Here’s a forewarning, this is a somewhat apologetic ramble of the highest degree, but I figured that many new testament writers got away with it, so I’d try too!
Throughout the new testament there are two groups of folks presented to us, and although I don’t think new testament cultures always give us direct templates for us to reflect on life today, I think these two grids are pretty reliable.
The jews long for a sign, and the greeks for wisdom. Never are these things presented as undesirable things, and ultimately the responses by the earliest followers of Jesus presented Jesus Himself as the fulfillment of both of these longings. But often, those searching for a sign or wisdom are not looking for as fleshly embodied versions of signs and wisdom, they wanted something more showy, less flesh and blood.
A sign occupies a moment, it is able to be interpretted in many ways, and God had a history with the jewish people of giving signs that they could remember in the dark days. But ultimately God’s acts, his signs of faithfulness to his people, were to reflect Himself. That there might be some sense of ‘Immanuel’ (God with us) for His people, a sense, not that God would stop bad things happening, but that He would be present in the midst of it. And as to the extent they reflected Him in their thought, word and deed, they would set apart from the peoples of the earth.
Set apart as a sign even! Set apart as embodied testimonies. Our signs and stories that relate to God these days seem to be quite dis-embodied. Lots of people have sought to exegete that fact, and I’m pretty convinced that our understanding of the afterlife is the biggest player here. If we think, even on a sub-concious imaginary level, that our Spirits are somehow freed from our bodies and we zoom off to cloud 237, then it’s easy to see how we become dis-interested in our embodied existence and how it might be reflecting something of God Himself.
So signs are not a bad thing, but a sign is sign towards something and that is what the New testament responses are confronting in the jewish people. My good friend perfectly summed this up recently saying “Good things can make Bad Gods”. A Sign for a signs sake. A moment, but only a moment, where God was near. Jesus is the sign, but there is a discernment in the text, that this God Man, God in the Flesh, was a little too present, a little too with-us for those interested folks back in Samaria. And, so this trend continues today, we actually quite like the idea of a Zeus-like God, all powerful, maybe even beneveolent towards us, but not too close, not too like us. Now, of course, God is altogether unlike us, but has chosen, in the Son, to be forever like us. We afterall where created in His image, and then the Son gloriously reclaims the image, and stands as an image bearer in the presence of God, so that we might through Him, be image bearers who are actively involved, and engaging in the life of God, in the Son, by Holy Spirit who is constantly catching us up into the life of Son, and forming us, re-forming us, into the image of this image bearing Son.
Thats a long sentence, and you may have gotten lost, but here’s the headline; Jesus Himself, a person, is our Sign, and we are caught up in His life, with our bodies, with the very material, flesh and blood lives we have today. Said another way, our embodied lives (not just somehow our spiritual – which is a category scripture does not allow us to seperate out as cleanly as we try these days) are the place Holiness (that is a life of love within God) happens (in our neighbourhood, jobs and phone calls).
Ok, that wasn’t shorter..the long and short of it is that YOUR LIFE matters today to the extent to which is being lived like God, all else will indeed be swept away, but your life in God is to be lived in this time, not some perfect imaginary life in the future.
Everlasting life starts now…