09 May 2012

how god became king 6

N. T. Wright, How God Became King (New York: HarperOne, 2012).

"What we call 'incarnation' thus lies at the heart of, and gives depth and meaning to, the kingdom-and-cross combination that, in turn, lies at the heart of all four gospels" (189).  This statement is at the center of the Bishop's chapter - even more, his overall thesis - that tells the story of how God became king of the cosmos.  His assertion is that the four Gospels are working to tell this story, so long as we approach them and hear them in proper balance.  That bit has been covered, and now Wright moves further into drawing his themes together.

One of the pivotal questions which any study of the gospel must address is also found (in its own version) toward the beginning of Wright's chapter: "If then, the gospel writers are, as we suggested earlier, offering the story of Jesus as the completion fo the story of Israel, in what sense it is now complete?  How has it been fulfilled?" (179, emphasis mine).  This is crucial to understanding the gospel inasmuch as it defines the status reversal that lies at the heart of redemption, salvation and (ultimately) kingdom.  The prophetic language of ancient Israel speaks about the Suffering Servant, the Gospel narratives build on those themes, and Jesus walks in the context of that story.  Hence, we must consider the manner of Jesus's ministry, suffering and death, and resurrection if we are to grab hold of the implications of his messiahship.

Wright builds on Isaiah (and uses some of Israel's psalms also) to understand the suffering of Jesus as messianic activity.  He demonstrates their adoption into the Gospels as integral to the narrative itself, "Kingdom and cross are thus woven tightly together in some of the very texts that the gospel writers themselves highlight in their interpretation of the story of Jesus" (182).  Thus, the suffering of Jesus is in itself the suffering of Israel, all for achieving the purposes of Israel's god.  To what end?  His sovereignty (cf. 183, highlighted also by the reference to the Emmaus walk in Luke 24).

When working through the Old Testament texts, Wright also points to the very presence of God that provides salvation for Israel.  Using texts such as Isaiah 63:8-9 and Ezekiel 34, the Bishop points out that the central theme is God's very presence which saves his people (184f.).  Thus, we work toward the central theme of incarnation in the gospel narrative - "The 'God' who has become human in Jesus is the God who, as he had always promised, was returning to claim his sovereignty over the who world . . . and would do so by himself sharing the pain and suffering of his people, 'laying down his life for the sheep'" (187).  Jesus brings about God's sovereign rule ". . . by becoming Israel in the person of its representative Messiah" (188).

"Who would have thought that he was 'the arm of YHWH'?" (189).  This strange story of the gospels is the story of God becoming king, and Wright here turns to Daniel 7 to support the notion.  The people of God are rescued so that they might share in the rule of God (193).  Thus, there is a mission for the people of God - now marked off as the church - to carry on the rule of God and the presence of the kingdom.  In viewing the people of God, from Israel to the church, the Bishop says it this way, "Israel had not been abandoned.  It had not been 'replaced.'  It had been transformed" (197).  It is therefore the mission of the church to be rescued for the purpose of sharing the rule of God and being the presence of the kingdom into the world.  It is about us suffering, sharing, dying and being raised to the new life of God's kingdom, that it might come on earth now as it is in heaven.

The last section of this chapter speaks to "Kingdom and Cross in Caesar's World," and moves toward the interaction of God's people with an opposing culture.  "Jesus himself, the evangelists are saying, is now the place where heaven and earth come together, and the event in which this happens supremely is the crucifixion itself" (206).  Here God deals with the problem of evil, no longer as a philosophical abstract or theological inquiry, in a real and tangible way.  Here is the healing of the nations, the renewal of heaven and earth, and the ultimate triumph of God over evil.  Still we ask, "Who would have thought that he was the 'arm of YHWH'?"

"The point of the resurrection is that it is the immediate result of the fact that the victory has already been won" (209).  Indeed.

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