So often Jesus’ words seem to be contradictions. He brings a gospel of opposites. Everything is upside-down, backwards, and the opposite of what it should be. He says, ‘The last shall be first’ (Mark 10:31). Give if you want to receive (Luke 6:38). Living means giving up your life (Matt. 10:39). To be a leader, you must be a servant (Matt. 20:26-28).
Why does Jesus put opposites side by side?
Opposites in the City
I had the privilege of going to Jordan and Israel for a short period several of years ago. I haven’t really done a lot of traveling but there was something that was distinctly wonderful about the city of Jerusalem. It wasn’t because it’s the land of the Bible but rather its diversity.
Modern day Jerusalem is a real mixing pot. Faiths co-exist, ethnic groups try to be peaceful and above all there is the extremes of architecture. The Old City and the new city are side by side. Ancient buildings next to ultra-modern ones. Stones telling thousand year old stories reflect off modern glass panels.
These are the extreme opposites that struck me most of all because they so vividly remind me of the Gospel of Jesus.
A Gospel of Opposites
To follow Jesus is to follow a gospel of opposites. We are loved by a Holy God, yet we do unholy things. Jesus clothes us in his righteousness because we are unrighteous. We are been made into new creations, yet we live within old creation.
Paul realises the extreme opposites of the gospel life. In Romans 7:14-25 he shares of the struggle that we all face as followers of Jesus. He writes about our battle between doing what’s wrong even though we want to do what’s right.
Juxtapositions highlight opposites. They show us tension. We live with tension as followers of Jesus. The gospel highlights the past reality that Jesus died, was resurrected, and forgave us. We celebrate this truth. We’re also certain of a future gospel reality that Jesus will return and restore or recreate all things. It can be a struggle living in the tension between those times; seeing how the gospel shapes the way we live in the present.
Jesus put it this way. He told the disciples his kingdom has come. In other words, it was there. But on other occasions he told them it was still coming. Theologians use the words ‘inaugurated’ and ‘consummated’. It’s been introduced, it’s present, but it’s not fully realised. This is where we live, the place of juxtaposition, the messy middle.
The Messy Middle
This tension was brought home to me in a recent conversation about healing. More specifically about why God heals some and not others even when there are hundreds of people praying.
I don’t know why God heals some and not others (I wish I did), but I do know the certainty of ultimate healing. Paul again is helpful. In the battle of sinfulness he directs us to Jesus. If you’re gonna ask why some are healed and others aren’t, surely Jesus is a good place to start?
In him we are assured of a certain hope – he will return and make everything whole. We can look forward to the day when there will neither sickness, pain nor death, tears, sorrow nor mourning. We can look forward to a time we will fully realise that Jesus bore all of our sicknesses and infirmities.
What are we to do?
Looking to Jesus doesn’t answer the question of why. We live in a time where those who, even though they may ultimately receive healing, are still sick; where those promised eternal life suffer death; and the weight of our old world still bears down on us event though we’ve been made new. In short we feel the juxtaposition of the gospel.
So, what are we to do? We look to Jesus. What are the promises we stand on because Jesus’ death and resurrection? How do they impact the way we go through daily life?
We pray, and we weep, and we mourn, and we cry out our questions to him. We may never know the answer to life’s difficult questions, but we continue to look to the one who does.
Finally we can be reminded of the hope we have in Jesus – he will return and restore all things to himself. And we celebrate the things God is doing in our lives today. Because surely he is at work, after all, ‘he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion’ (Phil. 1:6).