“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
Romans 8:29 ESV
“Those who follow Christ are destined to bear his image, and to be the brethren of the first-born Son of God. Their goal is become ‘as Christ’”. Bonhoeffer
“Oh, To be an authentic expression of the Kingdom of Jesus in the twenty first century…” Brian Zahnd. Jesus is what we’re about. Jesus is what got me into this. I met Jesus. Jesus stays right at the center. Jesus is a king. Not only that, Jesus is THE king. Jesus HAS a kingdom. He’s not going to get a Kingdom someday, he has a kingdom right now. And I hope this blows your mind, but his kingdom is HERE! It’s right here. You say no, it’s way off out there, in space, somewhere else?? NO, Jesus’ kingdom IS right here, right now. A Christian is someone who makes the confession that Jesus is a Lord, by which we mean NOT the supreme ruler of our religious life, but that Jesus is the world’s rightful king, right here, right now. We mean that. We mean that Jesus is the worlds rightful king, right now. Christians are the ones who confess that, and by faith and baptism have entered into this realm where we live under the government of God, the politics of Christ, the reign and rule of the one we confess to be King. That’s what this whole thing is all about.
Of course, there is a timing to it all. We are not living under 2nd century persecution (though some in the world really are). We’re not living in 12th century Christendom, that’s not our context or experience. We are not even living in 20th century modernity. Some of us need a calendar (amen). We are living in a 21st century post-modern world with all of the challenges that brings, but also the unique opportunities that brings for people who want to embody the reign of Christ here and now. Some of us sit around dreaming and projecting ourselves into whatever time frame we think fits into our vision of what the world should be like, a “good old days” when things were “better”, when I would have been happier, when maybe I would have fit in and found my place. But what better time or place than right here, right now (and I’m not just saying that). There are awesome opportunities, but we’re going to have to think about what, exactly, it really means to be an authentic expression, a fully developing follower, of Jesus Christ in the 21st century.
If we can learn to be an authentic expression of the kingdom of Jesus in the 21st century, we will indeed be a city on a hill. But right now, I’m going to focus on this word authentic. To be authentic expression…not a cliche, not a religious expression or activity, but to be an authentic expression of the the kingdom in the 21st century. Because…authenticity is a central work of salvation. It’s largely is meant when we talk about saving your soul. It’s really what Jesus means when he talks about saving your soul. He’s really talking about you becoming authentically you, and not someone else who been conformed to some other thing altogether.
To be authentic expressions of the kingdom of Jesus we have to start by being authentic people. We can’t offer an authentic expression of the kingdom while being inauthentic people.
So let’s look at our the text today, using The Message translation. I know many people discount this translation, but I say not so fast. Eugene Peterson, the translator of The Message, is (was) a one of a kind. First of all, he was a true scholar. He is a serious, biblical language scholar, he knows his Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac too. He’s also a pastor. He’s also a poet. So he’s got a pastoral sensibility, a poetic sensibility, combined with rock solid scholarship which produces The Message. In it, he does a brilliant job of liberating the words of Jesus from the over-familiarity of our religious cliche so we can actually hear what Jesus has to say about saving your soul. So here we go.
“Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” Mark 8:34-37 MSG. Jesus is now inviting the crowd to join the disciples. He’s calling us to join his disciples, to follow him. Jesus is going somewhere, and he will take you there with him. But if you’re going to come with Jesus, you don’t get to be in charge. You’re going to have to let him drive. Because Self-help is no help at all, and that’s too often what we try to make Christianity, where we are still in control of the agenda and we know what we want, but what we’ve figure out is that maybe Jesus and the Bible and Christianity and faith have something to do with how I can get my way. It’s about how I can make things turn out the way I want them to turn out. All things being set right means that somehow I’m going to get mine. And Jesus says NO, NO , NO , NO , NO!!! This is not how this is going to work! Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead…Self-help is no help at all…Self-sacrifice is the way. Suffering is the way. Don’t run from suffering…
You know, it is a goal of mine to be an authentic expression of Jesus Christ in this 21st century. This is something I strive for. I was at a meeting of what I hope and believe are like-minded men the other night, and a man who is farther along the path than I am spoke of cultivating a life of beauty. What a proud way of expressing how we should be living. Yes, we should cultivate a life of beauty, because as Dostoyevsky once wrote, “‘tis beauty that will save the world.” The world we live in is ugly. It’s ugly and getting uglier. I’m not talking about God’s good creation here, it is still a beautiful creation. But the world we live in, the lives we lead, the way we relate as human beings one to another, is just ugly and getting uglier. And it seems no matter how hard we (I) try, the worlds ugliness just overpowers whatever beauty we may have within and about us.
I’m tired of ugly. I’m tired of living with ugly, I’m tired of being ugly. I talked to a friend the other night, described some of the challenges I’m dealing with right now, and he made the point that maybe some of these things are occurring to knock me off of my trust in God. I think maybe my friend is right. I’m where I am in life, in the world, talking and praying and writing about believing and trusting in the God who made us. But do I really trust? Not so much. Instead of trusting and walking in the light of a beautiful God who loves me, who in fact is love, I am walking in ugliness of the world, rolling in the mud, picking up more and more of the stink around me.
But…cultivate a life of beauty. That is the goal. I’m running around trying to be someone I’m not, trying to win some prize, some approval. But, What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? I’m losing the real me. Seriously, What could you ever trade your soul for? So, I’m not sure how things will turn out over the next few months. But I mean it when I say I’m tired of ugly. My goal is to follow Jesus, whatever that means, wherever that leads. To cultivate a life of beauty, to be an authentic expression of Jesus, to be a fully developing follower. To be one who brings beauty to the world, not one who spreads the ugliness. Because I’m tired of ugly.