From the Mission Director
Does God Really Care?
That’s an important question I was asked recently. It was asked not out of personal concern, but about the future of planet earth. They had attended church for a time, and had heard “the Good News”. But from their perspective it didn’t sound like good news at all because it seemed to have little to say about environment, and survival of humans.
There are many in our community who feel the same. The way we tell the story of Jesus just seems irrelevant to their key worries.
Sometimes our telling of “the Good News” is heard as “believe in Jesus and get a free ticket out of earth to heaven”. When it is heard that way, God sounds disconnected, detached and quite disinterested in what happens in our lives, here on earth today.
Our emphasis on ‘heaven’ has neglected earth, and turned it into something like an incidental waiting room for the afterlife.
Setting to Rights
This is far from what Jesus taught. In his book Simply Christian, N. T. Wright states, “Despite what many people think … the point of Christianity is not ‘to go to heaven when you die’ [rather it is] to put the whole creation to rights”. Paul says the same things when he writes, God’s purpose is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
God’s purpose is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
Paul’s focus is not on getting from earth to heaven. In fact, it is the other way round — it is about getting heaven down to us.
If we think of all the things that go wrong in the world, it’s easy to picture a huge gap between heaven and earth. But that’s not how the Bible describes it. Heaven is not a long way away; it is very close.
In fact, Jesus was always on about seeing what God was up to in the world. He often declared the “kingdom of heaven has come near”. But despite all his miracles and healings, people struggled to see it.
An inquisitive religious teacher Nicodemus came to see Jesus. Although impressed by what he saw in Jesus, he wanted to know more. Jesus said to him that, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” To observe and understand what Jesus was on about, to see God’s kingdom at work, Nicodemus needed a new set of eyes.
“To observe and understand what Jesus was on about, to see God’s kingdom at work, Nicodemus needed a new set of eyes.“
Change Your Mind!
And it wasn’t just Nicodemus. We all need a new set of eyes.
Jesus announced, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:3, 4:17). The English ‘repent’ isn’t a great translation of the original Greek, metanoia. But at least it’s better than the Latin translation (Vulgate) which reads, “Do penance! For the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Martin Luther was sure penance was not what Jesus meant, and translated metanoia as ‘change your mind,’ which is better than our ‘repentance’.
Metanoia comes from two Greek words, metá meaning “beyond” or “after”, and noeō meaning “perception”, “understanding” or “mind”. So, an even better translation is perhaps “think beyond”. This means Jesus was saying, “prepare yourself for what is about to come—open your mind, your heart, your eyes.”
“Jesus’ emphasis was not on the failings of the past, but upon the potential of the future“
The Good News is not that Jesus has come to whisk us away to heaven. Rather he came to reunite heaven and earth. His purpose was for heaven and earth to interlock and overlap. To be woven together in a vibrant tapestry which Paul calls “the new creation”.
Jesus didn’t come to make us sorry for our sin, although that is a helpful part of the process. Instead, he wanted us to be excited by a fresh start. His emphasis was not on the failings of the past, but upon the potential of the future.
God deeply cares about the future of our world, and that is exactly why Jesus came. He calls us to a new life focussed on love for each other in the power of the Spirit. If we all lived that way, then the future of the earth would be ensured. Surely, this is Good News, and surely this is what our world needs to hear.
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