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“Christ died for the ungodly”

These words pierced through my heart this past week, especially when it is connected with the metaphor Paul used in II Corinthians 4:7-18 of treasure being placed in jars of clay.  Let me explain this connection.  Paul writes in verse 7,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

The metaphor reminds me that I am a mere pot, a jar that is used to contain just about anything.  A pot could contain oil, garbage, the remains of a person, or something worse.  God instead chose to fill the vessel with treasure.  For those that are in Christ, Paul gives us the assurance that God placed treasure inside of an individual, and that is reason enough to be happy.  Indeed all those who call upon the name of the Lord and put their faith in Christ will obtain this treasure.

Paul told us about the treasure earlier in the chapter.  He found that the treasure is…

…the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Cor 4:4-6

This treasure should not cause anyone to boast in their own worth, for again those who are in Christ are a jar of clay.  These jars have been redeemed out of mire for service to the King.  As I wrote above, Christ died for the ungodly.  He took the punishment that I rightly deserved.  He took it for me that I might be justified before God.  This is reason enough to be excited, but He doesn’t stop there!  He then gives us every spiritual blessing and draws us into what it means to be human again.  Those who are in Christ are given new life with a promise.  We are given the promise that,

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

(2 Cor 4:13-14)

Being united with God again and transformed into the image of Christ.  Indeed, He who raised Jesus from the grave will also raise us up through the power of the Spirit.  How can these incredible things be?  We are assured that we will not be put to shame, for the resurrection of Christ is the firstfruits of new life.  He will be faithful to His word, for that is His very character.  Indeed how fortunate are those who can call themselves the ungodly and jars of clay?  And the great thing is, is that you can call upon Christ and He will make you a jar of clay—an ordinary pot that contains the treasure of God!  How great is that?

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.

Luke 4:1-2a

It is very interesting to me that when Jesus was baptized with the Holy Spirit (which offers an interesting place to ask some Trinitarian questions, but that is for another day) that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness fasting for forty days.  Immediately after this profoundly Trinitarian interplay, Jesus was prompted to withdraw into the wilderness.  He went into battle, in a sense, full of the Holy Spirit.

This battle was not all glory though.  Instead He faced tremendous hurdles and temptations that I would never even dream of facing.  Jesus encountered temptation of pride and desire.  How can I ever think for a second that Jesus does not know what it means to be human?  Jesus (read: God) is our High Priest, as the author of Hebrews reminds us.  This High Priest understands hunger, the oppressive powers, loneliness and despair.  He knows intimately what is needed to get through and how horrible life can be sometimes.  He bore the brunt of it.  Indeed, it was more than what was deserving of Him.

The God of this universe and the essence of beauty descended onto this planet in order to reconcile the world back to Him.  As we are reminded of the promise made to Christ-followers in Col 1:22, “He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him…”  The entire passage is so incredible because it goes from this brilliant God of the cosmos to His intricate action to bring about reconciliation with fallen, rebellious humanity.  He moved from grandeur to self-emptying humility (see Phil 2).

This is the God of Abraham.  The One who makes a covenant and then keeps it despite the failures of those in Abraham’s line.  He acted in order to redeem us.  He kept the covenant and then allowed us to be reconciled through justification by faith in Christ.  That is why we can trust in Christ; we are both heirs of salvation and promise.  The faithful one of Israel (Jesus) has brought us into an abundant life and it’s time to live in that reality.

Soli Deo Gloria!

I recently came back from a trip on a plane and it hit a significant amount of turbulence in the flight.  While I was in that choppy air, a morbid thought entered my brain.  I thought, “What if this plane had a technical glitch and plummeted into the Pacific somewhere between Hawaii and California?”

I felt right with the Lord and shrugged at the dark thought.  I realized at that time that God is Lord of all, even my days.  If I died in that moment I would know that worrying could not save me.  My entire being was in the hands of the Almighty One, He who cares for me.  If I lived, I knew that my days would go along until I faced death and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

I had a remarkable assurance in the power of the Lord, the keeper of my life.  I could relate for a moment (albeit not perfectly) to the psalmist in Psalm 19 who feared for his life yet trusted in the covenant keeping God.  The Lord’s faithfulness would always come through, even in the dark moments.  Even if the jaws of death snatched me from this world I could rest in the fact that Christ had conquered it.  Death is fangless, death has had its sting removed.  It is through the resurrection of Jesus that we can have full assurance that our lives will be kept, even after we die.  To be in Christ means that we will be raised from the dead in glory, given new bodily life.  In Christ, we are given life after life after death.

The death of Christ was a monumental event.  As an Evangelical Protestant, I have often placed great emphasis upon this moment, almost to the detriment of another event.  Easter came three days later, the moment that death was conquered.  It is in the resurrection of Jesus that we can say along with St. Paul in I Corinthians,

O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?

Something that we don’t often dwell upon is the monumental event that occurred at the resurrection.  It truly was an event that shook the foundations of the world, the powers of this world were conquered and the Kingdom of God began to be implemented.  Now that that has occurred, we live in the tension of the now (kingdom of man) and the not yet (full realization of the Kingdom of God), in a state of waiting.  While we live in a state of constant tension, it is important to realize two things.  First, that we are empowered through the resurrection.  We are given strength to live life today, if only we yield to the Spirit.

The second thing I realized was that our allegiance belongs elsewhere.  If Jesus is Lord, as Christians of every denomination historically affirm, then Caesar is not.  A recent editorial that I read in the Orange County Register captures this theme surprisingly well.  The editor writes,

But if Jesus really rose from the dead after being duly executed, then he stands as a challenge not only to the Roman empire and the religious authorities of that day, but to every empire from the beginning of time down to the present day, to every mere human being who claims the right to rule over another human being, thus usurping the authority of God.

The resurrection brings power and an authority that is rooted only in the actions of Jesus.  J. R. Daniel Kirk discusses this at length in his recent Christianity Today article.  Our lives ought to be different because of the empty tomb.  It is given power through the work of Jesus in an individual.  Of course this power is not meant to be lorded over other people as many rulers have  done and will do throughout the ages (Mark 10:42-43).  Instead it comes through service and cruciformity in the image of Christ. It is in the complete message of the gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus, that we can live as a transformed ambassador for the Kingdom.  For if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar and ourselves are not.

There have been many promises that have been given to people through the pulpits and private conversations.  At the moment of conversion, there needs to be a brilliant light that shines forth and a quartet of angels singing audible praises, or at least something similar to that.  There are promises of Jesus filling the “cross-shaped” void within hearts and promises that happiness will consume the individual.  Pledges of perpetual temporal happiness and pledges of never having a bad day or missed credit card payment.  All this sounds too good to be true!  The problem with all of this is that it is either not entirely true or it misses out on what has been ensured for us.

 
The promise that we do have, the sure hope that we can cling to, is not related to temporal pleasures (although there is nothing wrong with enjoying life).  We are given the promise of provision and assistance through the Spirit. We are given the promise of heaven, but let’s not just stop there!  We are assured in the hope of resurrection and the hope of, as N.T. Wright* would say, a “life after life after death.”  For those that are in Christ, they can walk with assurance that no power, whether earthly or spiritual, can ever destroy us.  What a blessed assurance!  Martin Luther would write about this hope saying,

If the knowledge of sin or the fear of death should break in upon it, it is ready to hope in the Lord.  It does not grow afraid when it hears tidings of evil.  It is not disturbed when it sees its enemies.  This is so because it believes that the righteousness of Christ is its own and that its sin is not its own, but Christ’s, and that all sin is swallowed up by the righteousness of Christ.  This, as has been said above, is a necessary consequence on account of faith in Christ.  So the heart learns to scoff at death and sin and to say with the apostle, “O Death, where is thy victory?  O death, where is thy sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” {I Cor. 15:55-57}.  Death is swallowed up not only in the victory of Christ but also by our victory, because through faith his victory has become ours and in that faith we also are conquerors.

It’s not about living your best life now.  Perfection and complete happiness does not come right now.  Donald Miller is right, “the complete climax of life doesn’t happen at conversion, it happens when we are reunited with God.”  And in that hope we can cling.

_________________
*See NT Wright on ABC’s Nightline explaining this here.

As mentioned in many blogs, articles and Facebook status updates, ‘Avatar’ was a film that lived up to the hype on the technological side.  The visuals were stunning and the technology truly put you on the ground of the extraterrestrial planet called Pandora.  While there were certainly blatant and subtle political themes that were interwoven into the plot line, there was also one concept that I thought was very beautiful.  Racism, anti-military, anti-colonialism, and hyper-environmentalism have all been listed as possible themes for the film, but I would like to take a second look at the majestic planet in light of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection.
To start off with, our planet is not too shabby.  While some moviegoers were depressed with the inability to live on the planet of Pandora, I do not find myself depressed, instead I am encouraged.  Encouraged because this planet is incredibly beautiful and is full of majesty in the most unlikely of places.  Encouraged because this planet is not operating at its peak level, since it is under the bondage of sin that humanity brought into this world.  Encouraged that the cosmos will be corrected when evil has been supplanted.  Paul writes in Romans 8 to give assurance,

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (8:20-22)

It was the entrance of sin that subjected the universe into disarray.  It is through redemption that everything from a slug to an asteroid will be rectified.  The universe is not the only thing that has a promise.  Paul takes this idea another step further and writes,

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, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (8:23-25)

I do not believe that Cameron attempted to portray this insight into the film, but it truly was a remarkable thing to think about.  To think that our planet will be righted.  And that is encouraging.

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