Friday, July 30, 2010

Sharing the Spoils

In different ways and for different reasons, the image of Jesus as a victorious leader-king has been for several years the one which strikes me most. As such, Psalm 110 is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. It just so happened that it was also the OT reading at church last week, as the sermon text was Mark 12:35-44, in which Jesus refers to Psalm 110:1.

1 The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

2 The Lord sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
3 Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
4 The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”

5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

During Communion I had saw this image of Jesus as if he were King Arthur sitting to dine with his comrades, the Knights of the Round Table, after a great victory. It was a merry scene, full of mead and broiled meats. The victorious king had returned from battle and now wanted to share a time of glad rest with his brothers in arms, those for whom he had fought. He sat down to share a lavish meal with them, not as their overlord, but as a friend. In this meal of celebration, the king shared the spoils of his victory with all who were there: gold rings and necklaces, finely embroidered linens, and expertly crafted weapons.

How much so with our King Jesus, whose feet rest on the necks of Satan and his minions and of all the sin, doubts, fears, and failures which plague us. Not all his enemies are under his feet yet; Death is the last foe to be vanquished ("until I make your enemies your footstool"; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). During our Lord's Supper, he is spreading a table for us to celebrate the rest he has won for us, his people clothed in "holy garments" of his own righteousness (Psalm 110:3; Revelation 7:14; 19:8). Jesus condescends to meet with us in glad fellowship and to enjoy rest together. At the table he is also sharing with us the plunder, the spoils of his victory (Isaiah 53:12). He bestows on us life, cleansing, forgiveness, assurance that we belong to the household of God both now and forever, and spiritual power to fight the good fight of faith (see John 6:51; Matthew 26:28; Luke 15:23-24).

In short, the Lord's Supper can be a time for us when we experience and learn in the present what is true of the church and her king through all ages: "They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers" (Revelation 17:14).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Complete in Christ

I recently began reading How People Change by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, and it has been simultaneously refreshing, eye-opening, and convicting. Three chapters in, the focus has been on Colossians 2:6-15 and how we drift from the gospel itself as our means of growth and are allured by other plausible philosophies which replace faith in Christ as our means of salvation.

The authors point out that one way to test our grasp of the gospel is how we understand Colossians 2:9-10: "For in Christ the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority." The gospel also includes the reality that "Christ . . . is your life" (3:4). This word really speaks to me, challenges me right now.

Our lives in Richmond aren't all that we dreamed of: no secure job yet for Olivia, a stressful job for me last year, few meaningful friendships, feeling a little unsettled at church, odd neighbors. I'm also aware of how growth in holiness (read: devoted love to God and to others) is often slow, arduous, and humbling. I am most aware of this in my marriage. And yet, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, God wants us to live fulfilled lives in spite of many unfulfilled desires (Brevier). How is this possible? It's only when I acknowledge I am complete in Christ.

If we lose something valuable to us or lack what we desire, even need, we still have Christ. He is our life. He encompasses all that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). All he is, he is for us; and all he owns and reigns over is ours as well (Luke 12:32). Christ didn't just earn forgiveness for our past sins. He also, and he alone, holds and secures our good, both today and in the future. Being children of God and heirs of his kingdom (Romans 8:17), beloved, indwelled by the Holy Spirit and completely forgiven of all our sins--nothing can change this (Romans 8:37-39).

When "Christ . . . is my life," this also clarifies my purpose and prevents me from despairing that I may be in a situation where I'm achieving or accomplishing little worthwhile. It also cuts out the fallacy that at some point in the future I might be able to more effectively live out my God-intended purpose. God's real purpose for us, our destiny, is to live as disciples of Jesus Christ and take on his image, renewed in true holiness and righteousness (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). We are meant to share the Son's glory as the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15; 3:3-4; Hebrews 1:3). Joyfully obeying Jesus the Lord, loving and worshiping God, putting off our old ways and putting on the new, and loving our neighbors as ourselves is our life, our meaning and purpose and goal, our telos. Being able to do this does not depend on our circumstances or our means (Philippians 4:4-7, 12-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We can love God and follow Jesus anywhere, at any time. All we really "need for life and godliness" is the "knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3-4).

So whether or not the Detroit Tigers win the A.L. Pennant, or if the Glen Allen HS cross country team is a flop, or if I get irritable with my wife for the seventy-eighth time, or if I have to go a month without a paycheck, or if I never go to seminary--none of this matters. I've lost nothing. I don't need to do any more to become more forgiven or more loved by God or more secure in my salvation. I don't need to worry that empty cupboards will threaten our livelihood. I don't need to fear that my sins will overtake me or that I lose if I'm exposed. I've lost nothing. And I don't gain anything else either if all I ever dreamed of happens. I am full in Christ, who is my life.