“Is that all there is?”
Through mentoring folk from every continent, getting alongside pastors, businessmen, lawyers, artists and local church people etc. 2013 has turned out to be a very exhausting year. Much of this has to do with our prevailing culture of unbelief. In the midst of reading on the Western materialism I have been called back to consider some of the reasons why I first turned to Christ. A major theme is illustrated by a sixties hit song by Peggy Lee. She runs through the formative events of a young woman’s life repeating the refrain, “Is that all there is?” Her conclusion reflects the dominant mood of our culture; “If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing Let’s break out the booze and have a ball” Like Lee Westerners as a whole have opted out of a serious search for life’s meaning and turned to self-gratification. My own personal search for meaning however led me to Jesus four decades ago and it leads me back to him today. The spiritual crisis of our culture can only be resolved through a recovered revelation of the full biblical dimensions of Christ.
The Fullness of God
Revelation pictures human destiny within a city of fantastic proportions, “The city lies foursquare… Its length and width and height are equal, 12,000 stadia…” (Rev 21:16). The picture of a city 2,220 kilometres high strains the imagination, until we recognise its symbolism derives from the Holy of Holies as a cube (1 Ki 6:20). Heaven is a temple whose purpose is the perfect revelation of the glory of God (cf. 2 Chron 7:1ff.). Paul testifies that this perfectly dimensioned temple consists wholly of love; “you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19). This image of a future eternal temple saturated with love is a vision missing from the popular preaching of our time and points us in an unexpected direction. Temples are physical structures; this concrete prophetic symbolism teaches us that the way to overcome the mushrooming materialism swamping our times is through the Church becoming more embodied in our world.
The Temple of Christ
If materialism is the worship of matter, the enfleshment of the eternal Word is matter as true worship (John 1:14; 4:24). Through God’s unconditional loving adoption of humanity in Christ every divine purpose the glorification of our universe becomes transparent (Eph 1:8-10). The total embodiment of the Son of God, his living a fully human life of joy, sorrow, work, play, family and death, lays bare the meaning of our existence. In identifying his own body as the true temple of God Jesus identified himself as the holy place where God’s purposes in glorifying himself would be perfectly realised (John 2:18-22). If we point to Jesus and ask, “Is that all there is?”, the Father’s reply is “Yes.”. In only ever doing what he saw the Father doing Jesus perfectly consecrated all the dimensions of his humanity to God’s service (John 5:19). Christ’s life, breath, work, play, social existence etc. were the earthly sanctuary where the beauty and glory of the LORD were transparently displayed (Ps 27:4). Jesus was God’s true holy temple as a fully embodied human being; but full embodiment in this world means death. In order to perfectly glorify God the temple of Christ’s body must be destroyed (John 2:19; 12:27-28).
When Jesus cries out, ““My God…why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) he is sharing in the miserable cry of lost humanity, “Is that all there is?”. Bearing our sin means Jesus becomes blind to the presence of God in all things. The Father has become invisible. To share in our fallen loss of the glory of God Jesus must become ichabod (“no-glory”), the glory has departed from the holy of holies, the temple of Jesus own body is emptied (1 Sam 4:21; Ezek 10:18-19). If Jesus’ death looked like an “Is that all there is?” experience to his despairing disciples the resurrection sends this refrain to oblivion.
In the resurrection the glory of God comes back from exile to inhabit humanity forever, “as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father we too may live in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Resurrection fills Jesus with the glory of God so that we too may be glorified in him. Jesus now imparts the meaning of his own Spirit-filled life- giving body to those in union with him (John 1:14; 1 Cor 15:44-45). Through Jesus the earthly and heavenly, the sacred and secular have been perfectly united once for all. In union with him the glory of God can be revealed in all the ordinary circumstances of our lives; joy, sorrow, work, play, family and death (Matt 5:16). Through Christ’s splendour in the Church God has once for all answered from heaven the question of existence, “Is that all there is?”
Living Out the Light of Heaven
The reality of heaven becomes visible on earth as we let its light into all the embodied realms of life and culture; joy, sorrow, work, play, family and death.. The wisdom of God in its rich variety is seen “through the church” as the people of God live consecrated lives in all they do. This is God’s strategy for dethroning “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” whose evil work is blinding Western culture to the true reality of his presence (Eph 3:10). When the glory of the Lord radiates through his people into all dimensions of life and culture humanity will again realise its true destiny is to be a holy temple full of the glory of God.
Repentance must begin with us (1 Pet 4:17). At the root of contemporary unbelief is our being led astray to worship a miniaturised form of Jesus. Like Peggy Lee much of the Church has stopped going deeper in its search for the fullness of human life. Dancing and boozing and “having a ball” take on the form of feel good preaching, melodious worship bands and a Christian lifestyle that promises the best of everything NOW. Few contemporary Christian leaders attempt to expound what the holy apostle meant in saying, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. 10 And you also are complete through your union with Christ” (Col 2:9-10). I am anticipating however that 2014 will be a year of change.
Praise the Lord an increasing number of serious disciples are being moved to understand what it means to live out Christ’s fullness in all the realms of life and culture; joy, sorrow, work, play, family and death. The Lord is intensifying the work of building himself a temple to manifest his glory, not pre-eminently in church buildings but in the embodied realm of ordinary human life. 2014 will witness a consolidation of the dimensions of the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God in our midst so that we might all see with increasing transparency the immeasurable glory of God in Christ. This is my prayer for the New Year, and I am asking God that it is yours too.