Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Life of Jesus and the Body of Christ

John 1:1-14 (esp. v14)

If you look very closely on a container of medicine you’ll see something listed as the ‘active ingredient.’ The technical term for the active ingredient in a medicine is pharmakon, which originally described a drug or even a magical substance.

The pharmakon—the active ingredient—is the substance in medicine that makes the drug work—that makes us feel better. Whatever else makes up the rest of the pill or liquid, it’s the active ingredient that makes it work—the part of a drug that actually heals us, that makes us feel better, the part of the medicine that’s designed to restore our health.

Keep that in mind as we explore this familiar—and crucial—passage from Scripture.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.
3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

That’s such an important passage for helping us understand who Jesus Christ was…and is. John builds this case that describes Christ as being in the center of things since before time began, and then screeches everything to a halt with the most amazing, audacious, revolutionary statement ever written in any language.

‘…the Word became flesh and lived among us.’

We begin a series today on what it means to be missional people in a missional church. We find our missional habits and practices at the intersection of our minds and hearts—where what we know and believe about God, about the gospel of Jesus Christ—where all of that comes together in how we live. Put another way, we're going to spend a few months exploring what we learn from the life of Jesus about being the Body of Christ.

The Christian faith is a missional faith. The church, meaning everyone who follows Christ in faith—doesn't 'do' mission. The church doesn't simply have a mission, the church is a mission. The mission that defines the church is the sole mission of the church. That’s important as we move ahead through these next 8 weeks or so.

What does that mean?

In one sense, being mission-minded and mission-hearted means understanding the gospel and what it offers for us and for the world. It also means that we allow that gospel to season everything that we do, everywhere that we are.

‘…the Word became flesh and lived among us.’

Knowing about God is important. Living what we know is crucial.

It’s in living what we believe about Jesus Christ that makes us active ingredients in our homes and lives and schools and jobs and neighborhoods.

Remember that word for the active ingredient…pharmakos? I was pretty happily surprised this week to learn that the other meaning of that word in the ancient world was scapegoat.

The pharmakos, or scapegoat, in ancient Greece was someone who was chosen or forced to take responsibility for a plague or famine or war that threatened the community. The scapegoat was saddled with all of the blame and sent out of the community—they took the punishment for whatever was happening in the hopes that the rest of the city or nation could be saved.

I hope the parallels to the gospel are pretty clear here.

In the 16th chapter of Leviticus we learn about the origins of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement in the Jewish tradition. One of the symbols of God’s atoning work in that holiday is the scapegoat. The goat is presented as a living sacrifice, saddled with the sin of the community, and then released into the desert.

The core of the gospel, of the Christian message, is that Jesus takes on that scapegoat role—that in order to complete his work of atoning for our sins, he takes all of that sin on himself so that we don’t have to.

But the story of Jesus turns the old scapegoat story on its head. The main point of the Jesus story isn’t that he went out into the desert and never came back. In fact, the point of the gospel is exactly the opposite.

The point of the Jesus story is that ‘the Word became flesh and lived among us.’

That’s the lesson in this passage for how the church is designed and called to live. In the life of Jesus we see him going out and living with people, with the ones who needed to know him, with the ones who were in desperate need of forgiveness and reconciliation and atonement.

Jesus came and went out into homes and neighborhoods and public squares and offered his life-changing power to whoever would listen.

Jesus came and went out into the world as the active ingredient that takes away sin and death and whatever else threatens us. It’s in the message of Jesus that we find something that makes us whole and healthy again—that restores the shalom we were meant to enjoy in the first place. It’s the message of the gospel that makes it possible for God, people and creation to live together in justice, fulfillment and delight.

So what do we do about this?

If the life of Jesus is the model for how the Body of Christ is called to live and serve, then there are some marching orders for us as we begin this journey together.

‘…the Word became flesh and lived among us.’

If part of the point of Jesus’ ministry was that he came and lived his real life out among real people, then we’re called to do the same.

To put it very simply: The mission of the church isn’t about being in church. It’s also not only about going to foreign countries to serve, although that’s an important part of our ministry.

The mission of the church—what it means to be a mission-minded, mission-hearted family of people—the mission of the church is to live the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever we are—whatever we’re doing.

It’s about being the active ingredient in our homes and families and jobs and schools and neighborhoods—the active ingredient that makes Jesus real to the people we come into contact with.

When we look at it that way, coming to church isn’t really the point. The real point is coming to church so that we can be inspired and equipped to go out into the world as God’s messengers.

‘…the Word became flesh and lived among us,’ and the call on our lives is to do the same.

To go out and put flesh on the message of Jesus—to be the active ingredient that brings health and healing—to bring the message to life as we live our lives among the people God loves and wants to restore.

Over the next few months we’re going to circle this topic as we grow together in our understanding of what it means to be the people of God. We’ll use terms like ‘missional’ and being mission-minded and mission-hearted, we’ll talk about joining together the words of or message to the actions in our lives.

We’ll talk about a lot of things, but whatever we say here it all comes back to the way the life of Jesus shows us how to be the body of Christ.

‘…the Word became flesh and lived among us,’ and the call on our lives is to do the same.


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