The desert and parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:1-2)
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21)
Then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory”. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-58)
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)
Spring speaks of resurrection. (Inspired by Glen Scrivener, Sim Jemmett and Martin Luther.)
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:10-12)
The apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to a church under the sway of a group of influential leaders, the so-called “super-apostles”. These men were highly impressive: skilled orators who preached a message of success, not suffering. In contrast, Paul looked weak and pathetic, and the Corinthian Christians were drifting away from the gospel as a result.
What to do? Paul could have pointed to his religious pedigree, his theological training, all the churches that he’d planted. Instead, Paul tells the Corinthians that they’ve got him exactly right. Paul writes later that he will “boast of the things that show [his] weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30). Here he says that he is being “given over to death”, carrying around “the death of Jesus” in his body. He is weak – no, in fact he is dead; completely powerless.
How is that meant to convince the Corinthians to trust him? What is Paul doing here?
Let’s go back to the beginning. When the human race rebelled, death entered the world. In this world, everything dies – and when Jesus took on our nature, he wasn’t an exception to this rule. As Jesus died, he bore the full wrath of the Father against our sin. He died, as everything in this creation must.
Then he rose again into resurrection life, bringing us through with him. In Jesus’ death, the old creation died. As he rose, he ushered in a new creation which we belong to by faith.
Christians are those who are united to Christ. As such, we follow in his footsteps. In this world, there is a pattern that everyone follows – even Jesus. The pattern is death – and through death, to resurrection life.
Paul “[carries] around in [his] body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed”. Paul enters into death, following in his Saviour’s footsteps, because it is through death that new life comes. By giving ourselves over even to death, we model the pattern of our suffering saviour – and in doing so, our perseverance points to the resurrection life of the one sustaining us. Our suffering, and our endurance through it, points others to Jesus, so that they might be born again into resurrection life.
How do we endure, though? I’m a weak jar of clay (2 Cor 4:7). By myself I’ve no hope.
So isn’t it great news that the one who calls us to endure suffering, even death, has himself endured through suffering and death? Our Lord and Brother Jesus goes before us, and now by his Spirit he goes with us. He knows our struggles and sufferings intimately, sympathising with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15), and has promised to never let anyone snatch us out of his hand (John 10:27-28). Those the Father calls will be brought through to glory (Romans 8:30). We endure by his power, not our own (2 Cor 4:7).
When our endurance is down to him, it’s no longer impossible: it’s inevitable.
God made us to work too
There are two main verses where God gives people his instructions for what to do in the world he has made:
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15)
I’ve taken four phrases from these verses that give an overview of what humanity are called to do. All of these overlap to some extent, and they share the same theme: as those made in God’s image, we are called to work too.
The Hebrew word used here is used later on in the Bible to describe what the priests did in the tabernacle, and later the temple (e.g. Numbers 3:7-8). The priests worked on behalf of the people of God – and in a similar way, humanity is to work on behalf of God. We are his stewards; or to put it another way, we “mediate” his rule to creation. God created the world, and we are to continue to work at it, develop it, find its full potential. We are to be creative, just as he is. This means everything from agriculture to architecture, from manufacturing to music. (Conveniently alliterative, but also all found in Genesis 4!)
We’re to preserve and protect creation – not destroying what is good, but making something better. We’re to pass things on to the next generation. Here we get hints of teaching, history, parenting. All good forms of work for God’s people to be involved with.
Fill the earth
The Garden of Eden was only the start. Genesis tells us that four rivers flowed out of Eden, watering the earth (Genesis 2:10-14), and God’s people are to do the same – spreading out from the garden to bless the rest of creation. This means having children (“Be fruitful and increase in number”), building cities, developing communities. It means exploration and discovery. It involves geographers, and sociologists, and people to build boats and bridges.
The last word sounds more negative than it should, like its neighbour “rule over”. The original word seems to have the idea of ruling over and taming the earth so that it benefits people. It started out with farming, but more generally it’s seen in bringing order out of chaos – taking the world and transforming it into Eden.
So if work is God’s good gift to us, why is it so frustrating? Next time we’ll look at the effects of the Fall on God’s call for us to work, and our experience of it.
(For further reading, try Maximum Life by Julian Hardyman, whose book contains a far more in depth look at this very topic.)
Last week we ran a seminar on work for our fourth year students. As there was too much to cover in the time we had, and as the content might be useful for others, I hope to post a series of entries on the topic over the coming weeks. We thought about what the doctrines of Creation, Fall and Redemption have to say about work, so we’ll begin with Creation.
God worked to create a good, physical world
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. (Genesis 1:31-2:2)
Work is something that God does. The Bible describes his creating the universe as “work”. And he doesn’t just set the world spinning, then sit back and relax. He continually upholds everything. Colossians 1:17 tells us that “all things hold together” in Jesus. Jesus says in John 5:17, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too am working.”
God is a worker. And he works to create a world that is both physical and good. Too often Christians forget the innate goodness of the physicality of this world. We can start to think that it’s only the spiritual that matters. But the Bible reminds us that when God made this world, he said it was good. Life isn’t meant to be like one long prayer meeting; God made a good, physical world for us to enjoy and live in.
Continued on Wednesday…