Tag Archives: NT Wright

Fire Made Flesh: Responding to Jesus’ Authority

I’ve been reading a lot of commentaries and teachings on Mark 2:23-3:6 over the last two weeks.  Here’s a snippet from a Timothy Keller sermon.  It begins with a powerful quote by NT Wright that Keller uses to offer a piercing reflecting on what it means to respond to Jesus’ authority:

“How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire has become flesh, that life itself … walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the most devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense … Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between.” NT Wright

He’s right, because if you have a shred of personal integrity, you’ll know you can’t like anybody who makes claims like this. Either he’s a wicked or a lunatic person and you should have nothing to do with him, or he is who he says he is and your whole life has to revolve around him, and you ought to throw everything at his feet and say, “Command me.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but do you live in that sort of misty world between that N.T. Wright is talking about, that he says no one with integrity can live in? Do you pray to Jesus sometimes, maybe not a lot, but sometimes? When you’re in trouble you pray to Jesus, and then sometimes you kind of ignore him because you get busy. Is that right for you?

Listen. Either he can’t hear you because he’s not who he says he is, or else how dare you check in occasionally with this person? You can’t just pray to Jesus occasionally. Either he can’t hear you, he’s not who he says he is, or else he has to be the still point in your turning world, he has to be the thing around which your entire life revolves.

Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

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Third Week of Advent: Friday, December 20th

John 9:1–9

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

 We have to stop thinking of the world as a kind of moral slot-machine, where people put in a coin (a good act, say, or an evil one) and get out a particular result (a reward or a punishment). Of course, actions always have consequences. Good things often happen as a result of good actions (kindness produces gratitude), and bad things often happen through bad actions (drunkenness causes car accidents). But this isn’t inevitable. Kindness is sometimes scorned. Some drunkards always get away with it.

In particular, you can’t stretch the point back to a previous ‘life’, or to someone else’s sins. Being born blind doesn’t mean you must have sinned, says Jesus. Nor does it mean that your parents must have sinned. No: something much stranger, at once more mysterious and more hopeful, is going on. The chaos and misery of this present world is, it seems, the raw material out of which the loving, wise and just God is making his new creation.

When Jesus heals the man, John clearly intends us to see the action as one of the moments in the gospel when God’s truth and the world’s life (theology and history, if you like) come rushing together into one. ‘I am the light of the world’, says Jesus in verse 5, sending our minds back yet once more to the Prologue: ‘life was in him, and this life was the light of the human race’ (1:4). As the passage goes on, we see part of what it means that ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness didn’t overcome it’. John’s gospel is pushing us forward in heart and mind towards God’s new creation, the time when God will make all things new. Wright, T. (2004). John for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-10 (pp. 133–134). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

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Third Week of Advent: Monday, December 16th

2 Corinthians 4:3–6

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  

The light that blinded Paul on the road to Damascus, the light that suddenly shone in people’s hearts when he went around the world announcing the gospel of Jesus, was like the light at the very beginning, at the creation of the world. ‘Let there be light,’ commanded the creator God, and there was light (Genesis 1:3): a light which, as John says (John 1:5), shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not been able to put it out. With Jesus, God’s new world comes into being. The gospel isn’t about a different god, someone other than the world’s original creator, but about the same creator God bringing new life and light to his world, the world where death and darkness have made their home and usurped his role. Paul summarizes God’s command in Genesis 1, in order to say: what happened to me that day, what happened to you when you believed, and what happens whenever anyone ‘turns to the Lord’ (3:16), is a moment of new creation (see 5:17).  That is how Paul has come to believe that Jesus, the Messiah, is the one who reflects the living God himself. Only the living God can shine the light of new creation; and when you look at Jesus, as Paul had, face to face, you realize that you are looking at God’s own glory. That gives you knowledge, knowledge of the innermost secrets of the universe, and God’s saving plan for it; and in that knowledge there is more than enough light to see the way through the dark world.*

Am I opening myself up to the light Jesus provides in the Gospels?
*Wright, T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians (pp. 40–41). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

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Advent Reflections: Sunday November 30th

“1 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Romans 13:11-14

When I was at boarding school, I often used to wake up early on summer mornings as the daylight came streaming in from four or five o’clock onwards. I often used to think how silly it was not to get up then. Frequently the day would be bright and sunny until about the middle of the morning, when clouds would roll in and spoil it. Often it would rain later on, despite the bright early sunshine. As a keen sportsman, I used to get cross at having games spoiled by rain when I knew that, if we’d been out playing before breakfast, we might have had several hours in the sunshine. We could always have done our school work once the rain set in. Why wouldn’t my friends wake up so that we could go out and start the match?

This sense, that it’s important to be waking up and getting ahead of the day, is what Paul is picking up in this passage, rather as he does in 1 Thessalonians 5. He is expanding what he said quite densely in 12:1–2. The old world, the ‘present age’, is rumbling on. Most people are ordering their lives in accordance with its style and habits. But the new world has already broken in. God’s new age has begun, and will shortly come to fulfilment. Those who follow Jesus, whose life, death and resurrection inaugurated that new age, are commanded to live already according to the rules of the new world. The day has begun, even though most people are still asleep.

Paul’s instructions for what this daytime behaviour will mean are quite specific and very bracing. Night-time is when people get drunk, go to wild parties and do all kinds of things they would be ashamed of in broad daylight. Very well; that kind of behaviour must go, however fashionable it may be. Night-time is when people feel free to indulge in shameless sexual immorality. That must be ruled out as well.

By this point in verse 13 Paul is heading for a list of types of bad behaviour rather than a list of nocturnal activities. He contents himself with one more double prohibition which has nothing to do with the ordinary contrast of night and day: bad temper and jealousy, alas, can be just as common during the day as the night, perhaps more so. The analogy, but not the point, has broken down. For the Christian, anger and bitterness are just as much forbidden as drunkenness and off-limits sexual activity, though you wouldn’t think so from many churches.

But he doesn’t just tell people what to avoid. He shows them how to avoid it. ‘Put on the Lord Jesus, the Messiah’, he says. What does that mean? How can we do it?

‘Putting on’ comes from the night/day contrast once more. Here we are, getting up while the rest of the world still thinks it’s night-time; we must put our clothes on. The Christian’s ‘clothing’—which two verses earlier he has referred to as ‘armour’, the ‘armour of light’, the clothing we need when the light has begun to shine—consists of Jesus himself, Jesus the Lord, Jesus the king. I know some Christians who in their private devotions each day make a conscious effort in prayer to ‘clothe themselves’ with the very character of Jesus. Some people do this by reading, slowly, a story from the gospels, and praying that the character of the Jesus they meet there will surround them, protect them, and be the thing that other people see when they meet them. For other people it’s a regular discipline of remembering their baptism, the time when they were plunged into the water as a sign of dying with the Messiah, and brought up out of it as a sign of rising again with him, so that (as in Romans 6) they are no longer living in the old world, but in the new. This, indeed, is the heart of what is sometimes called Paul’s ‘ethic’: the new world is here, those who belong to Jesus belong to it, therefore they must live by its standards rather than by the present ones of society.

Excerpt from Wright, T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part 2: Chapters 9-16 (pp. 88–91).

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Is Blogging “Cultural Masturbation”?

NT Wright shares some wise and insightful reflections on the blogging phenomenon.  His warning about how blogging can become a kind of “cultural masturbation” is especially interesting.

It sounds as if he really wants us to ask ourselves the question, “Does my blogging behaviour push me into deeper face to face relationships and community, or help me avoid these things?” 

I think that’s a great question that we need ask ourselves, because it relates to so many issues tied to our use of “screen time” technology (e.g., Facebooking, texting, blogging, etc.)

Here is the full video:

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