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The Comings of God
F. Earle Fox
Audio Version (coming)
Jer. 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; I Thess. 3:9-13; Lk. 21:25-36
Here we are at Advent season, which means "coming", to remember and celebrate the two comings of Christ, first at the Incarnation, and then at His Second Coming to judge the people and separate the sheep from the goats (see Matthew 25:31 ff.).
I met a new friend a couple of years ago at a meeting of pro-life leaders, who described what he thought was a fundamental reason why the so-called "conservative" pro-life leadership had, for all practical purposes, failed to achieve any significant headway in limiting abortion over the last 37 years since Roe v. Wade. He said that we do not see the blood-guilt upon us as a people, and that that the evangelical world today has a disconnect between the spiritual and the material, between the world of God and the world of time and space. We have badly compromised the Biblical notion of a sacramental world.
Nevermind that God contradicts that disconnect between material and spiritual on just about every page in Scripture, beginning most fundamentally with the creation and fall story in Genesis 1 to 3, right through the life of Jesus, notably in His coming into the world, in the Great Commission to convert the world and teach the world what Jesus has taught us, leading then to the Second Coming back into this world, with the final judgement and the separation of sheep from goats. The comings of God into the world teach us that God is indeed interested in how we conduct ourselves with respect to the public arena. The whole world and all of its activities belong to Him.
But there has arisen a sense among many Christians that the material world is not of interest to God, and that He will rescue His people in the End Times from the corrupt and fallen world of time and space. So we Christians therefore do not need to pay much attention to this world, and the task of the Church is to lead worship, not get involved in trying to change society, not be politically involved, not rescue infants from death at the hands of abortionists, etc.
After all, God loves the little babies and will take care of them. So we do not need to bother. Just grow in our own spiritual lives.
That is a sadly self-centered and self-protective spiritual life.
This is not a sermon specifically about abortion, but the subject makes a good introduction to the comings of Christ into the world. Just as the little babies can be trapped in the womb, which was once the archetypal symbol of all that is nourishing and comforting, so we all are trapped in the closed circle of fallen mother earth. Nurturing mother earth herself has fallen and become a death-trap until it is restored by the law and grace of God. So, every parish ought to have at least two or three pro-life sermons a year. Jesus coming is to give life to all, including the smallest.
(Some here may have had painful experiences with the subject of abortion, so please understand that God, through His obedient Church, is in the business of offering healing and redemption, that God is not happy at the death of a sinner, nor at the depression caused by guilt, but rejoices when we repent and turn back to Him. Neither depression nor beating up on ourselves, but only repentance, is the solution for our guilt of any sort. That is true of abortion as with any other sin. Please see me or another of the clergy if you might be wrestling with that issue.) The Incarnation, the first Coming, is God entering our fallen world death-trap to rescue us from our own self-destruction.
A group of pastors to whom my new friend had presented a strategy for dealing with abortion told him that he ought to get rid of the concept of "blood guilt" because it was not a part of their thinking, and it would only hinder his message to the Christian community. Yet blood guilt is a theme all through Scripture. The pastors had so separated the events of this world from their concern with the spiritual world, that they could not fathom any reason to feel guilty for their not having dealt with the willful deaths of some 55,000,000 babies in America, since Roe v. Wade in 1973. That means an average of about 3800 killings every day for 38 years -- one every 22 seconds. If there had been 3800 adults lined up at a wall by some group every morning, and shot, would not every able bodied man in America rightly reach for his weapon and go to defend them and end the killing?
The early Christians had a simple banner under which they won the whole Roman empire, that "Jesus is Lord and Savior". That phrase was the start of the Apostles' Creed. They would not put the required pinch of incense on the pagan Roman altar to acknowledge and honor Caesar as lord, and often paid with their lives.
Neither the Bible nor the early Church recognized the separation current today between the spiritual and the material worlds, or between Church & State.
The separation began to surface openly in the early 1800's when Christians were feeling beaten down by the rising tide of secular Enlightenment philosophers who were successfully trouncing Christians in public discussion and debate about whether God was necessary, or even relevant -- in the light of the emerging modernity. It seemed that secularized science was able to account for everything in a much more credible way than was the Church or the Bible. Secular folks were not able to do that, but that was the illusion people believed.
Despite a powerful beginning in 1776, over the 1800's we Christians lost our public voice, leading to the dismissal of God as sovereign, leaving the public arena open to the destructive fallen-world forces of secularism and paganism, and the loss of limited government. God entering such a secular world was not very believable.
Several Christian attempts to reenter the public arena in the past century have gone awry, such as the "Moral Majority's" attempt to build a Christian political party a few decades ago. All of this has only confirmed in the minds of many Christians that we do not belong in the political arena, not in welfare, not in education, not in any place outside of our church walls. And so we have locked ourselves in.
I know of nothing anywhere in Scripture which will support that belief and practice. When the early Roman Christians said that "Jesus is Lord", they meant, lord over Caesar. And both Caesar and the apostles understood it that way. There was no "separation of church and state" in the minds of anyone. What modern secularists want is not separation of Church and State, but separation of God and State. The war is against God much more than the Church.
The intent of our founding fathers was that o one denomination should be "established", but that our law was indeed based on general Biblical principles.
No one in either the pagan or the Biblical worlds believed that religion and state were to be so separated. They all, both Biblical and pagan, understood that, in one way or another, one had better pay attention to the divinities, whatever they might be.
So, the Comings of the Son of God into the world are not meant to get us out of the world of time and space into a wholly spiritual world. That is good pagan religion, it is not Biblical religion. In the Biblical view, the world in and of itself is not evil. It is a creature of God, and therefore good. God is not rescuing us out of that evil world, He is coming in to rescue the whole of the fallen creation, right along with us who are in it.
That does not make sense in the pagan world because the world is not a creature of God. It exists in its own right, but it is chaotic, unfriendly, and unfixable. So, if we are to be happy and content, we must find a way to leave it. That leaving of the world is what Eastern religions are about, and what all gnostic religion, with its alleged secret knowledge, is about. Gnosticism was the main enemy of Christianity during its early years. And still is.
What my new evangelical friend was describing was what we Anglicans call the sacramental worldview, which tells us that the physical world is a creature of a Spiritual being, not the other way around, and that the physical is meant to embody and reveal the spiritual -- just as my body reveals me, and the heavens declare the glory of God....
But the Fall, our rebellion against God, distances us from God, bringing us into precisely that condition which the pagans see -- a prison world which is chaotic, unorderly, unfriendly to persons such as us, and which is locked into power struggle and a compulsive quest for pleasure. We want to feel good to get some relief from the chaos and meaninglessness of our lives. The secular and pagan worlds are the fallen world.
The comings of God into the world, then, are His rescuing us, not from the world as such, but from the world as separated from Him -- separated from the only being in the whole cosmos who can give (1) an objective natural order to the world, a natural law by which the material world itself is made rational and orderly, a natural law which makes science possible, and can give (2) a moral order by which both our personal and political behavior are ordered -- so that we do not end up destroying ourselves and one another. Natural order and moral order both come from the law of God. Jesus comes into the world to set us straight on that point.
In Jeremiah this morning, God reaffirms His promise to the houses of Israel and Judah, that He would cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, who would execute justice and righteousness in the land. He would be called "The Lord is our righteousness..." That promise is fulfilled in the 1st and 2nd comings.
And in Psalm 25 we hear the cry of the afflicted, "Do not let my enemies exult over me...; be mindful of Your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love...." One might hear the silent scream of the pre-born afflicted by a vacuum tube, or burning in a salt solution, or being cut to pieces with a scalpel. How many millions of adults around the world this very day are being likewise abused, attacked, and slaughtered by vicious persons, governments, and religions, with no one ministering to them?
The judgement of God will restore reality. And unreality, like a bad dream, will be swept away. When God visits, the light shines in the dark.
In 1 Thessalonians Paul thanks God for the joy which his people at Thessalonica give him by their love and faithfulness to God.
The law of love is the fundamental ordering principle for both natural law and the moral law. The whole cosmos is designed for love, it is designed to be the stage upon which the community of love is to happen. God is not trashing the world. Trashing is what we do to it when we desert God and lose our God-given capacity to be the rulers over it and to be its caretakers. Fallen, we can no longer give order to our own behavior, and thus no longer bring order to the world around us, to our political order, or to our personal spiritual order. We become inherently chaotic, and drag the world with us. No wonder we cannot find our own way out of this mess. We are the irrational and rebellious creators of it.
But our bodies can become temples of the Holy Spirit in a way that is unfathomable to pagan or secular minds. The secular world makes a god out of the flesh, the pagan world wants to leave the flesh for a purely spiritual world. For both pagan and secular people, spirit and flesh are enemies. They cannot unite the two. Our God unites the spirit and flesh to be His highest creations -- persons made in His own image.
But, by all worldly standards, Jesus first coming was a failure. Secular and pagan common sense says that He should have returned to heaven reporting that we humans are not capable of being redeemed, that we should be abandoned to our own self-destruction. But He knew all along that He would be rejected. Yet, as we celebrate at Christmas, He came anyhow because He knew what the world could not know -- that there was a way that He and He alone could show us, back to the Father. Jesus expected to be rejected by the worldly powers.
But there would be a ragtag band of followers who would survive His crucifixion because of what He had done in them. That work was "finished" as He said on the cross. He had done in them what needed to be done to prepare them for receiving the power of the Holy Spirit so that they could carry on the work, right here on earth, not in a lofty spiritual place out of touch with the insanity of the world, the flesh, and the devil. They would indeed drink of the cup which He drank, they too would learn and live the cross life, they too, in some cases, would be crucified. And they, the new Body of Christ on earth, would be the dwelling place of that Holy Spirit.
There were, and will still be, many comings and goings in this salvation process. The two of Jesus are fundamental. But we too will be going, as Jesus did, to the heavenly throne -- not, as the pagans, in rejection of personhood, individuality, and community -- rather in pursuit of them. This realm of time and space is not being rejected, but restored to its rightful place, resting on the Hand of God before the Throne of God. And while we are still here on earth, we are expected to devote all of ourselves, as did Jesus, to that task of restoring Godly order wherever we are able.
That requires a Godly Church, Godly civil government, Godly families, Godly education, Godly caring for the needy, and all other aspects of a society which can be said to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. Right here and now.
With all that God has done for us, we only betray Him and one another when we do not dedicate ourselves to the same tasks for which Jesus Himself came to earth, that is, to draw those around us to dedicate their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to living, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the life of God right where we are. Yes, there is a future in heaven for us, but while we are in this present state, we are to be building the kinds of relationships, the kinds of families, and the kinds of societies which will point others on to God, both here and in the fulfillment of it all after the final Judgement.
Today, we bring Pentecost Season to a close -- to enter again Advent, beginning all over the cycle of the life of Jesus among us, to be more deeply built ourselves again over the Church year into that life.
So I urge you to pray to God for the power of the Holy Spirit in your own lives. Jesus said as clearly as it can be put that He would baptize us with the Holy Spirit. We too can live by that power of God which gives us that stability of our own being, and a moral stability for acting in this fallen world -- which will hate and scorn us. If they hate Jesus, they will hate us as well. So be it.
Let us be bold enough to ask (with James and John, those two rather forward disciples, "sons of thunder" Jesus called them) that we drink of the cup from which Jesus drank, and pray that we will be found worthy to do so. And, in doing so not abandon, but draw with us our own world of personal relationships toward the Kingdom of Heaven.
Audio Version (coming)
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