Thursday, October 28, 2021

Be courageous

Jesus said to his disciples, shortly before he was betrayed: "You will have suffering in this world.  Be courageous!  I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

It is striking what he does not say.  It is not: "I have overcome the world, so you won't suffer."  In the context of John's Gospel, that could never be right.  Christ overcomes the world by his own suffering; his glory is revealed at the cross.  How, then, could there be no suffering in the world for Christ's followers?

The point is how we respond to the suffering that must be encountered in the world.  That suffering, I think, includes the temptation which the world throws at the follower of Jesus, and of course the dislocation that comes from not belonging any longer to the world.  The natural human reaction to being in a minority, to not belonging, is fear; that fear may be expressed as a defensive retreat from the world, or as an offensive assault on the world.  Fear can motivate both the closed Christian community that harks back to a (mythical) vanished golden age, and the zealot moral crusader (or even evangelist).  The world as enemy, to be fled from or perhaps attacked.

The world, then, as decidedly not overcome.

Christ has overcome the world.  "The world" in John's Gospel is not so much the created reality in which we live, but the social reality of humanity organised without reference to, or in rebellion against, God and his purposes.  It is the world of Psalm 2, and the desperate (and vain) attempt to throw off God's rule and the rule of his Christ.  It is the world we live in.  Sometimes the world disguises its godlessness (and can indeed put on a good show of religion); sometimes the world displays its true colours.  But always it is the world.

Christ has overcome the world.  This does not mean that the world is done away with.  Of course the world as sinful dominion is ended.  But far from being destroyed, the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of God and his Christ.  In his cross and resurrection, the Lord Jesus overcomes the world by establishing the world; he upturns the apparent reality of human existence in order to found human existence again on the basis of his righteousness.  He takes his throne.  The world, then, despite appearances is overcome, to its own great blessing.  The defeat of the world is the world's great victory.

When Christ calls us to courage in the face of suffering in this world, it is simply a call to faith.  This is the victory which has conquered the world: our faith.  Not that faith in and of itself has any power, but faith it is which sees the world as it really is, as overcome.  Faith sees the victory of Jesus, his glory in his suffering on the cross.  Faith sees the world as changed, even though the world itself does not know that it is changed.  Faith therefore enters in to the victory of the Lord.

Fear of the world runs through so much our Christian living.  The simple fear of what folks will think.  Fear for our children - to what depths of godlessness will they be exposed?  Fear of being tainted, fear of being tempted.  Fear, fear, fear.

Be courageous!  He has overcome the world.

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