, the author reminds us that there is only one revelation that matters: In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world.
1 Peter: When you are finding yourself an outcast, an exile, and perhaps hopeless in the face of God’s silence, Peter reminds us that because of Jesus we always have hope.
Revelation: When the church has lost its way in the midst of persecution from rulers and kings, when the church is confused, when the church struggles in wonder at God upon whom we are waiting…John lays out for us a picture of Jesus who is the Alpha and Omega, who was, and is, and is to come, the first, the last, the living one, the beginning and the end. All this John says is Jesus. The lion who is the Lamb; the Lamb on the throne looking as if he were slain. The living one who moves among the churches. Who with the breath of his mouth will overthrow his enemies in the last day.
And there is so much, much more. So much more about Jesus that I’m not covering this morning.
My point to you this morning goes something like this: What do we have to be thankful for? Or, what will sustain our hope and enable us to give thanks on a continual basis as opposed to just one day a year?
What will enable us and sustain us in this world where the only solution many people have for dealing with groups like ISIS is to kill them all. I saw one person on Twitter say that the only way to have peace in the world is to completely annihilate Islam from the earth.
What will enable and strengthen us to stand in the face of persecution by rulers and kings who do not have the interests of the Lord in mind?
What will sustain our hope when we are faced with all sorts of messiahs and rulers and kings who want our allegiance, who want us to help them concentrate power in the hands of a few and who castigate and ridicule us when we refuse?
What will help the divided body of Christ to work together with purpose of heart and mind? What will restore our love for one another and sustain us when we disagree with one another?
What will enable us to give thanks when we think God’s silence has lasted for more than we can bear?
The Bible has one answer. It always and everywhere points to Jesus. And as the church, we should be telling these stories over and over again. We can forget about stories we think we should tell—stories that might make us feel good for a minute or two but do nothing to sustain us. What sustained Israel—I recall in Daniel 9, that Daniel looked at what was going on in the world, read the Scripture, and prayed—is what should sustain us.
We need to be telling the story of Jesus over and over and over again. This is the Gospel: I remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scripture, and that he appeared to Peter and then to the 12.
So be thankful for the Gospel. Be thankful for Jesus. And tell the story of Jesus now becoming King.