Theologian N.T. Wright has reminded us that the gospel “is news, not advice.” That news, coming in the days of celebration of the incarnation is straight-forward: God has come to us in Jesus Christ. Grace abounds. Love wins. And everything the church is called to do, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit, equipped to do—to give witness to the New Heaven and the New Earth, for God makes all things new.
That’s the news. And within it is a stumbling block for followers of Jesus and the church that bears his name—the word “new.”
New is most often seen as suspect, untried, disruptive (it is), difficult to embrace (often so). It is also at the heart of the good news of the gospel. “New” is sown into the very fabric of our life of faith. As Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has observed:
“The Bible screams it at us. The Bible is bookended by a narrative of creation and redemption, the creation of a good universe later wrecked by sin, and its redemption. This is not a return to some Garden of Eden, but through new creation, the “world to come,” which is this world, albeit made divine again, just as Christ’s body was made glorious in the resurrection. The Book of Revelation calls this the New Jerusalem, which is described as descending to earth, not as a place to which believers ascend. Throughout his ministry, Jesus proclaims not a set of beliefs, not a code of moral behavior, not a spiritual message, but rather the kingdom of God, a reality that implies all these things but only because they are entailed by the greater reality that God has broken through the barriers that sin has thrown up between God and his good creation and is returning to establish his reign, to transform all things.”
It’s why I think Jesus’ most important word throughout his ministry was “today.” Not some re-litigation of yesterday’s hurts and harms (or a return to the hollow, gauzy memory of better times), nor some projection in a tomorrow where everything will get worked out.
“Today this is fulfilled in your hearing.”
“Today you will be with me in paradise.”
“The Reign of God is at hand today.”
“Seek first the Reign of God – leave tomorrow to take care of itself, today has enough for today.”
In focusing on today, Jesus is not settling for what is, he is not asking us to embrace status quo, he is not giving up hope of a redeemed past or a hope-filled tomorrow. Jesus understood that the focus of God’s redemptive power was today. Today is the day God makes all things new.
As Rodney Stark points out, pagans converted to Christianity in large numbers because it offered meaningful, tangible change to their quality of life and circumstances. Followers of Jesus, at our best, offer a hurting world something…new. It’s what is new about life and the world that is compelling. Not the return to something known and tried. And they do it today.
So, for every congregational long-range plan that is taking a year to write to think three years down the road and gradually phase in some modest alterations to church life, the word is today.
For every ministry that is slowly suffocating from a lack of…whatever we lack—vision, energy, support, encouragement, results—the word is today.
For the prayer that has been prayed and prayed and prayed – seemingly no avail, the word remains – sometimes painfully, but faithfully, today.
To every single one of us wondering what God is up to and where God is active, Jesus invites us to answer that question…today.
God is acting to make all things new. Today. Thank God!