religion

Jesus and his environment – pt 2

Jesus understands and interprets nature
Although much of Jesus teaching happens in cities and towns, we have verses that tell us about Jesus on mountains, hillsides, in fields, on beaches, and in the desert. He retires to wild places to be alone and to pray, a man of the outdoors. He obviously knows and understands his world, and on a couple of different occasions he encourages people to read the earth and interpret it, and then to read their own time and culture in the same way.

  • “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. (16:2-3)
  • “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (24:32-34)

Beside the observation and appreciation of nature, Jesus has a deeper perspective that reaches back to the creation and forwards to the new creation. His prophetic knowledge of the beginning and end add another level of meaning to his teaching, and reveal his understanding of the earth, its future, and his place in it. Sometimes it comes up almost incidentally, like in this verse about integrity of speech:
“Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.” (5:34-35)

Other times it is much more explicit, even apocalyptic. ”
“’The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” (24:29-30)

Read pt 3

8 comments

  1. Hi Jem,
    You know that looking at the finger which is pointing to something else tells you nothing about the intention of the pointer. I think that you are taking liberties with the language he uses to suit a purpose that wasn’t intended by the Lord Jesus. Its a pretty big leap to say that because Jesus uses examples from the created order, therefore he had a crypto-environmentalist agenda.
    I do believe that the way the world deals with wealth and the environment now is not a reflection of the stewardship ordinance given to Adam by our Maker. Yet our command isn’t as unto Adam to subdue and fill the Earth with people or to take care of the garden. We live in post-eden, the fall, the garden was the equivalent to the temple of God, where God and man met and conversed, that is now the church, we should be obeying the command to fill the coming new creation with new worshipers, spiritual children, and looking after the current Eden the church, seeing it blossom in spiritual fruitfulness.
    So I find this campaign to have little Biblical mandate on an environmental basis, justice wise that is another matter, but ultimately people’s need is the gospel, patching up the coal superficially which tomorrow is to be thrown to the fire is not what we do, God will remake this groaning creation, and remake all who come to him for that new earth.

    Using scripture for at best a tangent view on a possible/doubtful undercurrent in Jesus words isn’t going to help the lost recognise Him as King and Saviour, more likely it will enforce their likely reading of Jesus as merely an extraordinary man, rather than as their Lord and their God.

    You know most of this, email me back,
    Stu

  2. Didn’t realise there were more entries… more pointed as you continue, so please read my previous post in light of the knowledge I had. I still think that Biblical theology points the stewardship issue to the church(new creation) rather than creation.

    Love, Stu

  3. Hi Stu, thanks for the comments, I thought this might be a slightly controversial post! I don’t mean to imply Jesus was an environmentalist, that would be overstating the case (but then we weren’t damaging the earth then, so he wouldn’t have needed to be), but you raise some important questions that I’ve meant to address here and haven’t got round to yet.
    First of all, faith without action is dead, as the book of James makes clear. We have to feed the poor, fight for justice, heal the sick, and speak up for the marginalised to give power to our words. In no way does action ever replace our words, but words without the action is meaningless. Jesus models this for us, and he seems to have no problem doing both. (See how Jesus starts his ministry in Luke 7, what he considers to be his mission)
    I agree with you, incidentally, on the justice issue, but I think the environment and ethical living in a consumer society are justice issues. Global warming will make the whole of the UK like Cornwall – no great hardship! But to quote today’s guardian: ‘In Africa, it’s estimated that 232,000 square miles of cultivatable land will be ruined, and up to a third of Africa’s population could face water shortages by 2020’ Climate change is therefore a justice issue, and justice issues are discipleship issues. And discipleship, not conversion, is what Jesus commissions us to do.
    Secondly, I recognise that in new testament times our priorities are re-shuffled, but the commands given to Adam are the expression of what it is to be human. To live to God’s glory as stewards of his creation is what God made us for, and that mandate isn’t replaced by the gospel imperative. In fact, as new creatures we are able to live up to it for the first time since the fall.
    Thirdly, we can permit ourselves a higher view of the earth than kindling for armageddon. God mades it and says it’s good, or read the end of Job for an idea of how proud God is of his world. Further, the earth is part of God’s promises. Promises to God’s people are always tied to the land. Check out the covenant with Israel. If they sin, the land suffers droughts, and so on. Likewise with the new creation, as Romans tell us, the earth is groaning for the sons of God to be revealed. And a ‘new earth’ is a slight mistranslation too – ‘renewed earth’ would be more helpful – it’s about renewal and purification, not about destruction and replacement. The new earth is the same earth perfected, just as our new selves will the same bodies perfected. In that sense the world is not a disposable container for souls until they reach heaven, but the arena in which God is glorified and his promises are fulfilled.

    I’ve been sceptical myself about all this, but the more I look the more I see. These observations from Matthew aren’t much more than that really, but I think there are compelling Biblical reasons for the environment to be on Churches agendas.
    These are some useful theological starting points if you want to read some more thought out perspectives.

  4. Hi Jem,
    I’ve read the articles. The first was good with some qualification, the second is misleading at a few points but both ignore the pattern of biblical types: Eden, temple, church. In the pdf it said that by John3:16 God so loved the world he meant the created order. No. That’s not how John uses the word, its sinful humanity, a little NT greek can be a dangerous thing.
    Jem I’m just a little worried, about campaigning for non-christians to adhere to our Christian responsibility. Moral behaviour without the Lordship of Christ is not what God requires. God’s kingdom only comes by having God as their King. This is what I meant by the coal patching.
    We need to know what our priorities are, without swinging from extremes, this is too brief a response and I need to go out but I’ll be back later to add to this.
    Blessings, S

  5. What is the best way to care for the areas in need poverty/justice wise? A sermon at my church recently really helped clarify my thinking on this type of stuff: The best and biblical way is to help CHURCHES in those areas care for those in need. The help we can give should always be tied to the people of God in that area.
    Tim Chester’s helpful phrases of ‘We need to say without embarrassment that its better if someone is converted and remains poor, than being healthy and wealthy and remain unconverted’, ‘we will feel the pressure to relieve someone’s poverty than to relieve their eternal need: salvation’. He also says ‘Evangelism takes place with in the context of a life of love.’
    It needs to be church rooted. Picketing or lobbying I don’t think is anything to do with us, and brother you are right to feel to the need to tell people to wake up to their responsibilities as disciples of Christ, I thank you for the rebuke that this site provides. I think the framework of thinking needs to be put in place: Good theology feeding holy living, not endangering the centrality of the gospel, and biblical priorities.
    I think the conversion/discipleship distinction you make is unhelpful: (I hope you would know that I long for God’s children to be holy as He is holy).
    You spoke of Luke 7 and Jesus’ mission, I don’t understand what you are referring to in that chapter?
    I can say that back in chapter 4 after the healings and exorcisms and everyone in Capernaum was healed (imagine him emptying the hospitals in london), What does Jesus do when the crowds of lame etc came from all around to see him and be healed? :
    Luke 4
    42At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 44And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

    Jesus always retreats to be alone and pray when he is tempted to be the kind of Messiah people wanted rather than the one he was sent to be. Jesus could have been the world’s greatest healer, but chose to be the world’s greatest preacher, because that is why he was sent: to preach the gospel.

    Yeah, some of this is nit-picky, some of it I think vital missing the wood for the trees.
    Love,
    S

  6. Ah, I realise I said Luke 7, and I meant Luke 4. Not sure why I said 7. Anyway, here’s the bit I think is relevant. Jesus has just been baptised and received the Holy Spirit, he goes into the desert for forty days, and returns and announces what he’s all about:
    “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

    This is Jesus’ mission, all of this. When he turns away the crowds following him it’s not just because he must concentrate on preaching, it’s because he needs to move on to another town. There are plenty of healings in those other towns, as we see in Luke chapter 5. The thing is, Jesus’ ministry is holistic – he is the world’s greatest teacher, yes, but he is also the world’s greatest healer. He does both! And he always does both.
    There are examples of people who are healed and who don’t repent, but Jesus healed them because they were sick. We draw a false distinction to start dividing up people’s needs into real ones and felt ones, which is a common phrase in some circles. I appreciate Tim Chester’s words, but he presents a false choice – it’s like saying ‘which is more important for life, food or water?’ Water is the textbook answer, but it’s no kind of question, because you’ll die without either one. Likewise a starving man needs the gospel, but if you don’t feed him, he’ll die without knowing God anyway! So feed him, and then we’ll talk. At what point would you ever have to choose between them? Life isn’t like that!
    It isn’t an either/or, it’s both and always both. Jesus models it for us, so does Paul, raising his collection for the poor of Jerusalem (yes, the church, incidentally). And in Acts, the apostles choose some disciples to work entirely on caring for the poor and the widows while others focus on the teaching. I think the Bible actually has little time for drawing a line between word and deed, with James challenging his readers: ‘Show me your faith without deeds.’

    The thing is, none of this undermines the gospel. That’s a myth. It’s the opposite. It gives credibility to the gospel. If all we did was advocate climate justice and social justice, then we might have a problem. But it’s not all we do (or all I do for that matter), and I think that being found without fault on issues that people know and care about, gives new credence to the things that I believe. It earns me the right to speak, because my love for God is expressed in ways that people relate to.

    Anyway, I haven’t addressed all your points there. I need to look at the role of the church in all this, among other things. Thanks again for engaging in the debate!

    Jem

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