It’s a classic scene in television’s West Wing. Josh Lyman mistakenly announces to the White House press corps that the president has a “secret plan to fight inflation.” His colleagues rib him mercilessly.
As it turns out God is nothing like Mr. Lyman. The divine plan is not to fight inflation but to save creation, and it’s not at all a secret. In fact, Jesus announces it openly:
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16, NLT).
The Greek word translated as “world” is kosmos. It can also be translated as universe. God – the creator of the universe – has a deep and abiding love for all creation. Psalm 145:9 affirms: “The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (ESV). Later, Psalm 149 calls on all creation to praise the LORD. Nothing is excluded – sun, moon, stars, angels, human beings, the creatures of the ocean depths, animals that scurry along the ground – all must give glory to the creator. In Isaiah’s vision, even trees join the people of God in joyful song (Isaiah 55:12).
Yet something has gone terribly wrong in creation. Something is broken and must be repaired. Paul explained the devastating consequences of our first parents’ poor choice to disobey God. Death was the result of sin, or disobedience (Romans 5:12). This disastrous consequence rippled out to damage all that God had perfectly made. Romans 8:20-21 (NIV) tells us:
Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.
In the first section of Christlike Disciples, Christlike World, we looked at the people of God, the church. Beginning in this chapter, we focus on the church’s mission. What are the people of God supposed to do? God wants to use us as partners to repair what is broken:
God’s intent is transformation, to restore to its original state all that God has made.
It’s a not-so-secret plan to save creation. And what is the catalyst that God will use to do that? It’s you, it’s me, it’s us as the church, a monumental mission inspired by our immense God. Yet too often in the past, our mission has been truncated, as if God cared only about the spiritual condition of individuals. In fact, God wants to make us Christlike disciples not as an end in itself, but as a means to a far broader end. This is the transformational mission of the people of God, to be God’s instruments of change in our community, our culture, and nature itself, redeeming the very biological ecosystem that sustains us.
Rock, ripples, and results
If we could only have one Gospel, I would choose Luke. It’s an amazing story of the difference Jesus of Nazareth makes in our world. The birth narrative in Luke 1-2 announces the coming of the Son of God to earth, the incarnation, the divine taking on human flesh.
Have you ever dropped a rock into a pond? What happens? The rock makes ripples. In a way, Jesus is like a rock that God the Father dropped into the pond of human existence. If Luke gives us the story of the rock, Jesus of Nazareth, then Acts is about the ripples and the results. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells his 11 disciples that they must wait for the power of the Holy Spirit, who would live inside of them. Then – and only then – can they effectively ripple out, impacting others in positive, life-changing ways:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8, ESV).
The Greek word for “power” is dunamis. It is the root from which derives the English word “dynamite.” When filled with the Holy Spirit, our lives ripple in powerful ways, positively influencing those around us. We become evidence of the transforming capacity of the Gospel.
Yet our world is highly change-resistant. The forces of the status quo don’t give in easily. Jesus found that out firsthand when they arrested, whipped, stripped and hung him on a cross to die. Now on a hill outside Jerusalem, the resurrected Christ warns his disciples: “You will be my witnesses.” The Greek word used in Acts 1:8 for “witnesses” is marthures, giving us our English word “martyr.” This is no ordinary testimony they will bear, but a testimony even unto death. Among those who heard Jesus that day was Peter, who tradition tells us was himself crucified upside down, when he considered himself unworthy to die in the same manner as had Jesus. Likewise, Stephen became the first martyr, stoned to death for his Christian confession (Acts 7). Advance always comes at a cost. The early history of the church is a bloody one. Writing in the 2nd century AD, Tertullian observed: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” What was true then is true today as numerous Christians in the Middle East are being martyred for no other offense than their faith in Christ.
Thankfully, the rock and the ripples are followed by results. Luke’s account in Acts shows the Christian faith moving out in ever-wider circles. Individuals are transformed, leading to transformation of communities and their pagan practices: Saul, Apollos, Lydia, Priscilla and Aquilla, Cornelius and many more become testimonies of the explosive, transformational power of belief in the risen Lord. In later chapters, we’ll look at some of those stories in greater detail.
Summing it all up
God cares deeply about all creation – human beings, communities, trees, animals, and the whole of creation, all of which were originally meant to praise the creator. Yet human sin – willful disobedience to God – marred what God had made perfect. Not willing to give up on what he had made, God in Christ has launched a not-so-secret plan to save creation, and God’s holy people, the church, are partners in that holy, transformational mission. In the next chapter, we’ll look at the human heart, where the problem originated and where the divine solution must begin.
Earth: Celestia Mother Lode
Pond: Insight 4 Living Today