Once, years ago when my children were small, I needed to do something one day and I could not remember what it was. I said to my wife Sue, “I know there’s something I’m supposed to be worrying about. Now, what could it be?”
I thought only Sue could hear me, but of course with seven small children in the house it seemed like there was nearly always someone around to overhear things. My son Bryan came to me and asked, “You mean you are always supposed to be worried about something?”
I felt bad for saying that in front of him. On the one hand, life does have its troubles. On the other hand, though, the Scriptures say we are not supposed to be anxious about anything.
All things will be made new in Christ.
The Scriptures also tell us that in Christ all things are made right. We have a promised future, a blessed hope. In Christ is promised the summing up of all things when the brokenness of this life will be healed and there will be restoration and reconciliation. But there is also the here and now when we must struggle through the process. How should we live in light of that?
Theologians refer to this tension as “realized eschatology”: the beginning of the new order. We speak as if the new order is already here and that is true, but this new order has not yet been completed. We are confident that God will fulfill His promises to us, and that the resurrection has already begun in Christ Jesus, but we also know that these things have not yet fully come to pass. We are still waiting for the resurrection of the dead and for creation’s final restoration.
The restoration of the created order is not yet finished.
The Apostle Paul was well aware of the evils and hardships of this present evil age. His second canonical letter to the church in Corinth contains two principles that can help us as we live out our lives in anticipation of the coming restoration:
- Realize that no one is immune to trouble. There is a cross and resurrection dynamic even in the Christian life.
- Remember that God is at work and that He is using the brokenness of this life in His purposes and in His will. There is a mysterious process at work here.
Even the Christian life has its ups and downs. Sometimes those of us with a revivalist history and tradition can give people the impression that somehow if we could just manage to get spiritually on top of things, we would coast along that higher plain to glory.
That is not a Biblical idea; it is normal for life to have a rhythm, a cross and resurrection dynamic. We tend only to want the resurrection part of that dynamic, with its tambourines and joy and laughter, but Paul himself wrote that he longed to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. (Philippians 3:10)
Paul knew what he was talking about.
Look at 2 Corinthians 4:6, for example. Paul, speaking of the Damascus road experience, says,
For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Paul has in mind here the verse from the creation story, “Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:3) He gives his own theological paraphrase of that verse; specifically, he wants not only to say, “Let there be light,” but he also wants to remind us that before there was light, there was darkness.
Paul saw the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus road. It was a vision of light, splendor, glory. He saw, not someone made in the image of God, but the very Image of God Himself, an image of light and majesty and splendor. It was an overwhelming sight, so much so that, throughout Paul’s writings, whenever he speaks of conversion, he speaks of having the mind enlightened and illumined. He speaks of the glory that he saw in the face of Christ. When he speaks of the knowledge of God, he speaks of the dissipation of darkness.
“…so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.”
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:7)
In other words, this treasure of the light of God that is now shown in our hearts–this redemptive, majestic, creative power of God that we have found in the Person of Jesus–we have this treasure in earthen vessels.
The reason Paul refers to earthen vessels is that clay pots are easily broken. They can be shattered.
In the darkness, in the clay pot, in the mortal body, Paul sees the pattern of the cross. We participate in the sufferings of Christ. We do not always understand the reasons for these sufferings, but at least we can understand the results. Namely, God is at work.
The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Sloan delivered at Tallowood Baptist Church on June 24, 1990.