Friday, July 21, 2006

“The Earth is the Lord’s”[1]

Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

It’s sad but true: our gospel at times is not very good news to people who are outside the church. The “standard” script has been something like this: “we’re all sinners, and we deserve to be punished; God really does love us, though, so he sent Jesus to die, to take the punishment we deserve, so that we could be forgiven and go to heaven when we die.” What most people hear when we present this message to them is “You’re no good the way you are; If you don’t change, God is going to get you; If you believe like me, act like me, hang out with me, become like me, then you get to go to heaven when you die. If you don’t, you’re going to hell.”

I think the Scriptures contain a very different gospel—one that truly is good news. Our Psalm text alludes to it. “The earth is the Lord’s” means that all that is belongs to God, both by virtue of creation and by virtue of redemption. It means that God not only reigns over all things but also cares for all things. It means that God not only deserves praise from all peoples, but also will be praised by all peoples.[2] That idea of reigning is one that is also hard for us to grasp. According to the Psalms, the nature of God’s reign is one of righteousness and justice. When God comes to reign, it means life, it means peace, it means salvation![3]

The idea in the Psalms that all peoples are blessed, they witness God’s saving work, and they acclaim him in worship may sound strange to those of us who have been taught the traditional “gospel.” However, the Psalms are not alone in this. This understanding of God’s redemptive purpose runs consistently through the whole Bible. From Genesis to Isaiah to Jesus to the Book of Revelation, the good news is that God is working to establish his reign world-wide, a kingdom which will bring “justice and compassion for all people, everywhere.”[4]

What about judgment? There is an amazing consensus that God’s plan of salvation encompasses both the judgment of all humankind as well as the ultimate redemption of the whole created order, including all humankind.[5] Yes, redemption includes judgment. That may seem like an oxymoron, or a contradiction, but that is the way the Scriptures present it. The Scriptures clearly teach that all of us will be held accountable for our lives. They teach that God’s justice will be carried out—universally. But judgment and punishment are never the last word in God’s message to humankind. In a sense, judgment prepares the way for salvation—it is always intended to lead to repentance and reconciliation.

That seems to be what Paul talks about when he speaks of gathering all things together under the lordship of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10). Paul believed that the return of Christ would be a day when, after judgment, the entire created order would be reconciled to God and restored to its rightful place under the lordship of Christ.[6] He believed that there will come a time when “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” and that in the end God would be “all in all.”

We really shouldn’t be surprised at this idea. After all, our gospel is a gospel of grace—of receiving something undeserved. It is a gospel of unconditional love, which creates in us the confidence that “this love lasts for ever and that it will not rest until it possesses us wholly”[7]

I am not ashamed to say that I believe that God’s ultimate purpose is to redeem all humanity. I really fail to see what is good about the news that those of us who are “in” will inherit an eternity of blessing in the presence of God, while those who are “out” are going to suffer an eternity of torment. The Christian hope is that God’s redemptive purpose will prevail. This is the message of the prophets, the message of the Psalms, and it is the message of Jesus: the fulfillment of God’s reign which brings salvation. The good news is that, despite all indications to the contrary, “God’s cause will prevail in the world.”[8]

It may seem like this is too good to be true. I think Karl Barth said it well when he remarked that we dare not claim such a wonderful hope as if we somehow deserve it. But he also said that we are commanded to hope and pray for it![9] So what are we to do? In light of this view of the gospel, the mission of the church is to demonstrate the reality of God’s reign.[10] We do that by, among other things:

•proclaiming the good news that God reigns and that his lordship will be fulfilled;

•bringing reconciliation, liberation, and restoration to those who are suffering;

•embodying and promoting the life of discipleship to Christ;

•entering into Christ’s sacrificial suffering for the sake of the world;

•manifesting the power of the new creation;

•acclaiming God as Lord of all creation in worship.

Though it sounds like a daunting task, we can rely on the promise that God will empower us to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

[1] A sermon preached 7/16/06 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson TX.

[2] Psalm 48:10; 57:5, 11; 66:4; 72:19; 86:9; 96:1, 7; 97:6; 98:4, 7; 108:5; 145:21.

[3]James L. Mays, Psalms, 311.

[4] Shirley C. Guthrie, “The Way, the Truth, and the Life,” Presbyterian Outlook (Feb. 11, 2002); at

[5] Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 2:2-4; 25:6–10; see also Micah 4:1-3; Luke 4:16–21; 7:20–22; 17:20–21; John 3:3, 5, 16; Revelation 11:15–19; 15:3–4; 21:1–5; 22:1–5.

[6] 1 Corinthians 15:28; Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20; Philippians 2:10-11.

[7] Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith, and the Consummation, 344.

[8] Hans Küng, The Christian Challenge, 120. See also Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 77, 190, 216.

[9] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.3, 478.

[10] Moltmann, 293.

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