Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Simply Jesus, by N.T. Wright

Chapter 14 – Under New Management:
Easter and Beyond

I am gone this week attending the annual ELCA Senior Pastor Conference in Sanibel, Florida.  I know, poor me!  Since the last couple chapters have been rough going, I’m happy to see that this chapter reads much smoother and should offer good conversation.  I’ll see you all next week for our final meeting!

1.  Easter marked the beginning of a new world.  Wright goes to great lengths to define “heaven” and “earth” and how they intersect in Jesus, who becomes the prototype of the resurrected life we anticipate sharing upon his return.  Wright especially addresses the multiple misconceptions and abuses surrounding popular (and often non-biblical) notions of heaven. 

What does it mean to you that Jesus is the prototype of the new creation?  How might you see yourself participating in that new life/creation?  (Dream a little here...but dream big!)

2.  Wright notes that this new creation simply overflows with the power of love.  “The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t mean, ‘It’s all right.  We’re going to heaven now.’  No, the life of heaven has been born on this earth.”

As new creations already in baptism and through the gift of faith, where do you see this heavenly “power of love” active in your life?  Where are you touched by it, both as receiver and giver?

3.  Jesus’ ascension is about his enthronement as the one who is now in charge of this new creation.  “So for Jesus, ‘going to heaven,’ isn’t a matter of disappearing into the far distance.  Jesus is like somebody two has two homes…next door to each other.  One day the partition wall will be knocked down and there will be one, glorious, heaven-and-earth mixture.  Heaven permeates earth.  If Jesus is now in ‘heaven,’ he is present to every place on earth.”
Imagine the peace this must have given to the disciples following his ascension.  How does thinking of Jesus in this way give us peace?  What does it imply about Jesus’ involvement through the Holy Spirit in our lives today?

4.  “Look out of the window,” say the skeptics.  “If you think Jesus is already installed as king of the world, why is the world still such a mess?”  Fair question, notes Wright.  But Jesus resurrection and ascension were never intended to signal the end of this life as we know it, but the beginning of the something completely new…to be realized in full totality and glory upon Jesus’ return.  “Jesus’ kingdom must come, then, by the means that correspond to the message”…as suffering servants in Jesus’ name.  Forget all the “rapture” nonsense, Wright says…it’s a complete misunderstanding.  Rather, Jesus will bring heaven to earth…a new earth!  God will “judge” the world by cleansing, redeeming, and restoring it…as God intended his creation to be.

How do Wright’s biblical vision of “the second coming” and our consequent hope for this “new creation” give you hope for today?  In the face of so much violence and destruction all around us, why does this biblical vision matter?

5.  “What about Jesus today?”  Wright concludes.  “Jesus is the one who sends the Holy Spirit, his own Spirit, into the lives of his followers, so that he himself is powerfully present with them and in them…to bear witness to him as the world’s true Lord and work to make that sovereign rule a reality.”  “He won his victory through suffering; his followers win theirs through sharing his.  The Spirit and suffering.  Great joy and great cost.  Those who follow Jesus and claim him as Lord learn both of them.  It’s as simple as that.”

As Wright himself asks, “So how does all this work out today?  How does the vision of Acts look…when we come forward twenty-one centuries and into our own day?”  Your response?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Simply Jesus, by N.T. Wright

Chapter 13 – Why Did the Messiah Have to Die?

1.  Once again, N.T. Wright challenges us with an incredibly rich and substantive chapter.  None of us breezes through this one!  Wright begins with a barrage of questions thrown at Jesus by those he encounters.  Jesus directs questions back to them…and even to God.  He clearly fulfilled the multiple roles of Messiah, Rabbi, Priest, and Prophet…only adding to people’s confusion and fascination.  All of these facets of Jesus coalesce like three great rivers coming together to form his “messiahship” and his sense of vocation. 

Imagine, if you will, what it must have been like for Jesus to eventually arrive at his conclusions of both his identity as God’s son and his vocation as the suffering servant, destined to die on the cross for the redemption of the world.  

What do you suppose went through his head, and what must it have been like to grasp this enormous reality and responsibility?

2.  “Jesus understood his baptism as the moment when he was ‘anointed,’ like Israel’s kings long ago, for this task.  Israel’s God was acting through him, in him, as him.”  As a royal figure, the servant, and God himself, Jesus unifies these three themes into one vocation: “to be Israel’s Messiah and…to suffer and die.”  Together, they are the means by which God would decisively launch his kingdom on earth as in heaven.  

Why would the disciples and others prefer a different kind of messiah?  How does the expectation of a “Superman” Jesus miss the boat?

3.  Jesus would usher in the New Exodus…“redrawing the messianic themes of battle and Temple into a radical new configuration around himself.”  He would defeat death itself through his own voluntary death.  God’s new creation flows out of his sacrifice.  

Where do you identify the parallels between the original Hebrew exodus and the one Jesus initiates?  How are they different in both scope and purpose?

4.  Jesus shifts the embodiment of God’s presence from the Temple to himself.  By stepping into the storm, Jesus moves from the past to the future…taking the full brunt of God’s judgment so that God’s people might be rescued.  “Jesus is innocent, but he is dying the death of the guilty.”  This is how the work of healing must be accomplished and for God’s kingdom to reign.  

What does this say about the role of leadership?  How did Jesus “lead?”  How is his leadership unique in a world of ubiquitous quasi-leadership?

5.  Jesus methodically moves toward the inevitable…his crucifixion.  His grand entrance into Jerusalem for Passover is both symbolic and intentional.  The sharing of the Passover meal with his disciples likewise points toward lasting purpose and meaning.  Here, the great Exodus themes are re-visited and re-lived in order to set a new course for human history. 

Jesus is executed as the “king of the Jews.”  Like the echo of Genesis upon the completion of creation, Jesus declares, “It is finished.”  Once again, God had completed a new creation…this time through the work of atonement.  “How then can we interpret Jesus’ death?”  First, Jesus’ death is exemplary in love.  Second, Jesus represented his people and the whole world.  And third, is a massive sense in which Jesus’ death is penal…taking the full weight of God’s judgment upon himself. 

Jesus understood the battle he was fighting and against whom: the Accuser.  Thus, the Accuser allows Jesus to stand accused on multiple charges from every angle of corruption and sin.  Representatively, he takes all of these accusations “against the whole human race and has borne them in himself.”  “Jesus’ own mind, heart, and body would be the battlefield on which the final victory would be won.”  Ultimately, Jesus did represent his people as their king.  And in the same manner, Israel is representative of the world.  Love prevailed…Jesus was raised from death…the Accuser has been defeated.  Whew!

So…why should we take the role/work of the Accuser seriously?
What does Jesus’ victory on the cross demonstrate for us?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Simply Jesus, by N.T. Wright

Chapter 12 – At the Heart of the Storm

1.  We’re now back to the perfect storm theme, with Rome and Israel poised for deeper conflict.  Into that volatile mix enters God’s son, Jesus, who introduces a very different mission altogether.  This entire scenario is best understood through the lens of Scripture.  Wright focuses on Isaiah 40-66, Daniel, and Zechariah to illustrate this theme.  Jesus was undoubtedly influenced deeply by these writings. 

Wright considers Isaiah 40-66 to be one of the greatest pieces of poetic writing in all of history.  It offers comfort and hope…introducing Israel’s “servant,” who will complete God’s rescue operation through his own sacrificial death.  The result is a new covenant and a new creation.  “Isaiah’s version of Jesus’ perfect storm includes: the gale of pagan tyranny, the high-pressure system of Israel’s national life, and the hurricane of the divine purposes.  This is the new Exodus.” 

This “weather pattern,” if you will, has been with us forever, it seems.  Where else in history has this delicate triage left its mark?  Where in our world today is this “weather pattern” evident and active?

2.  The second thematic book is Daniel, where the kingdom of the one true God stands over against the kingdoms of the world, judging them, calling them to account, condemning them, and vindicating God’s people.”  Apparently both Jesus and Simon Son-of-the-Star leaned heavily on Daniel 7 to shape their vocational aspirations.  Daniel’s heavy use of metaphor quickly becomes confusing.  Wright notes that the vision and interpretations of chapter 7 are telling “the story of pagan empire reaching its height and Israel’s God then stepping in to call ‘time’ on the whole sequence, to bring arrogant paganism to judgment, and to establish instead his own kingdom in and through his faithful people.  This is the story…of how God becomes king.” 

Wright brings us back, then to Jesus’ use of Daniel 7 as a template of how God is active both in his ministry and its outcome for all of human history.  Given this explanation, how does Daniel further serve to portray this perfect storm?

3.  The third influential book is Zechariah.  Wright summarizes: “Israel’s exile is to be reversed under the rule of the anointed king, who will end up ruling the whole world.  The pagan nations will do their worst, but God himself will come to fight against them, and he will be king over all the earth.”  While Israel’s official rulers have failed, God’s own “shepherd” will be killed and the sheep scattered in order that the victory can be won.  These themes are visible as Jesus rides into Jerusalem for his final Passover. 

Wright concludes by citing the Psalms as influential material in shaping Jesus’ sense of vocation…especially as a source of prayer.  Here, too, God is at work in this active weather pattern to further shape the outcome of human history. 

Given these three scriptural references and their impact on Jesus, where has the church faced similar challenges?  How do these challenges impact us individually today?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Simply Jesus, by N.T. Wright

Chapter 11 – Space, Time, and Matter

1.  Space!  Early Jews located God’s dwelling place and space within the city of Jerusalem…and more specifically, within the Holy Temple.  Here, heaven and earth overlapped and shared a common space.  With the arrival of Jesus, suddenly this holy space is shifted to Jesus himself, who becomes “a walking Temple…a living, breathing place-where-Israel’s-God-was-living.”  We formally understand this as the doctrine of the incarnation…God becoming flesh. 

As a child, where did you think God “lived’ or dwelt?  Please list examples.  At what point did you come to understand God’s presence not confined to a building or place, but rather in Jesus?

2.  The Temple, however, wasn’t always held in the highest regard, especially by those who felt the religious leaders had corrupted its use and gained sole privilege for themselves.  A similar disdain exists for today’s churches and its leaders.  What are the similarities?

3.  Time!  The Jewish perception of time was grounded in God and creation…namely that God’s creation was both good and purposeful.  They were important participants in this unfolding divine drama.  The Sabbath was a key component of that purpose and drama…allowing Jews to see the Sabbath “as the time when God’s time and human time coincided.”  Now Jesus arrives and more or less announces that he is the culmination of all their Sabbath activity…the time of Sabbath is realized in his presence and in his ministry and message.

While Sabbath-keeping today takes on all forms of expression and timing for Christians, it nonetheless directs us to Jesus.  How do you personally benefit from Sabbath time and what does your Sabbath look like?  How do you use that time to reflect on Jesus and draw closer to God?

4.  Matter…reality.  “The material world was made to be filled with God’s glory.”  We see it in the healing stories of Jesus; in miracle after miracle by Jesus, something new was happening.  God’s glory, love, and desire to make all things new drive this reality.  The transfiguration of Jesus gives us insight into this reality. 

Our personal stories of transfiguration before Jesus may be less dramatic, but no less significant.  Consider your own journey with Jesus; where has his glory in this world shone forth for you?

5.  In my favorite portion of this chapter, Wright stresses that, “First, it will not do to suppose that Jesus came to teach people ‘how to get to heaven…it simply won’t do.’”  And, “Second, was Jesus, then, mounting some kind of quasi-military revolution?  Again, he concludes, “It won’t do.”  Third, neither was Jesus doing things simply to prove his divinity.  “The gospels are not about ‘how Jesus turned out to be God.’  They are about how God became king on earth as in heaven.” 

Looking at these three points, where do we, as Lutherans, stand “confessionally?”  In other words, what do our Apostolic and Nicene Creeds say to support Wright’s conclusions here?  Why do these matter in today’s fickle world of “believe whatever you want?”