11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
John 1:9-11 (The Message)
The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet… the world didn't even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn't want him.
Sometimes, in our effort to tell the gospel story, we miss completely the historic reality of the man Jesus. We overlook his humanity and in the process, miss much of the heart of his story; and ultimately, of our own story.
The narrative of scripture follows a certain rhythm or pattern. We see the story embodied in the people of Israel – called God’s chosen people. The pattern of the story is familiar and it seems to repeat itself – for dramatic effect. Creation – fall – exile. This pattern begins in the creation story and continues throughout Israel’s history. Along the way, prophet’s came to warn Israel to repent and turn back to her creator. Many of the prophets were rejected, even killed. Inevitably, the fall would come and Israel would again see her people taken into exile, or captivity, or slavery.
Into this history steps the man Jesus. Maybe Israel’s last prophet. Again, he warns the people of God’s coming wrath and calls the nation to repent. But this story is different. Jesus is not only the messenger – he is actually the message.
The 1st century Jew placed their whole identity in two primary places. Torah and Temple. Yahweh spoke through Torah and he dwelt in the temple. Jesus’ message was radical in so many ways but especially surrounding these two touchstones of the Jewish identity. Jesus’ gospel, the message he preached, was that his father was calling Israel to a new way of being Israel. Israel used Torah and Temple to isolate and separate themselves from the pagan – gentile world. Jesus called Israel to be a light TO the world. He believed that the father intended to save the WORLD… the whole world… THROUGH his people, through Israel. And, in preaching this radical call, he challenged the very heart of 1st century Judaism. He took on the role of Torah and Temple… he became what these institutions had symbolized throughout Israel’s history.
In the beginning was the word, and word was with God and the word WAS God. ~john 1:1
John’s gospel opens with these radical words. Even today, we hear the phrase “the word” and we think of the bible. Jesus - and his disciple John - turned this idea over and said that the scripture was a symbol of the ACTUAL word. Not the written word of ink and paper – but the essence of God himself. Jesus was the word of God. He fulfilled the role and function of the scripture – of Torah.
Jesus also angered the Jewish establishment by daring to make himself equal to or greater than their greatest visible symbol – the temple. They believed that God dwelt in the temple that it contained his presence. But what if… and this is a bit off point… what if, as N.T. Wright suggests, the physical temple was not God’s best dwelling place? What if, when God told King David that he (David) would not build the temple but that it would be built instead by David’s son… What if (and again, I take this idea from Wright) what if Gods reference was not to Solomon but to the ultimate SON OF DAVID… the Christ himself? What if the true temple, the true dwelling place of God was the person, the Man Jesus!
This is a whole other sermon… in fact it is a whole bunch of sermons and maybe several large books with big, smart-guy, words. There is so much here and the implications are so vast – but – I want to look only at one important implication.
This message was ultimately more than the average 1st century Jew could bear. It was enough to enrage the leaders of the Jewish people both political (Herod) and religious (Caiaphas and the priests). It is politically correct to lay the blame of the crucifixion at the feet of Rome – and the Roman government was certainly responsible for the cruelty of the final act. But it was, without question, the movers and shakers in Israel that pushed the story to its horrible climax. It was not, ultimately, the foreigner or the pagan who killed this last prophet of Israel… It was Israel herself.
There is more to the story… most of us know it. Christ was brutally executed. On the third day he rose again. He spent the days that followed preparing His remaining disciples to continue to expand the Kingdom he came to announce – he gave them the authority to act in his place. To be his hands and his feet. His wounded hands and feet… To be his body. His broken body.
Even the most surface exploration of the church’s history gives more than adequate signposts that point us to our many wounds and our deep brokenness. There are moments in our collective history that puzzle us and moments that bring shame and humiliation. The torture and execution of so called heretics. The wars fought and blood shed over different interpretations of scripture. The church’s so called biblical defense of slavery. We look back and we cringe at the things done in the name of God.
But we are his body… his broken body.
We are challenged throughout the New Testament to join with Christ in his suffering. To take up his cross and to be crucified with him.
We are his wounded hands and feet.
And as his body, we are called to do what he did – to be what he was – to deliver the message of his kingdom to a world in exile.
WE are the temple – his spirit dwells not in a building but in us.
WE are his word – he speaks his good news in and through us.
And we are despised, beaten, wounded, damaged.
But like him, our wounds are not inflicted by others… but by those within our family.
John 1:11 (New International Version)
11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
We hear a lot… we TALK a lot about the church being under persecution – under attack. We talk about a nation founded on the idea of religious freedom. But we should remember to ask: who were the oppressors in this story? The religious freedom our founders sought was not from pagans or atheists or evolutionists or abortionists. The founders sought to be free from the oppression of OTHER Christians.
All the touchstones – the popular proofs of the dark side of our faith – Crusades, Genocide, Religious War, Imperialism, Oppression, Inquisition – All wounds and bruises inflicted upon HIS body by his own family.
We are his broken body. We are his wounded hands and feet.
We bring his message to the world. A message not of exclusion or separation but a message of redemption and reconciliation. A message of a God who dwells, not in a hidden inner chamber to be approached only by the most holy – but a God who dwells in the broken and bruised body of Christ – a god who dwells in the Church.
The church is not who she should be – and yet He is here.
The church is broken – and yet He is here.
The church is filled with pride and wickedness – and yet He is here.
The world around us may be evil. There are, and have always been those who hate and mock God and his people. But repentance, HE says, begins in his own house – in his temple – in his body – in us.
Our wounds seldom come from those outside – sadly we rarely get close enough for them to hurt us. Instead, our deepest and ugliest wounds are those we inflict upon ourselves. We wound his body when being right becomes more important than mercy; when behavior modification becomes our mission rather than justice for the poor and oppressed; when punishment and retribution become more important than forgiveness and redemption.
We wound his body when we reject HIS kingdom in favor of one that suits us better.
We are his broken body… we are his wounded hands and feet.
And if history teaches us anything… we may suffer death as we follow him…
The story does not end at the cross or in the tomb. Not his story, and not ours.
The man Jesus rose again. His body bore the scars of his wounding but he defeated death and lives still. The man Jesus is alive.
We are his broken body – but we will experience this same resurrection. We are his wounded hands and feet but we will rise, and live, and be beautiful again.
His kingdom is and is to come. His body – his church – is now but she is not what she will be. She is bruised and wounded but she will not always bear these scars in shame. She will be glorified in resurrection. She will be the same and yet much more.
The father saw Jesus as he was in each moment but he knew him for what he had been and would be in eternity. Christ endured the cross for the beauty set before him.
We are that beauty and we bear our own wounds in hope of the beauty and glory to come.
The church is badly broken… but she is treasured. She is Lovely.
She is beautiful.