Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Word between Worlds

We were studying the ministry of John the Baptist in Mark 1 this week. I was struck again by the eschatological nature of preaching. John’s proclamation, just as the preaching of Jesus a few verses later, is not merely a flat call to repentance, to make a new start, to change simply because life might be better that way, or because it is the right thing to do. It is a call to repent in the light of the imminent action of God in judgement (Malachi's prophecy) and salvation (Isaiah). 
That action of God was, of course, in and through the arrival of Jesus himself. He came, also calling for repentance and faith, and pulling those two prophetic threads together in his own person. He brought salvation by bearing judgement. Believe it!
John’s ministry looked back (as did all the OT prophets) to the standards of the covenant that God had made with his people, but, more than any other prophet, he looked forward, because the Day of God was now arriving. Our ministry is no less eschatological, but we look back to God’s past work in the person of Jesus, and look forward, announcing his second coming and final judgement. He bore judgement, bringing salvation; he will return, bringing judgement and salvation that will define eternity for all of us. 

Our tendency is to lose that eschatological driving force in our preaching. Desperate for “relevance” we preach how Jesus transforms life now – which he does – but all too easily flatten out the proclamation into a mere moral appeal, which ultimately degenerates into what is little better than a self-help exhortation.

When the word of Christ is ministered, in whatever context, setting or style, our minds and hearts are brought into sharp confrontation with three “moments”.  As we proclaim Christ, we take people back to the moment of God's mighty working in the coming of his Son, and especially the complex of cross-resurrection-ascension-Pentecost which form the focus of that work. We take people forward to the return of this same man Jesus: history is not wandering aimlessly, but is moving, or is being moved, inexorably towards that moment, the End. There will be glory, ultimate justice, complete resolution to the whole story – and to your story and mine. 

And in between those Moments, we have the moment in which the word is being ministered. The preacher is conscious of his or her position in the Now, this moment that hangs suspended in the vast universe of space and time, held by invisible threads between the Victory and the Coming. The preacher’s job is to bring those who hear into consciousness of those other Moments and their bearing on the present; it is to make clear that this moment called Now is the time to act, to repent and believe in the light of the only two other Moments that really matter. This day when we preach has an official name - it is called Today, and is the day God has appointed for all of us, preachers included, to repent and believe the Good News.  

... by any means possible...
All preaching, in one way or another, needs to occur in the consciousness of those three Moments, and to bring hearers into that consciousness. Preaching that disconnects from Christ’s Past and Christ’s Future ceases to be preaching. Preaching is, in fact, eschatological activity in and of itself. It is the most important thing happening in the world today. When Christ word is preached, we hear the voice that said “Father forgive them” from the cross, and we hear the voice that will divide sheep and goats on the last day.

To preach Christ’s word is terrifying; not to preach is far worse.

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