Christ & His Purpose for Cosmic Love
Christ & His Purpose for Cosmic Love
Aside from details in today’s troubling headlines, they’d not surprise the Roman historian, Livy. And he died when Jesus was still a carpenter in Nazareth.
Livy gave voice to his world-weary sighs: “We can neither endure our vices nor their remedies.” And, Livy, neither can we. We, too, are weary of the everyday evidence of the failure of fallen humanity and of fallen humanity’s failed efforts to fix what’s failed.
We repeat and repeat: “If only we’d all just get along!” “If only we’d just do this!” “If only they’d just stop that!” These faulty diagnoses and failed cure-alls are full of the same fallacies we’ve fallen for before – whether as “vice” or “remedy.” And confusing one with the other, we’re bound to continue to fail. What’s been will be; what will be has been – unless there’s truly significant Intervention.
But “if only” is doomed from the beginning. It begins with “if” and “if” reveals it isn’t. Anything offered by “if” is a fantasy and a fantasy cannot be counted on.
And “if only” brings up the rear in reductionism. So simplistic, it’s far too complicated. Besides, “if only,” is narrow-mindedly fixated on only what’s intended. It fails to adequately anticipate unintended, but usually rather predictable, consequences. Its own blinkered bias blindsides itself.
“If only” starts and stops in a dead end. So, going the way of “if only” gets us nowhere. We’re out of touch. And, out of touch, we’re out of control. And out of control, we make ourselves frustrated and fearful as we try to do what can’t be done. Trying to get out from under all that frustration and fear, we get hostile. And that means more conflict until we burnout in despair.
And there’s another fatal flaw of “if only.” Seemingly innocent, it’s a four-letter-word. “If only we’d all just get along!” “If only we’d just do this!” “If only they’d just stop doing that!” It’s the delusion of irrational wishful thinking and a retread of reductionism.
What’s wrong with us is what’s wrong with them. And it’s neither superficial nor trivial. It’s the sinful human heart. And, the fact that that true statement is disdained today illustrates its truth.
Whether we admit it or not, this is a fallen world and all the wrong won’t be made right by a fallen world trying to save itself – least of all by denying it’s fallen in the first place.
Three weeks ago, Roger Cohen of The New York Times wrote a perceptive column called: “The Great Unraveling.” Lamenting current events, he didn’t say the world is “fallen,” but that’s the word for it. He concluded with a nod to Rudyard Kipling’s “Gods of the Copy-book Headings” – a sober assessment of resistance to the unwanted common sense wisdom of the ages.
“When the Cambrian measures were forming, / They promised perpetual peace, / They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease / But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe, / And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said, ‘Stick to the Devil you know.’ On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life / (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
/ Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith, / And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: ‘The Wages of Sin is Death’. / In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all, / By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul; / But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy, / And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: ‘If you don’t work you die.’ / As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man / There are only four things certain since Social Progress began, / That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire, / And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire.”
Why don’t we learn from mistakes? Why do we keep spinning our wheels, as we go through the motions of reinventing the wheel?
All along, scripture has warned of the mess we’ve made of the good world God gave us. The ancient Israelites had to hear this over and over again. And over and over again they turned deaf ears. So do Jesus’ followers. As I said in a sermon in 2000, the Bride of Christ “has never been ready for her close-up.” And, as they go on ignoring the scriptures, secularists aren’t any better than we are.
Are we simply slow learners? Not really. We’re all reluctant to learn what we all really need to learn. We resist the repentance that requires that we admit quite frankly, we’re at fault.
What have we done about it? We’ve tried to ignore or deny it. What do we do about it? We try to ignore or deny it. Don’t we see that trying to ignore or deny something means we see something we think we can’t afford to see? So, we distract ourselves with Lady Gaga, grande latte, glitz, glamour, golf and grievance gatherings – or with anything else but coming to grips with reality.
And we rationalize our rebellion against God by making up excuses for ourselves and our sin while we’re busy blaming anyone else: the Left, the Right, whites, blacks, gays, homophobes, atheists, Christians. It won’t work. Rationalizing has never worked.
Rationalizing is evidence that we see something. Distracting ourselves is evidence that we see something. Making up excuses for self and blaming and bashing others is evidence that we see something. What is it that we see?
One hundred years ago this summer, Germany declared war on Russia and Russia declared war on Germany. Four days before that, Austria had declared war on Serbia since, a month before that a Serb terrorist had assassinated Austria’s Archduke and Archduchess. That led to “The Great War” that H. G. Wells declared, then undeclared, “The War to End War.” At any rate, “The Great War” had to be re-named “World War I” since it did not prevent World War II.
In the “mud and blood” of Flanders Fields, half a million men were killed, wounded, gassed or driven mad for a gain of four and a half miles of mud. The Great War’s final toll was 37 million dead, wounded or missing.
Seventy-five years ago last month, Hitler attacked Poland in what Churchill saw as the consequence of the “carelessness, and good nature [that had] allowed the wicked to rearm [while] nothing was done to stop” them. Thus was hatched the Nazi and Communist horrors that claimed another generation’s 60 million dead.
After World War II, many millions more were enslaved and slaughtered in Communist aggression into Europe, the Far East and Latin America. The evil continues: the “wars and rumors of wars” Jesus said there’d be. They never really end, as Jesus said they wouldn’t – until the End. They rage among self-righteous ideologies and self-righteous idiots. Atrocities are still daily events under Communism. And, in the Levant, Islamist thugs still rape and slaughter thousands
of Christians in the name of Allah, as millions more have been enslaved, raped and slaughtered since the time of Muhammad.
Back in the 1960s, Newsweek’s wise Walter Lippmann wrote that it’s a “delusion that whatever war we’re fighting is the war to end war.” He got it right. But, in that same era, John Lennon wrote that, “all we need is love [and] living life in peace [with] no need of greed [or] possessions.” He got it wrong. Even he, in greed, gripped his possess-ions until he lost his grip.
Lippmann got it right because he got history and human nature right. Lennon got it wrong because he got history and human nature wrong. Right there in his song’s first lines of fantasy: “Imagine there’s no heaven … above us only sky. [Then] the world will live as one.” No. Lennon sensed, though he minimized it, that it would take some “trying” in order to imagine a fantasy so at odds with everyday experience and our gifted awareness of God. That’s because, even imagination needs to get real to be really believed.
Now, it’s not surprising that “Imagine” and “All We Need Is Love” struck chords. We’ve never gotten used to this fallen world. We yearn for that far better world for which we were made. But, here we are. We long for the Love we need, but we look where it can’t be found.
After a black-shrouded, self-righteous coward took to YouTube so the world could watch him murder Jim Foley, the President attempted to give some solace and hope by once again quoting from Martin Luther King’s remark that, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Many took his well-meant remark rather cynically – and understandably so – for that hope can sound unrealistic in view of this world’s inhumanity. Indeed, there is no reassurance without the longer arc of Dr. King’s wider vision of a truly biblical hope for the New Heaven and New Earth.
No president of any party, no mere earthly ruler can undo all the damage done to this world by the everyday sin of every one of us. The only way to envision a real way out of this world’s mess is to return to the hope of the returning Prince of Peace, for this fallen world is still our Father’s world.
They were sitting together, within sight of the magnificent Temple that would be destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. This one replaced Solomon’s Temple destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. But Jesus was looking beyond the coming sack of the city when he responded to his disciples’ asking about his having predicted the Temple’s destruction as they’d marveled at it earlier. Jesus said: “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be alarmed! These things must happen, but they don’t mean that the end has come.” (Mark 13:7)
Must we ask, “Why must such terrible things happen?” Look in a mirror. Ask how a loving God could allow Calvary to happen! The answer to the first question is human sin. The answer to the second question is human sin – and God’s justice and mercy, absorbing our sin and death through his own incarnate death and risen life. God’s Love is the reason for that truly cosmic Intervention. Sin and death have no final upper hand over the sovereign purposes of the inscrutable God who “so loved the world that He gave His Only Son” to save the world. (John 3:16)
Here’s Matthew Henry on this conversation between Jesus and these disciples: “Though [we] may be crushed and borne down, the gospel cannot be. The salvation promised is more than deliverance from evil, it is everlasting blessedness.”
In Christ’s return at the end of history as we know it, he will show himself to be The End, The Goal, The Purpose and The Destination of the cosmos made whole. On the basis of his historic Intervention at Calvary in AD 30, all that’s wrong will be made right – not by us, but by him. Then, the earliest Christian creed will be fulfilled for all the cosmos to see and respond in praise, “Jesus is LORD!”
This was the song of the Christ hymn Paul preserved: All came into being through him, by him, for him and to him in whom all the fullness of God resides. The whole purpose of creation comes to fruition in God’s drawing to Christ, the cosmos made whole in him. (Col 1:16)
F. F. Bruce notes how remarkable it was that, “the person thus presented as creation’s goal was Jesus of Nazareth, but lately crucified in Jerusalem.”
It’s easy for us who’re so far removed from 1st-century current events to skim over the hymn’s calling Christ, the “goal of creation.” We read that from within the high Christology of centuries of Christianity. But, for these former pagans in the 1st-century, distracted by Gnostic accretions about the inferiority of matter (including the matter of a man from Galilee), and for this 1st-century “Pharisee of Pharisees” and ex-prime persecutor of Jesus’ worshippers, not to mention those first Jewish believers themselves, to think that this Jew, so seemingly cursed by God and put to the shameful death reserved for the dregs of humanity – to think that this man is the goal of the cosmos? Utter absurdity! Blasphemy! And yet! And yet, there’s this mid-1st-century hymn – to him!
How did they ever come to such a belief? Bruce says that it was the “appearance as the risen Lord to Paul on the Damascus road [that] called forth that overmastering faith and love which completely reoriented his thought and action and remained thereafter the all-dominating motive of his life.” And, Paul wasn’t the only one who met the risen Christ and was won over to him.
Though there’s a future tense to God’s Kingdom, there’s a present tense, too. The Christ hymn praises Christ as “the head of the body, the church” and declares that, “he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Col 1:17f) His resurrection is the first fruits, the promise of the full harvest of resurrection in him. God is “pleased to have all fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (Col 1:20) William Barclay notes the neuter for “all things”: “The point is that the reconciliation of God extends not only to all persons but to all creation, animate and inanimate. The vision of Paul was a universe in which not only people but the very things were redeemed.” Fuller Seminary’s Ralph Martin says Paul is, “intent on rebutting any idea that part of the universe is outside the scope of Christ’s reconciling work. Christ’s achievement in making peace on the cross shows how his atonement reached even those malevolent forces and secured for them a place in God’s design for the universe in which, at the last, there should be no discord (Eph 1:10).”
The Good News is that, as all in mankind died, so, in this Son of Man, “first-born from the dead,” all are made alive. (I Cor 15:22) Paul tells Romans: “God has bound all of us over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on all of us.” (Rom 11:32) Biblical scholar James D. G. Dunn says, “It is the magnificence of this vision of the final reconciliation of the whole world to God which makes it possible to see here the expression of a hope for universal salvation.” Bruce agrees: “There is an unmistakable universalism in Paul’s language here.” The goal is God’s cosmic love in Christ – for “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” (John 3:16) Almighty God, in Christ, so loved the entire world, but we refuse to love even some? Thank God our selfishness isn’t sovereign; thank God His Sovereignty isn’t selfish.
A Baylor theologian summarizes the Christian hope: “God’s revelation of the future is good news [and] recapture[s] the notes of great promise and high hopes that infuse the biblical message about the future.” He states: “The message is, in a nutshell, God wins in the end. And if God is both perfectly good and great, there is nothing for those who trust in him to fear.” This theologian well concludes that, “the ultimate resolution to the intractable problems of nature and history lies not in failing human devices, plans and schemes but in the one who is coming; the Christian does not live in despair over ‘what the world is coming to’ but in hope because of ‘who is coming to this world’.” (Roger E. Olson)
Paul told Ephesians that it was God’s will to bring everything in heaven and on earth under the Lordship of the risen Christ, seated at God’s right hand, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but in the age to come.” (cf: 1:10; 1:20ff) He told Romans: “Out of him and through him and to him, for him, are all things.” (Rom 11:36) Christ is revealed to John the revelator, as declaring: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev 22:13) His declaration repeats the earlier revelation: “ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev 1:8)
From, as it were, before the old creation and continuing to the new creation, and on to the reappearance of Eden’s Tree of Life at the Throne of God and the Lamb, God’s loving purpose for the entire creation reaches its cosmic and everlasting goal in Christ’s love. (Rev 22:2)
Summarizing Christ’s being the beginning and the end, N. T. Wright states: “Humanity was made as the climax of the first creation (Gen 1:26f); the true humanity of Jesus is the climax of the history of creation, and at the same time the starting-point of the new creation.” Following Paul’s doctrine of the incarnation, he says: “The man Jesus fulfils the purposes which God had marked out both for himself and for humanity.”
All the blood of bulls and goats – as even the prophets and psalmist knew – and all our striving to sweeten our pies – as all of us should know – cannot undo the damage we’ve done. Only the blood of the Lamb of God can atone for this lost world. And, that’s what he did, in unfathomable love.
Thank God there’s more than sky above, for Love’s above us all. And Love came down to earth to give his life for all. He’s coming back once more to earth, eternal Shalom, himself, and his reign will never come to an end, for the end himself, is Love.
In that famous 13th chapter of I Corinthians, Paul declares: “For now, these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” How so? In Christ, faith will become sight, in Christ, hope will be fulfilled and in Christ, love is forever.
Here and now, responding to God’s Love, we’re given the motive power to love him and all he loves. What we could never muster up alone on our own, we can now afford to do by his grace. As always, God takes the initiative in love – whether in creating the cosmos just right for us, or in revealing himself to a man of Ur, or in saving his people from bondage, or in saving the whole wide world from the bondage of sin and death.
When we try to love apart from the love with which we’re loved already and the love we’ll receive forever, we restlessly look for rewards of affirmation from others and we’re never satisfied. When we love in restful gratitude for God’s love to us and to all, his love is our reservoir for loving and we’ve no need for any reward.
Jesus said to disciples: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I’ve loved you. By this love, all will know you’re my disciples.” (John 13:34f) But, just how can we love them, as Christ loved us? In thanksgiving for just how Christ loved us!
Said John: “Dearly beloved, we’re already God’s children. And it doesn’t yet appear what we shall be: but we do know this, that, when he comes, we’ll be like him, for we’ll see him as he is!” (I John 3:2) How is he? He’s Love forever together with us. Amen.