During Advent we reflect upon and prepare for the coming of Jesus. We remember his birth and make sure our preparations are on track for his return.
So why did he come? And what can we expect the second time around?
The Jesus whose birth we celebrate, and whose return we anticipate, is Jesus Christ, or Jesus the Messiah. Messiah is a Jewish word that basically means Savior/King. In other words, Jesus means to save and he means to rule. His intent then and now is to reclaim this world as God’s kingdom. He wants to restore all things according to God’s original design (Acts 3:19-22). He intends to make all things new.
Christ is King and he is Lord. This is the fundamental truth of the Christian life. Christ himself qualified us to enter his kingdom, but now each Jesus Follower is called to apply themselves to learning what it means to live under the Reign of God.
This week’s spiritual practice is: “Intentionally Seek to Integrate Your Life in Christ with All Areas of Your Life.” This is what it means to know and serve Christ as Lord.
This process of integrating our lives around Christ’s life and leadership fits with God’s ultimate purpose for this world:
“He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:9-10).
That’s why Christ came, and that’s why he’s coming back again – to unify everything and everyone under his own reign.
Each Jesus Follower is called to be a sign for the world of that future reality. We are disciples or students of how to live a Christ-centered life. It’s hard — mainly because we’re used to living pretty much self-centered lives. (Even our efforts to help others can sometimes line up with our own self-interest.) We’re slow learners, all of us, and will always be works in progress, but the trajectory of our lives is clear — we want our entire lives to look like Christ.
Today’s gospel reading speaks to this. The different ways Jesus’ words have been interpreted reflect differing approaches to the Christian life.
Some Jewish leaders are feeling threatened by Jesus and they’re seeking to trap him with his own words by raising a question about the age-old subject of taxes. Instead of asking him about a tax cut for the middle class, they asked if Jews should refuse to pay taxes altogether. They’re thinking that if Jesus is about to lead a rebellion against Rome, this question might force his hand and get him into hot water (i.e. with Rome if he says yes, and with the people if he says no).
Jesus tells them to show him a Roman coin called a denarius, and then asks them whose image and inscription it bears. (The inscription would have included the emperor’s status as the divine son of God.) They answered, “Caesar’s.” He responds, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s — and to God what is God’s.”
When I grew up I was taught that this passage was basically about taxes and tithing. ‘As long as God gets his tithe, Caesar can have his taxes.’ Such an interpretation is possible if you have a compartmentalized view of the Christian life. The unspoken assumption is if we pay our taxes to the government, and pay our tithes and offerings to God, the rest is pretty much ours to do with as we please.
I actually think Jesus is making the entirely opposite point. While paying taxes to Caesar (or the IRS) is fine, neither empire nor country nor family nor anything else in all the world should be allowed to come even close to becoming our god. Just as the denarius bore the image of Caesar, each human being bears the image of God. So, just as the denarius belongs to Caesar because it bears Caesar’s image, each of us, and the entirety of our lives, belongs to God, because we bear his image. (Come to think of it, since Caesar was also made in God’s image, he and his taxes and his whole empire, belong to God, too.)
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I’m assuming that “earth” pretty much includes everything. It’s like the 19th century Dutch Reformed minister and statesman Abraham Kuyper wrote:
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
As disciples of Jesus we’re learning how to live Christ-saturated lives, inwardly and outwardly, individually and in community, at church and in the world.
What does this actually look like?
The Old Testament had hundreds of rules and regulations that provided a uniform code for God-centered living. It pretty much covered every facet of the Israelites’ lives. But even these quite specific rules were open to interpretation. Because of the temptation to worship other gods and conform to the ways of other nations, it wasn’t often that these rules were consistently obeyed. They also weren’t very adaptable to difficult cultural and geographical contexts (like when the Jews had to live in exile).
Now we live in the New Covenant, and instead of living a law-centered life, we’re called to live a Christ-centered life, with his Spirit helping us figure out what that looks like in those contexts where we live, work, play and learn. So we’re continually asking the question, “How can I bring Christ’s life to this situation? What are ways I can plant seeds of his kingdom?” We don’t just think about such questions, we actually ask Christ himself – the one who promised to be yoked to us as our full-time mentor and teacher (Matthew 11: 28-30). And rather than being afraid we’ll get it wrong, he tells us that he wants us to rest in his yoke. As long as we’re asking the right questions, and wanting to know and do his will, he’ll teach and lead and correct us along the way. We don’t have to be afraid of the future, and we don’t have to be afraid of him (“…for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls”).
(I think he knows that just our radiating with a desire to please him will have an effect on the people around us.)
There are some general things we know from Jesus’ example and teachings. We know that we’re always to see ourselves as servants — even and especially if we’re in a leadership position. We know that we’re always to work for the flourishing of others – including our enemies. And speaking of enemies, we know that we’re always to be moving in the direction of forgiveness, and whenever possible, reconciliation.
We also know that we can’t allow money and possessions to be ruling over our lives. We know we’re to treat others as we want to be treated. We know we’re to do excellent work, be good friends, help those in need, and avoid any behavior that would reflect poorly on Christ. We know we’re to build up his body and the people who make up the community we worship and serve with.
Those are some of the general things we know about living Christ-centered, Christ-integrated lives. The specific things are often responses to those “inner nudges” Pat Obrecht talked about last Sunday. Those can surprise us as well as others, and can provide especially fertile soil for the kingdom to break through in unexpected ways.
S0 basically we’re to “think Christ,” or as we heard the apostle Paul say it last Sunday, “Clothe yourselves with Christ.” Instead of living dual lives – being one kind of person at church but someone else when we’re elsewhere – Jesus is discipling us in how to be visible signs of his kingdom wherever we live, work, play and learn.