Affirming the Sunrise

“Sun’s awake?” This is a question that we used to hear often in the Smith household. For a while, my daughter would wake up well before dawn and assume that the day had begun. After all, if she was awake then everyone else should be awake, too!

As it happened, this phase of my daughter’s early wakefulness coincided with the birth of my son, which meant that my wife and I were already sleep deprived. Needless to say, my daughter’s early morning wake-up calls weren’t exactly helpful to our rest or sanity. So we taught her that nighttime is for sleeping and daytime is for playing, a supposition that led to that all important question: “Sun’s awake?” If so, it was time for everyone to get up. If not, it was time to go back to sleep. Most often, this question bought exhausted parents a few extra minutes of sleep because the sun had not yet risen. For the followers of Jesus, though, the same question should have the opposite effect. For in Christ we believe that the sun is indeed awake, which means that we his people should be awake as well.

Of course, when we talk about the sunrise in Christ, we move into the realm of metaphor. We speak here of the sunrise of redemption breaking forth on a broken world. This is the moment when the “new heaven and new earth” of Revelation 21 take shape, when brokenness gives way to wholeness, when God dwells perfectly with his people, and when there is no longer any mourning, crying, death, or pain. This is the object of Christian hope, and we wait for it expectantly.

But how can we say that the sun is already awake? The new heaven and new earth are certainly a worthy and compelling hope for the future, but how can we say that the sun of redemption is rising over a world that is so obviously broken? We hear of natural disasters and moral disasters on a regular basis, and it so often seems that we are cloaked in the deep dark of an unfriendly night. This broken darkness makes us long for that beautiful, future work of God already described, but can the sun really be awake now, in this pervasive darkness?

In a word, yes. Notice Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old is gone, the new is here!” This is a sweeping statement that speaks not of future hope but of present experience. It is also a statement that, when teamed with passages like Revelation 21, yields an important insight: New creation is the object of Christian hope and the content of Christian experience. Somehow that promised new creation has become present to Christ’s people in the here and now.

But how can this be? Resurrection is the key. In Christ’s resurrection new creation has sprung forth. Death has been defeated and the rebellious powers of this world have been put on notice. Our resurrected Lord now reigns victorious, and we wait with expectation for the day there when the victory won at the empty tomb will be made whole and complete! The goodness of this total victory, the fullness and totality of new creation, has now become the hoped-for inheritance of Christ’s people, and by our connection to the risen Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit within us, we experience its beginnings even today.

New creation has begun, but it is not yet complete. Theologians call this the “already/not yet” dimension of God’s work in Christ. We already experience it, but we have not yet experienced its fullness. Thus, we Christians find ourselves at the moment of twilight. The sun itself is still just below the horizon, but its light has begun to mingle with the darkness. The light is present, but the darkness has not yet been dispersed. We are a people caught in that moment between night and day.

Which makes my daughter’s question an important one. How should we live in this in-between moment? Well, if the sun is awake, as we believe it is, then we should act like it. Though we exist in a moment when darkness still covers the land, we are to live according to the light that has become present to us in Christ. We are to follow Jesus in the power of the Spirit, knowing that this unfriendly night must eventually succumb to the full, unyielding light of day.

“Sun’s awake, daddy?” Yes, sweetheart, it is. And that makes all the difference.

A Christmas Meditation

The scene is more lowly than idyllic. A child has been born and wrapped in cloth. He lies in a manger because no guest room can be found. We’ve heard the story so many times that we can miss the stark backwardness of it all. The Son of God should have come in trappings of greatness. He should have been born to power and ease. Yet he spends the first night of his human life lying in a feeding trough.

There is a scandal of lowliness in the nativity.

But the scandal goes deeper than this. The child is born in low estate, but the true wonder of the nativity is found in the birth itself. The One through whom and for whom all things were made has become a part of his creation. The Infinite has taken on finite existence. The One who sustains all things by his powerful word has become completely dependent on the sustenance of another. God the Son has taken on human flesh and become the Son of man. And on this night and many to follow, he lies helpless and dependent in the frail existence of a newborn child.

There is also a scandal of humanness to be found.

This is the force of the incarnation. The great has become small. The infinite finite. The uncontainable contained. The Apostle Paul put it like this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9, NIV)

Augustine waxed poetic on the same theme: “He lies in a manger, but contains the world. He feeds at the breast, but also feeds the angels. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, but vests us with immortality. He found no place in the inn, but makes for Himself a temple in the hearts of believers. In order that weakness might become strong, strength became weak.” (Sermon 190 3, 4)

The rich has become poor. The strong has become weak. And all this that we might become rich and strong through him.

We are used to speaking of the love that led Jesus to the cross.

Perhaps we should also speak of the love that led him to his birth.

In the nativity, God the Son has poured himself out and taken human form, and in this we see the nature of God on display. Jesus, “Who being in very nature God, did not consider his equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Phil. 2:6-7, NIV) It is in the nature of God to pour himself out on behalf of others, and though it is scandalous to us, it is natural to him. Such is the wonder of the God we serve. Such is the splendor of a newborn baby who bears the weight of the world. Such is the beauty of Christmas.

An Easter Meditation

The daytime sky is dark.  It has been for the past three hours.  The untimely darkness covers much, but it can’t hide the sounds of pain.  In the shadows stand three crosses, each bearing a contorted body that was once strong and fit.  Two are rebels.  One is the King of Glory.  All three will soon be dead.

The King is anything but glorious in this dark moment.  Hours earlier, soldiers spat upon him and placed a crown of thorns on his head.  His arms and feet are nailed to hard, unrelenting beams.  He hangs there in the darkness, lifted high above the earth, sweat and soldiers’ spit covering his naked body.  Trails of blood flow from his wounds, pooling beneath his feet.

He has been the object of insults and abuse.  He has been abandoned by his followers.  He hangs now between two criminals, and even they mock the King.  Glory has fled.

And now in the darkness, the powers of the present age gather in anticipation.  The King is fading.  He bows beneath their weight, and he will surely break.

He does.  In a God-forsaken moment, Jesus cries out in agony and breathes his last.  The King is dead, and hope lies forgotten in the bloody earth.

But hope will not be silenced.

In the darkness of a tomb, all is still.  Quiet lies heavy like a cloak except for the occasional rustle of soldiers who guard the entrance.  The body of the King lies dead.  Until the touch.  It is the touch of God the Father.  It is the touch of life.  The King who was dead is again alive.  Behold the resurrection!  Glory has returned.

Forgotten hope begins to sing.  She lifts her voice loud and true.  It is the song of newness.  It is the song of sunrise.  It is the song of a dawning age.  The powers that gathered will not hold sway.  Death has not triumphed.  No, God will have the last say, and he speaks words of life.  The powers are defeated, and a new age has dawned.  Jesus has won.  He has ascended.  He sits at the right hand of the Father.

The King stands victorious.  Hope sings her song.  He is our hope.  He is our glory.  He is our peace.  He is our victory.  And we now await his return.  We wait for his kingdom to be made manifest.  We wait for what was begun to be brought to completion.  We wait for a new heaven and a new earth where chaos, mourning, crying, pain, and death will have no place.  We wait for glory to be revealed in us.  We wait to see clearly face to face.  We await the King.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

A Christmas Meditation

The scene is more lowly than idyllic. A child has been born and wrapped in cloth. He lies in a manger because no guest room can be found. We’ve heard the story so many times that we can miss the stark backwardness of it all. The Son of God should have come in trappings of greatness. He should have been born to power and ease. Yet he spends the first night of his human life lying in a feeding trough.

There is a scandal of lowliness in the nativity.

But the scandal goes deeper than this. The child is born in low estate, but the true wonder of the nativity is found in the birth itself. The One through whom and for whom all things were made has become a part of his creation. The Infinite has taken on finite existence. The One who sustains all things by his powerful word has become completely dependent on the sustenance of another. God the Son has taken on human flesh and become the Son of man. And on this night and many to follow, he lies helpless and dependent in the frail existence of a newborn child.

There is also a scandal of humanness to be found.

This is the force of the incarnation. The great has become small. The infinite finite. The uncontainable contained. The Apostle Paul put it like this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9, NIV)

Augustine waxed poetic on the same theme: “He lies in a manger, but contains the world. He feeds at the breast, but also feeds the angels. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, but vests us with immortality. He found no place in the inn, but makes for Himself a temple in the hearts of believers. In order that weakness might become strong, strength became weak.” (Sermon 190 3, 4)

The rich has become poor. The strong has become weak. And all this that we might become rich and strong through him.

We are used to speaking of the love that led Jesus to the cross.

Perhaps we should also speak of the love that led him to his birth.

In the nativity, God the Son has poured himself out and taken human form, and in this we see the nature of God on display. Jesus, “Who being in very nature God, did not consider his equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Phil. 2:6-7, NIV) It is in the nature of God to pour himself out on behalf of others, and though it is scandalous to us, it is natural to him. Such is the wonder of the God we serve. Such is the splendor of a newborn baby who bears the weight of the world. Such is the beauty of Christmas.

The Mission of God

We often think of mission as something that happens “over there.”  In a sense, this is not a bad definition.  God does, after all, call missionaries to take the gospel to far-away places, and it is our privilege to support missionaries in this endeavor.  But the definition can’t stop there.  No, it must extend far past the work of the few to the work of the many.  Mission is the vocation of the whole church, not just a segment of it.  But even this understanding of mission is not grand enough.  A dynamic, full-bodied understanding of mission must reach past the few to the many and then even to God himself.

The theological parlance for this wider missional understanding is found in the term Missio Dei (Latin for “Mission of God”), and this shift in focus from us to God is significant.  As Jenson and Wilhite note in their book The Church, “This is not a mission from God, but the mission of God.  Where the first emphasizes divine sponsorship of our program … the second emphasizes a divine program in which we graciously have been included.”[1]  God is on the move, and we are caught up in his movement.

So just how are God’s people caught up in God’s mission?  I would suggest two ways.  First, we are the recipients of God’s mission.  This is seen clearly in our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  At one time, we were estranged from God because of our sin, but God has reconciled us to himself in Christ.  Not only this, he now makes us new as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit and walk in the ways of the kingdom.  We are first recipients of God’s mission because he saves us!

Second, we become instruments of God’s mission.  Like Paul, who called himself Christ’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20), we have become witnesses to God’s saving action in the world.  At times we are given opportunity to speak the message of salvation to those around us.  Always, though, we are called to live the message.  As Saint Francis of Assisi reportedly said, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”  As Evangelicals and Baptists, we believe that words are very often necessary.  After all, “faith comes from hearing the message.” (Romans 10:17; NIV)  At the same time, the quote above calls our attention to an important truth: the spoken word of the gospel should not be divorced from the lived life of the gospel.  In an importance sense, our lives are sermons in themselves!  How is this so?  Because God is working in us, transforming us through the work of the Holy Spirit and leading us in the ways of the kingdom.  And as he does, our transformed lives become signs to those around us of what God is doing in the world!

Of course, being an instrument of God’s mission can be intimidating.  After all, we’re not perfect and often fall short of the mark.  But perfection isn’t the point.  Rather, responsive obedience to God’s leading and working is the key, and here is where things get interesting.  As we welcome God’s work into our lives and are made new, we continue to be recipients of God’s mission, and our continued reception forms us into useful instruments of the same mission.  We receive and further the mission of God, and it turns out that these roles are more intertwined than we may have thought.  For our formation into the image of Christ has a missional aspect in itself, and as we walk with God, we are caught up into his beautiful movement toward the world.


[1] Matt Jenson and David Wilhite, The Church: A Guide for the Perplexed (New York: T&T Clark International, 2010), 155.