During January and February I’m preaching, at Homewood Road URC, a series of talks on the person of Jesus and his identity as lover, liberator, life-giver, leader and, ultimately, what his identity as ‘The Christ’ means.
Missiologist Alan Hirsch identifies that one of the greatest challenges to churches today is to ‘Re-Jesus’. In other words, for the church to reflect its teacher, inspiration and Lord. The Lordship of Christ is at the very heart of who the church is in the context of the dynamic relationship of the Trinity. It is in Christ that we enter into the flow of life in God and in the Kingdom. The central cry of the early church and every subsequent significant ‘Jesus-movement’ has had this cry at its heart, holding together all the essential elements the lead to a dynamic church. The Lordship of Jesus represents a direct challenge to all of us. If His Kingdom is to come, it means that our kingdoms must go. If he is Lord, then it means that I’m not, and not even my ideas are.
Why does Jesus matter? Simply because he UNIQUELY shows us the character of God. The challenging thing is not just that Jesus was and was like God, but that God is and is like Jesus. Same with the Spirit. Co-equal in power and glory. Distinct, but God. Each revealing something of the other and of themselves. Community but unity. In the gospels, Phillip got confused and wanted Jesus to show him the Father. Jesus replied to that with “Phillip, you’re looking at a perfect picture of Him…you’ve been looking at him all along”.
For me, Christology is a key discipline in theological reflection. I don’t profess to be NT Wright, there’s a whole tonne of stuff I don’t pretend to know at all, but my reaction is that the Jesus you see is the church you’ll be. We see this playing out in our world where a poor Christology can lead to supposed ‘evangelical Christians’ seeing President Trump as the messiah (small m) for their nation. The flip side is a Jesus who is SO loving that no ethics or morality can be deduced and so Jesus simply rubber stamps every liberal idea. The truth is NOT on that linear spectrum. It is not on that line but in Christ who stands above the line, holds the extremes together in tension, not to produce a compromise but to share a different vision. One which says ‘I don’t condemn you, but go and sin no more’.
Then, there is the Jesus of mission. He didn’t just come as a God-mirror, but as one who enacted the ACTION of God. God is a missional God. He is a sending God. He is a God who longs to draw all nations to himself. The ultimate vision that John gives in revelation is ‘all nations around the throne’. The Jews were called to be a light to gentiles, the church is called to be a light to the world. Jesus sends his disciples to preach, teach, heal, defeat evil. He commissions the church with the task of making disciples and inducting/incorporating/immersing/baptising people into his Body. That involves conversation, it involves conversion and it involves a transfer of Kingdoms. Paul calls it a transfer from the dominion of darkness into the Kingdom of God (Col 1: 13). However it happens in reality, it has to happen spiritually. The ‘spiritual rebirth’ is a necessary event which happens by repentance, faith and regeneration by the Spirit. Jesus then announces, on his departure to glory, that the Spirit will then be sent to enable his followers to take the message to the ends of the earth. An essential nature of the church is our sent-ness. Mission is more than evangelism but evangelism is a part of mission.
Our understanding of Jesus affects our understanding of our mission. Our understanding of Jesus and mission then shapes our understanding of what the church, then, should look like. You just can’t be the body of Christ if you don’t know Christ and conform to his likeness. The extent to which we are conformed to his likeness is the extent to which people will find life, acceptance, embrace and transformation amongst his people.