Whatever you think about the times we live in today will shape how you live in the world today.
The unchallenged narrative today is that the times are changing. This is the time of #METOO, when #TIMESUP. This the time of Trump and Kim Jong Un, when the Doomsday Clock has just ticked to 2 minutes to Midnight. This is the enlightened 21stcentury—so stop living in the dark ages as dinosaurs (even though I’m sure dinosaurs weren’t around in the dark ages) and update your values.
The times dictate our actions.
Many Christians in Australia today also feel that a profound shift is taking place. The social and political landscape of the West is changing and we are trying to grapple with how we should now live in this secular age?
Remember Stephen McAlpine’s article, “Christian: Are you ready for Exile Stage Two?” His article certainly didn’t begin the conversation about our times—but it was a wake-up call for many. It was an excellent analysis of how we got the times wrong in the past. That we thought we were living in Athens when in fact we were in Babylon. That we thought we lived in a neutral culture that ignored us—rather than a hostile culture that wanted to destroy us. But, helpful as the article was, it should have reminded us that we have always been in Babylon. Instead it drove us to ask, “what is different about today”? And therefore, “How should we act different today?”
Now you must always preach with the Bible in one hand and Charles Taylor’s ‘A Secular Age’ in the other.
I hear these questions everywhere I go (on the internet). Stott’s old adage has been replaced—now you must always preach with the bible in one hand and Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age in the other. What was The Benedict Option about if not an analysis of the changing times and how we should live in light of this new (and scary!) era? McAlpine has furthered in his own analysis of the times following the same-sex marriage postal ballot, urging the church to have a ‘plan B’ for our future. And then this past week Thinking Of God published a fascinating article entitled, “Interesting Times: Challenges and Opportunities for Australian Churches in 2018”. The article is a collection of opinions from a range of Christian leaders across Australia, all offering their advice on how we should live in light of the times.
I have greatly benefited from all these conversations and have been challenged by many. And I do believe that we need to think carefully about the changing social and political landscape of our culture. But there is danger that comes with this discussion. We can, without meaning, forget what Jesus taught about our times today. We can forget that actually nothing has changed. That we live in the same time today as the apostles did 2000 years ago. And forgetting what Jesus taught us about our times today, we are forgetting what Jesus taught us about the life we must live today. So, what is the time according to Jesus? Let’s unpack some ideas from the first four chapters of John’s gospel…
1. We live in the Messianic Age
The first chapter of John introduces the time-shattering message of the gospel—the Messiah has come! And with the Messiah comes the Messianic age. Chapters 2-4 of John’s gospel introduce this new era that we live in today. The first sign at Cana reveals the Son’s glory and hints at the arrival of this age—a banquet of aged wine, where death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25).
But the coming of the Messianic age also challenges and overthrows the ways of the past. Jesus has come to bring judgment and cleansing on the established order and restore true worship to God (Mal 3:1-5). The failed temple system, tainted by sin, is overthrown as Jesus declares that He himself is the true temple of God where atonement can be made and worship can be offered. The messianic age is a time of great blessing but great challenge. Death will be destroyed, but so too will all corrupt, religious efforts. Hope can only be found in the Messianic Kingdom.
We see the same idea in chapter 3. Jesus tells Nicodemus that a person can only enter this Kingdom by God’s initiative—through his sending the Holy Spirit; through his sending the Son of Man to be lifted up on the cross for our sins (Num 21:8-9). Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
As the Messiah arrives, and the light shines into the darkness, we must all make a choice—will we come into the light or hide in the darkness? For whoever believes shall have life, but whoever does not believe will not see life—for God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:36).
This sharpens our focus for the times we live in today. There are only ever two sorts of people–those who believe in the Son, and those who don’t.
And this is true world-over. In John 4 we see that the Messianic Kingdom extends beyond the physical boundaries of Israel—to Samaria and the ends of the earth. And it’s all about Jesus. Jacob’s well won’t give eternal life but those who come to Jesus will never thirst. Even this sinful Samaritan woman can find eternal life and true worship if she comes to Jesus—the Messiah. As the Samaritan villagers declare, “this man really is the Saviour of the world”. The Messianic Kingdom is for all the nations, for all who believe.
Whatever strange new realities we face today, they do not define our age. The Messiah has come—and he defines the time we live in.
These are the times that we live in. Whatever strange new realities we face today, they do not define our age. The Messiah has come—and he defines the time we live in. We must refuse to let the changing social landscape of our society divert our gaze from the big picture: Jesus has died for our sins; he has poured out His Spirit onto his people; he has ascended into heaven; he is ruling over the nations. Now is the time of God’s favour. Now is the day of salvation. Eternal life is now on offer to all the nations of the world. This is the time that we live in today.
More than anything else, we must realise what a positive time this is. So many Christians spend their lives hiding under a rock. We are so scared about offending anyone or seeming different to anyone that we just keep our faith completely to ourselves. We are timid because we have bought the lie that we are living in a secular age. We are not. We are living in the age of the Messiah. The ascension of Christ meant marching orders for his disciples to all the nations. Yes, we will still face opposition and unbelief. But this is our time! This is His time. And He has come to bring light to a world blinded by darkness, life to a world under the shroud of death, salvation to a world facing the wrath of God. This is the time we live in today.
So, how does that shape what we do?
2. It is Harvest Time
At the end of chapter 4 Jesus declares to his disciples,
I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together (John 4:35-36).
The disciples have just come back from picking up lunch from the village, and they walk in on a rather awkward scene: Jesus talking with a Samaritan woman. But the disciples haven’t understood the times that they are living in. Jesus is bringing the gospel to the nations—he has bigger things on his mind than lunch. Or as he puts it: “I have food to eat that you know nothing about … My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (John 4:34)
The Messiah has come to do the will and work of God. And that work is harvest work. This is what God is doing in the world today. This is what the Messiah is doing in the world today. And this is what His disciples are called to do today—harvest work. Reaping where we have not sown, we are sent out into the harvest fields to call people to eternal life. That is our job, because this is the times we live in.
When harvest comes it is all-hands-on-deck for farmers. The moment the crop dries to that golden yellow colour; the moment grain gets hard in husk you go—and you go hard! On large farms, harvesting crews can work straight through the night, harvesting up to 170 hectares a day. There is focus and priority, because you have to get the crop in. The time dictates their actions.
Harvest time doesn’t mean that we should burn ourselves out. We’re still regular, weak people who need to clean the house, pick up the kids, have a rest and enjoy themselves from time to time. But harvest time does mean that we have a priority in life. Reaping a crop for eternal life is more important than anything else.
Reaping a crop for eternal life is more important than anything else. Yet, as Christians today, we are all over the place when it comes to priorities.
Yet, as Christians today, we are all over the place when it comes to priorities. In the recent Thinking of God article, “Interesting Times”, Dominic Steel lamented,
My concern about the mission of Jesus in the Australian church today is that more than any time in the twenty years since I finished theological college, I think we have tragically collectively lost focus on the priority of Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost. Across the board in Australia I feel we have lost the urgency of evangelism (with some wonderful pockets of exceptions).
I am profoundly concerned to see so (relatively) few evangelistic efforts, so little emphasis on evangelism in our conference agendas, so little priority on evangelism from our leaders, and such a heartbreaking mission progress report at our recent Sydney Anglican synod.
We don’t just need to put evangelism back on the agenda—we need to see that it is the agenda. It is what we are about!
Indeed. But harvest work will never be the agenda if we don’t realise that it is harvest time. If we don’t open our eyes to see the fields ripe for harvest. So many of us look out at the fields and see only weeds. Or worse—thorns—and so are too scared to go out into the field in case we get pricked. And as long as we think that we now live in a different age—a harder age, a less interested age, a more hostile age—we will distract ourselves with second-tier concerns.
I cannot think of a less likely age for Jesus to declare that the harvest is plentiful than the Roman Empire in the first century. It was hardly Christendom. And yet the Messiah had come, His Spirit was at work, salvation had been won—and so it was harvest time. And it remains harvest time today—if only we would see it.
So, what does harvest work look like?
3. The Work is the Word
The harvest work that we must be engaged in is proclaiming the word of God. This seems to mix metaphors, since so often sowing is equated with spreading the word. And yet in God’s field, both sowing and reaping mean proclaiming the word of God, that people might believe and have life. Let’s consider the Samaritan village as a test-case.
When the disciples arrive, the Samaritan woman leaves her water jar (who needs Jacob’s water when you have Jesus’) to go back to her village and tell them about Jesus. Then the entire village comes out to see him for themselves. As Jesus is telling his disciples to open their eyes and look at the fields, what do they see? No wheat—but an entire Samaritan village coming towards them. The harvest was indeed plentiful. So how did Jesus reap this harvest of Samaritans?
We are told that many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony that Jesus “told me everything I ever did”. But their faith doesn’t end there. Jesus stayed with them for two days and, “because of his words many more became believers”. This is the key. It wasn’t Jesus’ miraculous sign—his supernatural knowledge of the woman’s life—that led them to faith. It wasn’t even His physical presence. It was his words. The Samaritans themselves confirm this when read,
“And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world” (John 4:41-42).
What led them to faith? What they heard. This lesson is taught again and again throughout John’s gospel. In John 5 Jesus declares that “a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John 5:25).
In John 6, Jesus says that “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63)
When asked by Jesus if the disciples want to leave him, Peter answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
We could go on and on and on—right up to John 11 when Jesus brings his friend back to life by calling, “Lazarus, come out!”
But the pattern is clear. As people hear the word of Jesus, and believe, they have life in His name. And so, harvest work is word work. To go out into the harvest fields means to share the word of God with others. This is our work. This is our priority. Because this is the meaning of our times.
Jesus teaches us that we live in wonderful times that send us out to do wonderful work. We must be positive about our times. The Messiah has come to offer eternal life to anyone who would come to Him. We must be focussed about our times—harvest time means harvest work, and harvest work is word work. And so we must go out into the world with the word of God, proclaiming the Messiah and calling people to repent and believe in Him.
Whatever you think about the times we live in today will shape how you live in the world today.
These are wonderful times we live in, if only we would see it.
First published at www.thewordgrows.com.