Sunday, March 26, 2017

Salt and Light

Jesus gives two metaphors to explain what it is like in the Kingdom of God—salt and light. 

The first is salt. Salt is a potent substance—a little of it goes a long way. Notice that He didn’t say, “You ought to be salt,” but said, “You are salt.” It isn’t what you do, but about who you are. If you have surrendered your sovereignty to Jesus, then you flavor everything around you.    

Christians wonder, “What am I called to do?” You weren’t called to do anything, but to be something. You are a flavoring—the flavor of Christ. When we yield to Jesus and live in imitation of Him, then we take on His personal characteristics—His “smell.” Aided by the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of us we manifest publicly the life of Jesus.   

 The salt of Jesus’ day was mined from the shores of the Dead Sea and had a lot of other stuff in its chemical makeup. If it got wet, the “salty” salt leeched out of it, and it lost its flavor. Then it was no good as a flavor but was used to resurface roads. 

Just because we attend church doesn’t mean we have joined the Kingdom of God.  You can’t be in Christ’s kingdom without giving Him allegiance and yielding Him control. If you don’t surrender, you can’t flavor the world with Jesus.  

In the movie Private Benjamin Goldie Hawn played a valley girl who joined the army on a whim. Her recruiter told her all the wonderful things the army would do. She didn’t realize that joining the army meant surrendering personal freedom. She told her drill sergeant “I did join the army, but I joined a different army. I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms.” 

 Many Christians say, “I gave myself to Jesus, but a different Jesus. I surrender to the Jesus that guarantees me health, wealth, and prosperity, and who doesn’t demand so much from me.” If you think that, then you’ve got the wrong Jesus. Without surrender, you’ll never be salt. 

This is not just a call to commitment though—it’s a revelation of how God is going to change the world. The kingdom won’t be advanced by conquest or promotion, but by the influence of those who have been transformed in their everyday lives. The more we are like Christ, the more we will change the world. Governments are not made or toppled by our action, but are changed from the inside by people being like Christ. When Jesus enters our lives, we must live like Him.

Imagine the church as a kind of saltshaker and from which we pour out to influence society. If salt doesn’t flow it usually means that the salt inside has mixed with something else, usually water, that prevents it from naturally flowing. If a church isn’t touching others, it usually means the nature of Christ has become mixed with some idol that prevents us from giving Christ full allegiance. That idol is most often our own connections to the Christian community. We have started to love our own community and tradition more than Jesus. Our allegiance needs to be to Jesus first and our Christian family or community second. The idol of community is subtle and disastrous. When we think of ourselves an Americans first, or a family member first and a Christians second, then we are not living under the kingship of God. But God will allow us no other ultimate allegiance but Himself. He wants to be our comfort and joy, and will allow no others.   If we cannot leave the company of our family and traditions then we have confused our attachments. We have decided that we do not want to live for Christ alone, and that we cannot live without the favor and comfort of others. We stay in the saltshaker because we are stuck on one another. 

Fear also keeps us in the saltshaker. We are afraid that unbelievers will influence us more than we will influence them. But this only happens when we take our eyes off Jesus. Fear of God erases all others fears.  When we seek to please Him, we only fear not being like Him. When we look aside from Jesus, we fear everything else. 

This leads us naturally to the second metaphor Jesus uses—light. In a dark room, even the smallest light will enable us to see.  One small LED light can be enough to navigate our bedrooms at night. Light, doesn’t have to work at shining. It just exists. A person in the Kingdom of God doesn’t have to work at being a witness. Just show up. 

Nevertheless, if light is not in a prominent place, it cannot be seen. In Israel, all the cities are on hills. It’s easier to see enemies coming when you can look down on them. It was also for location purposes. If you are lost, you can see the lights of town. Cities in the mountains are located in valleys for defensive reasons as well. If you are hidden in a valley, you are less likely to be a target. In a valley people become suspicious of people from the next valley. When we are afraid of what others will think of us we hide our problems away. 

Christians are supposed to be weird! If we aren’t peculiar, then we are probably not reflecting Christ! When we surrender to Jesus, He becomes our only Judge. We no longer consider what the rest of the world thinks. All that really matters is what Christ thinks. We become a light to the world, not a place that needs the light of others.
Jesus uses a second image to explain this idea of light, which is hiding it under a bushel basket. This means putting walls around our light. When we fear what others think of us more than we fear God, then we must protect ourselves from others. We hide ourselves away behind wicker walls like a light under a basket. Our allegiance to Jesus doesn’t have to be hidden. We do not need walls to protect us. We just need to be ourselves.

Witnessing for many people doesn’t feel natural. That is because it often isn’t. People are sometimes guilt-driven witnesses. They hear some preacher talking about the necessity of sharing Jesus, and how everyone else is going to Hell, and we guiltily go and share. But if we are surrendered to Christ, none of this has to be unnatural. If we are living with our eyes on Jesus, seeking to imitate Him, then what we do is a natural witness. 

Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

When we are surrendered to the Kingdom of God, our good works are not our good works—they are God’s good works. We are only doing them because we are seeking to walk, talk, act, and think like Jesus. When people see that someone who is an unashamed Christian does good works in Jesus’ Name, it naturally follows that they will give glory to God, not to Jesus.

In our society, the reason people don’t glorify Jesus is because there are so many other people who seem to be doing bad things in Jesus’ name. The overall impression of churched Christians is not high in this country. But the people who do bad works in Jesus’ name are not following Jesus. They seek to glorify themselves or the institutional church, but they don’t glorify Christ.

Once I approached a man on the street who was reeling drunk and invited him to church. He said, “No, I’m a Baptist.” Great! I said. “What church do you attend?
“Baptist,” he answered. So, what local church?
“Baptist.” So, are you a Christian?
No,” he insisted. “I’m a Baptist!”

We aren’t Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, or independent. We are part of the kingdom of God, followers of Christ who seek to imitate Him in everything we think, feel, say, and do. The flavor of Christian we are is of relatively little importance. The flavor of Christ is how we seek to be known. 

Live in surrender to Him on your job, in your home, in your neighborhood and on the street. Be who you are, and be Christ’s and everything we say and do will be salt and light to the world. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

“The Resurrection of the Body, and the Life Everlasting” - Revelation 21: 1-2

Most people think they know the Bible teaches about the afterlife--but they are wrong. Much of what we know about it comes from Greek philosophy—especially Plato—not the Bible.

Here’s the idea that most people have. Bodies are mortal, but souls are immortal. Souls come from heaven, but visit earth for a short time. Bodies are not important, just temporary shelters for our souls. Death releases the soul to return to its non-material state. After death, we just float around on clouds. God is there, but mostly we are just hanging out with the rest of our friends and relatives to make it.

This picture doesn’t come from the Bible, but from Plato. He taught that human souls are a piece of God’s divinity temporarily broken off to live on earth, which somehow becomes trapped in human bodies. When we die, we are released from this flesh, and go back to God. This material world is bad because it keeps us from God. But the world we go to, Heaven, is a place without material existence.  

We see versions of this idea everywhere, from ghost stories to Highway to Heaven or It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s such a widespread idea that most Christians have never heard or noticed what the Bible really teaches about the afterlife. 
Here are four examples of the misconceptions that you’ve probably encountered.

Misconception #1: “Babies from heaven”.  This idea is that that babies are immortal souls existing in heaven before they’re born. When a baby is born, it drops down into a fetus like a gumball from a machine--or maybe it’s dropped off by storks!

Misconception #2: “Ghosts”. This idea is that spirits of dead people spend their time looking down on earth. Sometimes these spirits visit us. One misconception is that angels are the same as ghosts. if they don’t quite get to heaven, they just hang around some creaky old house!

Misconception #3: “Reincarnation”. This idea has God “recycling” souls returning them to earth in other bodies. Hindus teach that insects, animals, people, and all living things have souls that are reincarnated—which means that if you swat a fly, you may have just killed your dead aunt again! Our lives are a reward or punishment for our last one. If we’ve been really good, we may return as a cow!

Misconception #4: “Dead Momma songs”.  Once we had a bluegrass gospel concert at church. The music was great, but I started to notice a similarity in about two-thirds of the songs—they were all about meeting their dead mommas in heaven (for some reason, it was never their daddies). In these songs, their mommas were mainly sitting around heaven waiting for them to arrive. 

What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Just this--people in heaven aren’t waiting for us. Time doesn’t exist there. In their perception, we are already there. They live in adoration of God.

So if we aren’t floating around like ghosts, what will the afterlife be like?

The Creed says, “The resurrection of the body.”  In the afterlife, we will have bodies. I Cor. 15: 40 says, “There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. But the beauty of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the beauty of the earthly bodies is another.”  We will be given bodies in heaven, not immediately, but when Jesus returns. 

Not only will we have new bodies, but a new earth to go with it. When Jesus returns, they will all go to a restored earth.  Rev. 21: 1-2, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

We aren’t just going to paradise. Paradise is coming here, along with all of its inhabitants. Look at what 1 Thessalonians 4 tells us, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” 

The Bible’s idea of the afterlife is Jewish, not Greek. In Jewish culture, body and soul are one.  “Soul” doesn’t mean a part of ourselves, but all of us. Soul and body cannot be separated. When we die, our essential nature is held in Christ until the end of all things when our bodies are recreated and resurrected as new, immortal bodies. 

Think of it like upgrading your computer. A computer has hardware and software. Software can be stored, but won’t run without the hardware. When your computer wears out, you save the software and reload it on a new computer. When our bodies wear out, our non-material nature is saved in Christ, to be reloaded into a new body at the end time. Our soul is resurrected in a new body.

God is making a new heaven and earth. The Bible doesn’t really say we’re going to heaven to meet Jesus. It says Jesus is coming here to meet us. 

In Roman culture when a conquering king entered a city, the leading citizens of it went out to meet him, so they could join the royal procession. When Christ comes, we will join the dead in a triumphant procession as He claims the throne. This new world is still called earth, to retain continuity between this world in the new world.

Now, there is a lot about this I don’t understand and most of that I don’t need to know. All will be revealed in its appropriate time. So why do we need to know this?  Why do we need to know that when Jesus comes again, He will resurrect our bodies? I believe it’s because of two serious errors the church makes when we don’t understand this.
Error #1—we can act as if this world doesn’t matter. If this world is just going to be destroyed, why do we need to worry about it?  Just get saved and wait for heaven! Why bother with stewardship of the earth, or injustices or abuse, if all we see is just temporary?

Calling this new place “earth” stresses the continuity between this world and the next.  Something of what we create here carries over into the new earth. Our work here matters to God for eternity.

We were put here to make a difference. Adam was put here to be God’s gardener—to be a co-creator with God in Eden. His contributions made it better. Sin got Adam and Eve’s children off track, and the whole world suffered. So God started an Israel to restore humankind’s original purpose. He made Abraham’s children to be a blessing to the whole world. When they failed to be that blessing.  God sent Jesus to bring them back on track, and the rest of the world with them. Christians aren’t here just to wait around to go to leave. This world is still being created, and God is still using us to do it.

The same is true of our bodies. What you do with and to your body matters. From the physical shape that many Christians are in, we have to conclude that most Christians don’t consider ourselves stewards of these bodies. We have become lazy stewards of what we have been given.  

Error #2—We can act as if this world is all that matters. This error is the opposite of the first. Many people, believing that God has given up on this world and that we must make a new heaven and earth alone, through our own efforts. But the Bible is very clear on this—Jesus will restore the world, not us. No matter how much we work at it, earth won’t be restored until Jesus comes again.

The resurrection of the body goes with the recreation of the Earth. Just as God’s work and our work have gone into building the Earth as we know it, God’s work and our work both go into shaping our future lives. The bodies will not be destroyed, but perfected.  1 Cor.  15: 51-53:

Listen, I tell you this secret: We will not all die, but we will all be changed. It will only take the time of a second. We will be changed as quickly as an eye blinks. This will happen when the last trumpet blows. The trumpet will blow and those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we will all be changed.”

We won’t disappear, but be transformed into something eternal. This body and this world is good, but it is just a template for the eternal earth and eternal body God will build for eternity.

Think of petrified wood. Millions of years ago, a tree produced a single seed, and that seed managed to grow from a single cell into a mighty redwood.  When the tree died, that organic material decayed and dissolved, but it left behind a pattern that became immortalized in the surrounding sand, which hardened into stone. The struggles of that tree to survive can be read in the pattern that was preserved for us to see millions of years later.

Is it really so hard to believe that our lives, our accomplishments may have the same fate? Our accomplishments are not lost, but perfected in a more durable form, like wood to stone. In the process, our imperfections are replaced, our failures burned way, replaced in Christ with something more lasting and enduring.

Lately, I’ve been using a daily devotional that contains “commemorations.” Commemorations are the stories of old saints. There are monks, nuns, missionaries, martyrs, politicians, doctors, social activists and authors from all nations. Their lives are preserved in the stories that are told. They die, but theirs names did not. None of them were perfect people, but their faults are forgotten and their great deeds live on.

In the new heaven and the new earth  is  “life everlasting.”  This world is Earth 1.0.  It’s just a template for Earth 2. The next eternal life will be based on the template of this life, like a fallen tree can become a template for a stone.

What part of us survives into this new world?  The part that looks like Jesus. He is the model for everything enduring and beautiful in us. As we seek to emulate Him in our lives, we create an enduring model for everything that is to come. Our good deeds will be celebrated, our bad deeds will be forgotten, buried in Christ forever as the good in us lives on.

We can take comfort in this--that when we die we won’t be forgotten. In Christ’s return, our good will last forever in the new earth. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins

John 13:34

“A new commandment I give you, love one another.  By this will all men know you are my disciples, by your love for one another.”

Before Jesus commanded us to go into the world, He commanded us to love each other. If we cannot love our brothers who we know, then how can we really love the stranger who we don’t know?  
Even so, Christians are known for their rivalry, pride and infighting. We have no idea what the Creed means when it says, “The holy catholic church,” “the communion of saints” or even “the forgiveness of sins.”

So let’s talk about these three statements.

“The Holy Christian church does not mean the Roman Catholic church. It means the whole, or universal church. Christians everywhere who call upon the Lord Jesus Christ are one. Anyone who confesses Jesus Christ is Lord is part of the true church of God. We are all one in the Lord, and of equal importance in His eyes.

For centuries though, Christians have been trying to find a way not to love our brothers and sisters—or if we love them, to treat them as our inferiors. It isn’t our worthiness, though, that causes us to look down on others, but out unworthiness.  It’s not their sin or doctrinal incorrectness that causes others to look small to us but our pride. 

Pride has nothing to do with how people think about themselves. It has everything to do with how we think about others. Pride, and jealousy are really just the same thing. If we think ourselves better than others, then we are proud. If we think ourselves worse, then we are jealous. Pride is the sinful human flaw that makes us think our job is to judge the servant of another. Whenever we look down on Christians who like different music, organize their church differently, or hold different views on non-essential theological issues, we are overstepping the boundaries of love. It is none of our business how another Christian speaks to God or thinks God speaks to him. We are only responsible for speaking to God and hearing from him for ourselves. We have every right to uphold our own views. We have no right to judge another in the place of God.  

In the church, this pride takes four forms. One is intellectual pride. We think we have all right to refuse fellowship with those who disagree with us. I personally have never seen one whit of difference in the quality of Christian lives between those who believe in Calvinism or Arminianism, infant or adult baptism, or  covenantalism versus dispensationalism.  We all need improvement, but all are capable of being vessels of God’s grace.

Another is emotional pride. Some express their joy more outwardly. But there’s no evidence that more emotional Christians are more righteous than those from less unemotionally free churches.

Another is organizational pride. Some believe their branch of Christianity is the true one, based on their history or lack of history. Catholics are proud that their lineage makes them the true church. Protestants are equally proud that their organization makes them the one real church. Yet God has those who sincerely worship Him among Catholics and Protestants. God seems to have distributed His gifts and favors on Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, orthodox and Coptics irrespective of their origins. God loves them all.
Another group is missional pride. People have different views about what the church should be doing in the world. But the church is not built on our differing views about what the church should be doing. It is built on faith in Jesus. The mission of the church is bigger than any one group within it.

 We are not a church because of what we do. We are a church because of Who owns us. God can task different people with different ministries. He can also task different churches differently, too.

I grew up in mainline Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterian churches, and attended for a time a mainline seminary. My teachers there had little regard for evangelism. To them, Jesus’ real mission was social change. It was all about civil rights and feeding the poor, but they seemed uninterested in whether a person was saved. At the same time, I became involved in Evangelical, Bible-believing Christians who saw the church’s mission as winning souls to Jesus. However, in time I realized that once a person came to Jesus, they had no clue about what to do. They did not talk about changing a life, just winning a convert. After a while, it seemed like one big game of tag, where people got one another to confess Jesus. It never occurred to either side to ask whether social expressions and personal evangelism could both be expressions of a person’s commitment to Jesus as Lord. Our individual callings may be different. Not everyone serves God in the same way we do. Our missions may be different. The Body of Christ—the church--is bigger than our imaginations. Loving fellow Christians does not mean correcting fellow Christians, but accepting them despite our differences of opinion, practice, and passion.

Church is not something we do, but something we are. We are the Body of Christ--whether we share anything else in common is simply unimportant. Christians should serve each other, without insisting on agreement or uniformity of practice or thought.  We are much stronger when we disagree, as long as we disagree in an atmosphere or mutual respect and love. Whether we agree or disagree does not change Christ’s command to love each other. 

“The communion of saints.” A communion of saints is like a marriage of saints. It is when we come together on a local level though mutual commitment to form a family of God. As in a marriage, this communion is more than just saying, “I love you.”  It is a declaration of intent to live together.

Today, we live in an age of consumer Christianity. We think of the local church as being like Walmart or Target. It is a place to go for all our spiritual shopping needs. If another church opens down the street with a better product, we go there. Unfortunately, such an approach defeats one of the fundamental purposes of the church, to be the family of God on earth. If everyone has the attitude that we can leave the family anytime the family goes through a rough patch, then how strong is the family? If we abandon our kids when they are in pain, then who will raise them? If we move in with our neighbor when momma burns the meat loaf, how long will any family last?  But if the local church is to exist, and fulfill what God has called all local churches to do, it must be made of people who commit to each other, no matter what.

As I have said, the church universal has many missions and many purposes in the world.

God’s people can form many organizations to fulfill the many facets of the Great Commission. But a local church body has one purpose that no parachurch, political, or any other group of individual Christians can do, except a local church. We are entrusted with discipling people into the image of Jesus. An earthly family has one purpose above all others—to raise kids. A church family has one purpose above all other—to raise Jesuses. We exist to be the one agency that can help bring you and your children to spiritual maturity. That is why we meet on Sundays and through the week. There’s better music on YouTube. There are better sermons on any number of websites and books. There are better organized social missions and evangelistic missions everywhere, but we alone are entrusted with the task of raising the kind of people who can make those missions happen. Nothing else on earth can fulfill that function. This can only be done by personal contact on a local and individual level—and the first step in that process is to love each other.

“Love” by itself is too vague a word to describe what we need. In every town it is the solemn duty of the churches to get along, and the duty of people within churches to get along. Pray for each other, spend time with each other, know each other, listen to each other, and welcome each other. 

This brings us to our third statement in the Creed, “the forgiveness of sins.”
 Dallas Willard suggests that the first step in accepting other Christians is to say, “I could be wrong.”  Whenever we insist that we are always right and everyone else is wrong, we have become judgmental. Realizing that we can be wrong means being humble. We must stand before God in humility and allow Him the privilege of correction. The divisions of the world don’t belong in the church. There is no liberal or conservative here. There is no Republican or Democrat here. We are one in Christ Jesus.

Paul says in Romans 14: 1-4, As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master] that he stands or falls”

“The forgiveness of sins.” We usually take this to mean the forgiveness of our sins. But it is really about the forgiveness of sins—which can just as easily mean our forgiveness of other people’s sins. Unity begins with forgiveness of each other.  Whenever people live together, we intentionally or unintentionally hurt each other. If we hold on to hurts, then we never really love.  

Christians are notoriously passive-aggressive. We don’t air our grievances, but let them fester. We don’t talk to each other--just about each other.

We don’t have to air all problems, but we must always forgive. We can’t say everything we think or feel, nor should we. Differences can only be discussed where there is trust. But we can forgive our hurts towards others. Forgiveness recognizes the hurts, but takes Christ’s example by letting them go. We should first be humble before God, realizing that we might be the one at fault. Christ has forgiven our sins. All He asks in return is that we do the same for others.

Christians have a mediated relationship with each other. We don’t just love each other, but love for the sake of Christ. If you have a relative who irritates you, you still love them for the sake of the family. Why should it be any different in the church?  We love each other for the sake of Christ. And the closer we get to Christ, the easier it is to love those who Christ loves. 

There’s a story about the Apostle John. When he was an old man people would plead with him to tell them something he heard from Jesus. He would say, “Little children, love one another.” That was all he would say. There is nothing more to be said.  When we love each other, we fulfill the law of Christ.

Why Does Jesus Still Need a Body - Acts 1: 1-12

So far in the Creed, we see two great historical truths--Jesus died physically, and that He rose physically. Now we are confronted with two more—He physically ascended into heaven and will physically return to judge the living and the dead.

But why does He still need a physical body?

Acts 1: 1-12 tells us that a group of people standing on the Mount of Olives saw Jesus ascend into the clouds. Paul estimates this crowd at around five hundred. Afterwards, an angel told the crowd that Jesus would physically come back and in the same way, descending from the sky in a body. This statement prevents anyone else from claiming to be Jesus returned. If someone grew up here, He can’t be Jesus. The Second Coming requires His physical body returning from the sky.

In Jesus’ day, Greeks and Hebrews had different opinions about the bodily resurrection. The Greeks believed that when we die our body stays dead, but our souls went to a place they called Hades or Hellos (that’s where we get the word “hell”). There we exist in spirit form for all eternity, or until we are united again in essence with God.  But the Jews believed the soul and the body were one. The soul is not immortal without a body, and any separation of the two is merely temporary. The Greeks believed that body and soul were both important. When Jesus died, his body was resurrected. A soul is not complete without a body.  Jesus’ resurrection was proof of this. So God preserved His body after the resurrection, waiting for His return to earth.

After the resurrection, Jesus sat down “on the right hand of God,” as the New Testament says in several places.

Now, this is different. We don’t see Jesus referred to as being on “the right hand of God” in His existence before Christmas, when he took on human flesh. Instead, we see Jesus as God’s equal in the Trinity. Philippians 2: 6 says, “He did not consider equality with God something to be held on to, but emptied Himself.” Jesus isn’t on God’s right hand, He is God!  So what does it mean that Jesus is on the “right hand of God?” It is obviously a metaphor, but for what?

When an earthly king sat on a throne, he alone was in charge. He had no equals. But he did have servants and advisors. There was always a number-two man in the kingdom who was usually referred to as the king’s “right hand man.”  He made sure that the king’s word was carried out. In the senate, there is something similar. There is a majority leader, but he has a right-hand man, called the “majority whip.” He keeps the other senators in line with the party. The President has a chief of staff for the same reason.

Now kings and presidents may need a right hand man, but God doesn’t. He is capable of ruling without one. If God is all powerful, why does He need an assistant? If Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are also God, and coequal with God, how can one be merely the assistant to the other? Jesus isn’t there to be God’s assistant.

But there is another meaning to the metaphor.  Being at the king’s right hand meant something more than just carrying out orders. He also brought things to the king’s attention. 

When Barack Obama was elected president, most African Americans rejoiced. Why wouldn’t they? They had one of their own as president. It was reasonable to assume that their concerns would be heard in Washington! When a presidential candidate picks a vice presidential candidate, he picks someone unlike himself, so that people of a different group will think there will be someone in Washington to represent them. We seek out the ear of the advisors to presidents, because then we know we will be heard. Jesus’ position on the right hand of God is not for His sake, but for ours. It is metaphor to assure us that our concerns will be put before the Lord. God won’t forget human flesh, but will remember it always, since He Himself took on flesh. God will never forget our flesh, since he took it upon himself.

But there is another part of the mystery of why Jesus needs a body now. When He comes again, He will come in a body. He doesn’t have to, but he will.  The Creed echoes the Bible in telling us that He will come again in a physical body to judge the living and the dead. 

I am convinced that our usual way of picturing the last judgment is wrong.  Our popular vision of this judgment is based on a legalistic understanding, and that isn’t what God intended. Our picture of the last judgment is like this. God sits on a white throne.  One by one, we are carried into a room where a list of sins is printed out on a big scroll. The sins on the scroll are detailed, “On March 6, Bill got angry with his friend and called him a bad name. On June 3, he lusted in his heart. On July 7, he skipped church” and so forth. But then, for the believer, we are let into heaven, and none of this counts against us. But if we are not, then the first item on the list sends us to Hell.
But then, there’s this other judgment, which is presented in I Corinthians 3: 13-15,

each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.’

This is depressing, because it sounds as if God drags that scroll out again, after throwing it away!  We  aren’t let off the hook for judgment after all! The second judgment—the judgment of works, presumably determines whether we get a mansion in glory or a shack, or maybe a condo! 
This is done (presumably) on the basis of how we have kept God’s law. Our judgment allegedly based on a series of commands and how well we keep them. 

But there’s the problem. A command-based system of judgment doesn’t require Jesus’ personal return. All we need is a cosmic computer to keep track of whether or not we’ve done enough. It’s a self-centered approach to salvation, a morality tied to our willpower and knowledge of the Law. It doesn’t require Jesus, only a copy of the Ten Commandments. It is not changed lives and heart, only changed behaviors. Dallas Willard calls it the “Gospel of sin management” not the gospel of Jesus.  In fact, it isn’t a Gospel at all, but bondage to the Law.

But there is another way of looking at the last judgment that does require Christ’s presence. It’s the one I believe the Bible really teaches.

I’m a member of a health club, though I confess that I don’t go as often as I should. Frankly, it makes me feels a little uncomfortable. I go there in my T-shirt and shorts, displaying my lumpy, pasty, wrinkly body, and I’m confronted with perfect, beautiful bodies all around me. There are gorgeous people who must spend every spare minute lifting weights and keeping in shape! They aren’t condescending or judgmental to me. They don’t have to be. I feel convicted of my own flabbiness, just by being in their presence. 

Some feel that way when they go to church. They look at the people around them and don’t see their struggles or flaws, but only the outside illusion of goodness. They feel judged just by showing up.  Some people even feel that by comparing themselves to others, they come out ahead. They can be smug about their righteousness, because they have checked off all the boxes that convince themselves in their own that they are pretty good people.

But one day, they will stand at the last judgment, and there is Jesus. Jesus doesn’t have to say a thing to judge us, he just has to show up. We know the kind of life He lived in that flesh, and it was a lot better than any of us imagined. That body is a trophy of righteousness, glorified in the flesh by His perfect life and sinless death. Beside him, we all look weak and imperfect.

Jesus in the flesh is a judgment to us all. We don’t need the law to condemn us. We only need to look at the life that Jesus lived, and realize that this was what He had in mind for us. 

This may seem like bad news to us, but it is really good news. John tells us this in 1 John 3: 1, “And we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see him as He is.”
The Christian life is not one of rules and regulation but one of humble imitation of Jesus.  Jesus is presented before us as a model to copy. We are to spend our whole lives, not following some rule book, but imitating His divine perfection. Our failure is due to the frailty of our flesh. We are like someone trying to copy a picture exactly right with bad eyesight and a shaky hand. We do what we can, but fail always. But when Jesus returns, we at last see clearly what we were seeking to accomplish. But in that judgment, he does not hand out rewards for being good artists or punishments for being bad ones. Instead, he takes our poorly realized images, and turns them into perfection. Our dirty mirrors are polished and our rough sketches are filled with glorious color. We become like Him, and remain like Him forever.

Jesus will return in the flesh, to glorify us in the flesh. He returns to show us what we are and will be, and to make us like Himself. Our bodies crippled with age and abused with sin becomes beautiful. Our hearts, broken and gnarled by the stresses of life take on His beauty, until we are fit for a life in His presence forever.