And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.

Revelation 21: 23, 24

This is a dream, an aspiration of the imaginations of people that love God. There will be a time when the darkness of strife and the cloud of death will no longer exist on the face of creation. That day has not come, but it is promised to us by the Lord, and He is more than good for His word in matters both small and great. In that glorious day when redemption has been fully deployed and sin and rebellion against God have come to an end, whatever stands as national distinction will cease to be a cause for separation. Instead, it will probably be a source of beauty in the sense that the aggregate of human difference and variety are all a part of a grand tapestry that in its summation fleshes out a picture of the fullness of humanity. 

Imagine with me, if you would, the world without strife, absent violence, and void of all forms of anger and distrust. Consider what it would mean to never fear of anything or anyone again. Then contemplate how it might be if love, respect, and acceptance were the singular vocabulary of all interaction and the language of formal and informal discourse. This is the work that Christ’s blood will do upon this broken world. This becomes the final and total outworking of the torment that Christ endured upon the cross, for the redemption of creation is God’s final and ultimate objective. That redemption brings about the restoration of the perfection of God’s original handiwork, and it is the world where all that follow Christ will dwell as God’s glory fills every aspect of the visual space in the universe.

Yes, this is a promise and a hoped for future, but I think that it is more than this. The glory of the Lord is not absent from the ground that we walk and the air that we breath today. Christ is considerably greater than just a once and a future king. He is alive today, and His Spirit is very active in our world. Each of us that call upon Christ as our Savior and Lord is an important part of the God’s redemptive work in this place where we walk today. He desires to shine forth the light of love and truth into every corner of the world, and this work of bringing light into dim and darkened places is something that all of Christ’s people has been granted to do as a gift and as a responsibility. We are to live in the comprehension of the light that was granted to us by Christ through the work of the cross, and we are given the privilege of living out the presence of the Lord in all that we think, say, and do. In this way, we bring the light of eternity into the reality of the places where our journey will take us this day.     

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For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Ephesians 2: 14-16

Jesus did all of this a very long time ago. Yet, we are still not living in the reality of what is described here. For there is certainly more than just a little hostility out there in the world, and I cannot see an end to it soon. We just find new reasons to dislike others, to fear them and to seek to keep ourselves separate and apart from many of the people in our world. We can even contemplate and fabricate compelling arguments for the need for these barriers and the laws or rules that are enacted in order to enforce them. In this environment, it is easy to justify the expenditure of extraordinary sums of money on this process of separation, and we name all of it as necessary, acts carried out for the sake of national pride, and in the name of religious purity.

So, you might come back at me with a statement about the fact that Paul, in this letter, was not talking about the same things that I am in the words above, and I will agree with you, to a point. However, I think that Paul’s deeper concept here is one of re-creation or of restoration of that which God designed and devised to be the state of being in our world. When humanity was formed up and established on this earth by the hand of God and with His breath breathed into our lungs, we were not intended to be separated by race, nationality, social or economic status, or by the way that we worship God. These divisions and separations have all come about in the aftermath of our sinful rebellion against our Creator. So, Paul may have been talking specifically about the very broad divisions of Jews and Gentiles, but when that discussion is extended out to its fullest reach, I contend that it is about every form of separation and division that might exist in our world.

Jesus came to break down all of those walls. He entered into His destiny in order to give us the way and the means by which God’s heart for restoration of His creation could begin to be carried out in our world. Now it is our responsibility and duty to follow Christ into that same work of restoration. Where there are divisions, we need to seek reconciliation. As there are barriers to fellowship, Christ’s people must reach out to share a table of grace, understanding, and peace. When people proclaim nationality or other forms of human-devised superiority, Christians and Christ’s church need to raise up a chorus of praise to our only true and sovereign King Jesus as we also stand up and risk defiance of power that is established in this world so that the valid power of the cross is what the world sees standing tall above our heads. There is one road that leads to peace in our world, one path to reconciliation of humanity to God, and a singular way into an eternal relationship with God, and this is the one that takes us to the cross and that leads into the arms of Jesus the Christ.    

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.

         1Timothy 3: 16

Jesus does present us with a great mystery. There is nothing else in all of human experience that is quite like Him. No person and no angelic being fulfills all that Jesus did or matches up with everything that He was. His presence on the earth brought about a special moment in history when all that had gone wrong with humanity’s occupation of this world was granted the blessing of redemption, and when the separation that our rebellion and sinfulness had caused was permanently repaired and bridged. Yet, all of this is mysterious, for grace of this magnitude, restoration of something so broken, and the love that caused God to go to this great a length to give His Son in sacrifice for each of us is all beyond the experience and the grasp of human reason. It is all the result of the character and the nature of God.

This nature of grace and redemption is something that God offers up to all people in every corner of this earth. There is no exclusivity and no exception to the offer of the gift of redemption and the eternal life that follows upon it. God’s gift is available and present for the entirety of this world’s inhabitants. This fact is also one of the great mysteries that comes out of the ways and the means in which God operates in the world, for I really do not have any idea of exactly how God goes about communicating His truth of salvation, the Gospel message of Christ, to all of the corners and to every one of the people on this earth. I do know that followers of Christ are commanded by Him to go into the world and to take that message there with us in order to bring the people that we encounter into discipleship with Jesus. But that does not fully accomplish the mission of taking Christ to all people in each place.

It is our calling and purpose to continue to flesh out people’s awareness and understanding of the mystery of Christ with people in all situations and context in which we find ourselves, and it is also God’s desire for us to seek out people who are not exposed to the Gospel so that Christ can be revealed to them through our love, concern, and care for them. God’s desire for the redemption of this world was devised in Heaven, actualized in the coming of Jesus into the world, made apparent and tangible through the life and the work of Jesus here, and brought to fruition on the cross. Then, in the vindication of resurrection from the dead, God’s intent to bring about total restoration of His creation was set into motion. Now we live in anticipation of that final return and the unending glory that it will bring about. So, in the interim, we can live in the reality of Christ’s presence in and with us, and we can go through our days proclaiming to the world the redemption that comes through Jesus Christ alone.

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1

All that it takes to live well in God’s eyes, at least as they are understood by the Apostle Paul, is to think and act exactly as God would in the various situations and circumstance in which we find ourselves. This is not such an enormous task, is it? As anyone who has even the slightest desire to do this sort of thing can attest, living out godliness, that is, walking through life as a perfect image of Christ is not only challenging to do, but it is an impossibility. No one can do this, and no one other than Jesus has even come close. Thus, we go from the example of absolute perfection on the one hand in Christ to the flawed performance that all of the rest of us exhibit on the other hand. The contrast is stark, and the failure that we all know could be overwhelming if we were to let it be so. But that is not the way that God wants for things to be, and that is not the place that Christ leaves us, either.

Jesus went to the cross so that this flawed and failed reality would not continue to be the one that all of humanity inhabited. The blameless and perfect One paid a price that each and every one of us who has walked this earth or who will ever do so has earned the obligation to pay. However, God desired to close the enormous gap that sin had created between Himself and us, and that desire was so great that the Father gave the Son over as payment for that eternal debt. In like fashion and with complete accord, Jesus, the Son Himself, surrendered to the will of the Father and completed the arduous and painful journey that was set out for Him from the beginning of earth’s history. So, we are set free from overbearing guilt, shame, and the debt of sin. We are granted a new life in Christ, and we are led into being purposeful followers of Christ’s calling for each of our lives.

So, we will never be perfect followers of Christ, and no one will exist in a sinless state in this life. However, in Christ, we put on that new image of redemption that allows each of us to leave behind our old ways of viewing life and of interacting with people. Now our hearts are opened up to viewing all others as people to be loved and to be cared about and for. As Christ truly gave Himself up for me and for you, so too, we are called upon by Christ, and we are empowered by His Spirit to give up our fears, concerns, inhibitions, and prejudices so that we can see all of the people on this earth as God’s own dear ones that need love and understanding. Thus, there is no person who is too different, unclean, professing an unreachable view of God, hurtful beyond redemption, or who possesses or exhibits any barrier or impediment to being approached in love. We can all imitate Christ in reaching out in love to all others. This is the great possibility of faith in Christ. He has opened those doors for us, and His sacrifice has already bridged the great divide that Satan has attempted to create between people. All that we need to do is to trust in Christ enough to walk out onto the bridge that He has constructed for us to use. 

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Mark 8: 33

These are harsh words. These is the sort of thing that most people are very uncomfortable with saying to someone else; especially, to someone that we are close to and that we care about greatly. Yet, this was exactly what Jesus needed to say to Peter and to the rest of His close group of followers. When Jesus had stated the reality of where they were headed and of what that destination would mean for Him, they were troubled to the point of completely rejecting the idea of sacrifice. They seemed to be pleased with the miraculous healings and even with the way that Jesus managed crowds and fed their physical bodies while filling the souls with new life. They didn’t necessarily understand most of this, but they were delighted to participate in it all. But now Jesus reveals the balance of the story, and with that image of suffering and of pain came the sobering prospect of their own participation in that same self-sacrificing service to God.

Yet, that sacrifice is what was to be required of Jesus in order to overcome humanity’s sinful rebellion against God. The antagonism of the world would need to be poured out upon the perfect love that God gave to Creation in the form of the spotless lamb of glory, the Christ. By extension and by virtue of inclusion this same antagonism is something that all people who follow Christ do encounter. In conjunction with healing, deep joy, peace, and fellowship with God and with His body of faith comes pain, rejection, grief, and real loss. So, these last elements of life in Christ are things that Satan would have us join with Peter in attempting to reject. “Surely an all-loving and caring Father, God would not demand that His beloved children undergo such hardships. Either you are misunderstanding what God is requiring of you, or He is not all that great and caring a being. Regardless of which is true, God’s commandments and His direction for life and about living it are to be questioned and set aside when they disagree with personal comfort, pleasure, or happiness.” So, spoke the Serpent to Eve and Adam, and so too we hear Satan’s whispered lies in our ears.

In the light of this reality, Jesus does not sound so harsh. As I consider that the alternative to listening to Christ is following Satan’s guidance, even a verbal slap in the face from the Lord is not too much to handle. In order to truly live as a child of the Risen King, I must be willing to set aside the easy and the comfortable things of this world and follow Christ to His cross and beyond it into a life that is guaranteed to be unpopular and troubled. In so committing myself to serving Him, I am placing truth above conformity, love as greater than safety, compassion in the role of guiding principle for embracing people, and loyalty to justice as supreme to any other form of allegiance that might attempt to call my name. Jesus loved Peter and His disciples greatly, and He loves each of us with the same depth of passion and absolute commitment to caring for our hearts, minds, and souls as He did them. That is why He was so direct with them in matters such as this, and this is why the Lord is also direct with us. We must be willing to trust Christ enough to follow Him into the sacrificial living that seeking to make a difference in our world requires. We are called upon by the Lord to love when that is unpopular, to give away what we hold dearest, to speak and live out truth even as it is held in disdain by our culture, and to give up all human rights for the sake of eternal glory. These are the sorts of actions that leave Satan and his whispered lies behind and that relegate him to the dust of his destiny.