Thursday, July 30, 2015

All Set Up

Matthew, the gospel author,  was quite a skillful writer. In the first chapter we find this famous quote:

"She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Look! The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us,” (Gospel of Matthew chapter 1 verses 21-23).

Then he bookends that with another statement in the last chapter from Jesus himself: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age," (Matthew chapter 28 verses 19-21).

The prophetic promise of "God with us" is confirmed and fulfilled by the risen Jesus of Nazareth to whom "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given."

Set Up

So we should be all set up, right? The Messiah whom we follow now has all power and is High King of the universe. And we are constantly being told that we are "in Christ" (e.g., 2nd Letter to the Corinthians chapter 5 verse 17) -- that we belong to and are in union with the Messiah. From now on it'll be smooth sailing, the best of everything -- riches, mansions, perfect health, a Rolex and a Lamborghini or two. All to be used in the spread of the gospel, of course. What better way to attract people to Jesus than to show how blessed Christians are?

C. S. Lewis was once asked, "Which of all the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness?"

"The greatest happiness?" he replied, "While it lasts the religion of worshiping oneself is best!... If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity." (God in the Dock, "Answers to Questions on Christianity," question 11).

The Christian movement is a group of people who have thrown in our lot with the King of the universe alright, but he is a King who walked a hard road and was executed in a particularly gruesome way. By his own choice he lived among the poor, the hungry, the ill, the downtrodden. And he did not set himself up as a special case; Jesus makes living the same way a test of our Christianity.

So we don't find the leaders of the early Christian movement living in marble palaces overlooking Nazareth and spending their days in strategy sessions moving little gold crosses around on a map. Instead we find them constantly on the move, being beheaded, enduring beatings, stonings, and shipwrecks. We find them in ragged clothes and considered the dregs of the earth.

Jesus' later followers got much the same, both the leaders and the rank and file. The movement continued to follow Jesus' demand that we care for the suffering, poor, and imprisoned. Interestingly, they also took on the job of freeing slaves wherever they could.

With Us

God is with us, just as he promised, down to the very end. But for those who want to find out what Christianity really is (the purpose of this site), it's important to know what you're getting into. The Christian way is full of joy too, and joy of an intensity and endurance unavailable anywhere else. But it is not designed to make us rich, popular, and happy.

If  you happen to live in a well off culture with a social safety net and the expectation of iPads and smartphones, it is possible to think of joining the Christian movement as rather like joining a Gym. You pay your dues, you try to attend on a regular basis and focus while you're there, and you reap the benefits. Maybe it helps you to have "your best life now." But the focus is on what it does for you. Which is entirely appropriate for a gym membership, but not for following Jesus of Nazareth.

Hardships and pain can and do happen to Jesus' followers and he honestly is always with us, but he is with us through the events of life, not insulating us from them.

As St. Paul put it, “If we are to enter God’s kingdom, we must pass through many troubles.

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