Kingdom and Empires: The Missing Middle (#1)
Last Sunday we began a series at Central entitled, “Kingdom and Empires.” The series will run for seven weeks. We kicked off with a title borrowed from a phrase in N.T. Wright’s book, “How God Became King.” The phrase that struck me was, “The Missing Middle.” Wright notes how the creeds address the ‘bookends’ of Jesus’ life but miss the middle, namely, his life. Taking that idea as the centerpiece for the start of our series, we were challenged to rethink the life of Jesus in order to better understand our own.
Several people have asked me about the notes for the message. We have many ‘Short Circles’ (a form of small group) that will track with the series and I thought I’d blog the notes from last Sunday here in preparation for Sunday October 11. This weekend is going to be a phenomenal Sunday with Brad ‘walking us through the text‘ of Scripture from beginning to end. Our goal is to demonstrate that Jesus’ life not only mattered but had a grander context within a single unifying theme. The same, we believe, is true for us. Our lives matter and they too have a grander context.
Make sure you join us on Sunday or tune in if you can’t be there in person. Our new Online Campus offers you a great opportunity to partake in the service. You can ask questions and share prayer requests too. Our interactive portal staffed by our incredible online campus team will do their utmost to ensure you get the most out of the service! There really is no reason to miss out on any Sunday at Central!
To prepare us for Sunday and the rest of our ‘Kingdom and Empires‘ series, I am going to blog last week’s message in two parts: today and tomorrow. Here’s the first installment, a teaching that picked up from a dramatic presentation of a section of three ancient creeds: the Athanasian, Apostles and Nicene.
We’ve just experienced the incredibly significant ancient creeds brought to life before our very eyes. This presentation of Jesus is striking for it’s consistency. Despite this, however, the creeds miss something the Gospels don’t. The creeds proclaim the Eternal Son leaving the glory of heaven, taking on flesh and being born as one of us. They declare that this Jesus died on a cross, was buried, rose again on the third day, before ascending to the Father where He now reigns in glory to intercede for His church.
Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Each of these creeds, while doctrinally correct, has something missing. They have missed the life of Jesus. The creeds emphasize the bookends to the life of Jesus Messiah. They celebrate the beginning, reveal the future at the expense of missing the middle!
Are the Creeds Wrong?
No! The creeds are not wrong. Their usefulness however, is limited to the context for which they are intended. The creeds were written at a time when crackpot theories were being taught about Jesus. The church leaders established the creeds as guard rails to frame the conversation. The Apostles Creed, drawn from the writings of church leaders like Irenaeus of Lyons (he wrote a book entitled “Against Heresies” around 175-185AD) told Marcion (excommunicated in AD144) that there were not two gods, but one. The Nicene creed (June AD325) told Arius that Jesus was not a special created being, but of one substance with the Father.
These church fathers were much closer to the life of Jesus than are we. However, the further the church has journeyed from the first century the more distant Jesus’ life and the meaning of his teaching have become. And at great cost! Today’s Jesus is almost exclusively preached as the savior of our souls and rarely as the ruler of life.
In a day when life is disposable and cheap, a commodity that can be bought and sold, it’s time to proclaim, “Life matters.”
If we do not understand why Jesus’ life mattered, then we will never understand why our lives matter and why all life matters. Jesus brings hope and life for all. If all Jesus did was come to die, then all that matters is what happens when we die.
Sadly, that’s been the overarching theme of the evangelical stream of Christianity for quite some time. “If you die tonight do you know for certain that you will be with the Lord?” I have been in revival meetings, crusades, – whatever you want to call them – as speaker after speaker exclaimed, “If you don’t trust the Lord tonight you may leave this place and be run down by a truck.” Some trust Jesus in the meeting but everyone is careful when crossing the road!
The message of Christianity is about more than what happens when we die. Jesus came to give us hope and life while we live. Life matters. Jesus’ life matters. The creeds speak of his suffering death and glorious ascension but the Gospels focus of his life.
- Matthew: 25 chapters on his life and 3 on his death and resurrection.
- Mark: 13 chapters on his life and 3 on his death and resurrection.
- Luke: 21 chapters on his life and 3 on his death and resurrection.
- John: 17 chapters on his life and 4 on his death and resurrection.
We have 76 chapters on the life of Jesus and 13 chapters on the death and resurrection of Jesus. So, 17% of the gospels focus on the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension and 83% on the life Jesus lived. 100% of the creeds concentrate on the bookends of Jesus’ life and practically nothing on his life. All of this leads me to ask:
Do I believe in someone who saves my soul rather than rules my life?
Because Jesus lived with purpose we say with confidence that life is not a transaction or a ticket to a heavenly amusement park. The reason for our life is not to offer people a ticket to heaven when they die but to usher in the reign and rule of God while we live.
For 2000 years we have preached Jesus but we have not fully preached his message if we do not understand his life. If Jesus’ only purpose was to come and die he did not have to live the way that he did. He did not have to enter the rabbinic system as he did. He did not have to live the way He did. He did these things, and so much more, and we know about it because it all means something.
Here at Central we have a hunch: if we rethink Jesus’ life we may better understand our own.
The Middle Muddle.
What the creeds overlooked, many Christians have ignored. Ask a Christian why Jesus died and most would be able to offer a fairly Scriptural answer. Ask a Christian to explain why Jesus lived and we’d not have the same clarity. In this series we make a bold claim: What the creeds overlooked and Christians ignore, must return to the fore. Some of us may wonder what difference it makes?”
In 1485 the cookbook Kuchenmeisterei was published in Nuremburg, Germany. It was one of the first cookbooks run off on the famous Gutenberg press. The book contained the revolutionary recipe: jelly doughnuts. Now, the early version consisted of a bit of jam sandwiched between two rounds of dough, deep fried in lard.
Although most modern versions of doughnuts have a sweet interior, the original filled doughnuts were primarily packed with meat, fish, mushrooms, cheese, or other savory mixtures. At that time, sugar was still very expensive and rare in Germany, so savory dishes were much more practical. Now, the original was sweet but most people didn’t know that. It was over a hundreds years later when the price of sugar dropped that the original intent was followed.
The point? When the center-piece is inaccessible, or unknown, anything fills it. See, the center needs to be filled and when the center is inaccessible, other items rush in. It’s the same with the life of Jesus. When a church doesn’t know the central aspect of Jesus’ life and teaching the gaps are filled with with various teachings. For example, the missing middle of Jesus’ life causes us to explain Jesus’ life like this:
- Jesus life teaches people how to go to heaven.
- Jesus’ life teaches people how to behave.
- Jesus’ perfect life enabled His perfect sacrifice.
- Jesus life showed that he was God.
Most of these are valid to a point, but to say that these represent the heart of Jesus’ life is to ‘muddle the middle.’ It is to fill the centerpiece of the Gospels with a narrative the text doesn’t prioritize. Consequently, we emphasize the salvation of our souls at the cost of presenting the ruler of our lives. We have overinflated salvation prayers and left the importance of Christ’s kingly rule to one side.
We over-inflate because we’ve under-thought.
It’s time to rethink Jesus’ life in order to make better sense of our own.
to view the message click here: http://centralwesleyan.org/current-series
 “When the church leaves out bits of its core teaching, it will inevitably overinflate other bits of its core teaching to fill the gap” [N.T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (p. 33).].