Okay okay, so it’s been a few days since I’ve posted an “Advent Words”… been a bit busy : )
The earliest Christian confessions included a line that went something like this:
He [Jesus] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
That is to say, the earliest Christians believed that a “bedrock” bit of information about this Jesus and about their Story was that as He had once come, so he would “come again”. Luke records at the beginning of the book of Acts this scene:
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)
That was a bitter (and confusing) pill for these guys to swallow. As good Jews, they really had no concept for multiple “comings” of a Messiah. History was straightforward and uncomplicated to them: We’re God’s people, we’ve fallen on hard times of late, but according to the prophets our God will arise in his strength through an ‘anointed one’ to restore this situation back to life and health.
So you can appreciate the question they posed to the resurrected Christ in Acts 1 (who had strangely not been doing anything overly-dramatic after his resurrection other than “appearing” to them every so often and “giving many convincing proofs that he was alive” – as if just SHOWING UP wasn’t enough: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” A perfectly sensible question. This is what was to be expected. The Messiah came in Jesus, and while to their great surprise he didn’t overthrow the corrupt religious establishment or the power of Rome, instead dying at their hands, he was now alive and certainly NOW everything would get put right… right?
And Jesus’ response is so interesting, if jarring for them: “You’re not allowed to know when all that’s gonna happen; just go and tell the world that this dead guy is alive.”
The fact of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension coupled with the concomitant fact that all had not yet been put back in it’s place forced the early Christians to reconfigure their notions of how sacred history worked. New life and hope had spilled into the world, yes… but there was more to come. Yahweh’s victory over the “powers” in the cross and resurrection didn’t automatically “fix” everything. There was an in-between. A time of waiting… for a final incursion to make it all right. And so the declaration: “He will come again…”
I don’t hear many messages on the 2nd Coming anymore. But it occurs to me that it is a “peer” to the other great “dogmas” of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Without the 2nd Coming, those are incomplete. God’s work, while in principle accomplished in all that Jesus has done, has yet to be fully actualized in history. The victory of God awaits a consummation. The work is yet unfinished. And the tension of living in a world where God has proven himself the victor “already” but at the same time “not yet” is crucial to our experience of faith. Failing to maintain the tension is a mistake.
This past October at Bloom, during our series on the Sermon on the Mount, I challenged our congregation to take up specific prayer requests before God as a way of putting what we were encountering in the Scriptures about prayer into motion. We wrote down short lists of things we needed to see God move in response to, and committed to praying… simply, with faith, regularly, until he acted on our behalf. The results were astounding. Old relationships that had gone stale and cold coming back to life. People that were far from faith coming into real encounters with God. Job breakthroughs all over the place. Miraculous healing. Financial miracles. I mean you name it. We had it all. It was a beautiful season.
And yet… there was a bittersweetness to it. One of the women who attends our house church on Wednesdays started attending Bloom back in the spring. She’s not necessarily Bloom’s “core demographic”, but she loves us and the community loves her. She’s had a hard past. A VERY hard past. And because of her past, her body is rife with pockets of deep physical pain that flares up in excruciating ways from time to time. We’ve prayed over her plenty of times. She’s cried out to God on her own. And certainly all the more so during this past season we were in… and yet… the pain persists. Her comment to me: “I’ve asked Dad so many times to take it away, and yet he doesn’t. I’m not sure what to do with that.”
In my own journey of faith, I’ve seen God move in countless ways to bring healing, help, hope, and breakthrough for me. He really is “the God who heals you.” And yet, I think what I’m becoming more and more aware of is that living in the tension between the 1st and 2nd Coming of Christ means that even though there will be many, MANY areas over which I experience God’s life and resurrection power, there will similarly be areas that await a final redemption. I’m remembering that the Apostle Paul said that God gave him a “thorn” in his flesh that he begged to have removed… to which God simply responded: “My grace is sufficient.”
I realized this recently with respect to an old relationship. I’ve worked hard to forgive this person. And yet when I see them, I respond physically with the “fight or flight” emotion that is so familiar to many of us. I HATE that emotion. I want to be even, level, and comfortable. I don’t want my body to respond as though I’m under threat. Hence the laboring to forgive, to let go.
But here’s the real insight. I’ve ASSUMED that “fight or flight” is connected to unforgiveness. So after the most recent encounter, I took it back to prayer. And I found myself saying these words, “God, I’m not sure why I’m responding like this. I’ve forgiven – I really have. I’ve let go, and I feel like my heart is healed over this. I don’t ‘will’ bad for this person. I ‘will’ good for them. I really do. I want the best for them. What are these emotions about then?”
And as clear as day I heard the Spirit respond: “You are responding like that because you were really wounded in that relationship. Something broke in you that is not easily ‘fixed’. Your heart is just fine. Forgiveness is not a ‘fix’.”
We have a hard time living with our brokenness, and reconciling that to our faith. When I was a kid, we had a hard time reconciling physical brokenness with our faith. We assumed that Christianity, when it was working, would cure people’s illnesses. We rightly left that behind because of the overwhelming accumulation of “minority reports” that proved that way of thinking untenable.
Or at least we thought we left it behind. Seems to me that most Christians, even if they’re not the charismatic variety, still (wrongly) assume that Christianity is a simple “fix” to whatever ails them. Emotional scars. Relational scars. Psychological trauma. But that is to make the same mistake that the “name it and claim it” Christians make regarding health and finances. And the mistake is simply this: collapsing the bright and glorious future promised by the 2nd Coming of Christ into the present. Till then, there is some pain we’re just going to have to carry, trusting that the grace is sufficient.
“But our citizenship is in heaven”, Paul writes. “And we eagerly await from there a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” He will come again. That is the promise, the focal point of Christian hope. The Return of Jesus that transforms everything, our bodies and minds included. The Scripture teaches us that the Spirit is the one who awakens that hope in us PRECISELY by drawing attention to the fact that our world is out of joint (Romans 8). He awakens the eschatological cry, “Abba!”. We await a completeness not yet given. We don’t earn it. We don’t achieve it. God gives it. He will come again…
Till then, we wait. This morning I let my longing rise to a fever pitch. I look forward to the day when I’ll be able to love without fear. Where all the pain and brokenness of my life in this world will be taken up, healed, and transfigured by the love of God. The eternal kingdom. Home. Here. Heaven. Here. He will come again.
“Come quickly Lord Jesus.”