The Singularity of Jesus and his claim for universality

Wrote this as a response to Bont on CiC who wrote a response to Tim Keller’s book “The King’s Cross”.

I’ve been preaching through Luke for a couple of years now. I’ve really enjoyed staying with one book for a long time. It allows a nice, long careful study of one author. This week I’m up to Jesus sitting down for the “last supper” in the context of the Passover. Luke has Jesus setting up the meal with great intentionality and prophetic foresight paralleling how he set up the triumphal entry into Jerusalem a few chapters before.

I often tell people that the New Testament is hyperlinked to the OT kind of like a webpage. This passage is just filled with links: Isaiah 53, Exodus 12 and 24, and more. Its also charged with eschatological anticipation. “I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God”, “will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” and then later drops the “Son of Man” bomb “for the Son of Man is going as it has been determined”.

Clearly Luke (and the rest of the gospels don’t differ on this) understands Jesus as seeing what is about to take place as deeply consequential. Images of the animal’s blood sparing the children of Israel from the angel of death. Images of the covenant of blood allowing Moses and the elders to feast in the presence of Yhwh without hazard. Images of the suffering servant bearing infirmities, diseases, and iniquities.

One of the most audacious and alarming things about the New Testament is its universalizing of Hebrew particularism. One of the books most clear on this is the book of Revelation. Israel’s long struggle for shalom in their land of rest gets recast as the deliverance of a planet from the violence of the beasts. Revelation of course comes by this honestly following Daniel but now with the vivid introduction of the lion that is heard but seen as lamb. Hear the lion, see the lamb

If there is a common anxiety that most religions speak to it does seem to be suffering and death. The Buddha was quite insightful with regards to suffering. Unfulfilled desire begets suffering. His solution: destroy desire and suffering will be eliminated. Sometimes I reflect on Dutch immigrant pessimism and reflect how similar this is to the Buddha’s path. Jesus, however is embarrassingly and hazardously passionate. He passed out miraculous short term solutions wantonly. He valued the lives of others, even their feelings (the sinful woman of Luke 7 for example, the crippled woman of Luke 13) yet was so seemingly reckless with his own and of his disciples. He suggests that this strange combination is warranted by the commitment of the Father to another envisioned meal on a mountain where death is swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25). Jesus himself displays this ruthlessness in his own path and advices it for his disciples. Parents and children are to be hated, eyes and hands cut off.

I find Jesus’ summary of what “the Gentiles” chase after pretty apt: what they shall eat and what they shall wear. I find it to be a pretty good summary of the every day drama of the mass of humanity. Those of us who live in the best security and affluence that the world has been able to afford to slip into chasing more existential sustenance yet chasers we are.

We are hypocritical when it comes to what we value. We praise Jesus for his single minded pursuit of his vision. This praise goes beyond those who identify with the Christian church. Jesus gets props from Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, seculars, etc. yet when we are exhorted to emulate that single minded pursuit of the kingdom of God in the way he advocates it is often called irresponsible or sectarian. If it was good for Jesus, why isn’t it good for us?

The real scandal of Jesus is not his generosity, it is what he claims his generosity and self-donation yields, things like “all authority in heaven and on earth” and “a name that is above all names” or in the vision of the Son of Man in Daniel 7 a kingdom that will have no end.

When Keller wades in with his “sin” language it’s easy for us to get tripped up. Centuries of preachers working the sin angle as a thin screen for various moralistic and social agendas have worn the word thin. What Jesus teaches, like all other well formed religious systems is a perspective on what ails humanity and how that ailment is resolved. What I was told way back in old EC that “all of life is religious” I’ve found to be very true. We chasers of food, clothing and existential significance can’t help but keep working on the problem of what ails us and how it is resolved. Christianity’s assertions that this Jesus of Nazareth is in his own flesh, incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ascended is the solution for all humanity’s problems is scandalously audacious. Some of us are good Christian liars flippantly embracing it with our words and betraying it with our worries and our lives. Others of us are open doubters facing the audacity and kvetching at its implications and claims. Still others of us simply don’t believe it at all and are completely open and honest about it. In any case either it is true or it isn’t out there in a reality not subject to our individual agendas. It can’t be halfway so. Halfway means nothing.

Thanks Bont for being honest with us all about how you feel and what you think. I find it helps me sermonize and since it’s Friday this chaser after food and clothing needs to do a sermon but wants to have fun on Cic with its most faithful poster. 🙂

I used to think that a good preacher provides answers. Answers are helpful and important and preachers should do that. The Judas story helps me recognize that even with Jesus things are hardly so simple. It was an intimate who sold Jesus for money. Probably the greater fault of a preacher is to be inconsequential. When your regular audience is providing the food and clothing its easy to try to keep them happy. There was a reason Jesus was killed. A good preacher stirs the pot amidst a world of pot stirrers for poorer reasons. pvk

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in Culture commentary, Devotional Reflection, Pastoral Identity and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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