Incarnation, New Creation, and the ‘In Betweens’: Reflections After Pentecost Sunday

The Text for Pentecost Sunday, Acts 2:1-21 CEB

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
18     Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
and the moon will be changed into blood,
before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Incarnation and the Story of Jesus

Incarnation is easily both at the core of Christian faith and terribly misunderstood by many Christians. For some it’s a ten dollar word used by theologians to sound smart and impressive. For others, ask them about what the incarnation is and they will likely respond that ‘Immanuel’ or ‘God with us’ is about Jesus as a baby at Christmas. Incarnation is indeed about ‘God with us’ but it is more than Christmas. There is more to the story of Christ than Christmas. And then there are the multiple conversations I’ve had recently in which the death of Christ is emphasized above all other things. But as a recent book says provocatively (at least for the Evangelical circles I grew up in) ‘The Cross is Not Enough.’ Neither can we reduce the Jesus story to his death, while essential it is not sufficient. Without resurrection Jesus is just another dead man and is neither Lord nor Messiah (see verses Acts 2:22-36).

I did not grow up with the liturgical Christian calendar. I heard of it occasionally growing up and had a basic awareness of it through college, but I only really ‘discovered’ it when we first arrived at Crosspoint in Abilene a few years ago. Following through the church calendar helps us see that the incarnation, God being with us in the person of Jesus, can’t be reduced to any one part of the Jesus story. Incarnation involves and includes the whole story – the birth, life, death, resurrection (actual bodily resurrection here  – not the ‘happy things happening in my heart kind of resurrection’), and ascension of Christ. Yes, that’s correct, we can’t forget about the importance of the ascension of Christ (celebrated the Sunday before last). The message of Ascension is first, that the priestly ministry of Jesus continues on our behalf and second, that Jesus is Lord and King over all things. Journeying through the seasons of the church calendar narrates us into the Jesus story. Our lives individually and communally become shaped and oriented by the cruciform life, death, resurrection, and reign of Christ.

Pentecost and New Creation

It is through Jesus that sin and death have been defeated and new creation inaugurated. This, again, is not merely through Christmas or even Good Friday. No, we see that through his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension Jesus has been vindicated by God and set on the throne as ruler and Lord of all on God’s very own throne. New creation only comes through the whole story of Jesus as cruciform, resurrected Lord and Messiah. And then on Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Spirit on all God’s people, men and women (see Acts2:17-18 above) [and just to be clear, though I won’t elaborate in this post, I mean at least two things explicitly here: 1) that new creation ministry involves men and women serving together and alongside each other in all areas in mutual submission and 2) that women and men possessing the same Spirit of Pentecost (or better, being possessed by the same Spirit) both have access to all positions and roles of leadership and service], for empowerment as the continuation of Christ’s incarnational mission in the world.

Two weeks ago on Ascension Sunday we sang a favorite song of mine, Beautiful Things by Gungor. (Below is a video where you can follow along with the lyrics.)

My thoughts immediately went to 2 Cor 5:17 as we sang and I contemplated the new creation that Jesus inaugurates and which calls us into participation. I think that many times we get this verse wrong though thinking it is about ‘me’ as an individual being a new creation (which usually gets translated as ‘happy things in my heart’ and having a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus). For sure, most translations don’t help, they in fact point in this direction. For example the ESV very traditionally reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is (emphasis mine) a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” And while it is surely true that you and I individually are made new creations ‘in Christ’; if the individual self is moved to the center we risk missing the point (and depth) entirely.

Daniel Kirk in Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul comments,

“We must not miss the expansive nature of this new creation. Jesus, in his death and resurrection, has not only opened up the possibility that people might find forgiveness of sins. This much is true. But when Paul later says, ‘If anyone is in Christ – new creation!’ (2 Cor. 5:17) the further point is that God’s plan for the cosmos has now been fulfilled. The King of Israel has arrived and is gathering a people (emphasis mine) to himself, for the purpose of restoring humanity to its intended, blessed state. The story of Jesus is not just about new relationship; it is also about new creation. It is not merely about Jesus as Lord of my heart; it is also about Jesus, the King of Israel, as Lord of the cosmos.” (26)

and

“…Jesus’s occupying a position over the world entails something much more comprehensive than persons in restored relationship with God, that something more on the order of new creation is in view. Paul uses ‘new creation’ to describe the effects of Jesus’s resurrection and suggests that this itself is the world that Christians inhabit and bring into existence (emphasis mine) (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).” (45)

The Common English Bible also points away from an individualistic take on this verse, rendering the verse this way, “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation (emphasis mine). The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! There are at least three take aways here: 1) that new creation doesn’t start with or center on the individual self. If any one of us is found ‘in Christ’, this itself is evidence of broader new creation and the Lordship of Jesus over the cosmos. 2) Consequently, the focus here is not us as individuals, as if God’s new creation work simply occurs by adding individuals together. No, this actually has things backwards. ‘New creation’ and the Kingship of Jesus are the prior realities. We become new creations only through inclusion in the already inaugurated new creation work of Jesus as the resurrected and liberating King. 3) All this has a distinct missional thrust to it. We, not merely as individuals, but as a particular people (for example those of us who are called Crosspoint Fellowship) are empowered by the Spirit as the continuation of the incarnational mission of Jesus (we are called the ‘Body’ of Christ) by inhabiting and giving witness to this new creation reality found in the whole Jesus story. As such we seek to be a distinctly cruciform, Jesus shaped people.

The ‘In Betweens’

Sounds great, doesn’t it – new creation, Spirit empowerment, the liberating Lordship of Jesus, Pentecost and all that? We get about a half day into things and our experience probably tells us that all this doesn’t add up. We find that the world lacks peace and shalom and that apparently there are lots out there who have never heard of Jesus as liberating King of all things … or just don’t really care. But this is exactly why God has called a people (ie, us) to live in incarnational missional faithfulness. But we who are ‘in Christ’ live in the ‘in betweens’ – what theologians have called the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ of God’s kingdom. We are those that inhabit as citizens and live as witnesses of the inauguration of God’s new creation ‘in Christ’ but yet wait for God to (as N.T. Wright likes to say it) ‘put the world to rights.’ The ‘in betweens’ are filled with distinct eschatological tension in the everyday ordinary things of life as we participate in incarnational, cruciform mission.

This tension is not something we can avoid. The tension comes from being ‘in Christ’ and being a part of the new creation. We are called to inhabit, to dwell in, this tension. It is precisely this tension that Christie inhabits every day with her Fibromyalgia as she awaits the final redemption of her body (I think those with chronic illness and disability have something unique to teach us about following a suffering, cruciform Lord and Messiah). It is this tension we feel as boxes, and memories, and dreams still remain packed in a storage shed south of town. It is precisely this new creation tension that Crosspoint and other churches have entered into by actively recognizing and ordaining women as full recipients of the Spirit along with men (one of those women, of course, being my wife). We live in this tension as new creations and incarnate the presence of Christ in the world – or to put it in Crosspoint terminology, it is in this tension that we ‘dwell downtown’ (I like that word ‘dwell’, it has a distinctive incarnational feel to it). And its in this tension we are empowered by the same Spirit of Easter that raised Jesus from the dead (and in this sense for those of us who live in new creation its always Easter). As we enter into the season of Pentecost may we incarnate the tension in our own spheres as and live into and from the whole story of Jesus as a cruciform, Jesus shaped, Spirit empowered, kingdom oriented, new creation people.

Prayer(s) for the Week (Book of Common Prayer)

“Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

or this one…

“O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Like the song by Gungor, learn more about them below…

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