God Gives the Messiah Hope

September 19, 2019

When Jesus was anointed with the Spirit at his baptism, the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness in order to be tested. When the disciples finally confessed Jesus as the Messiah, they were shocked to hear that now Jesus must suffer and die before the glory of the kingdom comes into the world.

At the moment when Jesus turns his face toward Jerusalem and his eventual death, he takes three disciples—Peter, James, and John—onto a high mountain to pray. The disciples, however, sleep, and ultimately Peter says or does something awkward.  These particulars anticipate what will happen in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus will go there to pray, take these same three disciples with him, and they will sleep while he prays, and Peter will say and do something awkward. Jesus now climbs this mountain in order to pray and prepare himself for the coming trials that will test his commitment to the mission of God.

At the same time, this moment on the mountain anticipates his resurrection and ascension into glory. Two figures appear with Jesus, a cloud appears, and glory surrounds Jesus. The glory of this transfiguration, this metamorphosis, is the glory of the resurrection, ascension, and the second coming of King Jesus. Suffering, though necessary, is not Jesus’s final destiny. 

When God transfigures Jesus, the appearance of Jesus changes. Though, in the present, he lived in an Adamic, dying body, his transfigured appearance was one of future glory, the glory of the resurrected Christ. This was a proleptic event in the life of Jesus. In other words, it was the experience of his future glory in the present, the experience of the glory of his resurrection, ascension, and future second coming. In answer to his prayer, the Father encouraged the Son to complete the mission. Jesus is assured that the cross will not be the final act in God’s drama, and the grave will not have the last say.

The transfiguration is a foretaste of the future. Though he will suffer, Jesus will rise again. Though the creation, including human bodies, is bound over to decay, the resurrection of Jesus promises a different future for the creation. The kingdom of God will, one day, fully come. It came in prospect on the Mount of Transfiguration; it came through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; and it will fulyl appear when Jesus returns again.

We stand where the disciples stood. We anticipate death but hope for glory. We lose our lives in order to save them. We follow Jesus to the cross, and we hope for the resurrection. We give up the whole world in order to follow Jesus that we might gain it in the kingdom of God. We believe in the promise of God, we follow Jesus as his disciples, and we wait in the patience of the Holy Spirit for a new heaven and a new earth.

His transfiguration not only promised Jesus a future. His future is our future, and ultimately his transfiguration is our transfiguration as our resurrection bodies will be just like his. Death will not win, and the graves will be emptied. That was the hope of Jesus, and it is our hope as well.


Why I Stay

September 19, 2019

“I imagine I was as thoroughly socialized and spiritually formed by churches of Christ as a person could be, though I was not alone. I shared this ethos with many friends and family. This was my home, and I felt at home. I still feel at home.” (Searching for the Pattern, pp. 62-63.)

Why do I stay?

I love my home despite its flaws. I love the shared confession of the Creator who sent the Messiah into the world and sent the Spirit into our hearts. I love the relationships. I love my historic heritage. And I could say more.

At the same time, I understand why some leave and find community elsewhere. Some have left because they have been excluded or abused, or they are simply exhausted. God bless them, and may God use them wherever they find a community of faith.

I stay to continue the journey of communal sanctification in love, kindness, and hope. I embrace and pursue hope because I believe in the God of hope.


The Messiah Begins the Journey to the Cross

September 16, 2019

The ministry of Jesus generated widespread speculation about his identity. Was he the resurrected John the Baptizer? Or, Elijah? Or, another prophet in the long line of prophets? There was no consensus, but many believed God was doing something through Jesus.

Jesus, however, is most interested in what his disciples think. They had, no doubt, pondered this question many times, and at a key moment in the ministry Jesus, when Jesus is turning his face toward Jerusalem and his death, Peter confessed, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29). It is a bold statement; it is a political statement. It is about the reign of God in the world. God’s anointed king was on the earth. That was dangerous language in the context of imperial Roman occupation, and many claimants to the title had already been executed in the past couple of generations. Peter’s confession is courageous, but Jesus immediately silences him. The message is too provocative, and the time for Jesus’s public witness as Messiah had not yet come. The messianic secret must still be kept.

At once, however, we see a contrast between Jesus’s understanding of his messianic mission and Peter’s take on it. Peter sees glory without suffering; perhaps he sees a great military overthrow of Roman oppression and the imminent enthronement of Jesus as king in Jerusalem. If Jesus can command the demons, death, and waves of the sea, he can certainly defeat the Romans. Peter’s understanding, however, is Satanic. It is the way of violence rather than self-giving love. The political order—the way of sinful humanity—pursues violent means for safety and preservation, but God will secure peace and justice through the suffering of Jesus.

 Jesus understands that there can be no glory without suffering. The Son of Man, the one who ultimately triumphs over the enemies of God, must first suffer death before he experiences resurrection glory. The reign of God comes through suffering rather than military conquest. The cross comes before the crown.

To follow Jesus—to become a disciple—is to deny ourselves and bear a cross. Too often we trivialize this language and tend to think of the cross as only the symbol of love and reconciliation that it has become in the history of Christianity. But in Roman occupied Palestine, it was a symbol of horror, pain, and shame. Using the word cross, Jesus pointed to the manner of his own death.

Following Jesus involves a willingness to suffer for the sake of the kingdom of God. Following Jesus means taking up a cross–putting that crossbeam on our backs–and dying with Jesus. To take up the cross means to follow Jesus to a cross. If we followed Jesus into the water, we must also follow him to a cross. The ministry of Jesus has now turned a corner. His disciples confess him as the Messiah, and Jesus begins to tell those disciples how this will mean his suffering and death. They can’t fathom that, but Jesus knows what lies ahead. After several years of ministry among the Jews in Galilee, Jesus now turns his face toward Jerusalem where death awaits him.


Pledging Allegiance to the Messiah’s Kingdom – The Lord’s Prayer

September 12, 2019

The Sermon on the Mount is the epitome of Kingdom ethics and discipleship.

The sermon opens with the Beatitudes, which begin and end with a promise that the blessed belong to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3, 10). The Sermon ends with a promise that those who “do the will of the Father” will “enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). At heart of the sermon is the call to “seek first the kingdom and its righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Near the center of his sermon Jesus provides a model prayer for kingdom people. Some call it “the Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” From at least the late first century, some disciples of Jesus have prayed this prayer three times a day (Didache 8:2-3). As a daily prayer, it functions not only as a petition for God’s care, it also as a daily pledge of allegiance.

In the prayer, we address the Creator as one who is both intimate in relationship with us and transcendent beyond us. The Creator is “our Father, who is in heaven.”

In the first half of the prayer, we commit ourselves to the transcendent God.  We pledge allegiance to the divine name, will, and kingdom. We have no other allegiance. This is the heart of worship itself–a loyalty that transcends everything else in our lives and orders the whole of our lives under God’s reign.  Anything else is idolatry. We call upon God to act so as to sanctify God’s name, accomplish God’s will, and bring the divine kingdom to the earth.

At the same time that we ask the Creator to enact the divine agenda, we also commit ourselves to become the instruments of that work. We pray for the sanctification of the name, the accomplishment of the will, and the inbreaking of the kingdom but our prayer is no mere passive wait.  Rather, we pursue those goals as proactive agents of the name, will, and kingdom of God. Empowered by God, we commit to cooperate with God’s work to bring heaven to earth.

To pray this prayer is to subordinate our agendas and desires to God’s kingdom. We acknowledge that God’s will rather than our own is primary. We pledge allegiance to God’s kingdom rather than to the kingdoms of this world. We seek the will of God.

The prayer, however, is not simply about our allegiance to God, but it is also a testimony of God’s commitment (yes, even allegiance) to us. God is present to us in our daily lives. The last three petitions assume God’s benevolence for us and claim God’s promises of daily sustenance, reconciliation (or forgiveness), and power against the evil one.  God is for us, and God will not abandon us.

God feeds us, forgives us, and protects us. We need the divine gift of life (physical, emotional, spiritual), and we need the divine power that overcomes the evil one. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer God’s promise is renewed in our lives–God will sustain us in all our needs whether it concerns bread, sin, or spiritual warfare.

At the same time, when we receive these gifts we are also obligated to share them with others.  When we pray for bread, we commit to share the bread God gives.  When we pray for forgiveness, we commit to forgive others.  When we pray for protection, we commit to protect others.

The Lord’s Prayer, prayed daily with purpose and commitment, will transform us. Through this prayer, we acknowledge God’s transcendence, commit ourselves to God’s agenda, and embrace a new way of living in the world that conforms to God’s will, honor God’s name, and manifest God’s kingdom. Through this prayer, we trust in God’s daily provisions for our lives, receive God’s forgiveness as we forgive others, and embrace God’s protection against the evil one. Through this prayer, we pledge our allegiance to God, and we remember God’s pledge to us.


The Messiah Confronts the Reign of Satan

September 9, 2019

Jesus did not pursue his ministry alone. He discipled twelve apostles, and he also sent seventy-two disciples into surrounding villages to further the Messianic mission.

When Jesus sent out the seventy-two, he told them (Luke 10:9), “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you’.”

During his life, Jesus called others alongside him to participate in the mission of God, and Jesus still calls disciples to continue his ministry. Just as Jesus declared the message that the “kingdom of God is near” (which is the “good news of the kingdom”) and healed the sick (which is reversing the curse), his disciples follow him into the world to announce the nearness of the kingdom and to participate in the reversal of the curse. Disciples proclaim the good news of the kingdom and heal the sick.

Healing the sick is but one example of the kingdom’s presence.  Doctors, nurses and medical professionals, as healers, are instruments of the kingdom of God.  Environmental scientists, protecting and presevering the environment, are also instruments. Educators, dispelling ignorance and equipping students for responsible living, are instruments of the kingdom of God. Social workers, seeking social justice among the oppressed and neglected, are instruments of the kingdom of God. And the list could go on. And all disciples announce the good news of the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God, and disciples also make disciples.

At the same time, as disciples of Jesus, our careers should serve the ends of the kingdom of God. We do not pursue our careers for the sake of money, greed, and power.  Rather, our vocations–whether medicine, law, education, or service industries–serve the kingdom of God in the world. Disciples recognize this as part of the good news of the kingdom.  Disciples proclaim the reality of God through their careers and by those careers enact the good news of the kingdom. And they announce the forgiveness of sins and seek to make more disciples.

When the disciples returned, excited by their success, Jesus celebrated their joy by saying (Luke 10:18), “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

When the curse is reversed–when the poor receive good news, the blind see, the oppressed get justice, sinners are forgiven, and prisoners are released–Satan falls. Satan is crushed by the heel of the kingdom of God. Satan falls every time the kingdom is breaks into the world, whether in the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation among people groups, the healing of the sick, or the liberation of the oppressed. Satan falls whenever and wherever the curse is reversed.

Disciples of Jesus know their mission is about reconciliation—the reconciliation of God with humanity, the reconciliation of people groups within humanity, and the reconciliation of humanity with the creation. The mission of Jesus is about how the kingdom of God breaks into the present to reverse the curse and renew blessing–to heal and bless all nations. Every victory now anticipates the future; every victory is a promise of the future. Satan is falling, and that is good news.


Tidbits on Women from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the History of Churches of Christ (4)

September 6, 2019

These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.

Hebrew Bible

When Nehemiah finished building the wall, he appointed gatekeepers to watch over the entrances to the city and Levitical singers to serve in the temple (Nehemiah 7:1). Most of these singers were descendants of Asaph, who was one of the leading musicians and a prophet from the time of David (1 Chronicles 16:7; 2 Chronicles 29:30) as well as the author of several Psalms (50 and 73, for example). The Levitical singers, including Asaph’s descendants, led the worship of Israel (2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15).

Nehemiah’s singers numbered two hundred and forty-five, and they included “both male and female” (Nehemiah 7:67). Women were part of the Levitical choir that led the worship of Israel at the temple. In other words, women were on the praise team!

New Testament

Why did God incarnate as a male? That is a good question.

Perhaps we don’t really know. Nevertheless, given that God decided to become human, God must become a particular human. That is, God must dwell in the flesh in a particular geographical location, as a particular ethnicity, and as a particular sex. But the point is not that God in the flesh represents only male Jews who live in Palestine but that God in the flesh represents all humans. The incarnate Christ is the image of God, and we are all being conformed to the image of Christ whether male or female, whether Jew or Gentile, whether slave or free. The particularity of the incarnation, necessary for authentic existence as a human being, does not limit its meaning for all human beings.

Nevertheless, whatever reasons we might assign to God’s incarnation as a male, they do not imply that only males are gifted for leadership any more than God’s incarnation as a Jew implies that only Jews are gifted for leadership. Jesus, as human, represents all human beings.

History

In 1848, John R. Howard published what became a popular and influential sermon entitled “The Church of Christ Identified.” He listed the “original marks” of the true church, including such things as Christ as founder, no creed but the Bible, terms of admission (faith, repentance, confession, baptism), and weekly Lord’s supper. Interestingly, one of the marks “of the true church of Christ” was that it would be organized  with “certain officers,” including “1. Bishops, or elders; 2. Deacons and deaconesses, 3. Evangelists.”

Howard was not alone but stating a common orthopraxy among congregations in the early Restoration Movement (or, Stone-Campbell Movement). Other advocates for deaconesses included Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Tolbert Fanning, Robert Richardson, Robert Milligan, Moses Lard, J. M. Barnes, E. G. Sewell, C. R. Nichol, G. C. Brewer, J. Ridley Stroop, and J. D. Thomas. This was a strong tradition within the Restoration Movement in the nineteenth century, but it died out in the early 20th century even though some prominent ministers thought it was an approved office in the church.

Why did it die out? The influence of David Lipscomb and J. W. McGarvey weighed heavily as they understood only men could serve as such. The rise of women’s suffrage and the emergence of the “New Woman” movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries probably shaped the response of churches who were threatened by those movements. They circled the wagons and excluded women from the diaconate.

Yet, the church has always been filled with women deaconesses even if they were not permitted to wear the name. Churches may not have honored the office, but God still gave the gift.


Did Jesus Preach the Gospel?

September 5, 2019

Did Jesus preach the gospel? Yes and No. It depends on what one means by “gospel.”

For many, the gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus. If that is what we mean by gospel, then Jesus did not publicly preach the gospel. It was only in the last months of his third year of ministry that Jesus even talked about his death and resurrection, and then it was only with his closest disciples (Matthew 16; Luke 9; Mark 9).

But, according to the Gospels, Jesus did preach the gospel; that is, Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom of God (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1; or “good news of God” in Mark 1:14-15).  Indeed, his messianic mission was “to preach the gospel to the poor” (Matthew 11:10; Luke 4:18; 7:22).

But if the gospel in the Gospels is not the death and resurrection of Jesus, what is the “gospel of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43)? It is the announcement that the kingdom is coming, that the kingdom of God has come near, and that the reign of God is breaking into the world to transform it. The good news of the kingdom is that heaven is coming to earth.

When the kingdom comes, people are reconciled to God, the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the marginalized are included, the oppressed are liberated, and sins are forgiven. The good news of the kingdom is the arrival of heaven such that the will of God is done on earth just as it is in heaven.  This is the good news or the gospel that Jesus announced.

Some think social action or reconciliation among human beings is the epitome of kingdom work, and others stress the forgiveness of sins or reconciliation with God is the fundamental proclamation of the church.

The ministry of Jesus models a both/and rather than either/or.  The following texts from the Gospels illustrate how it is a both/and.

  • Matthew 4:23: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people.” 
  • Matthew 10:7-8: “As you go, proclaim the good news: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons.”
  • Luke 9:2, 6: “He sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and heal the sick . . . they went out and traveled from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing everywhere.” 

Kingdom ministry heals the sick and reconciles people to God and each other. The proclamation of the kingdom of God identifies those gifts as the good news of the kingdom of God.

Did Jesus preach the gospel?  Yes, he did! He preached the good news of the kingdom of God. But Jesus not only preached the gospel, he also enacted the gospel. He healed diseases, raised the dead, drove out demons, reconciled people, forgave sin, and included the marginalized.

This is the essence of the message and ministry of Jesus, and it is our ministry also.


Tidbits on women from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the History of Churches of Christ (3)

September 3, 2019

These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.

Hebrew Bible

Psalm 68 celebrates the movement of Israel from Egypt (v. 7) to Sinai (v. 8) and then victory in Canaan (vv. 9-14) whereupon God ascends to the throne on Mount Zion (vv. 15-18).

Paul uses Psalm 68 to describe the ascension and enthronement of Jesus in Ephesians 4:8. Jesus, released from the grave, ascended to the throne and gave gifts to the church through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 68:11 reads: “The Lord gives the command; great is the company of those who bore the tidings.” In the ancient Greek translation, the word “bore the tidings” is the same word as in the New Testament that describes “preaching the gospel” (euaggelizomenoi). They preached the good news.

In Hebrew, unlike in the Greek translation, that word is feminine. In other words, the Psalm envisions a great company of women who declare the good news! In the light of Paul’s application of Psalm 68 to the ascension of Christ, we may hear an echo of the gifting of women to preach the gospel.

New Testament

Why did Jesus choose only male apostles? This is a good and important question.

It seems rather obvious that twelve is a number that reflects Israel’s twelve patriarchs, the twelve sons of Jacob. Twelve male apostles underscores continuity with Israel and also the renewal of Israel.

The twelve apostles were free Jewish men, and the apostleship before Pentecost was limited to those categories. However, Pentecost changed this. While the twelve retained a unique honor in the Christian community, after Pentecost the gifting of apostles, prophets, and evangelists (preachers of the gospel) also extended to slave as well as free, Gentile as well as Jew, and women as well as men. The pouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, enlarged the community of gifted leadership from free Jewish men to even enslaved Gentile women.

The gifts given to the church in Ephesians 4 include apostles (Junia was an apostle, Romans 16:7), prophets (Philip’s daughters were prophets, Acts 21:9), and women preached the gospel (the men and women who were scattered went preaching the word, Acts 8:2-4).

Pentecost shifted the dynamics. Those once excluded were now included, and those once unchosen were now chosen. Slaves, Gentiles, and women were now empowered and gifted to participate in the mission of God.

History

C. R. Nichol, a renowned and beloved conservative among Churches of Christ, published an important book in 1938 entitled God’s Woman.

Nichol advocated for female deacons from 1 Timothy 3, underscored that women prayed and prophesied (taught!) in the public assembly of the church in 1 Corinthians 11, and affirmed that women have the right to teach men in a Bible class when the church gathered. While he also taught a kind of patriarchy, he did not believe this eliminated the female voice from the assembly or excluded them from teaching men.

His book, with a few exceptions, was well-received. But its views did not win out in the end, and most Churches of Christ silenced the female voice in the assembly and in teaching men (including, teaching eleven year old baptized males).


The Messiah Ministers to Israel

September 2, 2019

Coming out of the wilderness and entering into Galilee, Jesus, filled with the Spirit, began to teach and heal the sick. He returned to the synagogue in Nazareth to introduce his Messianic mission to his hometown.

Unrolling the scroll, he found the place in Isaiah 61 and read it (Luke 4:18-19).

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Rolling the scroll back up and handing it to the attendant, Jesus boldly declared (Luke 4:21b): “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Isaiah’s message described the mission of Jesus. He is God’s anointed, and his messianic mission is to bring “good news” or, the gospel, to the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. His mission has economic, social, and spiritual implications. Through Jesus, God will liberate all who are enslaved by the present evil age. It is a time of divine favor and grace.  

In the language of Israel, it is Jubilee! What Jubilee should have meant to Israel throughout its history breaks into the world through the ministry of Jesus.  Jubilee means that prisoners are released, the poor get good news through debt release, the sick are healed, and the oppressed are liberated from their bondage. Jubilee has arrived in the person of Jesus who proclaims that the reign of God has come near.

At a “big picture” level, from the viewpoint of the whole theodrama, Jubilee reverses the curse. What I mean by curse is what I think Revelation 22 means when it says that in the new Jerusalem there will be no more curse. The curse is whatever enslaves the creation and its people. The curse fills creation with mourning, pain, injustice, poverty, evil, and ultimately death.

The mission of Jesus is to reverse the curse. The ministry of Jesus liberates humanity from the curse, from whatever enslaves it. This is the mission of Jesus. It is why he was sent.  It is what he preaches and what he does!

This is the “good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43). The kingdom of God has come near and when the kingdom comes near the brokenness of the world is healed.  The curse is reversed. The kingdom is not the structures and organization of an institutionalized church.  Rather, the kingdom is the reign of God in the world. When God reigns, there is no more curse. When God reigns, people are reconciled.  When God reigns, diseases, demons, and death are overcome. When God reigns, sins are forgiven. When God reigns, the poor and the oppressed get justice. And that is good news.


New Book Announcement

August 31, 2019

Title: Searching for the Pattern: My Journey in Interpreting the Bible.

It is available on Kindle or in Paperback.

In this book, John Mark Hicks tells the story of his own hermeneutical journey in reading the Bible. Lovingly and graciously, he describes his transition from a “blueprint hermeneutic” to a theological one. Some suggest that moving away from a patternistic command-example-and-necessary-inference approach for understanding what God requires leaves no other alternative, or at least none that both respects biblical authority and seeks to obey the gospel of Jesus the Messiah.

In Searching for the Pattern, John Mark offers just such an alternative. His theological hermeneutic is deeply rooted in the way the Bible presents itself as a dramatic history of God’s plan to redeem the world as well as his own experience of growing up among Churches of Christ. Seeing the gospel of Jesus as the center of the biblical drama reorients us to what provides our Christian identity and unites us as disciples of Jesus.

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I pray this book is received with open hearts and open minds because I believe this work could go a long way in helping to bring unity to our fractured fellowship. 

Wes McAdams, Preaching Minister for the church of Christ on McDermott Road, Plano, Texas

This excellent book helps us understand the inner workings of Bible interpretation among Churches of Christ and provides a persuasive proposal for Bible interpretation that is built on the story of God we find in Scripture—a story into which God calls us.

James L. Gorman, Associate Professor of History, Johnson University
Knoxville, Tennessee

Finally, a trellis across the chasm! Throughout this book, Hicks does not compromise his high regard for both the church and the Scriptures; and through the grace found therein, he composes this urgent invitation back to the Table, where obedience cooperates with mystery, and we—estranged or conflicted—can find our place as one within God’s magnificent story.

Tiffany Mangan Dahlman, Minister at Courtyard Church of Christ,
Fayetteville, North Carolina

John Mark Hicks is Professor of Theology at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. He has taught for thirty-eight years in schools associated with the Churches of Christ. He has published fifteen books and lectured in twenty countries and forty states and is married to Jennifer. They share six children and six grandchildren.