I am reading NT Wright’s biography on the Apostle Paul currently and once again in awe of Wright’s grasp of 1st Century Judaism. He talks about the conversion of Saul and walks the reader through what “preaching” really was in that day (which is far different from what we have in our minds today), along with expectation and LACK of expectation among the Jews about the coming of Messiah.
“Not all Jews in this period, so far as we can tell, believed in a coming messiah in the first place.”
I think about this in Advent. A few days ago I was preaching in a church that is evangelical in practice so I took the passages from the Second Sunday of Advent and used them to talk about Advent, the coming of Christ, and the second coming of Christ. In the course of my message I mentioned that this Advent season my heart was more focused on the Second Coming of Christ and my main desire was not “escape” from this world but to gaze on the One my soul loves. Put simply, I just want to SEE Jesus!
As with any time I might preach on the Second Coming in some way, I get a few different reactions. After the service was over, one older man shook my head and said in a broken voice, “I fear for our country.”
It was more in the way I’ve heard it before in fundamentalist churches who believe in the Rapture. It’s more of, “The communists are taking over and we’re all going to be doomed!” (“We” being “Bible-believing” Christians.”)
The next day another man from the church called me to thank me for coming and then said, “I had never really thought of the Second Coming in the way you framed it. You want to GAZE on Jesus. You want to SEE him face to face.”
Outside of the “rapture” framework, it’s hard to imagine WHY you go to heaven, other than escape communists, Marxists, and the “woke” crowd, I guess.
Reflecting on reactions from my message and then on Paul’s predicament in his day, I am once again reminded that what each of have in mind of some concept of Jesus has the possibility of being deeply flawed. I held a deeply flawed view of “rapture” and the “end times” for a good deal of my life. How I saw Jesus was a bit warped from just that slice of theological misunderstanding.
In our current state of the White American Church, it occurs to me we are very much like 1st Century Jews listening to Paul shout out, “Jesus IS the Messiah! He IS the One! Let’s follow him!”
There are people who “believe” who have their own theological misunderstandings and are looking in the wrong directions for what “Jesus” really is, or what his Second Coming may be all about.
I jettisoned the white Republican Jesus quite awhile back, but that doesn’t mean everyone else around me did the same. We’re all struggling along with theological understandings that truly need some serious re-calibration. We have become so set in our white American flag waving Jesus, we’ve lost sight of the One who is our King, who loves us, and who longs to have the Kingdom formed in us in a deeper way than we can imagine.
Those old theological images are being challenged and too many are not understanding the work of the Spirit.
We need Advent. We need to sit and ponder. We need to come before our King and just SIT. May this Advent season see a deep work of the Spirit that will bring a refreshing change to the white American church in the year to come.
One can hope.