“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Behold, I Am Making All Things New"

...Lewis' second example of this pattern of "new things" is the story told by Christianity, a story of fall, redemption, and new creation.* The new creation, writes Lewis, is not simply a recovery of what was lost, nor merely an improvement on that. The state of being towards which the world is moving is, according to Christianity, not only better than the original creation, but something on a whole new level.

In Jesus' resurrection we witness the very first instance of this groundbreaking pattern. Paul explains at length in 1 Corinthians 15 how the resurrection body is not simply the former body raised, but a transformed body, a new kind of thing breaking into the world. As the seed is to the tree, so is the mortal body to the resurrection body. Starting with Christ, the whole of creation is being raised from the dead - the decay of the universe is being suddenly and paradoxically overturned into explosive new life, an overflowing and ever-growing life unlike anything that was part of creation before.

In the end, the hearts and minds of God's people will be filled with a love and joy in one another, in all creation, and in God that is not only deeper and stronger than anything felt before, but different and new, not known or experienced at all until that point. God will bring to fruition in us a knowledge of Him and understanding of His ways and purposes in all of creation that will be not only unfathomably higher than what is now known, but groundbreaking - a new kind of knowledge. As the seed is to the tree, so is all we see and feel and know of God now to what is to come (see "A Higher Joy," "A More Glorious Reality").

Christianity is a story in which new things are bursting onto the scene at every turn of events; it is a theme that can hardly be missed in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. In the book of Isaiah (and in the Psalms) we hear the first whispers of the great new thing that God is beginning to do: "behold, I am doing a new thing...new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them" (Isaiah 43:19, 42:9). Ezekiel foretells that God will give his people "a new heart and a new spirit" (Ezekiel 36:26). With Christ's coming the door is blown wide open: all things are finally being made new. Jesus gives a "new commandment" of love and speaks of "new wine" as an image of what his Incarnation means for the world. A "new covenant" between God and man is begun through Christ's sacrificial death, which opens "the new and living way" (Hebrews 10:20).

In his letters Paul develops the theme of individual people becoming new. One must leave behind the sins of the old life, die to one's old self, and be made anew in Christ: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Not only God's people, but all creation - the entire cosmos - is now being made anew. Finally, in the book of Revelation, with John's visions of what is to come, the theme comes to its climax. God's people will sing a new song, each will be given a new name, and they will dwell in a new city, in the midst of a new heaven and a new earth:

  • "The one who conquers...I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name...I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it." (Revelation 3:12, 2:17)
  • "I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away...he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'" (Revelation 21:1,5)
The message is clear and bright as day. All that Christ did while on earth, all that he set in motion in redemptive history, all that he accomplished for his people, can be accurately and vividly described as something new. New things, new people, a new creation - this is the brilliant message of the New Testament, and for it the Author is to be praised.

NOTES:
-References for "new" things: John 13:34-35, 1 John 2:8 (new commandment), Mark 2:21-22 (new wine); Jeremiah 31:31, 1 Corinthians 11:25, Hebrews 8-10 (new covenant); Colossians 3:10, Ephesians 4:24 (new humanity); Revelation 5:9, 14:3 (new song); Galatians 6:15 (new creation); Revelation 2:17, 3:12 (new name); the Spirit is associated with new things (eg. Romans 7:6)
-Christ's resurrection is the real turning point, the first new thing. Perhaps this was intentionally foreshadowed in the fact that he was laid in a new tomb (John 19:41).
-In Revelation, John draws on Isaiah (42:10; 62:2; 65:8, 17) when he uses the language of a new song, new names, and new heavens and earth.

*Because this story is the brightest revelation of God that we humans have, it is the most likely source for clues about the "pattern of reality," and is therefore worth looking at closely and thoroughly.

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