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The Two Comings - Bonding & Judging
Two BookEnds to Jesus' Ministry
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Advent III - Dec. 11, 2011
Is. 35; Ps. 85; I Cor. 4:1-5; Mt. 11:2-10
One can push the first bookend back to Abraham or Moses, but for Christianity specifically, one begins with the Incarnation. The Incarnation begins the specifically Christian aspect of salvation, and the Second Coming brings it to its climax. The work will be accomplished.
The whole story is based on the fundamental nature of God as Creator ex nihilo and as Sovereign over all things. He has a plan, an Intelligent Design, into which He is inviting all free agent entities as participants. The whole of the life of Christ is designed to enforce the moral clarity of the invitation -- what it mandates and what it forbids -- so that the covenant choice not only can be, but must be, openly and honestly made. We cannot not make a choice. The weapon is the Word of Truth, the Sword of Reality, shining the light into dark places.
Our Advent season focuses primarily on the coming of Jesus, the Incarnation, the coming of the spiritual Son of God, into our world of flesh, time, and space with a human body. Almost all early paganism routinely imagined gods and goddesses in the flesh. But none of them was Creator ex nihilo, and thus none of them could mandate a moral standard.
But the Christians were, like the Jews, monotheists, and could not acknowledge the Lordship of any other than Jesus, the presence of the Triune God, one Being in three Personae. They could acknowledge Caesar as emperor of Rome, but not as Lord of all life, moral decider of the right and the wrong, the decider of the reason for existence of all things at all times. Only the triune God could be and do that. Being Creator meant that you owned what you created, lock, stock, and barrel.
So He who came into the world on that long-ago first
Christmas Day was the living Word of God, the eternally generated Son of God,
carried all the authority of the Father and all the power of the Holy Spirit,
and who could say, "If you have seen Me, you have seen the
Father." And, "The Father and I are one."
There is no other religion on the face of the earth which says anything remotely like that. So, with these fundamental differences, we can expect to find in relation to this new born Child a religion very different from other religions of the world.
Beginning early in the Old Testament, we hear of a God who has great love for His creation, especially for we humans made in the Image of that God who created us. That is unique to the Bible.
We being made in the Image of God meant that God did not have to twist Himself all out of shape to become one of us. He had only, as St. Paul relates in Philippians 2, to "empty" Himself, diminish Himself, scale Himself down to our size. But Jesus was no less of a personal being for doing so, and no less God for so doing. He still carried in Himself sovereignty and control over all creation -- including over Caesar, that is, over civil government (a point we Westerners need to learn).
God is inherently and eternally personal. The personality of God is not some temporary or culturally limited perception of God. That is the way He really is. We Christians have struggle much of the time to maintain that personal character of God against the intrusions of pagan philosophy. But, ironically, it turns out that Biblical people have a much better philosophical foundation than do those who see reality in fundamentally impersonal terms. The unexpected intrusion of Yahweh into the lives of the Hebrews sealed the Biblical view of a personal God with whom we can, and must, have a trusting and obedient personal relationship.
The whole of the Christian message hangs between
these two Comings as between bookends, the Incarnation and the 2nd coming. In
the first, Jesus draws to Himself His disciples whom He then sends out into the
world. The plumb-line, the law of love, is hung by which we will be judged. In
the Second Coming, that sovereignty of God will be administered in the final
Judgement, the separating of the sheep from the goats, those who love God and
their neighbors from the evil-minded ones, those who are not interested in
loving either God or their neighbors.
The two Comings thus tell us something unique in all of religious history -- that God is creating a community based on love. The pagans occasionally could admire a person who loved other people at great cost to himself, a person who might die for another. Death was common and visible, so they admired people who died well. But to suggest that they should form their communities on the basis of loving one another would have been, and was, treated with contempt. It was seen as a notion with it's head in the clouds, totally unrealistic and impractical.
In the pagan world, love was not an obligation. There was no Second Great Commandment saying so. Being loved was just a bit of good luck. When push came to shove, then as a way of life, the business end of the sword or the gun barrel, won out over love.
Even within your family, you must be very guarded -- as Able found out with Cain. The world went downhill from there, and has never recovered.
Except.... when and where God
The recovery began in the Mesopotamian Valley with Abraham, who was plucked out of Babylon, a mighty empire, and told to go to Canaan -- which was Nowheresville, a desert crossroads (without even a single stop light) between the two great powers, Egypt and Babylon.
With painful slowness, the vision began to form in the lives of the Hebrews, that there was a Creator God who cared for them, who had chosen them out of all the peoples of the earth, not for themselves alone, but for sake of the whole world.
The Hebrews were told early on that they were to love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. And they learned also that they were to love their neighbors, and even the foreigners, the sojourners among them, just like they loved themselves. They were already unique in all the world.
Then one day, many centuries later, someone (Mt. 22) asked Jesus the meaning of the Law, to which Jesus replied with the two Great Commandments -- to love God and one's neighbor. On these two commandments hung all the law and the prophets. For the people of God, love was not a happenstance thing, a matter of good luck onto which you might stumble. Love was commanded. It was a universal obligation. All people in the world are obligated to love you, not because you deserve it, but because God commands it. Nice thought to wake up to....
Moreover, Jesus was saying that love was the very meaning of the cosmos, the very reason for it's being created in the first place. If we want to fulfill our own reason for existence, we must love God and our neighbors.
Something new was happening on the face of our fallen
earth. That which is absurd and wholly impractical in the pagan world was now a
universal obligation in the Biblical world.
But, do not many persons still indeed mock love as the impractical vision of a dreamer? How are Christians to respond to this challenge?
Sadly, most who call themselves Christians, at least in the West, respond with silence or with agreement -- if their actions are any indication. We Christians are not known for our love today. It is not said today, "See how those Christians love one another!" We are too "practical". It was said at one time because enough Christians actually lived that way.
Love never became a serious moral obligation among pagans -- because pagan religion has no concept of love as a viable activity, and still less as a commandment of the gods or goddesses.
The law and the grace of God has turned loving one's neighbor from the height of foolishness and impracticality to the height of wisdom and practicality. God's kind of love is the only possible way of building strong relationships, strong families, strong societies. Love is the royal road to that only stable and enduring of all societies, the Kingdom of God. Only people who love their neighbors are capable of building such a stable community.
But to successfully love one's neighbor, one must first be loved by God, and be loving God in return. The two great commandments work together or they do not work at all. The second Great Commandment is doable to the extent that we obey the first.
So, how are the people of God going ever to
experience that kind of love which they must have in order to love their
neighbors like they love themselves.
Enter the Son of God.... Incarnation.... The first Coming.
The Kingdom of God is a community, formed by being in communion with God and our neighbors. So, God comes personally to make Himself known to demonstrate His love, and thus begin that community. Only in that communion with God can we find the inner strength and stability to love when we are not being loved. Only because God is willing to die for us can we commit ourselves even to die for our neighbors. The world, and all of its fallen religions, cannot do that.
In the Bible, heaven is a personal relationship, a community, neither a place nor a mystical state of being.
In the mystical heaven, there is no communion because we all lose our personhood and individuality as we merge with the cosmos. We all become one with each other, not by fulfilling our individual personhood, but by evacuating it. All of our separate individualities merge into the one Cosmic Consciousness (or whatever it is called). There is no longer an "I" as distinct from a "you". There is only the Infinite Self, the Great Ineffable One. But even for the Great Ineffable One there is no time, no willing, no thinking, and no feelings for relationship because there is no relationship. Such a condition is indistinguishable from just plain death.
In such a cosmos, neither the first nor the second Comings would make sense.
The Son of God comes to us the first time, Incarnation, to prepare us for that Godly kind of relationship love, and thus for that kind of relationship Kingdom.
And then He comes again, as we anticipate, looking forward to the End of all things. But "End" does not mean stopping. It means reaching the fullness of our reason for existence, it means reaching our goal of life going well. It means reaching that state of relationship described by St. Paul in I Corinthians 13:13, where we are all -- always faithful, always loving, and always hopeful.
Salvation might thus be compared to a fine car which has badly deteriorated due to neglect and misuse. Then it is repaired, polished up, cleaned out, given proper lubrication so that now the motor spins and hums along effortlessly.
The Kingdom will not be a static abstraction, a
freeze frame of time, it will be a dynamic, moving, changing community, with
things happening. What else can the world "hope" and "hopeful" mean? There
continues in the Kingdom to be a future as well as a past and a present. Time is
a fundamental part of all relationship
and therefore of the Kingdom. And we will have bodies -- repaired, finely tuned,
and lubricated so our joints move effortlessly.
The Bible never hints toward a non-personal and non-active Kingdom. It is always pictured as the fulfillment of the time and space creation which we inhabit. There will be drastic changes, to be sure, but as the fulfillment of truth and righteousness, not the denial of all possibility of them. Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it.
In Isaiah 35: "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. For waters shall beak forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert." That is the fulfillment of creation, not the denial of it.
In Psalm 85, "For His salvation is nigh them that fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together, and righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall flourish out of the earth, and righteousness hath looked down from heaven." These are all down to earth relationship terms, not mystical unknowns.
In the Gospel, the disciples of John the Baptist come to ask Jesus whether He might be the Messiah. Jesus responds indirectly: "Go and show John again those thing which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them..."
These are not words of mysticism, these are words
about life as we live it. This is what Jesus meant when He said to His disciples
that, "The Kingdom of God is among
you!" Right here in the hurly-burly of life. The Kingdom of
God is the power of relationship with the King right in the middle of the life
we live here and now.
When Jesus comes back the second time, it is permanent.
Things will be different after the second coming. The biggest difference will be the result of the righteous judgement of love, with the separation of the sheep from the goats. The forces of evil will no longer be free to pollute the creation. And the righteous and loving commands of God will circulate freely among all the inhabitants of the earth -- so that even the physical world will run well. As Paul says in Romans 8:21, "...because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.", just as we have seen in the records of spiritual renewal around the world. The physical world itself gets repaired, finely tuned, and lubricated.
The two Comings of Christ show us that God is a personal God, a Someone, not a something, a particular Individual, not an abstraction, not a principle. So, we must find God through the particular man Jesus, not any way we think we can. If heaven is a relationship with a particular and individual Someone, then the only possible way to have that relationship is through the Self-revelation of that Person, and not in any other way.
There are two Comings because God is moving us from our fallen state to the glorified state. The comings mark two different fundamental changes for us both as individuals and as members of the family of God.
This Self-revelation of God comes through Jesus -- as
Man and God, making Himself known and available.
Lord, we want to be available to You. In whatever way necessary, come into our lives, individually and corporately, in our church, in society, in our government, and do with us whatever needs to be done to bring us where you want us to be....
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