Already, Not Yet :: Weekend Reading List

Around the turn of the twentieth century Princeton Theology professor Geerhardus Vos referred to the Kingdom of God as both “already” and “not yet.” He was highly criticized in his day because his theological vision stood in contrast to his contemporaries’ desire to focus solely on the future hope found in Scripture. Vos’ words clarified the tension between the present, active, and tangible nature of living as a Christian and the hope, completion, and perfection that are to come.

If Christianity were just about the not yet, there would be no need to grow in faith, no need to engage in culture, no need for faith to move to action now. The Christian life would be best lived in anticipation of future glory, and in separation from the “secular world.”

On the other side, if Christianity were just about the already, it would quickly become another tool, among many, to live a fulfilling, satisfying life. In this case, Christianity would become no better than self-help, no more demanding than what is required for comfort and no more transcendent that the general culture’s aspirations and desires.

When we balance the already and not yet aspects of the Kingdom in practice we form a robust, and life-giving faith that can address the current condition without losing focus on the fullness of God’s work yet to come. George Eldon Ladd captured this beautifully in his book Gospel of the Kingdom:

Love is that gift of the spirit, above all others, which will characterize our perfected fellowship in the age to come. This love we now enjoy, and the church on earth will be a colony of heaven, enjoying in advance the life of the age to come.

Faith that is focused on the here and now demands our hearts are shaped to be more like God. It’s from this wellspring that every good and perfect deed flows into contact with a broken world. And the part of our faith that focused on the yet-to-come gives us a hope beyond what this world can offer and draws us closer as we anticipate the return of Christ.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 3-4 (Listen – 4:34)
Hebrews 11 (Listen – 6:22)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 5 (Listen – 4:48) Hebrews 12 (Listen – 4:36)
Isaiah 6 (Listen – 2:24) Hebrews 13 (Listen – 3:31)

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The Meaning of the Ascension :: Throwback Thursday

By Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

A reflection for Ascension Day 2016:

While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. — Luke 24.51

Jesus will come again. Our Lord is doing the best thing for his kingdom in going away. It is clear that he has not quit the fight, nor deserted the field of battle. It was in the highest degree expedient that he should go, and that we should each one receive the Spirit. He has not taken his heart from us, nor his care from us, nor his interest from us: he is bound up heart and soul with his people.

The scriptures tell us—and this is a reason why we should get to our work—that he is coming in the same manner as he departed: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” [What does this mean?]

Do not let anybody spiritualize away all this from you. Jesus is coming as a matter of fact, therefore go down to your sphere of service. Give of your wealth and don’t talk about it. Consecrate your daily life to the glory of God. Live wholly for your Redeemer.

Jesus is not coming in a sort of mythical, misty, hazy way, he is literally and actually coming, and he will literally and actually call upon you to give an account of your stewardship. Therefore, now, today, literally not symbolically, personally and not by proxy, go out through that portion of the world which you can reach, and preach the gospel to every creature according as you have opportunity.

Be ready to meet your coming Lord. What is the way to be ready to meet Jesus? If it is the same Jesus that went away from us who is coming, then let us be doing what he was doing before he went away.

Don’t stand gazing up into heaven, but wait upon the Lord in prayer, and you will receive the Spirit of God, and you will proclaim, “Believe and live.” Then when he comes he will say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.” So may his grace enable us to do. Amen.

*Abridged and language updated from Spurgeon’s sermon The Ascension and the Second Advent Practically Considered.

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 2 (Listen – 3:00)
Hebrews 10 (Listen – 5:33)



Christ, Offered Up to Heaven

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come… he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. — Hebrews 9.11–12

Tomorrow Christians around the world will celebrate the Day of Ascension. “While he blessed them,” records the gospel of Luke, “he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” The Greek word translated carried up is the same word used throughout the New Testament for offering. In other words, Christ was offered up to Heaven—the spiritual posture of the savior became physical reality in his final moments on earth.

The language of offering ties directly into the symbolism presented by the author of Hebrews. Christ is the fulfillment of the old system. Yet if he brought that system to its end, what can we learn from the New Testament’s continual use the language of high priest, temple, and law? N.T. Wright explains:

This puzzle, very close to Paul’s frequent question as to why God gave the Law, is often answered in terms of religious development: people in earlier days thought they needed animal sacrifices, but we’ve grown out of such things. That’s not the New Testament answer.

The Temple was given as a true signpost; there was nothing wrong with it. But the signpost isn’t the reality, and if people are mistaking the one for the other the time may come to chop the signpost down.

A person draws near to Christ, Dr. Wright explains, “Not because you’re climbing a ladder of spiritual advancement, but because you’ve grasped the truth at the heart of Jesus’ ministry: Jesus has come to offer, and accomplish, the reality to which the Temple points but which it cannot ultimately deliver.”

Hebrews teaches that Christ is seated at the right hand of God—he offered himself to the father to bless his Church by interceding on their behalf. The only way we can reject this blessing, N.T. Wright concludes, is by trying to create our own sacrifice, temple, and high priest:

We don’t go in for killing bulls and goats, but do we show evidence of the reality to which their blood was supposed to point? Or have we substituted a new regime of ‘dead works’ which impede, rather than facilitate, our worship of the living God?

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 1 (Listen – 4:36)
Hebrews 9 (Listen – 4:40)



Christ, The End of Religion

We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. — Hebrews 8.1-2

Spirituality is on the rise in America. Religion, however, is continuing on a multi-decade decline. Pew Research notes, “The phrase ‘spiritual but not religious’ has become widely used in recent years by some Americans who are trying to describe their religious identity.”

The transition from religion to spirituality is exciting for faithful Christians searching for ways to speak about faith. To contrast Christianity, pastor Timothy Keller examines the two elements all religions hold in common:

All religions believe behind the realities of nature there is an ultimate reality. There’s a Reality, capital ‘R’. There is some transcendent power above and behind all of nature that can’t be reduced to empirical, natural scientific factors or causes.

The second thing all religions agree on is there’s some gap between us and that ultimate reality. There’s some gap that needs to be bridged, or there are some barriers that need to be overcome.

At their core, the world’s religions propose that this gap is bridged through moral living, sacrifice, consciousness, or some other human work. Alternatively, Christianity presents Christ as the prophet who came to offer his life on our behalf—as both priest and king. Dr. Keller explains:

In the Bible there is a word for religion…. a Greek word that means religious observances and ceremonies and religious practice. You never ever see it applied to Christianity.

The Romans, who loved religions, let everybody have their own religion…. They let a thousand religions bloom, yet they persecuted Christians and called them atheists.

Christianity was not the beginning of a new religion. It was the anti-religion. It was the end of all religions. That’s why the Romans considered it the most radical thing anyone had ever said.

Christ, our great high priest, is described by the author of Hebrews as being seated. The work is complete—it is finished—religious labor to cross the gap is superfluous. Dr. Keller declares:

Every other religion says, “Do this, give this, offer this, live this, experience this, and that will send you over the gap to God,” but Jesus says, “I’m the God who at infinite cost to myself has come over the gap, has come over the barriers to you, barriers and a gap that you, with your puny little religious observances would never have been able to bridge, but I’ve come to you.”

Today’s Reading
Song of Solomon 8 (Listen – 2:23)
Hebrews 8 (Listen – 2:22)



Why We Reject Christ

For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” — Hebrews 7.17

“Mark Twain is supposed to have said, ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes,’” reflects filmmaker Ken Burns—before adding, “He didn’t say it, but I love that.” Like all powerful storytellers, Burns looks to the past to clarify the present; “If you know your past, you’re much better armed to deal with the present and the future.”

Ancient cultures were guided from three powerful positions. It was the king’s role to provide and enforce the law; the priest stood between the god(s) and the people; the prophet brought the people hope. The book of Hebrews builds the argument that Christ fills all three roles.

Modern rejections of Christ are primarily reactions to his role as king and priest. No one really takes time to argue about Christ as a prophet. Perhaps this is because anyone can walk out of the woods, eat a handful of locusts for lunch, and claim to speak for god. Maybe it’s because so many have done so throughout history it has become easy to ignore.

But if Christ is king, he is owed allegiance. The implication is that you and I cannot self-actualize. The only way to succeed in this life is to pledge ourselves to someone who transcends our brokenness, heals our wounds, and holds us to his standard.

If Christ is a great high priest, he is the only access we have to God. All of our prayers, hopes, repentance, and joys must be channeled through him—you and I are insufficient for finding and communing with God on our own.

There is a wonderful balance in Christ serving as king, priest, and prophet. We miss the power in Christ’s work when we try to understand it through only one of these roles. The king brings the law—declares the truth—but if the only way to relate to God is through the law we become entangled in legalism.

Similarly, the priest stands as a comforter—but if God is just our comforter, religion is reduced to emotionalism, never moving us past our own “skull-sized kingdoms” and bringing hope and life to the world.

And if Christ is only a prophet, he says inspiring and helpful things, but is powerless to bring justice, peace, beauty, renewal, and new life to our world. Though the metaphors of king, priest, and prophet are ancient, our hope and faith in Christ renews our lives and world at present.

Today’s Reading
Song of Solomon 7 (Listen – 1:55)
Hebrews 7 (Listen – 4:01)