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By Greg Morse — 11 months ago
If you were told you had five years to live, would you live more in those five years than in the decades you might have had left?
By “live” I cannot mean “lifespan,” or the question isn’t worth asking. I mean to live wide awake, live purposefully, live undistracted by empty pleasures. Could you imagine the quality of those five years becoming preferable? Could five years more alive to God, his world, and the faces around us outshine decades of business and bluster with little fullness?
Oh, to sail under the stars awake to life, feeling the breeze upon your face and hearing the music of waves crashing. How different from the dreary drift from one meal to the next, one episode to the next, one year to the next.
Do you feel the preciousness of time? Are you truly living? A hand hold with a spouse or a wait in line at the store can take on new significance when we consider it occurs within this shooting star we call “life.”
Good I Could Have Done
I perplex myself, then, to consider how many golden moments I let pass, wasted. Hours upon hours, gone without notice, lost without grief. So many silver coins squandered; exchanged for pebbles and bubbles.
While not leaving the good news behind — namely that this neglect will not have the last word, but his grace will — the healthy sting is still felt. And if we let it: still instructive. When I awake to the value of time, the sheer possibility held in any given span, I sigh at how many moments have fallen irretrievably between the cracks — and this sends me to God for more mercy and help to better steward the time I have left.
This is especially true when I consider time lost while at work — how much good that might have outlasted me has been forfeit by my laziness and inattention?
What hid this realization from me for so long is that I never thought of myself as slothful. I get things done. At times, I’ve worked very hard. No one would have looked at me and said I sleep too much, or that I neglected my studies, or that I put off difficult things indefinitely. But looking back, I have realized in my work life that I have lived too often as a sophisticated sloth. Here are a few characteristics.
1. Slow to Begin
The traditional sluggard does not begin tasks at all. We hear his voice crying out from his bed, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13; 26:13). He would go to the work like the rest of us, he assures us, but for those killer cats.
He says they prevent him from traveling to work,
There is a lion stalking the square.Travel to work? — I couldn’t dare.I shall stay in and feast— Oh that irksome beast —This confinement is too much to bare!
He says they prevent him from going to church,
There is a lion purring the pews.Upon good men’s bones it chews.Surely none could find faultIn avoiding assault;I’ll wait till next week to hear the good news!
And while I do not make such foolish excuses, as a sophisticated sloth, I start my tasks, eventually. The lions roaring in the street do not indefinitely detain, but they do delay me. When I gaze ahead and see duties sloping uphill, I decide I need some stretching before the activity — maybe some social media, or checking email, or a quick snack. How many hours have I wasted “getting in the mood” to start something difficult?
2. Quick to Break
We are told the traditional sluggard “buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth” (Proverbs 19:24). This image is his profile picture.
The sluggard started his task. His hand, as a crane maneuvering a construction site, lifts, steers sideways, and drops on the full bowl. Upon impact, some Cheese Puffs jump overboard. As we continue to watch him, anticipating the triumphant return, we wait, and we wait — and we wait. Gravity assisted him on the way down, but has now betrayed him. The way up proves too much for him.
He is again made to seem ridiculous. As activity swirls about him, he sits immobilized, his hand in a dish. His eyes are open, but in such a way as to be shut. His fingers plop into the dish and remain, reluctant to return at the half-hearted bidding of their master. He is alive, but not alive. A man, but not a man. John Foster gives him a sobering epitaph, “Here lies a person who has lost nothing by being buried; for he is just as good a man underground as he was above” (An Essay on the Improvement of Time, 189).
“The sloth is alive, but not alive. A man, but not a man.”
By God’s grace, I am not such a creature. My hand does return, just not right away. I have been quick to indulge breaks as a reward for doing what was only my duty to begin with. That’s good enough for now, I think, don’t want to overdo it. A harder working man could have completed the same task without interruptions in a fraction of the time. A harder working man might have accomplished another life’s work by simply redeeming the intervals.
3. Open to Interruptions
I have contributed my attention to the notable businesses that profit on the distracted. Every text message and Youtube video seems so much more interesting when I am in the middle of my labor. The path of each workday has offered me multiple rest stops.
The traditional sloth also knows the power of a minor detour from the path.
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:33–34)
The thief of time today is a tiny man. He specializes in little. Just a little sleep, a little slumber — just a little surfing the Internet, a little text-message conversation, a little checking of Facebook or ESPN.
He sells distractions during the workday, and though he will take large checks if he must, he prefers coins and small bills — ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes — you know, harmless folding-of-the-hands kind of costs.
I, as the sophisticated sloth, have started and stopped, started and stopped, as a teenager learning to drive a stick shift for the first time. And while the classic sloth may not wake until he is robbed of everything, I return home every day just missing a few dollars here and there. The total sum I cannot estimate.
4. Puts Off Harder Work
This is one the cleverest tricks of the sophisticated sloth: He works — to avoid doing harder work. He is the kid who sees dad coming and rushes to take out the trash so his brother is left to shovel instead. He chooses to work when he must — to spare himself more difficult work later.
The end result looks like the typical sloth:
I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. (Proverbs 24:30–31)
But the text doesn’t tell us about the sophisticated sloth inside his house, pointing to his mostly clean dishes, washed clothes, and bed with a comforter folded over bundled sheets. Too often, I have done the easier work indoors and left the harder work unattempted.
Time is far too precious to let it so subtly slip away. Those pressed up against the grave more rightly estimate its value; blessed are we if we can waken before we near closer to that slumber. Jesus seeks to help us awake to the stewardship of our lives in the parable of the talents.
To the hardworking servant who trusts his Master, believes him, loves him, and knows the privilege of his service and thus invests and turns his five talents into five more, his master says to him,
Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. (Matthew 25:21)
The slothful servant, afraid of his Master and otherwise suspicious of his motives, buries his talent in the ground. He doesn’t lose it; but doesn’t improve it either. To this man, the Master says,
You wicked and slothful servant! . . . You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. . . . [C]ast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. (Matthew 25:26–27, 30)
“Time is precious. Now is the time to live and work and love.”
I, however, have been describing the man who did not make the parable. He is the servant to whom the Master gives five talents, and yet brings back just two more instead of the full five. He could have brought more — but he wasted so much time on lesser things.
Whether we have five years left or fifty, life is a most terrible thing to waste. To other such servants, consider with me what glory lies ahead for the faithful Christian servant. “Well done, my good and faithful servant” — the eternal commendation. “I will set you over much” — the everlasting stewardship. “Enter into the joy of your Master” — the undying bliss of life with our God.
Might this not help us toward faithful living in total reliance upon our Savior?
By David Mathis — 10 months ago
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb . . . ” These words from a breathless Mary Magdalene were the first breaking of the news that Sunday morning. “. . . and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2).
Just as Mary herself had run to inform Peter and “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved,” they then ran together to check for themselves. That Jesus’s body was gone, they now believed. But somehow, even with Jesus’s words to them, on multiple occasions, about his coming death and resurrection (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34), they, like Mary, “did not understand” (Mark 9:32).
On this world-changing Sunday morning, Jesus’s closest disciples first assumed his body had been taken and laid elsewhere. “As yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:9). Must rise. In Jesus’s mind, and in the courts of heaven, and in the pages of holy Scripture, the suffering and subsequent resurrection of the Messiah were not just possibilities or likelihoods. These were not options. They were musts. Jesus had said it before, and later that day he would explain it again — that it was necessary, that it must have happened this way.
O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? (Luke 24:25–26)
Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. . . . that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. (Luke 24:44–25)
But when Peter and John first looked into the empty tomb, that necessity had not yet struck them. Fresh off the devastating grief of the previous two days — doubtless the two worst days of their lives — they still were coming to terms with his death, and assumed with Mary that he was still dead and “they” — some undefined group — had moved the body. Having seen the empty tomb, John reports, “the disciples went back to their homes” (John 20:10).
Only Mary stayed behind, and soon found Jesus alive. Then, with his commission, she “went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’” (John 20:18).
Christ Must Rise
However slow his disciples had been to understand the necessity of his suffering and rising, they soon became convinced — not just that he did rise (that was indisputable) but that he had to rise. It was necessary. It must have happened this way.
“Death could not hold him, restrain him, keep him. It was not possible. Christ, the Son, had to rise.”
Just fifty days later, when Pentecost came, Peter would preach this in public — not just the resurrection but its necessity. At the height of his sermon, Peter declares about his Lord — “this Jesus,” who was “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” — “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:23–24). Death could not hold him, restrain him, keep him. It was not possible. Christ, the Son, had to rise.
Why, we might ask on this Resurrection Sunday, was it necessary? Why did Jesus have to rise? Acts 2, together with other New Testament texts, give us at least five reasons why the Son had to rise again.
1. To Make Good on God’s Word
First, the word of the living God was at stake. Through his prophets, God had long promised to send his people a climactically Anointed One, the Messiah, heir to David’s throne and rallying hope of Israel. And essential to that Messianic promise was an eternal reign (2 Samuel 7:13, 16). Not only would David’s line continue one generation after another, but one great heir was coming who would reign without end (Psalm 45:6–7; 102; 25–27; 110:1–4).
Even in his own lifetime, David himself had spoken of God not abandoning his soul to Sheol — and not letting his “holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10), which Christians, including Peter, came to see as one of many old-covenant anticipations of the coming Messiah’s resurrection. Which is how Peter argues in that first Spirit-anointed sermon (Acts 2:29–32).
God’s anointed king would fulfill the promise of God’s word. Jesus was, and is, that Christ. Therefore, it was impossible for him to be kept from that eternal reign. Not even the last enemy could keep him from it. Strong as the power of death may seem, it was, and is, no match for the omnipotent God working for his Messiah.
2. To Vindicate His Sinless Life
Jesus’s life was without sin. He was utterly innocent, and rising again vindicated his perfect human life. Death and Satan had no claim on him because Jesus had no “record of debt that stood against [him] with its legal demands” (Colossians 2:14). With respect to Jesus, Satan and his minions never had been armed; they had no hooks in him because he had no sin or guilt. Rather, in dying, Jesus gave himself, nailing to the cross our record of debt, because of our trespasses, and disarming the demons against us (Colossians 2:13, 15).
Luke sounds the note of Christ’s innocence again and again — three times in the mouth of Pilate, then again by the thief crucified next to him, and finally by the centurion who saw him breathe his last (Luke 23:4; 14–15; 22; 41, 47). Jesus’s innocence — that he did “nothing deserving death,” before man and before God — would be, as Paul celebrates, “vindicated by the Spirit” in Christ’s resurrection (1 Timothy 3:16).
3. To Confirm the Work of His Death
The resurrection also confirmed that Jesus’s death on the cross worked. It counted. It was effective. His dying declaration, “It is finished” (John 19:30), was shown to be true by his resurrection. Had he stayed dead, what confidence would we have that his sacrifice worked, that it was sufficient for us and all who believe? What firm hope would we have that he indeed was not only innocent of his own sin but that his death could count for us, in our place?
“The resurrection confirms that his death on the cross worked. It counted. It was effective.”
Paul writes in Romans 4:25 that Jesus “was delivered up” to death “for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The resurrection shows that his work was effective — not only in covering our sins with his death, but in rising to be our righteousness — our justification — before the holy God. Which leads to another distinct but inseparable reason.
4. To Give Us Access to His Work
Not only did our sins require a reckoning — by Christ, outside of us — but we also needed to have access to his work, to have it applied to us. Potential salvation is not enough. We need actual rescue, which comes through the instrument called faith which unites us to a resurrected, living Lord.
However sufficient his self-sacrifice might have been to cover our sins, we have no access to that rescue if he is not alive that we might be united to him. But he is alive. As he says, “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17–18). There is no great salvation for us if we are not united by faith to a living Lord to have the benefits of his work applied to us.
5. To Be Our Living Lord and Treasure
One final must or necessity is the final necessity: Jesus is alive to know and enjoy forever.
There is no final good news if our Treasure and Pearl of Great Price is dead. Even if our sins could be paid for, righteousness provided and applied to us, and heaven secured, but Jesus were still dead, there would be no great salvation in the end — not if our Savior and Groom is dead. At the very center of the Easter triumph is not what he saves us from, but what he saves us to — better, who he saves us to: himself.
Our restless souls will not find eternal, and ever-increasing, rest and joy in a Christ-less new earth, no matter how stunning. Streets of gold, reunions with loved ones, and sinless living may thrill us at first — but they will not ultimately satisfy, not for eternity, not on their own. We were made for Jesus. He is at the center of true life now, and he will be forever. If there is no living Christ, there is no final satisfying eternity. But he is alive indeed — to know and enjoy forever.
By Stephen Witmer — 3 months ago
The Kingdom has come, but society is not uprooted. This is the mystery of the Kingdom.
I was converted at a young age and grew up in church. I heard expositional preaching and cut my teeth on Sunday School flannelgraphs, Vacation Bible School, and “Sword Drills” at Christian summer camp. At the encouragement of my grandmother, I read the Bible cover to cover as a teen. Later, I attended a Christian college, where I minored in Bible. So, by the time I hit my twenties, I knew lots of verses, could give you summaries of Bible books, and was very familiar with the message of salvation.
But never had I heard anything quite like what I encountered in a particular paragraph I read while preparing for ministry.
When Jesus Became Scandalous
I don’t remember how I came to be reading George Ladd’s A Theology of the New Testament, and I never read the entire volume, but these sentences (and the chapter of which they’re a part, “The Mystery of the Kingdom”) fired my imagination and permanently altered my understanding of God, the Bible, history, and my own life:
The coming of the Kingdom, as predicted in the Old Testament and in Jewish apocalyptic literature, would bring about the end of the age and inaugurate the Age to Come, disrupting human society by the destruction of the unrighteous. Jesus affirms that in the midst of the present age, while society continues with its intermixture of the good and the bad, before the coming of the Son of Man and the glorious manifestation of the Kingdom of God, the powers of that future age have entered into the world to create “sons of the kingdom,” those who enjoy its power and blessings. The Kingdom has come, but society is not uprooted. This is the mystery of the Kingdom. (94)
Until that moment in my life, I had read the Bible as a more or less static record of God’s revealed truth. I knew many important biblical facts, but had little sense of a larger story line, of a dynamically unfolding plan, of a developing work of salvation through time. Ladd began to put those pieces together, to excite me with a sense of the dynamism and progress of God’s redemptive work.
Before reading that paragraph, I hadn’t ever considered the ways in which Jesus’s ministry might be surprising or scandalous. Sure, it was extraordinary that he performed miracles and challenged the religious leaders. But having grown up hearing about those miracles and confrontations, they were familiar to me. Ladd opened my eyes to the mystery of the kingdom.
Through Ladd’s eyes, I now saw Jesus’s declaration that the kingdom of God had already come (but was not fully consummated) as the scandalous surprise it would have been to Jesus’s contemporaries. To liken the mighty end-time kingdom of God to a tiny, hidden mustard seed? Unthinkable! I had never truly understood the Matthew 13 parables of the dragnet, the mustard seed, or the leaven. Ladd’s teaching of the already–not yet kingdom unlocked them for me. Now 23 years later, I can still remember the excitement and satisfaction of awakened understanding.
Far Bigger Than Me
More than that, the teaching of the inaugurated-but-not-consummated kingdom helped me appreciate more fully the truly epoch-making significance of Jesus’s first coming. His life, death, and resurrection had inaugurated nothing less than a new age. He had brought to initial fulfillment the end-time promises of God, securing the future new creation.
To that point in my life, I had read the Bible almost exclusively as an account of something that mattered on a personal basis. Jesus came to save souls. Jesus’s work was between Jesus and me. To come alive to the cosmic significance of Jesus’s ministry, to the newness that Jesus brought in the redemptive-historical work of God, to Jesus as the climax of God’s plan for all things — all this exalted Jesus more highly in my mind and heart.
For me, the intellectual stimulus of Ladd’s inaugurated eschatology was deep and enduring. It prepared me to discover the richness of biblical theology in seminary, and subsequently to pursue a doctorate focusing on Jesus’s fulfillment of God’s end-time promises.
Making Sense of Me
Beyond a deepened understanding and appreciation of the New Testament and God’s redemptive work and the centrality of Christ, Ladd’s words helped me to understand my own life more clearly. I could look at Ladd’s famous diagram of the overlap of the ages (the lines of the “Present Age” and the “Age to Come” overlapping between the first and second comings of Christ) and see exactly where I lived. I could imagine, like a map at the mall, a marker located in that overlap saying, “You Are Here.” And this made sense of my life.
It explained God’s justification of me and the Holy Spirit’s ongoing transformation of my heart. These miraculous events were possible because the last days had already begun through the work of Christ. It also explained my agonizing struggles with sin. Why did part of me want to access sexual images with my dial-up modem, while another part of me desperately wanted to be free from those images? Welcome to the overlap. It explained the sadness of suffering that had touched my life. Why was my father in a wheelchair, despite my many prayers for his healing? Why was anxiety a sometimes-paralyzing reality for me? Welcome to the overlap.
“The already–not yet of the kingdom guarded me from both over-optimism and despair. It offered hope in hard times.”
The already–not yet of the kingdom didn’t answer every question, but it provided a powerful framework for understanding my sin and my sanctification. It guarded me from both over-optimism and despair. It offered hope in hard times.
Purpose of My Life
Two years after my discovery of Ladd, I was a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. On a bright and blustery day, I sat by the Atlantic Ocean, on the rocks at Magnolia, and read these words in Richard Hays’s The Moral Vision of the New Testament:
The church community is God’s eschatological beachhead, the place where the power of God has invaded the world. All Paul’s ethical judgments are worked out in this context. . . . To live faithfully in the time between the times is to walk a tightrope of moral discernment, claiming neither too much nor too little for God’s transforming power within the community of faith. (27)
This paragraph became as seminal and shaping for me as Ladd’s had been earlier, because it offered me a life purpose. I already knew I wanted to be a pastor. Understanding the church as God’s “eschatological beachhead,” the focus of God’s end-time power rushing into the present, made that calling even more significant and urgent.
“The ‘when’ of our lives is meant to shape the how of our everyday living.”
Hays confirmed my developing conviction that ethics and eschatology are meant to go together, that the when of our lives (life in the already–not yet kingdom) is meant to shape the how of our everyday living. To help God’s people understand the in-between nature of their existence (the power of God is already available to them through the dawning of the last days, yet the consummated new creation is still future), to help them grasp the practical, ethical, daily significance of this reality — that seemed to me a good use of my life.
I wrote on a page in the back of Hays’s book, “[This is the] purpose of my life.”
Sharing the Life-Changing Mystery
In the years since, I’ve sought to live out that life purpose. I’ve sought to help people understand the book of Revelation, with its earnest encouragement of suffering believers through gorgeous portrayals of our final future.
I eventually wrote a short book to help ordinary Christians understand the exciting and frustrating tension of being simultaneously restless and patient for the future new creation because of our assurance that it is superbly good and securely ours. In my teaching of seminary students, inaugurated eschatology has been a repeated theme. Throughout fourteen years of pastoral ministry, I’ve aimed to help the people of my church understand the story line of the Bible, the cosmic significance of Christ’s work, and the utterly practical implications of a future new creation that’s ours because of what Christ has already accomplished for us.
I rejoice to be a son of the kingdom, to savor already in part the power and blessings that Jesus secured. I’m grateful to have glimpsed more of the purposes of God. And by his grace, I hope to help others rejoice in Christ as the all-satisfying climax of all the plans of God.