VIDEO Passion of the Christ I Will Rise

Apr 28, 2009

Video used for 2009 Easter Service. Compilation of clips from The Passion of the Christ, along with a Chris Tomlin song, “I Will Rise”.

This is a good reminder today as the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Easter Sunday and Rejoice Χριστός Ανέστη!

Once And For All

He IS Risen Lk 24 1-8 Kristiann1

How many of us celebrate Easter Sunday as Christ’s triumph over sin and death and then live the other 364 days of the year as if that miraculous event never happened? When that’s the case, we’ve lost sight of a still greater truth: The story isn’t finished yet. We are eyewitnesses to the grand saga of the gospel, and knowing that should change the way we view and interact with the world. In Touch spoke with N. T. Wright about the importance of living out the full story of the Bible.

Q. You’ve said that we tend to view Christianity as a lifestyle guide, a set of rules, or practical advice. Yet the good news—the gospel—is an event, a moment by which the world was forever altered. Why is thinking of our faith in these terms so essential?

It’s essential because the whole point of Christian faith always was that something hashappened, and as a result, the world is a different place. Collapsing the message into a lifestyle guide or whatever just leaves the world the way it is and merely tries to adjust ourselves, our attitudes, our behaviors, but within the same framework. The point of the “good news” is that God has taken charge of the world in a whole new way.

Q. How has settling for “good advice” rather than “good news” shaped the Western church?

The Western church over the last two centuries or so has tended to go along with the dominant philosophy, which is that “religion” (including the Christian faith) is about private life—private faith, private salvation, private behavior. It is then “good advice” of that sort, but it leaves the larger public issues untouched. That’s why so many in the West assume that “religion” and  “public life” have nothing to do with one another, so that the kingdom of God itself—the central message of Jesus!—is reduced to either “heaven” or “private spirituality” rather than, as Jesus said, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, emphasis added).

When humans, remade through the gospel and Spirit, are functioning as the royal priesthood, they are free for all the purposes God has for them.

Q. In Simply Good News, you write that for the first believers, “Something hadhappened. Something would happen.  And in between, something powerful and mysterious was happening in the lives of all those who found themselves caught up in it.” How does understanding and embracing this “triple vision” help us recapture the dynamic power of the early church?

Actually, to recapture that power, the Holy Spirit and prayer are essential. When people pray—especially when they pray for the Spirit to be at work—all sorts of things we hadn’t expected happen. But part of the answer to our prayer will be the realization (in both senses, i.e., the mental realization, as in “realizing something is the case,” and thepractical realization, as in “realizing the concept, turning it into reality”) that God has taken charge of the world in a new way through the death and resurrection of Jesus. All sorts of things are possible if we pray and trust and go to our work, confident that the new creation has already begun and we are part of it.

Q. You describe Jesus’ resurrection as a way in which “God has made … genuine humans of us.” The phrase “genuine humans” is compelling. Could you elaborate on what it means?

The Bible tells us humans are made in the image of God—that is, to be angled mirrors through which the loving stewardship of God is reflected into His creation and the praise and adoration of creation is reflected back to Him. The biblical shorthand for this is that we are created to be the “royal priesthood.” Royal as in kings, but with kingship redefined by Jesus and His cross; priests, as in the temple, but with Jesus Himself as the new temple, and the church as the temple insofar as it’s indwelt by the Spirit.

When humans, remade through the gospel and Spirit, are functioning as the royal priesthood, they are free—free from all that pulls them down and detracts from this vocation, free for all the purposes God has for them. (See Eph. 2:10.) That’s the thing about sin. It is, of course, a breaking of God’s will, but the point is not, “You’ve been very bad and must be punished,” but rather, “You’ve just missed out on something God was wanting you to do.” Mission and worship, worship and mission, in their broadest senses—that’s what we were made for, and that’s how we become genuine humans.

Q. Many people believe heaven is the ultimate goal of existence, but that’s not God’s end game. His plan is to restore and transform all of creation. There’s a vast difference between these concepts. Why do so many of us get this wrong? And how are we missing the true meaning of the gospel as a result?

The mediaeval church succumbed to a variety of influences, especially certain kinds of Platonic belief in which the material world is itself evil and the task of humans is to escape it. This is why, for many “liberal” Christians, the resurrection is literally unbelievable. And for many “conservative” Christians, it is simply an amazing miracle showing Jesus is divine or that there really is life after death. Few in the Western church have stopped to think what the resurrection actually means—that God has launched His new creation, right here in our midst, and by His Spirit, He has called us to be part of it. For that reason, things like art and music—which, within a Platonic view, are often left to one side as mere decoration—are actually central to the work of reimagining and co-creating, here and now, signs and foretastes of God’s final creation.

Q. You describe modern Christians as living in a “split-level world,” in which heaven and earth are distinctly separate realms. How can we begin to correct this schism in our thinking? And what will we gain by doing so?

We must take seriously what happens when we worship and pray—particularly in sacramental worship but also in music and liturgy generally. The idea of a split-level world is the philosophy called Deism (or even, more extreme, Epicureanism), and so many people today just take this idea for granted. But the biblical worldview is of heaven and earth as the interlocking and overlapping spheres of God’s good creation. Jesus brought them together—at the cost of His own life—since earth was so far out of joint with heaven.

In His resurrection, Jesus embodies the new heaven/earth joint reality. In His ascension, there is already part of “earth” (Jesus’ human body) in heaven, and then at Pentecost, the fresh wind of heaven comes to the earth to bring about new creation. All this is basically Jewish-style “temple” theology: The temple was the place where heaven and earth met and was therefore the advance sign of a new world. When Paul speaks of the Christian, or of the church, as the temple—for example, in 1 Corinthians 3 and 6—this is what he has in mind.

The resurrection actually means that God has launched His new creation, right here in our midst, and by His Spirit, He has called us to be part of it.

Q. You write, “The good news about the future is utterly dependent on the good news about the past. Christian life is shaped by both.” How can the good news about the future help influence our faith?

When you know where you’re going, you’re much more likely to steer a straight course toward it. So many Christians think vaguely about “going to heaven” yet have little idea of what that future hope means here and now. But if you see the new creation as the ultimate future, with ourselves as renewed humans and the royal priesthood, we can start practicing, in the present, the character traits we will have completely in the future. This is where a Christian “virtue” ethic comes in—to start learning now the language that will be spoken in God’s new creation, to practice its tricky vocabulary and irregular verbs so we can more and more speak it fluently. One obvious example is what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (KJV). He’s talking about love. For the moment, we glimpse the new creation, but we are to practice here and now the love that will be the central characteristic of that new creation so we will be fluent in and ready for the new when it comes.

Q. We all know and agree on the essential value and meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection, but what else must we recognize if we’re ever to grasp “the full meaning of the good news”? And when we do, how will our lives  be different?

We need to understand how the good news worked in the first century, in terms of the backstory of the world and of Israel. The New Testament was written in very conscious fulfillment of the much larger story of Israel, which in turn was the focal point (according to the Bible) of the story of the world. It is quite difficult for people today—especially if they’ve grown up thinking of the Old Testament simply as a book of long-range prophecies with some great  (and some very puzzling) moral stories—to see how the whole narrative comes together in the four Gospels.

I have heard it said that the Gospels are like the head and the Old Testament is the torso. We need to understand the torso if we are to see the meaning of the head—and vice versa. This gives to our lives, our praying, our worship, and our mission a depth, a rootedness, and a power that we otherwise lack. The danger so often is that we collapse into mere pragmatism, doing the next thing that seems more or less right. We need to take a step back and see the much larger picture.

Think of it this way. If I see my local football team scoring a goal, that’s good. But it’s not that exciting. If I had known that this was the final of some great tournament and that this goal would win the championship and change my town forever, I would be dancing in the streets. Likewise, if we say, “Jesus died for your sins,” that is great news. But if we say, “The Creator of the world has longed to set His whole creation right once and for all; He has planned and prepared how to do this by the sheer power of His own self-giving love, and this love has come and given its all in order to deal with evil at every level and launch His new creation”—well, that’s a bit different. Fortunately, this is what the Bible teaches, and some of the best hymns and prayers tell this story. The “good news” is much better, and more powerful, than many people believe!


Photography by Kieran Dodds


N. T. Wright is the author of more than 30 books, including his most recent, Simply Good News. He’s also Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.



Megaphones For Christ

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Have you ever attended a professional sports event? Thousands upon thousands of people scream and cheer loudly, as if their shouts were actually willing their side to victory. People certainly get excited about their favorite sports teams.

How many believers do you know who put that same passion and intensity into their faith? How often do you proclaim the saving truth of Jesus Christ as loudly as a football fan proclaims his or her allegiance?

In his letter to the church at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul rejoices in the young congregation’s passion for telling the world about Christ. Because the city was a busy seaport, he knew that the church there had the ear of the entire world. Travelers would hear the gospel and then take it back and share it with their own communities.

Paul praised the Thessalonians because “the word of the Lord … sounded forth” from them (1 Thess. 1:8). Our heavenly Father wants the same to be true of His children today. Before there were any microphones or loudspeakers, a long, curved device known as a sounding board was used to amplify a public speaker’s voice. We can think of the Thessalonians as living amplifiers who proclaimed Jesus Christ to the world. And we should emulate them.

If you’re a “fan” of Jesus, then you have the responsibility of sharing with the world who He is and what He has done for you. Shout it from the rooftops! Fill entire stadiums with the thunder of your praise! Don’t just show the people around you who your favorite sports team is. Make sure they know who your Savior is as well.


“And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands.” (Hebrews 1:10)

The primary name for God in Scripture is the majestic name Jehovah, occurring nearly seven thousand times. The early Jews were reluctant to use that name, for fear of using it lightly (Exodus 20:7), and substituted the word Adonai (meaning Master or Lord) in its place. Our English versions have followed suit, using the term “LORD” for Jehovah (small or all caps to distinguish it from Adonai, or Lord). Thus, the name Jehovah appears only four times in the King James and causes us at times to miss the full impact of the passage.

This is especially true in the New Testament quotations from Old Testament passages which used the name “Jehovah” for which “Lord” has been substituted. Now, in the English versions, the name “Lord” appears. If “Jehovah” (i.e., deity) were read instead, much richer meaning would be gathered, and it would prove beyond a doubt the full deity of Christ. Consider two examples.

First, our text quotes from Psalm 102:25-27. The entire psalm consists of praise to Jehovah, and here in Hebrews it addresses the Son. If we read “thou, Jehovah, in the beginning hast laid the foundations of the earth” and realize that Jesus is the subject of the passage, we recognize that Jesus can be none other than the Creator God.

Also, in Matthew 3:3, where John the Baptist fulfilled his prophesied role by teaching “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” quoting from Isaiah 40:3, we see Jesus equated with the Jehovah of the Old Testament, for Isaiah uses the term LORD, or Jehovah.

In these and many other examples, we see Christ as the Jehovah Jesus and that the Lord of the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New Testament. JDM

At Once Far Off and Near

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. —Psalm 139:7-8

Few other truths are taught in the Scriptures with as great clarity as the doctrine of the divine omnipresence. Those passages supporting this truth are so plain that it would take considerable effort to misunderstand them. They declare that God is immanent in His creation, that there is no place in heaven or earth or hell where men may hide from His presence. They teach that God is at once far off and near, and that in Him men move and live and have their being….

This truth is to the convinced Christian a source of deep comfort in sorrow and of steadfast assurance in all the varied experiences of his life. To him “the practice of the presence of God” consists not of projecting an imaginary object from within his own mind and then seeking to realize its presence; it is rather to recognize the real presence of the One whom all sound theology declares to be already there, an objective entity, existing apart from any apprehension of Him on the part of His creatures. The resultant experience is not visionary but real.

Lord, I want to be cognizant of Your presence throughout the day today. I know the fact; I pray for the realization. Amen.

Prayer of a Servant

O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid. Thou hast called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. Thou art about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.

O Lord my Lord, Thou hast stooped to honor me to be Thy servant. No man taketh this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron. Thou hast ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing.

They have rejected Thee, the Master and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.

My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weaknesses nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine but Thine. Thou hast said, “I know thee; I ordained thee; I sanctified thee.”

Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Thine. So be it, Lord; Thy will, not mine be done.

The Lord knoweth them that are His

This morning our desires go forth for growth in our acquaintance with the Lord Jesus. This was most blessedly perfect long before we had the slightest knowledge of him. Before we had a being in the world we had a being in his heart. When we were enemies to him, he knew us, our misery and our wickedness. When we wept bitterly in despairing repentance, and viewed him only as a judge and a ruler, he viewed us as his brethren well beloved. He never mistook his chosen, but always beheld them as objects of his infinite affection. “The Lord knoweth them that are his.”