(Creed) (Turn: Ephesians 1)
I don't read a lot of fiction. I read SOME fiction, but not a lot. I go in these spurts where I read a ton of fiction and then literally years when I don't read any.
Now what I NEVER do is reread fiction. I don't ever do that. With one exception: C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. I have read it, I believe, 5 times.
I don't know how many of you are familiar with It, but it's this brilliant little book that written from the perspective of an elder demon (Screwtape) writing to his nephew (Wormwood). And he's attempting to teach his nephew how to properly tempt and ultimately destroy his 'patient' which is the man the nephew is assigned to torment and destroy. So the whole thing is written in an opposite kind of way. When Screwtape mentions 'Our Father' or 'Our Father Below' he's talking about Satan. And when he's talking about 'The Enemy', he's of course talking about God. Look at what he says. Again this is elder demon talking to his nephew - a demon that's new on the job.
My dear Wormwood,
The real trouble with your patient is that he is 'Merely Christian'. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call 'Christianity And'. You know–Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform.
His example are a little dated, but you can see the point can't you. "Christianity And"
If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian coloring.
Ultimately, the attack is summed up like this:
The Patient in encouraged to split his allegiance.
That we have competing beliefs and convictions in our heart and that's not a problem b/c we just put on different hats.
If you've ever noticed that you tend to say very different things based on the 'type' of conversation you're having, you understand what he's saying.
The real problem with your patient is that he's 'Merely Christian'. We want to get the patient in a state of mind called 'Christianity And…'
Last week we talked about the 'Cost of Discipleship' - which is to say that Jesus was very clear that being his disciple will cost you everything. He uses this incredibly strong language to say we must 'Hate our own family' and 'Hate our own life'. And what he means by that of course is that those all have to take a distant second place to the Lordship of Jesus. Everything else in my life is ultimately 'subservient' to that.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, (Ephesians 1:18)
and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength (Ephesians 1:19)
he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead (Jesus’ resurrection displayed God’s power over death) and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, (Ephesians 1:20)
(The right hand is the position of supreme honor and power)
far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:21)
(In Pauls writings, he makes this very clear distinction of “the present age” and “the age to come”. And in which one does this say Jesus has all rule? Both.)
And God placed (past tense) all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, (Ephesians 1:22)
which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:23)
So there is no question, that according to this text, Jesus is supreme ruler over all, not just in heaven, but right now on earth.
Ascension Let me see if I can explain this: In the bible there's a big event called 'The Ascension'. Jesus is whisked away and promoted to where he currently is: at the right hand of the father. - Where he rules over the nations as Lord. Not someday, he currently rules. Now. He isn't ruling a kingdom in heaven, he rules the nations FROM heaven.
Ok so hold that in your mind: Jesus now rules over all things. And now look with me at a 2000 year old inscription:
The Inscription of Priene (Preenie)
"The day of His birth gave the whole world a new aspect. It would have fallen into ruin had not a widespread well-being shone forth through Him, the one now born as a savior both for us and our descendants that He might end war and establish all things. His birth marked the beginning of the gospel that He brought for the world. From His birth a new reckoning of time must begin."
This was written 9BC, referring to Caesar Augustus. Oh you thought that was about Jesus!
Jesus comes into a world that already had a savior: Caesar.
Jesus comes into a world that already had a gospel: the gospel of Caesar.
This really explains why most of Jesus's closest followers were brutally killed. Not because they were promoting some new fangled Jewish religion, no they were promoting a new Lord. A new ruler.
If you want to sum up the the gospel according to apostles - Peter, James, Paul, - Can find it in the book of acts: "Jesus Christ is Lord." Not GOING TO BE. "IS".
What does that mean, Christ? Well it's not Jesus's last name. "It's great to meet you Mr. Christ" No, Christ means "The Anointed One" or "King".
Now what does "Lord" mean? - It means Ruler or Emperor.
Caesar WAS Lord. Literally.
But the apostles are saying, no Caesar is not Lord, Jesus is.
So they're making a direct statement and there's also an implied statement.
So they're making the contrast here. "You say Caesar is Lord, but we are saying that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the supreme ruler.
Very radical, very dangerous. In it's time, Political statement. - Politics are always controversial. - Always.
It's why Peter and Paul end up in prison.
"Jesus is Lord." People look at them and say "Uh.. You better hope Caesar doesn't hear you say that."
These apostles believe that the world had a new King. Traveled around the roman empire saying "Just want you to know that Jesus is the real emperor."
Part of the gospel in the book of acts is this: Politics of Caesar (power) have been replaced by the politics of Jesus (love).
Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. - Not that big of a deal. Whoop-dee-do.
More controversial when you replace 'Caesar' with things in our day. You could say it like this:
Jesus is Lord and nothing else is.
So whatever it is that's in the world's system that you hold dear, Paul is saying this "Jesus is Lord and that is not." When he says that, he's doesn't just get mean replies on facebook, he gets arrested and executed for it. - By the Roman empire.
Paul is in "Philippi". Philippi is a large city, important city in the Roman Empire. And he's going about preaching "Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not."
It's what gets Paul and his traveling companion Cilas thrown in prison.
And there’s this jail guard.
Who is he? Well the jailor probably would have been ex-military, an ex-Roman soldier, because in those days the way you got retirement as a Roman soldier is they would give you a government job, like this one.
They’re there at night singing songs. Can you imagine that? The jailor would have heard this. B/C Paul is already liberated. He’s already free.
If you live for your career, or money, or success, or wealth, or your intellect, or your reputation, and you get thrown into a deep dark dungeon, everything that you’ve living for has been taken away. But if your life is in Jesus, then even when you’re in the darkest time of your life, there’s still something to sing about.
There’s an earthquake and the doors to the cells are opened.
So I need to tell you that there is one downside to this great, cushy, government job. And that’s this: If any of your inmates get out, the government kills you.
So the gates open, the jailor is sure the guys have left, and he takes out his sword and he’s about to kill himself.
But Paul speaks up and says ‘Don’t hurt yourself, we’re all here."
Jailor asks "What do I have to do to be rescued?" Paul "Believe in the Lord Jesus, the King. "Believe on emperor Jesus, the real king." - See how edgey that is? Esp if you're a roman government official like this jailor was. So he believes and that night his whole family is baptized. Huge shift of loyalty happening.
15 years pass. Paul is about 65 years old.
He gets arrested (for the 2nd time).
This is during Caesar Nero.
Paul said "I don't know. I don't even know what to wish for." "To be with Christ is awesome, but staying here with you, that's good for you. I just don't know." - Should I stay or should I go? Turns out, it wasn't up to him, he would go, executed.
One of the very last writings of Paul, writing to what seems like his favorite church. They were his strongest supporters even when he was in prison.
So he writes this letter, he doesn't know he's about to be killed. We do.
So here Paul is, in Rome, in prison, in chains - writes the happiest letter of his career.
He's so happy, he says that even some of the imperial guards in Caesars house have become believers. One of the themes: Jesus is Lord.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Philippians 3:20)
"Citizenship is in heaven" - doesn't mean the earth isn't our home.
Eugene Peterson puts it perfectly:
“So, why church? The short answer is because the Holy Spirit formed it to be a colony of heaven in the country of death.” (Eugene Peterson)
A "Colony of Heaven" - Now what in the world does that mean?
So let's say we were citizens of the British Empire - 18th & 19th century. They went all around the world, colonizing.
There was a saying "The sun never set upon the British Empire." Because they were in all time the time-zones.
One of their prized possessions was… India. They went there and set up colonies. Which means that people would travel from England to India and set up these cities with the purpose of bringing the culture of England to India. To "Colonize" them.
Now let me ask you a question: When they got there, did they live as Indians or as English? English of course! Doesn't matter that you live in India. You're a citizen of England. Bringing the culture of England to India.
So picture yourself an Englishman or (Englishwoman) in India, living in an English colony. What do you think you do at 4pm? YOU HAVE TEA! B/C you're English!
Doesn't matter much who the king is in India, we serve the queen.
The Philippian church (to whom he's writing) understands this - B/C they are in Philippi which is a 'Roman Colony.' They're in Greece - not in Rome - but it's part of the roman empire.
Paul was a Roman citizen - born in Tarsus. But Paul (a Roman citizen) says to a Roman Colony: "Your TRUE citizenship is heaven, and you're bringing THAT culture to earth. You are to live with Christ as your King."
Jesus's current project is to colonize earth with the culture of heaven.
So depending on where you were born, and your journey, you will have an earthly citizenship. Probably most of you have an American citizenship. Some maybe Brazilian, Columbian, Ethiopian, whatever.
But if you're a follower of Christ - you've pledged you allegiance to him before anyone else.
This is how the early church lived. Ever heard that term? 'The Early Church'? That's from pentecost (The Book of Acts) to the year 312. Definite end. EXACTLY 312AD.
What happened?! For almost 3 centuries, Christ followers formed their whole identity around "Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not!" "We'll be good citizens, we'll pay our taxes, we'll be law abiding. - But there's a line we won't cross. We'll never go against what Christ told us. Our allegiance to you will never be as great as our allegiance to Christ." Goes on for 3 centuries.
Well that ALLLLLL changes in 312AD with a Roman general Constantine engaging in a civil war.
And engaging in the what's known as the 'Battle of the Milvian Bridge'.
I've got a piece of art. This painting is located in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
But in 312, the Pegan, Roman General Constantine. He enters in a Civil war with another Pegan Roman General. It's known as the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.
Constantine, took the Christian sign (Chi-Rho) and put it on his weapons and and wins the battle. And after that, as a kind of superstition, he becomes a kinda-Christian.
Makes Christianity the 'Official Religion' of the Roman Empire. So much so that he puts this lucky Christian symbol (the Chi-Rho) on all the Roman coins. (pic).
And a strange shift takes place. It's the birth of what we'd call 'Civil religion'. Where before this, to be Christian was to be counter-cultural, now, to be a good Roman meant converting to Christianity. Now, it's a strange hybrid of Christianity and Caesar. Now, Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is too!
You might be thinking, "How could they rectify that contradiction in their own heart?!" Here's how: Jesus is Lord in heaven and Caesar is Lord on earth. - See how convenient that is? New way to reinstall Caesar as Lord.
The real problem with your patient is that he's 'Merely Christian'. We want to get the patient in a state of mind called 'Christianity And…'
So what's the result of this new 'Civil Religion'? Well "Christianity and" just dominates in Europe all the way up to the 20th century, where it all collapses, and great was the fall of it. And Christianity in Europe still hasn't recovered. It's considered possibly the most 'Post Christian' continent in the world.
So here's the question:
Don't ever split you allegiance between Jesus and something else.
So when I'm faced with a question, I don't say "What do the republican prophets say" or "What do the Democrat prophets say?" That's of little concern to me. The question is: "What does Jesus say?"
We must ALWAYS exalt the teachings of Jesus as the highest truth. I've said this before, but there's many of Jesus's teachings that I find impractical and unrealistic. Not "I used to", I still do. I still find the teachings of Jesus hard to swallow. And I'm not always sure how they play out for my life in 2020. But I recognize that in that exchange, I'M wrong. Not him. He's always right, and I'm only right to the degree that I agree with him.
Understanding that your truest citizenship is in heaven does NOT mean that you don't care about this place. On the contrary, the Christ follower ought to be the BEST citizen. The BEST.
We ought to be the MOST kind, the MOST generous, the MOST self-sacrificial. Why? We learn the way of Jesus and we work to transform our lives to that. Lots of examples of this historically. But one that I like to use is
In the second and third century, before modern medicine, they would have these huge outbreaks of disease. (No, not the Corona virus, but maybe kinda like the Corona virus)
These were 2 huge plagues that killed a 3rd of the population in these major cities:
And I've used this example before, but when I came across it again this week, there was something that rang particularly powerful in a season of fear of being infected.
Rodney Stark, who is a historian, recounts it like this:
“The doctors were quite incapable of treating the disease … Equally useless were prayers made in the temples … People were afraid to visit one another. As a result, they died with no one to look after them; indeed there were many houses in which all the inhabitants perished through lack of any attention. The bodies of the dying were heaped one on top of the other, and half-dead creatures could be seen staggering about in the streets … For the catastrophe was so overwhelming that men … became indifferent to every rule of religion or of law. (Many) pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead … hoping thereby to avert the spread of contagion. As for the gods, it seemed to be the same thing … when one saw the good and the bad dying indiscriminately.” (Rodney Stark (Historian))
I don’t know if you could imagine such a thing. People b/c of the fear of themselves getting the disease stopped caring for the sick.
But something different was happening among the Christians. This is an eyewitness account of the plague by a man named ‘Dionysius’
“Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease … and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead …” (Dionysius)
In the midst of a horrific plague, the Christians stayed put. - Not only did they stay put, they gave their lives caring for both the Christians and the non-Christians.
And in saving the life of their neighbor, they lost their life. Now where would they get an idea like that? Jesus.
So don't you dare say "Pastor David said I'm a citizen of heaven, so I don't have to care at all about my city, or my state, or my nation, or my world. That is absolutely wrong. As you follow the way of Jesus, he will call you to care deeply for those who share this planet with us.
And this where I hope it gets real practical.
Most people have a hint that the way the world currently is, is not working. The direction we're heading, is not going to work forever. There needs to at some point, be a change.
Most people don't know of an alternative. They're stuck in system. Consumerism / materialism / greed. What they need is to be able to look around and say "Hey, look at those people there! How is it that they're not in our broken system. And wow, it really seems to be working."
We don't try to make people outside our community try to live the Jesus way. That would be the wrong way to approach evangelism. No, the correct way is this: We live it out before them, and they're attracted to us, and we invite them in. That's how the change happens.
FORCING them to live how we live wether or not they want to, well that's ridiculous. The teachings of Jesus are not there for us to use to try to and change the culture. No we are supposed to be the radical alternative to the world. A Colony of Heaven. WE live the teachings of Jesus, and attract people into our communities. We don't try to force them, no we bring change by how we live.
"Can you give me some examples Pastor David?" - Sure, there's hundreds of them, but here were some I wrote down:
What do all those things have in common? They're all glimpses into the Kingdom of God. And by you living as citizens of the Kingdom of God now, you help colonize earth with the culture of heaven.
Question for you to ask yourself this week: If the Kingdom of God was truly the most important thing to me, how might I act in this situation?
Closing Statement: It is the calling of the Christ follower to colonize earth with the culture of heaven. This does not mean that we force everyone to follow the Jesus way regardless of whether or not they want to. No, colonizing earth with the culture of heaven means living your life in a way that displays an alternative to the broken system of modern culture. It's of little concern to us what the world teaches, we follow the Jesus way. We commit ourselves to conforming our words, actions, reactions, and responses to what Jesus would have us do, no matter how far fetched it seems to us at the time. When we live as citizens of our heavenly country, the light of Jesus spreads across the earth. Jesus is Lord.
(Pray) Jesus we believe that you're the one true king.