Overview of Ephesians in 15 Minutes by N. T. Wright

For those already familiar with theologian N. T. Wright, this talk will seem a bit elementary– and much shorter!– than his normal lectures. For those unfamiliar with Wright, you may not see what all the fuss about this theologian is about. "Ephesians cannot be summed up in 15 years of study let alone 15 minutes," you may rightly say. But keep in mind that Wright is one of the rare breed of theologians who can write multiple 700+ page volumes on Christian Origins, a full-length 500+ page commentary on Romans, and yet write dozens of other books aimed at the general public, and succeed at both! That sort of excellent scholarship combined with accessible articulation are what make him special.

What is remarkable about this short talk, given not to seminary students but to the whole student body at a Wheaton College chapel, is how, in 15 minutes, he is able to show Paul's cosmic soteriology and how we fit into it. If brevity, as Shakespeare said, is the soul of wit (which for Shakespeare meant intelligence not humor), then N. T. Wright's wit and wisdom are both dazzlingly brilliant. The whole talk, only about 22 minutes long, can be viewed on iTunesU HERE.

NT Wright Gives Quick Tour Through Ephesians from Glenn Packiam on Vimeo.

 

 

Those Whose Best Life Isn’t Now

To mourn is to protest. It is to say that this should not be. 

We mourn when we lose a friend in a car accident. We mourn when we lose a child in pregnancy. We mourn when an earthquake collapses buildings upon untold hundreds of lives we never knew. We mourn when a husband walks out his wife and children. We mourn when a son turns away from his mother and father. We mourn when an economy that enables greed leads powerful people to exploit the powerless. We mourn when disease destroys a life in its prime, when an addiction takes down a life that had so much promise. These and more are occasions when we mourn, when we protest, when from the depths of soul we cry out, “This is not supposed to happen!”

And we’re right. To mourn is to protest. And to protest is to give witness to a better reality. It is a sign in our souls that we are in on God’s secret: all is not as God intends. This isn’t quite the world God made. All is not the way it should be. Sin is at work. Evil has infected the cosmos. Just as Israel was kicked out of the promise land because of their rebellion against Yahweh, the whole universe is in exile because of humanity’s rebellion against Creator-God in the garden. And as Israel mourned so the whole world mourns, lamenting the brokenness. In mourning, we protest the infection of evil, crying out that this is not how it should be. And in protesting, we give witness to a better reality, an unfallen creation. Perhaps there is a faint memory of Eden in our hearts. We have been wandering in exile for so long it’s hard to know.

We can see and taste and feel the evidence of a good creation infected by evil. But what of God? What does He think? Here things take a surprising twist. God is not watching from a distance, waiting to make the earth dissolve like snow and start over. We know that God, right from the Garden of Eden, began looking for Adam after his rebellion. God in the garden was working within His newly fallen creation. God in the garden. God the Gardener

Then, in the fullness of time, God became flesh. Jesus entered our suffering, joined in our mourning, and continued working from within His fallen creation. One of the stories He told was of a tree that had yet to bear fruit and was about to be cut down. But the gardener told the master not to cut it down yet. “Let me surround it with manure and work with it for another year,” the gardener said. Always patient. Always working. God the gardener.

Toward the end of Jesus’ time on earth, God was in a garden again, agonizingly at work within His fallen creation. Jesus, praying, surrendering, blood dripping from His forehead under the weight of what He was about to do. Jesus, at the cross, took the full weight of evil on Himself. He drank the poison that had infected the universe. Like the scene from The Count of Monte Cristo, it was as if on the cross, Jesus said, “Do your worst, and when you are done, I will do mine.” And He did. He rose from the grave, conquering death and hell, signifying that death would not reign forever. Jesus was more than the Messiah who brought comfort to a mourning Israel, suffering in prolonged exile. He was the one who rescued all creation from exile. By rising from the grave, Jesus announced to the world that it would not always be this way. As Paul explained to the Corinthian church, because Christ has been raised from the dead “He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”  (1 Cor. 15:20 NLT) God in the garden, sowed the seed of His life for a harvest of new creation.

Shortly after Jesus had risen, Mary Magdelene wept at the empty tomb thinking His body had been taken away. Jesus stood before her but she mistook Him for a gardener. Not a bad mistake. The Gardner is at work in His garden, and the garden itself longs for the work to be complete:

“For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope,  the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.  For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Rom. 8:19-22, NLT)

By taking the full weight of humanity’s rebellion and the full force of evil, Jesus entered our mourning and defeated evil at its root. He sowed His life and rose again as the first fruit of a coming harvest, a day when heaven and earth will be made new. The cross was a decisive moment of victory over evil; the resurrection a sign of what is to come. God the Gardener is at work within the garden of His fallen creation, working to rescue and redeem. 

But sometimes all we see is manure…

You are blessed not for your mourning but for the comfort that is coming. You are not lucky for your tears but for the laughter that is coming.

So. In a world of suffering and pain, we mourn. But in the midst of our mourning, we realize that God mourns with us, and we remember that Jesus has triumphed over evil and so death will one day end. Moreover we carry this hope to others who mourn. We "comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God" (2 Cor. 1:4). Jesus the Messiah carries a comfort deeper than anything we have ever known. We who were mourning are lucky, for this comfort has come to us. Now we who have received this comfort carry it to those who mourn.

 [This is an excerpt from "Lucky: How the Kingdom Comes to Unlikely People", which just released on March 1, 2011. This is taken from Chapter 5, "Those Whose Best Life Isn't Now."]

Purchase LUCKY.

 Copyright Glenn Packiam. All rights reserved.

How Mercy Triumphed Over Judgment

[EDITOR'S NOTE: As a follow-up to my last post, here is a slightly adapted excerpt from Chapter 8 of "Secondhand Jesus". If you like, you might enjoy the rest of the book! :)]

If God’s justice requires Him to judge evil and punish sinners, aren’t we all in trouble? Can’t God simply forgive? After all, isn’t He a God of love?

There is no such thing as simply forgiving, even at the human level. There is always a cost. When someone wrongs you, something is taken from you, a piece of you is gone. Sometimes it’s something physical; more often it’s something intangible, like your innocence, your childhood, your respect, your marriage. Fill in the blank. If you’ve been wronged, you are missing something you once had or should have had. That is why we instinctively feel like saying to the one who has wronged us, “You owe me!” Even our own justice system is based on the old Hebrew law of paying “an eye for an eye”—i.e., making the punishment fit the crime, requiring restitution and replacement where possible. 

We have wronged God and He—because He is just—cannot just forgive us. Someone must bear the cost. 

1 Sam. 6 tells the story of the ark of the covenant finally being returned to Israel on an oxcart from the Philistines. The people were overjoyed at the sight. There were sacrifices and songs of joy. But then the tragic happened unexpectedly.

The men of Beth-Shemesh opened the cover of the ark and looked in at the Law without the cover of blood, and they were struck dead. It's a picture of a rumor about God: that God is pleased with our own goodness; that we can handle the law without the blood. The people of Beth-Shemesh, seeing seventy of their men suddenly slain because of the wrath of God, cried out, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” (1 Sam 6:20a).

This same question can lead us on the road to salvation. In this question is a truth we have missed: God is holy. 

You see, God’s sense of justice is rooted in His holiness. To properly understand His justice, we have to recognize His holiness. To say that God is holy is to say that God is far removed from us not just by degree but in also in kind. He is not the top of the spectrum on which we lie near the bottom; He is on a spectrum wholly different than ours. He is, literally, in a league of His own. That is enough to require a mediator. But to make matters worse, we are fallen, sinful creatures. Adam was the first to attempt a life apart from God, to try to live as God instead of with Him. That sin has been passed on to the rest of us, embedded in our very nature. But we are not passive in this. By our own actions we confirm our sinfulness and our desire to rebel and live apart from God. By our own choice, we have become enemies of God.

This presents a problem on a cosmic scale. Throughout the Old Testament, there are hints and references to a “cup of wrath” waiting to be poured out in judgment on the nations. 

Psalms 75:8 says, “In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.” 

In a prophecy against Judah, Ezekiel warns, "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘You will drink your sister's cup, a cup large and deep; it will bring scorn and derision, for it holds so much. You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, the cup of ruin and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria. You will drink it and drain it dry; you will dash it to pieces and tear your breasts. I have spoken,’ declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ez. 23:32–34).

The book of Revelation gives a glimpse into the final judgment that awaits: “A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name’” (Rev. 14:9–11).

A cup in Scripture is symbolic of a person’s lot or portion in life. To be an enemy of God is to deserve the cup of wrath, the cup of ruin, sorrow, and destruction. It is our lot, and our coming portion forever. 

But God did the unthinkable. He sent His own Son—who is God forever—to come to earth and drink the cup that was meant for us. It is interesting that when James and John asked—or more accurately, when their mother asked!—if they could sit at the right and left hand of Jesus, He said to them, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” (Matt. 20:22).

Later, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26:39). And a second time in the Garden, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done" (Matt. 26:42).

Let this cup pass. What was Jesus’ portion? The cup of wrath. The cup of ruin, sorrow, and destruction. It was a heavy lot to have, yet it was one only Jesus could bear. Only God could satisfy the honor of God. Only God could be holy enough to take on the sin of all the world and with it all the destruction due to us. Jesus took for us the full blow, the full force of God’s wrath so that we no longer have to taste God’s judgment. 

Instead, our cup, our lot, is now the cup of blessing, symbolized in the cup of communion. The apostle Paul wrote, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16 ESV).

We switched cups! Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath instead of us so that we can drink the cup of blessing. The cup of blessing is ours because of the new covenant. John Stott words the miraculous reversal of roles this way:

"The essence of sin is we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us. We … put ourselves where only God deserves to be; God … puts himself where we deserve to be."

Again, I say, "Thanks be to God!"