The Day The Revolution Began

When it was first published in 2017, I read Tom Wright’s “The Day the Revolution Began: Rethinking The Meaning Of Jesus' Crucifixion”. It gave me a great deal to think about. It’s not an easy read, on several levels: it’s pretty densely packed with ‘stuff’, and a lot of the ‘stuff’ was either difficult, new to me, or both. Recently I read it again, and I think I may be approaching a point where I am able to talk about it.

One (or three?) of Wright’s main assertions is that we have ‘paganised’ God (by portraying him as an angry tribal deity who needs a human sacrifice in order to be placated); that we have ‘platonised’ our eschatology (i.e. our views of what happens when we die, and the ‘end-times’, owe far more to the views of Plato rather than the bible) and that the result of this is that we end up treating Christianity as little more than a moral code - a set of rules to be followed - rather than a radical new way of living.

What do I mean by the latter point?

If the whole focus of our religion becomes about ‘getting to heaven’ (which we’ll have more to say about in a moment), then what difference does how we act make? If we ‘are saved’ (i.e. we have our ticket to heaven) then how we act isn’t a salvation issue - because salvation is entirely about what happens after we die. To attempt to make how we act relevant we try to impose a code of behaviour (somewhat based on the bible, but often going well beyond anything it may ‘demand’) onto people simply because it is how we should act, but without any logical reason.

And so it all gets rather confused.Are we ‘saved’, or aren’t we? Do we need to do (or not do) these things to be ‘saved’ or are we already ‘saved’?

And, suddenly, the whole thing becomes about this moral code. We have to be seen to be acting righteously, and so honesty goes right out of the window - sin becomes a secret because we must appear to be good.

BUT…

Getting to heaven when we die is not, actually, the point.

AT ALL.

Jesus (and the apostles) did not talk about getting to heaven when we die (except once, on the cross, when, in Luke 23:43, Jesus promised one of the thieves that: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” - but we may return to study the details of this, somewhat enigmatic, statement in a later post). Rather, what they talked about was the coming of the Kingdom of God - the rule of God - healing, restoring, renewing, regenerating this world - in effect working to get back to something like the Garden of Eden. They were expecting Jesus to return here, to establish His Kingdom here, to bring heaven here. That’s very different from the ‘go to heaven when we die’ thing - which owes far more to Plato than the bible (if you want you can look Plato and his ‘Republic' up yourself on Google - I’m not telling you about Plato’s views on life, death, heaven and hell).

In the Lord’s prayer we pray:

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10

That’s not praying to go to heaven; that’s praying for earth to become like heaven! If the Good News is about the kingdom coming here, then that changes everything.

In the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5 - 8) Jesus talks at length about what life is like under God’s rule - i.e. in the Kingdom of God.

Living in the Kingdom of God is about living in a way that produces justice and mercy and love and joy and hope and peace. Living in a way which is contrary to this - living in a way which begets injustice, mercilessness, hatred, sadness, and despair, is sinful.

What does sinful mean?

Quite simply, it means ‘missing the target’.

I think we sin because we want to feel whole. We do things which we think will make us feel better about ourselves. But, all too often, these things are just an illusion; the ‘highs’ we get from them last mere moments, and then we’re back to where we were - or even worse because of the guilt we feel. If, instead, we aim for the right mark - Jesus Christ - he offers us everything we need to be whole and fulfilled.

But, we can’t do it. Not on our own anyway. We always fail to live up to expectations - our own as much as anyone else’s (we are usually our own worst critics - I’m pretty sure God is far less critical of us than we are of ourselves).

God forgives us when we mess up. So does it matter if we don’t do anything about changing our behaviour?

Of course it does.

The apostle Paul tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We should probably see death as a consequence of sin. And by death we needn’t mean a literal death, but something which robs us of life - something which steals our love, joy, peace, etc., as well as that of others…

Sin always has a victim. Often that’s us, ourselves; but equally often, it is someone else…

If we gossip, someone is a victim; if we lie, someone is being cheated; if we’re greedy, someone goes without; if we’re ambitious, someone else’s dreams are crushed; if we sit looking at pornography, someone was degraded and abused making it; if we ignore the ethics of how we shop, others suffer - children enslaved in sweatshops for instance. Everything we do, say, and think has consequences for someone.

Is that not a reason to want to change the way we are?

Why not allow God to transform us and free us from sin?

I don’t know about you, but I want to be part of a revolution which is setting people free, rather than enslaving them.

I want to bring justice and hope.

I want to bring LIFE not DEATH.

I want to love my neighbour as I love myself.

We pray for the Kingdom to come. We should live as though we want it to come. We should let go of the narrow-minded, moralistic, rules. Instead we should embrace life, and live it the way we’re meant to live it - life that will be full; life that will make the lives of others better.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020