For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.
Isaiah 9:6-7 (NKJV)
Birth of a Conqueror
Christmas celebrates the birth of a mighty conqueror. It is easy to lose sight of this amidst the sights and sounds of the season, and it is not just commercialism and the secular trappings of the holiday that can have this effect. Ubiquitous nativity scenes and carols focused on the baby Jesus can lure us into a kind of sappy sentimentalism that forgets just who this baby was and why He was born in Bethlehem all those years ago. Even many unbelievers join in the holiday spirit, because they don’t find anything threatening about a baby in a manger (though they should). Earlier generations did not forget the truth that Jesus came as a mighty conqueror. This theme finds exquisite expression in John Milton’s poem, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” composed in 1629.
Christmas Victory Over Pagan Gods
Milton’s 27-stanza ode celebrates Christ’s birth as a time of victory over pagan deities in all their forms. The poet provides a veritable catalog of ancient competitors to Christ. He speaks of deities we read about in the Old Testament, such as Baal and Peor and Moloch. He references mythic beings like Nymphs and the gods of Egypt, Libya, and Rome. All of these, Milton proposes, began to be swept aside when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. We get a taste of Milton’s art in a stanza that begins by speaking of the Egyptian god, Osiris, and goes on to mention Typhon, a giant monster in Greek myth. Speaking first of Osiris, Milton writes:
He feels from Juda’s land
The dredded Infants hand,
The rayes of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn;
Nor all the gods beside,
Longer dare abide,
Nor Tryphon huge ending in snaky twine:
Our Babe to show his Godead true,
Can in his swaddling bands controul the damned crew.
The “Godhead true” of baby Jesus exposes as false the pretensions to godhead of all the pagan deities. Even in “his swaddling bands,” Jesus had the full power to “controul the damned crew.” Milton rightly saw in Christmas the victory of Christ over all His competitors.
Christmas Victory Over Satan
Chief among these competitors, of course, is Satan himself. Milton anticipates the perfect bliss that will come with victory over the devil at the last judgment, but he sees that bliss beginning to be realized in Christ’s nativity:
And then at last our bliss
Full and perfect is,
But now begins: for from this happy day
Th’ old Dragon under ground,
In straiter limits bound,
Not half so far casts his usurped sway,
And wrath to see his Kingdom fail,
Swindges the scaly Horrour of his foulded tail.
Jesus was born to vanquish Satan’s kingdom (“his usurped sway”) and to establish the Kingdom of God. This is the testimony of Scripture. Immediately after His baptism, Jesus confronted Satan in the wilderness and wielded the Word of God as a weapon to resist his temptations. When Jesus cast an unclean spirit out of a man in the Capernaum synagogue, the spirit cried out:
“What have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Did you come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24, NKJV).
When Jesus approached the Gadarene demoniacs, the demons cried out:
“What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29)
The demons clearly recognized Jesus for who He was, and they knew He had come to rout them. With every exorcism, Jesus displayed His power over Satan and his forces. When some scribes from Jerusalem accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, He responded:
“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.” (Mark 3:23-27, NKJV)
This is exactly what Jesus was doing – binding Satan and plundering his house. During His earthly ministry, Jesus bound Satan for a thousand years so that he would no longer deceive the nations (cf. Revelation 20:1-3). Milton referred to this when he wrote:
Th’ old Dragon under ground,
In straiter limits bound,
Not half so far casts his usurped sway.
The Ongoing Christmas Conquest
With Satan now bound, the gospel is going forth in power, and people from every nation are coming to faith in Christ. We read in Revelation 20 not only of Satan’s binding in history but also of his fate at the end of history:
The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10, NKJV)
This is where history is headed as Jesus vanquishes the kingdom of Satan and builds the Kingdom of God. This victorious march through history began when Jesus took flesh upon Himself and was born as a baby in Bethlehem. Milton reminded us of the Person and the power of the newborn child in Bethlehem:
Our Babe to shew his Godhead true,
Can in his swaddling bands controul the damned crew.
It is good and right to celebrate the birth of Jesus each year. There is surely a place for nativity scenes and carols about the little baby. But as you see such sights and sing such songs, remember that this baby who looked so helpless was in fact a mighty conqueror born to despoil Satan of his kingdom. He was God the Son come in the flesh to establish an everlasting Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy (Romans 14:17). He is your great King, and you will honor Him this Christmas as you bow before Him in worship and in wonder.
Once again, the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us and our minds are filled with images of pilgrims and pumpkin pie. All across our nation it is a time of family gatherings, feasting, and football. Such celebration can be good and godly, but it can best be these things if we remember the holiday’s origins and truly enter into the spirit of giving thanks. The pilgrims have much to teach us about thanksgiving.
Who were these people we know as the pilgrims? They were Puritans who felt conscience-bound to separate from the Church of England when that church in 1604 demanded strict conformity to the Book of Common Prayer in worship. These Puritans longed for a more thoroughgoing Reformation in order to worship only in ways clearly mandated in Scripture. At first, they worshiped secretly in homes in England, but persecution was on the rise. One such group in the town of Scrooby soon realized that they would have to leave the country in order to worship freely. They went first to Holland, but troubles there signaled time for another move. When the Mayflower set sail for America in 1620, 37 of its 102 passengers were Puritan Separatists from Scrooby that had settled in Holland. Many in the community stayed behind in Holland with their pastor, John Robinson, intending to join their friends and loved ones in America later on.
The two-month trans-Atlantic voyage was often rough and miserable, and things only got worse when they reached the New World in November. They began building their settlement in the midst of a deadly winter, through which only 55 of the 102 passengers survived. Eight children who had come with at least one parent now had none. Of 18 adult women, only four survived. Many reunions planned with those left behind in Holland would now take place only in heaven. It was a bitter beginning.
Spring and summer brought a peace treaty with the Indians, who helped teach the settlers how to farm in the New World. Crops were limited but sufficient for survival when combined with the fruits of foraging and hunting. When the harvest came in, there was a three-day celebration by about 50 settlers and 90 native Americans. It was a time of feasting, recreation, and giving thanks to God for the blessings of the harvest. This celebration is commemorated by our Thanksgiving holiday.
How was it that these settlers could be so thankful after all the tragic losses of the previous year? I suggest it was because they were true pilgrims. They didn’t generally refer to themselves in this way. The closest they came to doing so is a statement by William Bradford in his book, Of Plymouth Plantation:
So they left that goodly and pleasant city [Leyden in Holland] which had been their resting place near twelve years; but they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to heaven, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.
This language echoes that of Hebrews 11.13-14, which speaks of believers as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” who “seek a [heavenly] homeland.” The Separatists from Scrooby were pilgrims in the same way Bunyan’s character, Christian, was a pilgrim. They were pilgrims on earth making their way to the Celestial City. That eternal perspective made it possible for them to experience such great sorrow through the winter and yet emerge thankful for the good things God gave to them.
If we would celebrate Thanksgiving in the spirit of these early settlers, we also should cultivate an identity as pilgrims on earth making our way to the heavenly city. When sorrows come to us, we can know that God is with us in them and that they will not last forever. We can give Him thanks for every good gift He sends our way.
When you gather with your family and friends on Thanksgiving Day, remember these pilgrims and their harvest feast of celebration before God. Review the past year with its blessings and hardships, and reflect on God’s faithfulness to you in it. Offer sincere and specific prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord who is leading you on your pilgrimage. And then, like those pilgrims of old, enjoy the feasting and fun that should characterize your Christian faith.
A few years ago I read an engaging essay by Lauren F. Winner entitled, “The Art Patron: Someone Who Can’t Draw a Straight Line Tries to Defend Her Art-Buying Habit.”In it, she offers an apology for Christians spending money on art even when there are other good ways such money could be used. I appreciate what she says and am sympathetic to her perspective. But one thing about the essay grated on me. She writes, “Granted, there is a strain in Christian theology that is hostile to visual art – that says art is a waste of time, or an indulgence, tantamount to idolatry.” I was nodding in concerned agreement as I quickly turned to the endnote to learn what modern fundamentalist scoundrel she cited to justify this statement. I was shocked to find that the note reads in its entirety, “See John Calvin, InstitutesI.xi.” That raised my Presbyterian hackles. Was Calvin really the enemy of the arts that Ms. Winner implies him to have been? The answer is decidedly, “No.”
That chapter in the Institutes of the Christian Religion is entitled, “It Is Unlawful to Attribute a
Visible Form to God, and Generally Whoever Sets Up Idols Revolts Against the True God.” The
entire section is a critique of idolatry, especially of making visible representations of the invisible God to be used in worship. Calvin pulls no punches in condemning such idolatry, but
he also makes clear that he is not thereby condemning artistic creation per se. He writes:
And yet I am not gripped by the superstition of thinking absolutely no images permissible. But because sculpture and painting are gifts of God, I seek a pure and legitimate use of each, lest those things which the Lord has conferred upon us for his glory and our good be not only polluted by perverse misuse but also turned to our destruction.
In the clearest of terms, Calvin declares the visual arts to be “gifts of God” which He has given us “for his glory and our good.” These are hardly the words of one who “says art is a waste of time, or an indulgence, tantamount to idolatry”! Calvin affirms the goodness of art while warning against its abuse.
The fact is that Reformed theology, historically rooted in Calvin, provides fertile soil in which the arts can thrive. Abraham Kuyper noted this in his Stone Lectures at Princeton in 1898:
[I]f we confess that the world once was beautiful, but by the curse has become undone, and by a final catastrophe is to pass to its full state of glory, excelling even the beautiful of paradise, then art has the mystical task of reminding us in its productions of the beautiful that was lost and of anticipating its perfect coming luster. Now this last-mentioned instance is the Calvinistic confession…. Standing by the ruins of this once so wonderfully beautiful creation, art points out to the Calvinist both the still visible lines of the original plan, and what is even more, the splendid restoration by which the Supreme Artist and Master-Builder will one day renew and enhance even the beauty of His original creation.
Kuyper’s statement doesn’t constitute a full-fledged Christian aesthetic, but it does demonstrate how Calvinistic thinking comports with a very positive view of the arts.
Writers of the Calvinian school have been among the most active in modern times in developing and promoting Christian aesthetic concerns in evangelical circles. In this regard, one can cite Reformed scholars such as Hans Rookmaaker (Modern Art and the Death of a Culture), Calvin Seerveld (Rainbows for the Fallen World), and Nicholas Wolterstorff (Art in Action: Towards a Christian Aesthetic). At the popular level, Francis Schaeffer (Art and the Bible) powerfully challenged Christians to have an interest in art and to be supportive of artists. I suspect that, directly or indirectly, Ms. Winner’s appreciation of art as a Christian owes a debt to such heirs of John Calvin.
We certainly want to acknowledge that debt and live up to our heritage when it comes to the arts at Covenant Presbyterian Church. We reject Art (with a capital “A”) as a religion unto itself, but we affirm the arts as an arena in which we can honor God and bless those made in his image.
To that end, our Reformation Conference this year will be dedicated to the theme, “The Reformation and the Arts.” Musician/pastor/author Kemper Crabb will speak about how the Reformation provided liberation for art to flourish. And he will share his own artistic gifts with us through a musical concert on Sunday night. Please plan to join us with our special guest, Kemper Crabb, on Sunday, October 27th.
Covenant Presbyterian Church is pleased to host Kemper Crabb in concert on Sunday, October 27th at 5 PM. The concert is part of our celebration of “The Reformation and the Arts” and is free and open to all.
Kemper has written of his vision as a Christian artist:
All of creation is the Ultimate, Ongoing Work of Art. God is the Ultimate Artist, and we, created in His Image, make Art that, like everything else, reveals God. It is also true that, as Christians called to be artists, we are specifically called to utilize our gift … in such a way that men see God, His Glory, more clearly in Creation, and are thus affected by that vision.
Kemper Crabb has more than four decades of experience as a Christian musician. His first band, Redemption, released an album in 1974 that exemplifies the “Jesus Music” of that era. Redemption evolved to become ArkAngel whose Tolkien-influenced 1980 album, Warrior, is considered a classic by believers and non-believers alike. In 1982, Kemper blended Medieval and Celtic themes on The Vigil.
From the 1990’s on, Kemper has been actively performing and recording. Among a number of releases are two Christmas albums: A Medieval Christmas (1996) and Downe in Yon Forrest (2009). The latter is the soundtrack for his Christmas concert broadcast on PBS. He has performed and recorded with the bands Caedmon’s Call and Atomic Opera. His 2010 album, Reliquarium: Future Hymns from the Ancient World, was produced to honor and raise funds for his father’s missionary work.
A solo performance by Kemper Crabb is a rare treat, and we hope you’ll join us!
Church Address: 3720 N. Highland Ave., Jackson, TN 38305
Beginning Sunday, September 8th, our Sunday School time for children in grades 1-6 will be devoted to a Communicants Class. In the Presbyterian Church, children of members are considered non-communicant members until they make a profession of faith before the elders of the church. Upon approval by the Session, they become communicant members who may partake of the Lord’s Supper.
It is a joy to see covenant children come to the place in their lives where they can make a profession of personal faith in Christ and be admitted to the Lord’s Table. This is an important event in the life of each child for which he or she should be prepared. Our denomination’s Book of Church Order addresses this in a way that can provide helpful guidance for parents and elders to work together in the nurture of covenant children. Here are some excerpts:
When [believers’ children within the Visible Church] are able to understand the Gospel, they should be earnestly reminded that they are members of the Church by birthright, and that it is their duty and privilege personally to accept Christ, to confess Him before men, and to seek admission to the Lord’s Supper. (57-1)
The time when young persons come to understand the Gospel cannot be precisely fixed. This must be left to the prudence of the Session, whose office it is to judge, after careful examination, the qualifications of those who apply for admission to sealing ordinances. (57-2)
The Westminster Shorter Catechism speaks to the prerequisites for taking communion:
Q. 97 What is required to the worthy receiving of the Lord’s supper?
A. It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord’s supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord’s body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves.
Another element in becoming a communicant member is the taking of membership vows. A child must be able to profess these vows with understanding and a commitment to keep them.
When we put all this together, we begin to get a picture of what is expected of children as they make a profession of faith. They must have an understanding of the gospel as well as a credible testimony to embracing the gospel through personal faith in Jesus Christ. They should demonstrate an ability to examine their own lives in order to recognize and repent of sin. They should also be able to understand and meaningfully affirm the vows of church membership. While it is understood that a child will not be able to articulate all these things in the same way as an adult, he or she should nevertheless be able to do so credibly in an age-appropriate way. The elders suggest parents are in the best position to determine when they believe their child is ready to take this step.
Our Communicants Class will be taught by Pastor Steven and his wife, Allegra, and will review the gospel and the basic teachings of the Christian faith using the Bible and the First Catechism. Each week, review sheets will be sent home so parents can help their children become grounded in these important truths. Our hope is that this will help children who have faith in Christ to be able to understand and articulate that faith.
Any child who wishes to become a communicant member must be examined by the Session. Completion of this class does not obligate a child to pursue communicant membership at that time nor does it guarantee a child will be approved by the Session. Nevertheless, the class will hopefully be one more means of covenant nurture for the children that participate as they prepare one day to make personal professions of faith and become communicant members of the church. May God bless all avenues of covenant nurture in our families and church so that our children grow up to be faithful men and women of God.
Parents with questions about the Communicants Class or communicant membership are encouraged to speak with Pastor Steven.
“Rivers of water run down from my eyes, because men do not keep Your law.” (Psalm 119.136)
It is not hard to discern that we live in an age of shaky moral standards. From entertainment to advertising to news stories, we are confronted with images and messages that challenge Biblical morality. The murder of unborn babies is justified in the name of choice. Immigrants are vilified in the name of patriotism. Sexual mores have been cast aside in the name of personal freedom. Greed and oppression are justified in the name of capitalism. How are we as Christians to respond when people around us reject the principles of God’s law?
One possible response is to rally the troops so we can loudly and publicly denounce all that we perceive to be ungodly. We can take to the streets with slogans on banners and fists in the air. There is no doubt that this approach yields results. The media love to focus their cameras on the faces of angry Christians and to thrust their microphones before those who are ranting and raving. The louder and loonier you are, the easier it is to get attention. Yet, is this what God would have us do?
The psalmist points us in a different direction with the testimony, “Rivers of water run down from my eyes, because men do not keep Your law.” Why was weeping his response to the law-breaking of others? Why was he not satisfied simply to keep the law himself? The answer is that he was filled with a profound love for God and neighbor, which is what Jesus said the law was all about (Matthew 22.37-40).
If you really love someone, you take offense when others treat him with dishonor. God is the great lawgiver, and His law is an expression of His character of holiness, justice, righteousness, and love. When men and women ignore that law, they are thumbing their noses at the Lawgiver (whether they realize it or not). The psalmist’s love for God causes him to grieve when others don’t give God the honor He is due.
If you really love someone, you also want the best for her. God is our Creator, who knows what is best for us and has revealed that in His revelation in Scripture. When our neighbor is defying God’s law, she is missing out on the blessings that God has in store for her. The psalmist’s love for neighbor causes him to weep when others aren’t experiencing the benefits that attend obedience to their Creator.
We can learn some important lessons from the author of Psalm 119. The next time someone who is defying God’s law gets your attention, ask yourself a few questions before you respond. Is my primary concern in this situation the honor of God? Will my response be motivated by genuine love for the one with whom I disagree? I fear that if we were honest, we’d have to say that the answers to these questions would oftentimes be “No.” It is all too easy to act out of self-interest that is perceived (often justly) as self-righteousness. We can be consumed with concern for our own honor (not God’s) and love for self (not neighbor).
This is not to say that it is never appropriate to take a public stand on moral issues of the day. Love can require this! But how we express ourselves is all-important. We should always and only do so with weeping. That may or may not involve literal tears, but that image should express the disposition of hearts driven by genuine love for God and others. It may not put us in the headlines, but we are far more likely to have a positive moral impact in society if we lead with love and not anger. If we never take time for tears, then the most productive thing we can probably do is remain silent and pray that God would soften our hearts.
“What did you get for Christmas?” That was a question I heard many times as a child each year in the days following December 25th. It invited a rehearsal of all the gifts I had received in my Christmas stocking and around the Christmas tree, and I was more than happy to respond with a litany of my Christmas loot. After all, I had been anticipating the annual rite of ripping into the wrapping paper for many months. Finally, items from my wish list were really mine to own, enjoy, and talk about. It sure is fun to receive gifts!
My good friend, Tom, used to tweak the typical post-Christmas interrogation by asking a slightly different question: “What did you give for Christmas?” He would not place any emphasis on the word “give,” and quite often people would misunderstand and respond with a list of things they had received. Tom would smile, interrupt the excited recital, and say, “I didn’t ask what you got for Christmas. I asked what you gave for Christmas.” He didn’t do this to play the part of Scrooge but to challenge folks to find joy in the other side of the gift exchange equation.
I, for one, appreciated Tom’s gentle challenge. To be sure, I like to receive gifts and am still known to compile a wish list as Christmas approaches. But I’ve found increasing joy in giving gifts at Christmas and on other occasions. Gift giving is quite an art. To be done well, it requires really knowing the recipient and reflecting on what would be meaningful to him or her. Such gift giving is not perfunctory; it is an expression of love and friendship. “Success” is found in the expression of joy on the recipient’s face that says the gift was well chosen (or at least that the attempt was appreciated!).
The world tries to commercialize Christmas, making the exchange of gifts a veritable sacrament of capitalism. We’re told that we need to spend a lot, since the price of a gift is supposed to be a measure of its worth. To that I say, “Bah, humbug!” We can give without breaking the bank, when giving is an expression of love based in knowledge of the beloved.
As Christians, we know that God gave the greatest gift ever when He sent His Son into the world to be born in Bethlehem. At Christmas, we commemorate the birth of our Savior – surely a cause for festivity and the festive exchange of gifts. As that day approaches, let us look forward to it with joyful anticipation. But let us be careful that ours not be a materialistic joy rooted only in what we expect others to give to us. Let our gift exchange be a true celebration of the gift of our Savior and not an expression of the worst aspects of capitalism.
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20.35). With that in mind and in homage to my late friend, Tom, I ask: “So what are you going to give this Christmas?”
Dr. W. Duncan Rankin will be our speaker at this year’s Reformation Conference, focusing on the Scottish Reformation. Read this full post for details and schedule.Continue reading
Fifty years after the death of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., there is still value in reflecting upon his dream. That dream was perhaps expressed most memorably in his speech during the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” on August 28, 1963. To several hundred thousand gathered at the Lincoln Memorial (and to President Kennedy watching the live television broadcast), Dr. King shared his hopeful vision of justice and equality in our land. It was a defining moment of the civil rights movement. It was also an address steeped in Biblical language that directs us to consider the implications of the Kingdom of God for church and culture.
In its historical context of long-standing discrimination and simmering racial tension, Dr. King’s vision was bold and filled with hope:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
King set his plea in the context of American history, appealing to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. But he drew on more than our nation’s political heritage in his oratory. The third generation Baptist minister found words in Scripture, especially the prophetic tradition, to express both discontent with present injustice and hope for better things to come. King echoed Amos, declaring, “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” (cf. Amos 5:24). And he drew from Isaiah 40:4-5 to express his vision in Biblical terms:
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with…. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
Martin Luther King’s dream was truly one of Biblical proportions.
Over 1900 years before Dr. King’s speech, Luke the evangelist quoted the same verses from Isaiah 40 when introducing John the Baptizer (Luke 3:4-6). He understood John as paving the way for Jesus to come and fulfill prophecy, and he tells us that Jesus himself quoted Isaiah when reading aloud in the synagogue at Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me … to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19, NKJV).
Throughout his gospel, Luke shows Jesus’ special concern for the poor and the oppressed. In accord with the ancient prophetic vision, Jesus was ushering in a Kingdom that would be marked by justice and righteousness. And all in that Kingdom are called to love their neighbors and pursue such justice.
Dr. King’s dream is rooted in Scriptural promise that ultimately will only be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God, but that doesn’t mean Christians are exempt from pursuing that dream now. In Jesus, the Kingdom of God broke into history and is now growing toward fulfillment. We are called to embrace a Kingdom vision now and to live by Kingdom values now – the kind of values that promote equality, racial harmony, and care for the downtrodden. The world should be able to look at the church and see it leading the way in matters of racial harmony and social justice. Within the church, King’s dream of racial reconciliation and equal treatment should be a present reality because that is what Jesus’ Kingdom demands. And as more and more hearts and minds are changed by the gospel, we should see Kingdom values increasingly infusing our culture and showing the power of Christ to accomplish what worldly politics has failed to achieve.
Thankfully, we have made positive strides as a nation in the direction of realizing Dr. King’s dream. The two terms served by an African-American man in the White House are proof of that. But only someone whose eyes are blinded to reality would think that we’ve fully achieved a “beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” The vestiges of racism linger, even sometimes within the church. There is still a long way to go. Perhaps the anniversary of Dr. King’s death can be a time when we, as Christians, reflect upon the call of the Kingdom of God on our lives and commit ourselves afresh to working to make the Biblical dream come true.
Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen…. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s as His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the Kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15.12-13, 20-26, NKJV)
The Apostle Paul recognized the cosmic significance of the resurrection of Christ. As he reflects upon the historical reality of that event in 1 Corinthians 15, his mind can’t help but race ahead to the consummation of all things. His rumination on the first Easter morning lead him inexorably to the Second Coming of Christ when Jesus delivers the Kingdom to His Father, definitively defeats death for all eternity, and is joined in resurrection glory by all who belong to Him.
Old Princeton theologian Geerhardus Vos captures well the place of Jesus’ resurrection in God’s grand plan of redemption in his sermon entitled, “Rabboni.” Reflecting on Jesus’ first moments after being raised from the dead, Vos declares:
The time was as solemn and majestic as that of the first creation when light burst out of chaos and darkness. Heaven and earth were concerned in this event; it was the turning point of the ages. Nor was this merely objectively so: Jesus felt himself the central figure in this new-born universe, he tasted the exquisite joy of one who had just entered upon an endless life in the possession of new powers and faculties such as human nature had never known before.
When Jesus rose from the dead, a new cosmic age began. He through whom the universe was originally created (John 1.1-3), became now “the central figure in this new-born universe.” As the Apostle recognized, that first Easter was the beginning of a new creation — a new creation that will reach its consummation when Christ returns in glory.
In Christ, we are citizens of His Kingdom and children of the new creation. Even now we taste of resurrection life:
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8.11, NKJV)
Paul is talking here about present reality for the Christian. Right now, the spiritual life of the new creation is our possession. And when Christ returns, this which has begun will be consummated in our physical resurrections. We will be radically transformed and glorified even as the universe is transformed and glorified into a new heavens and a new earth. As we look forward to that day with great anticipation, let ups remember that it will be but the outworking of “the turning point of the ages” that took place when Jesus emerged triumphant from the tomb.
Our celebration of Easter can surely be enriched by this new creation perspective. When we understand that the resurrection exists in past, present, and future tenses, our hearts can be filled with the greatest joy as we declare to one another, “He is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”