Personal identity is the subject of much robust discussion today. Is our identity defined by what we feel about our color or gender or something else? There are white people who say they ‘feel’ black. And I recently heard of someone who didn’t ‘feel’ their legs were theirs.
The capacity for choice is one of the most exciting and yet most frightening things about our humanity. For with the power to choose there is the moral responsibility to choose well. If we were robots, we could say our decisions were the outcome of the way we were programmed. If we were animals, we could say our decisions were shaped by our genetic code. But we are neither robots nor animals: we are human beings, and the matter of choice is in our hands.
When we think about it, our decisions are dependent upon assumptions we have made about life. And these assumptions include the spiritual values we might have.
Come with me to a parable that opens up a very big picture about life. It is found only in the Gospel of St Mark: Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29).
This fascinating parable focuses on the reality of God and the supernatural activity of his kingdom – the sowing of seed and the harvest. To understand the parable, we need to read it in the context of Jesus’ ministry. In Mark 1:15 he proclaims: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”
With Jesus’ coming God’s kingdom or rule is now present in a new and vital way. God’s king or ruler has come in person. His mission, spoken of in the parable as seedtime and harvest, brings the supernatural realm into human affairs. But, just as a seed remains hidden, so is the seed of God’s kingdom hidden.
The parable helps us begin to understand God’s greater purposes and his way of working. The evidence of his existence is around us in the nature of the universe, but the proofs of this and his supernatural rule in Jesus Christ remain hidden. Yet, in the same way that Jesus’ predictions concerning his arrest and trial, crucifixion and resurrection were fulfilled, we can be sure that the prediction of his return and bringing in the harvest of his people will also be revealed.
Paul the Apostle in writing to God’s people in Colossae tells us that with the coming of Jesus Christ the new age of God’s kingdom dawned. This new age co-exists with the old which the New Testament refers to as the world. For the present a door is open, allowing people to pass from the old age to the new. In Colossians 1:13 Paul writes of God’s hidden supernatural work: God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…
In turning to Jesus as the Lord, our whole relationship with God changes. Paul speaks of everyone who turns to Christ as dying with him (Colossians 2:20). And in Colossians 3:1, he says: So if you have been raised with Christ…
While physically we are still in the old world, God’s people now move in the sphere of resurrection life. We should let the light of this sphere of eternity fall on all we think and feel, say and do. ‘Live,’ Paul is saying, ‘as though you belong, not on the earth, but in heaven.’
This means sitting at the feet of the enthroned Jesus Christ and letting our minds and hearts be instructed by his word – not least on matters such as our identity, gender and relationships.
It’s understandable that we hear the voices of those around us asking us ‘how we feel’. But Paul urges everyone of us who has this new life in the Lord Jesus to see ourselves and our identity, the challenges and troubles of life, through the lens of the glory of our life to come.
Paul develops this: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God… (Coloss 3:3). For the present others only see our physical bodies. The reality of our new and eternal life is hidden. However, what is now hidden will one day be disclosed. Everyone will see the harvest of which Jesus speaks in his parable. So Paul writes: When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Coloss 3:4).
In today’s world the idea of Christ bursting through the skies in a blazing display of power and glory, seems pure science fiction. But the Bible leaves us in no doubt. From cover to cover it tells us that the world is going somewhere, and that the final outcome will be the return of God’s king.
In recent times there has been a revival of interest in 16th Century England, and especially the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Writing on Thomas Cranmer’s response to the news of Anne Boleyn’s execution (May 19, 1536) on false charges, Diarmaid MacCulloch records Cranmer’s words to a close friend: ‘She who has been the Queen of England on earth will today become a Queen of heaven’ (Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer, 1996, p.159).
In Revelation 21 we read the words of St John: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (21:1-4).
© John G. Mason
A prayer. Lord God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: mercifully accept our prayers, and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do nothing good without you, grant us the help of your grace, so that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in word and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.