* Given at Midtown Christian Community, April 30, 2005
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 3:13-22
I had always heard about Jesus having died, being raised, and ascending to heaven, but in my understanding these were always just things that Jesus did by the way. They were just incidental details, things that just so happened to be features of his life. That is, these weren’t really determinative things, meaningful things, things that changed anything. Jesus came, died, was raised, ascended, but what’s really great is that Jesus is now in my heart and I can be happy and fulfilled, and have the peace that passes understanding, and all this while living my comfortable life doing whatever I was going to do anyway.
In Scripture, however, to think in such a way is to not know God. It is to be ignorant of the ways of God.
In Scripture, God’s very character and identity are revealed by a trajectory, a way, a movement, a story. He has a pattern of behavior. And this is a big deal because it reveals who God is and how he is. That is, we do not know God as he is in himself – we know him by what he does—his trajectory, his story.
And in Scripture the death and resurrection of Jesus is used in some surprising ways. It is not something incidental, something that just happens to be part of Jesus’ story but doesn’t mean much. It is what determines everything else—all of reality, in fact—even the very character of God himself.
We have here, then, in these texts, a story—a trajectory, a movement, a direction. We have, in the Bible’s way of talking, the way of the Lord.
We might look at these texts as three acts in a play—three movements in the divine drama. And then our psalm is sort of the flavor of the drama—its color, or perhaps what the divine drama sounds like.
We have the first act in the Acts 17 text. We see here some initial movements, a statement about the way God is, but we have here only a broad outline. When speaking to these Greek philosophers, Paul gives the basic shape of Israel’s story—the biblical story-line. Look at what he says about God: God made…, is not served by human hands…, but gives. This is the story, the trajectory, in embryonic form: God created…, is not served…, but gives.
Then we have a statement about God’s sovereign ordering of all things—but why did he so order things? In order that they might seek after God. That the nations might poke at and prod into reality itself and see that God is the environment in which all people exist. If people would just reach out, God is there, ready and eager to give life.
So, the first act in the drama of Scripture, hinted at by Paul here, is performed by God. Here we see an initial glimpse of God’s trajectory. He created, is not in need of service by humanity, but gives life to all, and delights to save.
Our second text hints at act two in the divine drama. In the second act, we see God’s trajectory in full. This act is performed by Jesus, who comes to perform God before the world, on behalf of the world. The manner in which Jesus performs God is that he comes, dies, is raised, is exalted. This is what it means to be God—this is our God—he comes to his people, his creation, suffers and dies for them, is raised by God, conquers death, and is exalted to the highest place.
The apostles proclaim this message to the world (note the word “proclaim” both in Acts and in 1 Peter). They proclaim Jesus as the revelation of God, which is to talk about his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension.
So, the second act is definitive for the drama. God is such a God who comes to earth as a human, suffers and dies, is raised to life, and ascends as Lord over heaven and earth. And this is the trajectory of God—the way of the Lord, his pattern of behavior, the way he is. Note it again, incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension.
Now, the third act. In this act, we are called to perform the trajectory. God calls us, the body of Christ, to perform this play called God before the audience of the world, on behalf of the world. Not only before it, but for it. We are called to be the incarnation—we perform the trajectory of God in Christ here on earth. And again, the trajectory—incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension.
What is important to note here, and this is Jesus’ point in John 14, where he calls us to love him and obey his commands—what is important is the provision of God for us to perform the trajectory of God on earth. This project is provided for, upheld by, based on, and driven by Jesus’ empowering presence among us.
Look at Jesus’ language: “Spirit in you…, I will come to you…, you will see me…, I in my Father, you in me, I in you.” Why this intensely intimate language?
This trajectory—this drama, called the Way of the Lord—is very threatening! It is a call to death, to die for the world, that the world might know the life and love of God. It is a call to perform the trajectory of Jesus in and for the world—which is scary! So, Jesus’ words are quite comforting at this point—and quite outrageously powerful!
“Perform me before and for the world, and I will come to you…., you will see me! Because this is the very meaning of God—to die for enemies in order to redeem. When you do this, you are in me and I am in you…, and you will see me.”
Our last text, this Psalm, is the voice and sound of the trajectory. What does it feel like to do this—to perform incarnation, death and resurrection? What’s it like to walk in death in the hope of resurrection?
It is slow, painful, ambiguous, awkward, doubt-filled, being crushed…, Paul uses words like, “groaning.” Our spirits groan, creation groans.
Left to ourselves we would not choose this trajectory. Left to ourselves, we would choose another drama—another gospel—an easier one, perhaps an American one, certainly a more comfortable one. But God in his grace, by his Spirit, calls us to the only place where joy can be found—where life can be found. He calls us to death, to share in the death of Jesus for the world. For death is the only avenue to resurrection.
Paradoxically, only in the way of death is there life—the way of death is the way to life and the way of life. This trajectory is called “death in the hope of resurrection”; but also “death and resurrection.”
And what else, according to John, is found in this trajectory? Here we find Jesus himself—“You will see me.”
So this call to die for the sake of the world is not a morbid thing, but a call to really live—a call to join in the very life and love of God himself.